Today we have driven on possibly the worst and best roads so far. Its strange how tarmac pops up out of know where in this country and is better than some of the roads we drove on in Europe however we wont complain as when its bad here it's real bad so 300km of tarmac is a welcome break from being smashed around by potholes.
We were lucky enough to see some wild camels today weve seen the odd ones since we entered but today we got to see a massive herd of them and get really close which is a unique opportunity.
The day worse on and gave us a lovely sunset and it was whilst we had pulled over for a leg stretch and fuel top up, a young child on horseback came out of literally know where to see what we were doing. He looked very bemused and with no real surprise really how often do you see 9 english people pulled up by the side of the road in a Mazda Demio, Nissan Micra and a VW lupo all adorned by various stickers and souvenirs we've collected on the rally so far.
I finally managed to gesture into letting me ride on his horse had a quick little Trott around and ticked another thing off the list (Ride Mongolian Horse). It was getting late by this point and we continued into the next town passed the first hotel and checked in.
We Up bright and early ish. Throughout the process of this trip and especially since wed hooked up with rainbow dash, the night before we would always chat and aim to be on the road by a certain time and so far there was only one morning on the Pamir that wed actually managed to set off on the agreed time this morning wed failed again.
We packed the cars even though we knew in 20 minutes time wed be unpacking them for the border officials.
Whilst waiting to be allowed through we met Caroline and Josh or the sightseers. War stories swapped and not that its a competition but they certainly out trumped us as they had accidentally ended up in Afghanistan and were detained and fined for being suspected Taliban fighters, we proceeded into the border.
With the usual procedure dealt with and a quick toilet stop in the most revolting one so far we were off into No mans land for a coffee.
Everyone had come on this trip with a Bucket list of things to do and see, on mine was to camp in one of these No mans Lands sadly as we were pushed for time it never amounted to reality.
With the last checkpoint passed and a gate opened we were in MONGOLIA!!! And you could tell, as the road was Shit!! as soon as we went through.
We hurried through the border as quick as we were allowed and then stopped in front of the Mongolia sign. We had done it!! I know the finish line is in Russia and we still had a very long way to drive on roads that we had be told when they got bad they were real bad worse than anything wed been on so far but wed got to Mongolia.
After the pictures we drove on and quickly found out how bad the roads are. When theres no tarmac the ground is just gravel so everyone follows the same route until the road gets bad then people make there own road basically theres about 6 roads close to each other that sometimes go in the same direction sometimes don't and the surfaces are horrible washboard dusty gravel.
Sometimes however some of the tracker are just loose smooth gravel so you can get your foot down on what feels like a rally special stage it was brill everyone loved it!!
Within 2 hours the gravel made way to lovely tarmac and it was on this that weirdly we had our first puncture of the rally. With that we made way to the first large town of Altay.
We drove up another high pass and even stopped to have a picture with a hunting Eagle something that was on my Bucket list! The land is so large and sparse that hunting with conventional methods doesn't work. Out here people use Eagles to hunt for them and they grow big! So much so they can catch lambs.
Any weather but sunshine has become a bit of a strange sight on this trip and today we saw Rain for only the 5th time since we left England, it even livened up the driving abit! We drove on through the rain and back into the dust for the remainder of the day and finally chose a place to camp next to a river. We were camping in Mongolia!!!!
That night we even cooked on a campfire made almost from Animal faeces like the locals do!
After a quickish shower in the river and breakfast consisting of left over caviar on toast we packed up and headed for the Mongolian border, which we had heard from teams shut at 6pm.
We only stopped for a quick bonnet lunch consisting of various cheeses and bread. We did however meet a man who gave us a new sticker for our car. He spoke little english but we fathomed was some sort of sport completion he was trying to promote.
I had researched the Altai region before we left and was quite excited for this bit of the journey and it was a stark contrast from the flatness of Kazakhstan and the part of Russian wed driven through so far.
For those who haven't been to this part of the world, flat expanses of prairies soon change into what seems like your in 'The sound of music' after a few hours of this the scenery slowly morphs into pine trees and fast flowing rivers that can be very easily mistaken for Western Canada there was even signs for bears and moose in area.
The day wore one and rainbow dashes car and even ours was starting to suffer again with the dreaded misfiring and lack of power, we could always tell when we above 1200M in altitude as 4th and 5th gear became useless putting more strain on the lowers gears, not fun when climbing some of the hills.
The pure beauty of the Altai region had left a massive impression on everyone from both teams, we all just though this was a part of the world we were using as a stepping stone allowing us to get to Mongolia from Kazakhstan but it was so much more than this and we all agreed that we were defiantly coming back and with a more flexible schedule.
Towards the border the landscape changed again into what seemed more like "Mongolia" we were getting close! A quick check at the border gate confirmed that wed missed the "window" for being allowed in so turned around and stopped in a hostel which looked very out of place as it had clearly been designed by someone with a love affair for French Ski Chalets as it was less 200M from the gate we cooked food and aimed to be first ones through tomorrow.
We awoke after about 4 hours sleep groggy eyed and very tiered. Where we had camped had basically been in the middle of a Soviet housing estate so before anyone reported us we quickly left.
We drove throughout the day keen to make as many miles as possible. As the sun was starting to set we drove off the main road and camped on a river bend.
Spent the night drinking beer, Cooking lovely food which included some cheap caviar on toast wed bought in a supermarket and watching an old women fish for mackerel with a stick and string the proper old school way. The whole group was then treated to a lovely sunset with the remains of the recent eclipse clear visible.
We had driven all through the night and it was on the odometers 88,000th mile that Olly and i pulled over to watch the sun rise and have a morning coffee.
I have been very lucky in my life to see many amazing things from the Northern Lights, to wild Whales and some amazing sights especially on this trip but to watch the sun rise in the middle of Kazakhstan after driving there, with no one around but both teams was a moment i will cherish for ever.
We continued on through the day with everyone shattered from the night drive and got to the Kazak / Russian border.
The queue didn't seem that bad at first so we sat and waited it took at least 30 minutes for the line of vehicles to move it was then that we realised we may be here for some time.
We arrived at just gone 7.00 PM and by 9.00 PM still had barley moved so whipped out the camping stoves and made tea it was almost midnight by the time we got to the front of the queue and then 1.00 AM by the time we left. First things first was bed!
We ended up driving round the first town we came across and looking for hotels, apparently not a single one we tried had any room, even the ones that looked empty were full so we decided to drive around the back of one of them and park the cars with enough space to get a tent up and then went to bed.
Although an early start was needed to get going Team rainbow dash still didn't get there car fixed until late afternoon it was then that we could finally get going towards Russia.
Leaving the city was eventful the traffic was horrendous and due to where the fan mounting bolts sat i couldn't install the thermostat for the fan meaning we were at a massive risk of overheating which in about 20 minutes of bumper to bumper traffic thats what happened. We even put the heating on full to hopefully take some heat out of the system.
We needed to get out of Almati quickly and soon enough traffic began to flow and the engine settled down.
Caution long post ahead
50% of the Nomad team and rainbow dash woke earlyish and were keen to forget yesterday's woes. First on the agenda was a mechanic for both cars, to see if our radiator could be fixed and their suspension. The morning quickly turned into a disappointment it turns out that Monday was their weekend. We seem very good at needing things at other countries weekends.
We had found a petrol station that sold radiator flush and more Rad weld so this was going to be plan B if it couldn't be fixed. Both teams also bought Injector cleaner in an attempt to fix the miss-firing issues that were plaguing both cars. We also got two new tyres as they were on sale and silly cheap so at least we could get rid of the tyres that had the wire coming through.
With heads held low i retreated to the hotel and googled a radiator fixer and found one that was on the other side of the city, quickly got some directions from reception and headed off into the afternoon.
When driving a Mongol rally car its easy to forget how much they stand out with huge stickers and flags all over them no to mention having GB plates on the car. It was at a set of traffic lights that the day started to brighten up a local man called Daulet pulled along side me and spoke fluent english and helped guide me to the place i was looking for.
He helped me translate what the problem was and after a quick chat with the mechanic we were back to square one. The guy said the radiator was too broken to be fixed and they wouldn't attempt it as i would have no warranty, something i was quick to mention that i wasn't bothered about i just needed a quick fix, this didn't matter to them they weren't going to fix it nor were they going to sell me the parching gear so i could do it myself, again more disappointment.
Daulet then suggested we try another place he knew again this was met with failure. Both places suggested going to a VW dealer to buy the part, this was out of the question due to it being very expensive to buy from dealers and time, they very rarely have stock and have to order specific things which was something we didn't have.
An auto parts store was last thing to come to mind and when we found one things were going in the right direction. The part was sourced from the VIN number purchased with the help of Daulet's translation he even paid for our Anti Freeze as a gift!.
The rest of the night i (Jamie) spent altering the inside of the engine bay of Patricia to fit the radiator in. It turns out that it didn't fit at all even though i was told it would. Its wider and taller than our original and required cutting a lot of the fibreglass engine bay away just to make a slot big enough to fit. 7 hours and 4 prices of polystyrene later the new radiator was in ish. There was only 2 zip ties holding it in and not a single screw but it worked and thats all that matters, only time will tell weather it holds on the rough roads.
Today has been marked down in the dislike column of our trip, it started when both cars got pulled over for not having lights on in the day time the officer initially told us the fine would be 1,000 som which is about $20 then once wed hand our documents over decided the fine would be $50. Again no paperwork was filled in so once some haggling took place a fine of $23 was paid.
It was about an hour later after driving over a particularly mountains pass that more troubles started. We knew that our radiator had a small hole but had patched it with rad weld, this had held since Georgia when we first met with Geoff and Chloe but today was different. The warning light for the water system came on and this is when we discovered the leak. Rainbow dashes car was also struggling with misfiring issues and there bigger suspension had started chewing its way through the chassis much to there amusement.
For the rest of the day we drove filling up the car with water every hour or so. We even had to do it in the snow as we went over the last mountain pass on the way to the border. It was only 2 weeks ago we were sat baking in Ashgabat at 45 degrees and now it was snowing crazy!!
Our troubles were far from over on the way through Bishkek Joe got pulled over for speeding which cost another $70 and then towards the border both cars got pulled again for driving in the Left hand lane of a dual carriage way. Unbeknownst to us a solid which line across the lane means you cant enter it and in our defence there was no sign or cross over the lane. With the third corrupt policeman paid spirits were low and we still had to get through the Kazak border which had been black labeled by other ralliers as the worst so far oh joy!
Yet again to our surprise we were through both borders in about an hour which was an all time record for us and swiftly headed late into the morning into Astana all ready for bed and hopefully a better day.
We woke in a homestay run by a lovely family who let us churn milk into butter. We could even see the mountains of western China from here.
With a Quick look over the car, some proper fuel added and a swapping of Air filters we made as much progress as possible and ended up camping by the side of a beautiful lake way off the beaten track.
We woke with the best view we've had so far as it was dark last night and couldn't tell where we were camping. I don't know what temperature it got to but the stream next to camp was frozen and with a quick check of my watches altimeter which is accurate to +/- 50M told us wed camped at an altitude of roughly 3800M. No wonder it was so cold!! Another quick emptying of dust from the air filters and we were ready for off.
Just before we left a local came up to us and offered us fermented Yak cheese which is properly vile. Within 5 minutes off saw our first Yaks which are strange looking creatures a cross between Horse and Cow.
We had a quick lunch in a small isolated town of Murghab and pushed on to the border with Kyrgyzstan.
The road towards the end got particularly bad and included a Monstrous 4655M climb of a mountain pass which our car almost didn't make it and just after 50km of washboard gravel, but it did get better as we got to stop at lake Qarokul which is trying to be the highest freshwater lake in the world.
The border process for leaving Tajikistan and then entering Kyrgyzstan has to be the strangest we've done so far. The border is in the middle of nowhere on a terrible road we then had to pay another bribe as apparently we didn't get a piece of paper in Murghab something that i know we don't need.
The distance between the two borders was strange again as it was 15 miles with people living in the middle. Technically living in their own country with no government ruling a concept that is odd and slightly wonderful at the same time.