Welcome to the Last Rat to Mongolia Team Website where you can learn all about the crazy adventure, that 3 guys are doing to raise money for very worthy charities, as they attempt to drive 10,000 miles across Europe to finally get to Mongolia in vehicle totally inappropriate for such an ordeal.This voyage that the team is engaged in will bring them 1/3 of the way around the world on some of the worst roads, paths, sheep tracks imaginable.
Interview on Czech Radio
Posted by Nicholas at 16th September 2012 at 20:35
WE MADE IT!
Posted by Ota at 21st August 2012 at 11:26
Then there was two. We blasted out of Altai, leaving the Angry Spider Team behind to figure their way to Ulaanbaatar. The roads opened up letting us follow the the valley floor, with the mountains to side our side seemly to recede away. As evening arrive we came into a small town with no name we asked a local what was the direction to the next big city he pointed in a westerly direction and we thundered (well as much as a 1.2L engine can thunder) away. In about 10kms we ca
me to a split, our choices being left around the hills, right, or simply though the hills. We all agree that all the tracks should lead the way we needed, let go the scenic route through the hills. There were lovely vistas, green with rocky outcrops plus the track was quite forgiving. Another night under stars, after we shoveled the rocks away to set up our tents.
Morning arrive, the road lay in front of us, we continued excitedly knowing we only had about 850kms to the finish line. The roads we are times rough but straight and we could move at quite high speeds. It screamed out this was what the rally was about, the Fiat Panda and the Kangoo jockeying for position as they flew over the tracks. About 100 kms later we came to a small bleak village with lots of children excited to see us strangers. We were also confronted with a deep river about 1m at the shallowest point. A local offer to the use of his tractor to tow us, but we were not sure how many more rivers crossings there would be and if we would find another tractor further down the line. We then discovered we were completely off course again, we yes had been going west, but parallel of where we needed to be. The decision to go through the hills the day before was wrong. The idea of going back 100kms was not appealing to us and a local elderly man informed us there was a third track taking about 60kms that would go north and get us back to our original road. Excellent!
We jumped back into our cars and starting what would turn out to be our worst road of our entire trip. 60kms, 80kms, 100kms, it's all relative. This was a goatpath that at times we could only move at 10kms an hour. Rutted, grassy, rocks everywhere, soft sand to get stuck in, and over 10 creek crossings. The cars where shaking to pieces. We were at angles that we felt the car would tip over. First Ota manages to first rip the ABS cables off, then oxygen sensor cable and finally the entire exhaust breaks at the manifold! Our little french car was no longer a well mannered cheese and wine delivery van - it was furious, growling to the world wonder why the hell it was in the Mongolian outback! Honestly it just sound like a motorcycle at this point, it was deafening inside when ever we rose the rpm's. Eventually we got to the main track and we decided that we needed to get the exhaust fixed.
The first little village had an old mechanic living in a ger (yurt), attempted to help but alas finally suggested we need to get it to a larger town. Into the evening we drove finally arriving at our destination, of Bayankhongor. We bumped into a Swedish mongol rally team who knew of a mechanic near by. This fellow turned out to be amazing, his facility was modern, and though he didn't have many tools, he welded our exhausts back together and fabricated parts we needed out of old bits he had laying around the shops. We were delighted and went to celebrate in a local restaurant. We bumped into the Swedish team again, invited them to join us but they declined. They wanted to drive through the night to try to get to the finish line. (We learned later that night they had rolled the car in the night, luckily no one was injured.
At dinner, fireworks were shooting off in the town square next door, and a large contingent of Mongolian officials arrived bringing trays of tradition food, including the rabbit stuff with meats and vegetable cooked underground for several days. We looked on confused, as the guest on honor arrived, a large athlete fresh from the London Olympics, wrestler and local boy Uitumen Orgodol. The were speeches, drinking, gorging and even a few tearful ballads in his honor.
The next day we headed west, the roads at first seeming quite good, but then Mongolia threw to us a new feature to contend with. Apparently this has been the wettest and coldest summer in peoples memories and the tracks began to get muddy. We struggled not to get bogged down. Luckily our cars are very light, because we saw gaggles of trucks stuck deep in the mud. The Fiat Panda was having great fun hitting mud puddles especially trying to dirty up the Kangoo. It was all great fun. Eventually we came to a small river crossing that looked completely harmless, we let the Fiat Panda go ahead of us. They asked is it safe, we said no problem, they went and instantly got bogged down and started sinking in. We all jumped out and got the tow ropes to extract the car. The Panda was rather convinced that we had set them up as a revenge for all the splashing! We grinned sheepishly......
After a short but hard day slogging in the mud. the heavens opened up and rain was just pouring down. We decided to call it a day at Arvbaikheer, get a hotel, wash the filth off of us and become human again. We had only 430 kms left, and that could be easily done tomorrow. Ota went to park the car behind the hotel where he completely forgot about the roof rack and destroyed the hotels garage door. Ooops.... It was time to get a drink and something to eat. While chomping down on mutton dumpling soup, we bumped into two lovely lasses from Ireland that had just finished two riding horseback around central Mongolia. We exchanged stories of our various adventures and found out that they had always wanted to do the mongol rally! We offered them a bit of a flavor of it, and invited them to ride with us to the finish line.
In the morning we crammed them and their packs into our overladen steeds and were welcomed with a fairly easy drive to the Capital of Ulaanbaatar. Potholes to miss and occasionally to drive off road, but atleast no more mud. As we reached our destination, we reflected that the experience would have been different across Mongolia if it had been all paved. We were lucky to experience the epic madness that Mongolia had thrown at us. Our cars were going to make it, we had done it, the finish line was just a 100kms away!. At that moment the Panda's rear shock falls off. We pull off to the side of the road and decided that to remove the hanging shock and to let the car drive on just the spring. We would have to be careful and everything would be fine.
This thought of carefulness lasted about 1/2 hour when we saw an advert of go shoot a bazooka and drive a tank theme park! We veered off the road again to drive over a treacherous mountain that eventually lead us to an army base. We looked around didn't see anything that looked like a tourist entrance. What did catch our eye was a sign to the "Training Ground" written in English, so that must be it. Well it wasn't. We were stopped by a bunch of Mongolian soldiers, wondering what the heck we were doing on the middle of an army base! Eventually the commander (who spoke immaculate English) came and we explain the situation. He smiled and told us that we were lost (again), and that the "theme park" had closed last year and was on the other side of the mountain. But if we called him later on he could arrange for us to drive some of his tanks at a later date! Realizing that our little detour could have ended us in a Mongolian prison, we felt it was best to head for the finish line.
In about 30kms we saw the City Ulaanbaatar peeking from behind the hills, our destination, the unbelievable goal lay front of us. We were overwhelmed with excitement and sadness that as we reach our goal that our incredible 13,000 km voyage was coming to an end. For all us this had been the epic journey of a lifetime, we had done what so many people said was impossible. We drove from Europe to Mongolia in a tiny car that was never meant to be tortured in such a manner. Along the way we met so many nice people, made great friends, and had a chance to explore parts of the worlds that no one really goes to. We had experienced the Mongol Rally! Did you know more people have been to the north pole, or have gone up Mt Everest than have been on the Mongol Rally?
We snaked through the city, it was a crowded place a place that felt a mixture of a soviet style city and Asiatic one. Traffic was insane, people crisscrossing and honking all over the place, but eventually we were greeted by a huge yellow sign. "Mongol Rally - Welcome to Ulaanbaatar - You made it!" Yes indeed we did.
Huge thanks to our to our friends and travel compatriots - Angry Spiders and Genghis Dummies, it would not have been the same experience without you folks! As well a great thank you to all our supporters and we truly hope you have enjoyed following our adventure, it was epic! We heartily suggest you give it a try next year, it will be something you will not forget!
We intended to have some further posts down then line, but right we need to get some sleep.
Oh wait, and what place did we get? 42 out of 300. Not bad for a bunch of guys that didn't even bother to use a compass till the last couple of days! MORE PHOTOS HERE
Lost in Mongolia
Posted by Ota at 21st August 2012 at 11:24
No our Spot Tracker was not malfunctioning for this part of the trip, we were indeed getting that lost! Mongolia is vast and with no road signs you really have to use your wits to find what direction to go. There are so many tracks to foll
ow that the advice that we had got was to look at the track that is most "white' meaning it has been most used, then look for what the widest and finally if it has grass between the tire tracks you are going the wrong way. Well of course this advice had to come to us on our 3 day in Mongolia so there was a lot of opportunity to head the wrong way. What we also found helpful was if you could find some power-lines to follow it should bring you eventually to a city of some sort where you then could ask a local where you were. Showing them our map with latinized script was rather useless as that they use Cyrillic in Mongolia.
But the flip side is that (as long as if you have enough gas) getting lost brings you to wonderful destination, whether it's to an old man and his sons building a house on a hill who is insists to be photograph in front of his pride a Chinese motorcycle. Or maybe you will veer 100kms off and find your self in a remote village that never sees foreigners and the little school girls insist singing songs to you!
Our trio of teams (Angry Spiders- Ford KA, Genghis Dummies- Fiat Panda and us) got into a great groove of crossing terrain in front. We meandered the magnificent mountains of the Mongolian Altais, working our way to the Manchu era city of Khovd. On the way we had our first few river crossings, luckily for us they were never really too deep but eventually we came to a tricky situation. The river was at least a meter deep in spots and we were concerned to get stuck. We drove up and down the banks of the river looking for a low spot. We were hoping to find a local to help guide us for where was the best place to cross was. Not a soul to be found, we made our choice and the Ford Ka was the first to go. In a few seconds we knew that the line was wrong and the front end sunk into the mud on what had looked fairly harmless ground. We quickly got out to push the car but it was really in there. By this point a small construction truck filled with locals came to give us a hand. With a tow the Ford Ka was released as was it's front bumper cover. No problem, out came the gorilla tape to slap it back on! We then learned it is best to wait for a local and see what route they take, as that our skills were rather lacking. Now this works in theory, but when very often you don't see people for hours you, so you have to just dive in.
In the evening we made it to Khovd and stayed at a traditional Ger (Yurt) camp which was quite comfortable, with truly ice cold showers. The most friendly owner (who drove a lifted Hyundai Excel) gave us advice on what roads were good or nonexistent. And as we dug into our evening's Mutton goulash, which after two cold nights camping was the best food we had eaten in our lives it felt like!.
The next morning we headed out of to attack the next 450kms to Altai. We were told that this is where most ralliers break down. There was a mass variety of bad roads, lots of off road tracks, and many chances to get lost. Our trip, though slow was going well, but on a stop we noticed that the Ford Ka was leaking coolant. After nosing around we discovered that it was coming from a crack in the coolant reservoir. We threw some gorilla tape and liquid nail on it and the problem for the moment seem to go away. An hour later or so we could see that the leaks were back and that the entire coolant system was getting much too hot. We at that point decided to sacrifice the power steering (which was not really working) and use that reservoir instead. After a bit of bodging it was all tight and the car was managing to keep cool. A couple of hours of hard driving we could see that the Ford Ka was again suffering. It was beginning to overheat, stalled and was not going to start again. We decide that it was close enough to the evening to let the car cool down and see what we could do in the morning.
We pulled off the road a bit and began to set up camp. Though disappointed that our fixes didn't work we had an incredible night under the stars. Since there was no light pollution anywhere, a look to the heavens was rewarded by the clearest view possible from earth it felt. We even saw the international space station go by! Through the night only one car passed us - how is that for remote?
In the morning we decided to try to figure out what had happened with the Ford Ka. The culprit was that the lower radiator support had been bent somewhere along the line and crushed the lower hose of the radiator, restricting the flow of coolant. We got a car jack and began to bend the support back into shape. Miraculously the car started and managed to keep cool! We were quite proud of our accomplishment, especially since the nearest town was about 130kms away. We then made the mistake of shutting the car off to put more coolant in, and from there it was the end. The car refused to start. We tried everything but with no success. The Fiat Panda now performed heroically as it towed the Ford 130kms over some some of the worst terrain we had seen and though it took about 5 hours we managed to get it to Altia where there was a garage were they cast there expert eyes at the car.
We had a feeling that it was bad after the Ford Ka overheated. The local mechanics agreed and sadly we had to say good by to the Angry Spiders Team and their little KA. We would miss these delightful chaps and they would now engage in a hellish bus trip to Ulaanbaatar which would take ages. The Fiat Panda and our Kangoo soldiered on heading westerly as much as the lingering evening light would let us. MORE PHOTOS HERE
27 Hours. Yes, 27 hours
Posted by Ota at 21st August 2012 at 11:20
27 Hours. Yes, 27 hours waiting on the Russian-Mongolian border. After our cold night we got up all excited to get the process started. First we were told that we needed to go back down the road 1km and find a small green hut, get the man
there to give us a stamped piece of paper, and then return to our cars at the border. We found a hut and it was already swarming with people. There was no rhyme or reason of who would be chosen to meet the man with a stamp - it was pure chaos. Back at the gate there was a guard getting irritated that the cars in line did not have there stamped papers yet. He kept screaming at people, get frustrated and stomping back to his office locking the door behind him. His procedure was to let 6 cars in at a time, and they had to be in the order they had queue up. Now that was fine enough, but when the green hut man does the paper work in any order he wishes, more chaos ensues.
The gates stayed shut.
Finally at 2:30pm the first 6 cars had there paper work in order and we being the third car in line, miraculously rolled through this gate that began to symbolize our frustration at the border. We now had to meet with passport control to exit Russia. 6 cars filled with 3 people a piece, 5 passport stations, but only one worker. Everyone else were playing old style video games instead on the computers, even senior officials were just watching them play the games. But finally after about an hour we were through, excitedly we headed back to our cars, to discover, no the process was still going on. We let customs rip through the car, explained to them that we don't have guns or drugs and watched them try to figure out what the wad of melted chocolate peanut trail mix bag was. OK this must be it right? We headed across the 20kms of bleak no mans land, to come to a solitary guard who once again had to look at our all paper work, expressionless he opened the simple gate, we were welcomed with a dirt road symbolizing that yes we had made it to Mongolia! Well, no we made it to the no man's land that was on the Mongols side, so in another 10km we his yet another gate.
A friendly Mongolian lady border guard yelled at us to show us our paper work, and now we sat in our car waiting. We thought how many hours can this take, but all of a sudden the gate swung open and we where lead to a building to do passport controls plus meet the people in charge of importing our car into the country. We started to get nervous as that it was an hour before the border would close and didn't want another frozen night sleeping at the border. Certainly there was no way that this could be done in the given time frame, right? Well, it did! The process was harmless and pleasant soon we entered Mongolia, welcomed by the sun smiling down on us. Making it about 1km when we had another gate where we had to pay $10 for some piece of paper (never figure out what it was for), and go into another hut and buy some Mongolia car insurance. We exchanged some money, with local thieves, who gave us an abysmal rate and saw that our compatriot the Angry Spiders from the UK were behind us! We decided that it would probably be best to travel together into this vast unknown lands that lay in front of us.
Mongolia, instantly was spectacular! The dirt roads were rough going off into the distance; we hit the right pedal of our 73hp monster throwing dust and stones everywhere, the Angry Spider's Ford Ka, barreling behind us. Glorious days were to come.
About 30kms into our journey we saw a man on a motorcycle at the side of the road, he signaled for us to stop. Ota yelled out, 'Don't stop - Keep Going!" Why was Ota so unfriendly to the locals? Because he had seen a video that showed that this man was indeed a bandit, who would veer you off course and then rob you. The Kangoo, blasted onward, but the Ford Ka decided to stop and chat with the fellow. The man's story first was that the road was blocked ahead, and then changed to that he had a place to stay. The Ford Ka, got a bit suspicious, and seeing Ota yelling at them to continue, together soon raced away down the road. Now "raced" is a relative term when you talk about our small cars on these rough roads, we maybe hit 80kms which felt like 200!. The man on the motorcycle soon had caught up being much more familiar with the terrain. He kept trying to get the teams to stop. A few km's down the road there was another man on a motorcycle pretending that it was broken and signal to the teams to slow down and help. When we flew past him, miraculously his bike shot to life and was behind us. The next km there were a bunch of children yelling at us in English "Stop, Stop", which we ignored, luckily, for around the bend were two thugs on motorbikes waiting for us to loose our momentum in the the dirt and gravel. We sped on, pushing our cars as fast as they could on the unstable tracks, hoping not to flip off the road. The bandit's having little 125cc Chinese motors soon dropped in the distance. We kept this up for about 10kms, pulling off the road to discuss what had happened with our traveling companions. After a quick meeting, with our hearts pumping, we decided that we had to get out of this area as that it was late and the sun fading; the bandits might find and rob us in the middle of the night.
So here we were breaking the first rule of driving in Mongolia - which is to never do it at night as that the tracks are to difficult and you will get lost. Well guess what? We got lost. We drove up the side of a mountain until the road disappeared. The Ford Ka, just could not climb the incline and sunk it's rear tire into soft dirt. Our Kangoo though managing to get up the mountain could not find a continuing track and decided to find a rocky outcrop to hide behind.
We knew we could go no further and hoped that we were so off the normal track that the bandits would no find us. Not to attract attention, we did not us any lights in pitch dark to set up our tents, and to get some food in us. We could see down the valley and it was absolutely black except for a solitary headlight some great distance away hoping it was not a bad sign. We were really away from all civilization. We hid our money an valuables, trying to sleep with one eye open, having a cold miserable night on a 3000m mountain top.
The next morning, woken by the sun, we peaked out a little fearfully. We were not greeted by bandits, but a glorious view of the lands below the mountain, pure nature stretching as far as the eye could see. We were in Mongolia and Mongolia want to shows it vast beauty to us! But before we could go experience more beauty we needed to figure out were we are and how to get the Ford KA up over the side of the mountain. Well daylight helps in such an endeavour and we eventually found a track down the other side of the mountain that seemed to lead to a larger road. By the way whenever we say road (not in a city) please note it is a dirt track not asphalt. It'd be a long time before we saw any of that.
The road brought us to out first legitimate town of Olgii and on the way many birds of prey swooped down on our cars, no doubt reacting to the reflections of the sun off of our windshields; there were eagles, falcons and huge hawks. My goodness this land was getting better every kilometer we went. Olgii itself had a very frontier town feel, we exchanged money, refueled and searched for food. Our Mongolia is limited to say the least and found ourselves not in a supermarket but in a large scale bakery. We tried to buy some bread but the baker insisted that we take the loaves for free! Very nice guy. We jumped back into our cars, and headed out of town. The roads of Mongolia are very confusing. There are no road signs and many tracks will sprawl in front of you, that might or might not lead to the same destination. You have to use you skills of deduction and just hope for the best. Look at the landscape cross check it with your map that hope fully has some topo info on it.
The day continued and as we drove the scenery was getting better and better. All we had heard about the beauty of Mongolia was true. What really surprised us as well was that we had a hard time to understanding the scale of things. When looking in the distance we could never tell if it was a herd of goats close up or horses far away, or maybe it was just giant rock outcroppings really far away! Our brains struggled to comprehend the vastness of this country.
We descended on the large Lake Tolbo, delighted that local people in passing cars would always wave to us and then stop their cars to come out to greet us foreigners. They were curious where we where from and often would give us snacks. We in return would give their children toys that we had brought with us. It was great to be with such friendly people who were curious about us aliens that we descending on there lands.
As we continued to follow the lake we saw a car coming from the distance. It was flying across the dusty roads, and it came to a halt right by us. As the plume of dust settle, we saw some familiar smiling faces - the Spanish Team "Ghengis Dummies" we had met on the Russia Border. We were delighted to see them and decided that our three teams would travel together as we soldiered forth across the great unknowns wilds of Mongolia. MORE PHOTOS HERE
Au revoir Kazakhstan, hello Siberia.
Posted by Ota at 21st August 2012 at 11:18
Au revoir Kazakhstan, hello Siberia. With a surprising amount of energy especially in lieu of the previous night's antics, the Last Rat Team left Astana with a wonderful feeling in the hearts. Astana had been a great host city but the Russian border was calling. The road was pleasant and within 4 hours we ended up in Pavalodar, which we had originally intended to stay before crossing over. Maybe it was our moods or the fact we drove around the same MegaPower Plant 4 times extremely lost, but we all decided it would not be home to us on this day. There was a small town on the border and that would be our goal. Well it must have been small as that we missed it completely and found ourselves at the frontier. It looked rather abandonned and a solitary disinterested border guard ignored us for the first half hour and eventually let us pass. But once we were through it was a speedy process with the most jovial guards yet on our trip. The Kazah passport controller was so enthralled with Nick being American and blonde, she hinted at how she would love to visit him in America. The Russian excitedly talked to us about Michael Phelps accomplishments and eventually one of the guards starting to sing a song of his own creation entitles "american boys".
The countryside immediately changed, trees and villages dotting our path to the gem of Siberia Barnaul where we arrived at about 2am. We felt the artic air nibbling on our noses.
Barnual was picturesque European city thankfully not decimated by socialist block housing. Supplies we picked up at the local market, the highlights being: flip flops, meat, Czech beer for bribing, cigarettes for bribing, a shovel not for bribing and a pirated Depeche Mode CD.
We headed out knowing it was less than 1000kms to the Mongol border. Smooth roads but with heavy truck traffic wisked us to the incredible Altai Mountain Region. Here we found what Top Gear missed out on for best strip of road on the world, twisted and turns, with incredible vistas. All this and devoid of cars, cows yes, cars no. We tucked in the evening at a place that for some reason had a collection of Russian Army Trucks and blared Techno music all night long. A great way to kill the majestic atmosphere of the mountains.
We survived the night and knew we would not be able to cross the border to Mongolia on time but still would head there to camp and be first the next day. We arrived not only to discover a big border gate with a plethora of barb wire fence design strewn about, but about six other Mongol Rally Teams. They were Angry Spiders, Wrong way Round, Dirty Mulligans, a bunch of Aussies and Spaniards.
An impromptu party broke out with lots of visits to the last store in Russia where we attempted to buy them out of sausage and horrific local home brew. We exchanged stories of our adventures, one of our favorites being the 19 step process of filling out forms and visitng various offices nessesary to enter Turkmanistan a process that merely takes 9 hours!
As the sun went down so did the temperature. We dove into our tents as it dropped to freezing. While we shivered through the nights more vehicles arrived lining up at the border. Buses from Kazakstans, crazy decked out 4x4s from Poland, elderly couple with a lifted VW Golf from Germany, Russian Motorcylistics, plus Mongol Rally teams from UK and France also popped up. One could feel the excitement swell up, the wild lands of Mongolia were just 25km behind the big gate in front of us, and we were ready! MORE PHOTOS HERE
Expecting the unexpected
Posted by Ota at 21st August 2012 at 11:16
Expecting the unexpected. We left off with Last Rat Team waiting for their papers that they had not stamped in time to clear. Good news was had at 5pm as the lady we bribed did indeed deliver our passports with the necessary embellishment.
We were ready to be on our way. The heat over the last several days had been oppressive being continuously over 100F, we decided our directions should be the mountains on the Uzbekistan border hopeful to provide us with relief. Originally looking for the famous Aksu Zhabagyly nature reserve we became a bit lost (probably because we could not pronounce it correctly) so we stopped to ask an old man for directions. We learned that we had come up the wrong side of the mountains and would have to make a detour of about 100kms. While we mulled that thought, the old man said, look why don't you stay in my field. It was so lovely there, we immediately accepted his generous offer. We set up our tents and our host made us tea and invited us into his home. Now it gets interesting, his home was an old ZIL army truck that apparently has a lot of components copied from WW2 US Studabaker truck. Please correct us if we are wrong, Karel was doing his best to translate for us. Now this truck not only housed the old man but his vast collection of bees! We sat with him in the trailer of the truck drinking tea and eating delicatable fresh honey while swarmed by bees. The old man had been a Soviet soldier in his younger days and had actually been stationed in Czechoslovakia. So there was this irony that we were occupying the land of a man who once was an occupier of Karel's homeland!
Afterwards he asked if we were interested to see snow capped mountains, we said yes and jumped into his ancient ZIL car. Guess he is a ZIL guy! First he popped the hood, primed the carburetor a few times, he fiddled with a few wires under the dash. The car made some painful cries. He yelled at us to jump out of the car and push. Down the hill we went and the old ZIL sedan bucked to life roaring away, exhausts long gone. We jumped back in the car, and blasted down the gravel road up the mountain side. All of a sudden something dawned on us - the car was comfortable and smooth! The ride on this terrible road was like floating on silk cushions opposed to our Kangoo which felt like our backs (and backsides) were going to be shattered. Now it made sense why we saw so many old Russian sedans driving like mad down the dirt roads, well, because they could. Our French car was meant to deliver a bit of cheese and wine down to the village store not be offroading in Kazah desert! We found out apparently Volga's are the toughest and are basically Jeeps in a sedan body. Keeping on this automotive theme for a bit, we noticed that the cars of choice where mid90s midsize German sedans. There are Bmw 5series, Mercedes Benz, Audi and Vw Passats galore. We assumed that it must have meant they were affordable and easier enough to fix. Trucks and buses were fun to look at as many were old ones from western Europe, the locals didn't even bother to remove the old livery.
In the morning we said goodbye to beekeeping soldier and began a Marathon run of about a 1000km up to Lake Bakash. The roads were quite good and we could not resist taking advantage of them. We found that indeed that this road was one of the best stretches in the entire country.
The following day brought us 600km to the shining new capital of Astana, dubbed the Dubai of central Asia. It's a weird place, full of modern buildings, giant plaza and blvds, in the middle of the steppes. It gives a feeling of alienation but apparently it was designed with the thought of scale to help reflect the feeling of being on the vastness of the steppes. One wonders if this was the best way to spend a country's new found oil wealth, especially after all the poverty we saw in the west of Kazakhstan.
Our evening plan was to go for a quick bite for dinner and to get to bed early. Out of the hotel door we stepped and who do we bump into but another Mongol Rally Team, the Mongolympians from Australia. They were filled with great tales of what it is like to drive a 50 year old Norwegian firetruck with Papua New Guinea Commercial Vehicle drivers licenses and what kind of trouble that causes! Our quiet evening turned into a wild affair of festivities including dancing with local Kazak ladies until the wee hours. By the end of night there were even some marriage proposals thrown around. So who was it? Well what happens in a Astana probably better stay in Astana.
Posted by Ota at 21st August 2012 at 11:13
So where has the last rat team been for the last few days? Why no posts? Well we have had a long hard run in Kazakhstan from the russian border on the north 2000km south east to the Uzbekistan border. Well why all the way there when we want to go north east to Mongolia? Simple - the roads in Kazakhstan are terrible. It took us almost 48 hours to cover that distance of 2000Km. The roads are the following: potholed, wavy, scarred, dirt, gravel, sand, flooded, mud, single laned, runway wide, camels, cows, goats, cratered, but more so a mix of all the above. It really is indescribable how bad it is. We asked locals to guide us and the most helpful was a gentleman that runs the Aktobe motorcycle club, he took our map and showed us which roads where good and which roads just simply don't exist. We have discovered how bad the maps of Kazakstan are, just because it is drawn as a highway doesn't mean it exists! We stopped by the Aral sea which was a desert, searched for a the ship graveyards but with no luck, all we did was thrash the car and bend the skid plate so now its hard to shift. What we did find in Aral was instead was the Mr. Ongol team from Holland. We decided to travel together and our first night we had a incredible camp site on the bed of the dried out Aral sea! It doesn't get more perfect than that for a place to stay. The next two days we worked our way down south. So in 4 days we crissed crossed a country, got pulled over so many times we lost count, generally from bored cops looking for someone to talk to in the middle of nowhere, saw more Audi 100s than we have in the last 25 years back at home, got stuck in the sand twice, drove through 30cm deep water for long periods of time, help take apart an ambulance (Mr. Ongols team car) on the side of the road, attempted to sleep above a nightclub, Ota got miserable food poisoning by eating fish in the desert (not smart), construction everywhere and definitely nothing finished, buying melons on the side of the roads, Karels fascination with donkeys and visiting a 14th century Mosque. Today was our rest day supposedly in the mountains but instead we are spending trying to sort out some paperwork with our visas as that we made a mistake and did not register within 5 days of being in Kazakhstan. Hopefully it all works out! Then just merely 2000KMs to the russian border, we wonder how long it will take... MORE PHOTOS HERE
The Long Detour
Posted by Ota at 21st August 2012 at 11:12
We knew we had a long day ahead as we headed east from Atyrau, made it about 130km on the typical blasted out road we had become accustomed to when we reached the town of Makate where the road ended. After long deliberations with the locals we were told it was a turnoff into the desert. So though the map showed it as a fat red line of a paved major road at this point it would turn into a 300km of a sand path. We made the difficult decision not to destroy, quite just yet, the car and turn back which lead us on a 700km detour towards the Russian border at the north. The road north was the best we had seen in all of Kazakhstan, 500kms on almost perfectly straight. The hardest part was not to fall asleep! We reached the city of Ural which has a 6km treelined main blvd that we cruised down until we found a place to bed down. They have an interesting policy at many hotels here, if you come late and leave by 7am you get the room at half price! We finally found a local eatery where we ate grilled animals to our heart and stomachs content. As well we chatted away with local Kazak college kids who wanted to practice their English. So though the day started badly it may have ended up for a good reason afterall.
Kazakhstan - everything changes
Posted by Ota at 21st August 2012 at 11:10
The moment we cross to Kazakhstan everything changed. The land became flat and very sparse. As well the roads just began to crumble. It was riddle with potholes like we have never seen before. You begin to play a game of high concentration, which frankly is exhausting, where you avoid potholes not to pop a tire, try not to jump the car on the wiggles, not hit an oncoming truck because you end having to swerve from one extreme to the other. It was about 300kms which when you realize we will do atleast 3000Km is a bit daunting. The day was well over a 100F but we seemed to adjusting. Also we got to see our first camels on the trip, they tend to block the road on occasion but good fun to look at as long as we don't hit one. We arrived in Atyrau which was surprisingly modern, we found a decrepit hotel to stay in, and wandered into restaurant which must never have foreigners. We drew pictures of animals to explain what we wanted and got great food. The evening was spent exploring the town and Ota was pulled over by the police. We spent the next 20 minutes explaining we had not been drinking. It was obvious that the guy wanted some cash but we didn't give in. Through the day we found the locals extremely friendly and curious about us as that people rarely come to visit western Kazakhstan. Tomorrow we head further east, 4320kms covered so far, who knows how many more...
To the South of Russia
Posted by Ota at 21st August 2012 at 11:09
We drove in 100 degree weather 450km from Volgograd, Russia following the River all the way to the lovely city of Astrakhan. A place where you start getting that eastern feel, with mosques dotting the city and a variety of new faces, such as Kazahks and Tatars. Lovely old building in a delight shambles lined the street. On the river bank we had an evening stroll enjoying the party like atmosphere with crowds of locals. We bumped into 4 other teams in the evening swapping stories of car trouble bribing cops and getting stuck at borders. A most pleasant stay in a wonderful city, we went to sleep happily dreaming what would the next day bring us.