After leaving Ulaan Ude on Sunday morning teams, Temujin, Kasotiri and Commonwealth took a leisurely drive towards the Mongolian border and hopefully the last bit of stress of the trip. By then, the Russian environment had become drastically different to the scenery when we entered more than two weeks ago. The people started to look far more Asian, the vehicles were better (imported from Japan rather than Russian built) and, most noticeably, the landscape had become stunning. The Russian forests and plains had turned into mountain ranges that stretched seemingly unbroken for miles. It looked like the Mongolia that I have seen photographs of!
We spent the night camping in a forest just off the main road about 15km from the border. Late in the evening a tired but happy team Mahayana joined us after some monstrously long days of driving to catch us all up. We hadn’t seen them for more than a week after they stayed behind at Samara to help team Mutley with their driving. Following an evening of exchanging stories, we were met by team Mutley the next day and with the convoy back up to five vehicles we set off towards Mongolia.
The border proved quite difficult to find, with very few signs and accessed by a dirt track, but before long we found ourselves in the now familiar border queue. Whilst there, our trucks received plenty of interest from the locals. They liked the ambulances’ 3.5 litre V8 engines, but disiked the fact they were petrol and the poor fuel economy. Mobile phone reception was poor, but we had managed to make contact with Richard C and Robin, who had set off for the border the previous day. They warned us of the admin nightmare that lay ahead and said they had finally got through after around 28 hours at the border!
We cleared the Russian side within just a few hours, with the usual glum-faced form-filling, document checking and rubber stamping. I don’t think anyone really appreciated how chaotic the Mongolian side of the border would be until we finally arrived there. Getting the people through was relatively straight forward but the vehicles took hours. There were lots of forms to be filled in while some border staff ran around looking stressed and others fell asleep. Few people spoke much English, and of course we spoke no Mongolian, which only added to the confusion. After several hours of not really understanding what was happening we were told that we could go through. I think one of the main reasons was that the border had closed and the staff were evidently itching to go home!
Having got through several hours previously, Robin and Richard had gone to the first major town, Darkhan, and were waiting for us to join them at a hotel. With cheers of elation as we finally crossed into Mongolia, we drove into the beautiful sunset to join them. Unfortunately, within just a few kilometres, team Timujin ran into mechanical difficulties and were forced to pull over. It soon became evident that their problem could not be solved quickly, and so with the light rapidly fading, we all decided to sleep in a lay-by.
The next morning, Griff repaired the vehicle as far as possible but we knew it was a short term fix. Thankfully, after numerous dramas including a broken tow rope, all five vehicles managed to join Richard and Robin in Darkhan. Finally all six ambulances have been reunited and Ulaan Baatar is only 150km away!