Mongolia, part 2

Checkpoint 2, Hoffe

This town is easy to remember because it sounds like Hoth, as in the battle of Hoth in starwars.

The drive there was intense. A huge convoy of cars driving through desert, dirt roads, mountain passes and marsh. Driving up through the mountain pass, I was leading and we passed a family that were training its eagle, so we got out and went over to watch. They werent too good, as the eagle was upside down more often than not…. no joke.

We drove on, crossed a river by driving through it and found more eagle trainers at the top of the mountain. I paid a guy $5 to hold it! Was AWESOME! Eagles are huge and even with a giant glove on you can feel how sharp their claws are.

We drove on and were faced with a proper rally challenges ahead. Rivers. These bad boys are not little streams…. these are river sized bodies of water you have to get your car across. Before each crossing it takes some thougrough investigation and usually Mirza (crazy Danish guy in our convoy) to use his 5 finger shoes to walk around in the rivier finding the best crossing. River crossings are intense and hugely entertaining! Rus and I both did 2 each.

A few more hours of driving and we were in Hoffe. Rus and I got pulled over by the police because our front number plate had fallen off. (Our car literally seems to be built like a tank, however it does seem to unscrew itself while we drive.) The police took Rus’s license and wondered around trying to work out how they could make some money from us. We got bored of their faffing to grabbed the license back and drove off. They didn’t follow.

With the sheer amount of Ralliers staying in the town, finding a hotel or campsite was tricky. The convoy had to split up. I found one hotel that had 2 rooms available but allowed people to sleep on the floor, so I booked a few teams into the hotel and we quickly washed in lovely cold water and headed off to the other hotel for food.

Our convoy is fantastic, you literally couldn’t ask for a bunch of better people. Every meal, pit stop, drive, round of beer with these guys is hugely enjoyable and heart warming, theres such a high level of comradship the convoy has very quickly become a family.

After the meal we were all a little tipsy and the party crew was ready to see what this town had to offer after midnight. We all pilled in our car with Rus drink driving and Dave sitting outside on the window. We drove around for a bit to find a couple of clubs closed and then we reversed into a pole.

We drove to the main square to see if locals hung out there. We didn’t find any party people there but we did meet a coin collector and police who told us to stop drinking… which we did. The party crew knows how to party hard! So we drove back to the hotels and slept.

The WW2 Nazi Motorbike

In the morning we headed over to the other hotel for breakfast and to find out where we could buy a motorbike. A few of us wanted to chip in some money and buy a motorbike we could take turns in riding. Tom and a few others headed off to the market to buy one and we finished up our breakfast. We joined them moments later to find them revving a WW2 Nazi motorbike complete with sidecar. Genius! I chipped in my $100 and we were good to go!

We reckon the next checkpoint is a 2 day drive, so we all fuelled up and hit the road. Most of the drive was to be desert with no petrol stations.

The motorbike was holding up well and looked tonnes of fun to drive. We stopped an hour down the road and swapped drivers and passenger on the bike. I got to ride shotgun while Harris drove the motorbike at high speeds skidding across the desert. What a laugh!

When my turn came to ride the motorbike, we pulled over and Harris stalled it. This is where the problems began. The convoy had driven on, under my instruction “we’re fine guys, just stalled it.. we’ll catch up”. Only 1 car stayed with us as they were next to drive the bike.

As the bike wouldn’t start we decided to try bump starting it, by running down the desert road with it whilst I tried to get it going. No joy!

We saw a car coming out way, so we flagged it down. Everyone in Mongolia seems to be a basic mechanic, so we put our hopes in the local to fix it. He diagnosed the problem and fixed it in 20 minutes by taking apart the engine and using some galvanised wire he had in his truck. Legend. I paid around $15 for his time and we were on our way again!

Driving it was epic. Over sand dunes, across desert road, weaving around… such good fun…. for about 20 minutes. Then the bike started loosing power. I was shifting down gears, trying to up the rev count…. nothing was working. The engine was over heating and leaking oil everywhere. The bike slowly ground to a halt. We had to be towed for about an hour until we found a roadside mechanic.

The mechanic spent about an hour looking at the bike trying to fix it. But nothing was working. We were loosing time and needed to catch up with the convoy so we tried selling them the bike for $200. A bargain considering we’d paid $350 for it! However they refused and said it wasnt even worth $200!

We heard word that a couple of convoy cars were coming to pick us up, so we drove down the road being towed to meet them. Rus and Marko had come to our rescue. However Rus had managed to hit enough pot holes or rocks to damage 3 of our rims, thus even with fitting out spare we were driving on a flat tyre for the next 200km. Throughout this trip we’ve learnt that he likes pot holes! We left the motorbike on the side of the road and continued our journey. Rest in peace your piece of shit WW2 nazi bike. No wonder they lost the war.

While we were getting the bike looked at, we lost a car in our convoy.
Our Aussie team had broken their front shocks and suspension and decided to call it quits. They drove very carefully back to the first checkpoint where they’d hand in the car and bus to Ulaanbataar. Sad times.

We met up with the others and kept on driving. Later on while going through the Gobi desert we hit a sandstorm. A proper desert sandstorm, it was so hard to see so we pushed on slowly. Ahead we saw some hazard lights and turns out Pip and James had driven into a sand ditch and needed to get towed out. Luckily within a few minutes a lorry came by and very quickly pulled them out. Walking around in the sandstorm was quite an experience!

We were 4 hours behind schedule but still managed to reach a small village by nightfall. We found a “hotel” with enough beds for only $7 a night. We stayed there, about 20 of us and the members of our convoy took over their dining room and I cooked a massive vat of epic pasta for our convoy. It was delicious. We stayed there drinking beer and toasted to our fallen comrades. An absolutely fantastic night, we sat around joking and bantering until the early hours again.

An early start again and we headed off.

Rus had managed to hammer one of our rims practically back into place so at least we had 4 working tyres for our journey… but no spare!

I napped in the car and woke about 30mins later to find we were lost in the middle of nowhere and our car had got another puncture. We were screwed. Luckily Marko, Harris, Tom and Dave were kind enough to take our tyres and drive 30minutes back into town to get them fixed and return an hour later with new tyres. We were good to go! What a convoy 🙂

Off we drove for another few hours going through more desert. I hopped in Tom and Daves’ car and sped off through the desert with them to reach the next town before the others so they could sort out their tyre situation while I got us into a hotel…. well that was the plan.

The roads in Mongolia aren’t really roads, they’re a series of desert tracks winding and weaving over each other, so it’s very easy to get lost. An hour later we found we were off course, but according to the map could join up with the road within 30mins.

However, Tom hit a major sand bank earlier and broke his front suspension, so we could only average 15mph.

We saw a Mongol Rally car pass us when we stopped doing about 20mph. It was the Indians! We’d seen these guys a few times before, driving so incredibly slowly they’d pass us when we stopped and we’d over take further down the road. They always maintained a 20mph speed, but each time we’d pass,we’d see them all (including driver) with beers in their hands, looking happy as… waving at us. Always cracked us up.

We carried on driving and over took the Indians, again with beers in hand, waving.

After about 20mins our road got smaller and smaller until it just ended. In the middle of the bloody desert. We knew the main road was 5km north of our position, so we aimed our car north and kept on driving off road. We soon hit a small pit stop area with a shop and a couple gurrs surrounding it. So we tried to buy juice and chocolate with our limited cash. Within minutes the entire convoy entered the shop! We had support!

From there the whole convoy kept up a slow 20mph so everyone could roll together.

We were aiming to hit the 3rd checkpoint by nightfall, however it was getting dark and our surroundings didn’t match the map. Tom’s car was now completely fucked. It wouldn’t even start, so the Danish team were towing them.

As the convoy was moving slowly, we volunteered to blitz ahead and sort out a hotel for when the convoy arrived in the town. About an hour down the road, I was still convinced we were completely off course. I got out the compass and used only a few mountains as landmarks, a map and our compass to work out our position. We then flagged down a local in a land cruiser to confirm our position. We were 40km south of where we should be and on a road that is 100km longer. That’s a good 4 hours off course.

We stopped and waited for the others. We saw a car in the distance heading our way, but taking FOREVER to reach us. When it got to us, we found out it was the Indians! These guys are hilarious, they had no idea we were off course either, so decided to hang with us for a bit.

By the time the others arrived we told them we were off course. “No we’e not.. look… we’re on google maps.. this is our location”. A bit more explaining and we were all in agreement. There was no way we’d hit the city by evening, we had abother 6-7 hours of driving.

We drove further down the road until we were stopped by a river. We met another rally team who were parked up watching The Office in the back of their car. They told us the river is not crossable unless towed by a tractor…. which costs $15 and isn’t running until morning.

So we camped for the night.

The following morning we all hit the river, before we got towed, we needed to make modifications to our car to stop water screwing it up. Nothing my newly learnt mechanical skills, a couple condoms, a plastic bag and some duct tape can’t solve! We were good to go. Getting towed was pretty intense, water was coming into the car from our broken door, coming up to window level….

We got to the other side reattached everything and we were golden….. We drove on for a bit and had another river crossing, it was pretty deep but this time we had no tractor. We worked out the best route through and we floored it. All cars except Marko and Harris made it. They ended up stuck in the middle of a running river, we had to very quickly get a passing local to tow them in their land cruiser.

When we stopped, we saw the scale of the damage… their car was screwed inside was flooded and their engine was filled with water. Tom, being a hobbiest mechanic came to their aid and sorted out their car. Our car was a little screwed too, water had got into the air filter and thus our engine. I took apart the air filter, dried it and did various tricks to sort out the car and get it in tip top shape again. Result!

A few minutes down the road I noticed we were loosing fuel at a unnerving rate. Apon investigation I found we had a pretty bad leak. We reckon we got the leak the evening before, but dirt had blocked most of it up….. then with the river crossing, washed it all away.

We had to be towed. Our car wasn’t going to be driveable. Marko and Harris were kind enough to tow us 100km to the town.

When we got to the town we hit the offical Mongol Rally mechanics. As it turns out these guys are a bunch of monkeys, so clue what’s going on and if they see even a butterfly their attention is lost and they wonder off.

I wasn’t going to sit around faffing, so we just pushed our car into their building and over a inspection pit. I jumped down with a rag, screw driver and exhaust sealent and gasket glue. I managed to pretty much repair the leak but in the mean time Rus had found a better mechanic round the corner. So we headed off there to get it properly looked at.

To cut a long story short, this mechanic was a nut case. He propped cars up with rocks he found lying around and then climbed under it…. after they’d collapsed twice already!

The petrol tank welding job

He then told us he’ll fix our petrol tank by welding…. in the UK you’d have to empty and air out your tank for days before you could weld it. This guy figured he’d leave some petrol in it….. hold a burning rag in an opening and burn the fumes as he welded it. I held the burning rag while he welded, only to have what can only be described as a jet engine explosion come out of the petrol tank and burn all the hairs off my hand. The trick was to keep the fumes alight. If they went out, one of the mechanics would scream and the welding guy would stop instantly. I wasn’t convinced this was safe. Being the smart guy that I am… I swapped with Rus. Rus held the burning rag and I held a piece of wood over the rubber tubes to stop them burning. The whole process was hilariously dangerous, every now and then there would be another jet engine burst of flames come out…. one time it even set the ground alight which we had to cover in dirt to put out!

A couple of hours later we drove our car out, straight to a restaurant where we met the others, who were kind enough to already have ordered us food and checked us into a hotel! Legends!

We stayed up in the hotel in a open area in the hallway partying it up with the convoy until we were sent to our rooms for being too noisy.

Toms’ car as it turns out it not fixable, so the next morning they had to organise a truck to tow them to the finish line where we’ll meet them and and tow them across, so we can all cross together.

Next stop, the finish line at Ulaanbaatar!