Saturday, 21.07.2007
After some hectic packing, we finally started our great rally at 10:30 A.M.
for the first etappe from our home town Burgsteinfurt to Prague. There is a big meeting of all teams in Prague on Sunday, before they will head in small groups or just by themselves into all possible eastern directions. Most of the other teams are at the official start in London today, which we decided to leave out.
The trip to Prague was mostly without problems. Only in traffic jams and in the city traffic (after some hard work on the autobahn) our Wartburg showed some heat problems which resulted to some failures of the ignition system. At some point we had to replace one of the three ignition coils to make sure that the car will run on all three cylinders. But these were only minor problems!
There was one funny coincident: In a traffic jam near Bad Eilsen we met Daniel Schulz, a Wartburg fan and expert who gave us many good hints and practical help for the preparation of our car. But this was our first personal meeting, since before we always had contact only by e-mail, snail mail and telephone!
After our arrival in Prague we met with Anneli (daughter of Siegfried and sister of Jonas) who arrived just one hour before us. Anneli spends some days in Prague with her friends. When we found her she already had organized some cheap but good accommodation for us!
Sunday, 22.07.2007
On Sunday morning we started quite easy going. We slept long and then strolled a bit through downtown Prague. Quite soon we were able to see the first Rally cars coming into town from London----but unfortunately, we could never see them on one place together, since the parking garage which was recommended by the Rally organization did not allow a view on all cars at the same time, and since the price of that parking was very high (approx. 45 Euros a day), there were many cars at that place anyway.
But the evening party in the cafe Dinitz was great! Very good atmosphere and many nice people talking about their plans and their routes to Ulan Bator. There
we also organized a small convoy with other teams: among them another father-son team from the UK, which takes almost the same route as we do!
Monday, 23rd
We left our apartment in Prague on Monday morning, to officially check in our car for the rally at the Dinitz cafe, the place of the party the night before. On our way there the car broke down because the fuel pump was dead. Luckily we had a spare, so Jonas walked to the cafe, while Siegfried fixed the car. There we teamed up with another father & son team in a Polo, and two girls in a Micra to form a convoy. That day we drove through Czech Republic and Slovakia. At the border to Hungary a couple of teams got busted for not having paid the road toll sticker. They did manage to get away with it after some talking, though. Maybe it helped a bit, that Brian (from Team Hammongolia) showed them his british Police Staff ID.
In the evening we reached Budapest. While it would have been great to get to see more of the city, we figured that it was late, and we didn't want to spend much time to find a hostel, so we set up camp next to a field in the backlands.
Tuesday, 24th
Departing from our camp near Budapest, we set off for Romania. As we drove through stop and go traffic at temperatures around 38 degrees C, our car began running like crap. We found out, that it was running on only two cylinders again, and also that it would build up a lot of pressure in the cooling system. The problems became worse during the day, as we finally had to drive up a hill during a traffic jam on only one cylinder. No better way to kill the clutch. As there was no way we could proceed like that, we checked in at a nice campground at Klausenburg. Since the engine was building up pressure in the cooling system, we figured that the problem could only be a blown head gasket, so we proceeded to replace it on the camp site that evening. Since the gasket we used was an odd one, made out of copper it didn't quite work. Well, not at all actually, with coolant spilling all out of the engine block after starting. At that point we figured the only solution for the moment was to join the other teams in their drinking, and have another try the next morning. Which we did.
Wednesday, 25th
On Wednesday we got up very early in the morning, so we could install a proper head gasket before the other teams would set off. Since we had practice from the last try, and since a Wartburg engine is about the simplest conceivable design, we were done in about half an hour, so we could set off happily with a properly tight head gasket.
However, after a few kilometers we figured that our problems weren't quite gone. While we no longer got excess pressure in our cooling system, but the engine ran just as crappy as before. Frustrated, we stopped to figure out what was going on. We checked the ignition for that cylinder, but everything seemed to be set up just fine, and the ignition coil was brand new, since we just replaced it a couple of days earlier. Should our trip have come to an end at such an early stage, because of a broken engine block or something?
We decided to call Wartburg specialist Daniel Schulz for advice. He told us to try replacing the new ignition coil anyways, since Wartburg ignition coils are very sensitive, especially when hot, and are the cause for many troubles. So we checked to coils, and, quite indeed, the new ignition coil was the source of our problems. After we replaced it, the car ran just fine again. Our only worry is, that given the fact that the last one lasted just a couple of days, that we would run out of spares before we reach Ulan Bator. But for the moment, that shouldn't concern us.
We had lost our convoy during all the trouble, so we drove on alone. While the car is running well, we can move much faster that way, since we don't have to wait for the whole convoy pass trucks, and when it's working on all cylinders, our Wartburg actually outruns the Polo and the Micra.
We went through the Transilvanian mountainside via very small side roads, and the scenery was absolutely stunning. Beautiful mountain landscapes, scattered with small, simplistic villages, lots of animals on the road and many people driving around in horse carriages. We decided to drive into the night, to make up for the lost time due to the car troubles, and set up camp by some small field when we were to tired to go on.
Thursday, 26th
We reached the border out of Romania on thursday morning. We weren't actually sure which country the border would lead to, as our map showed it right on the corner between Moldavia, Romania and Ukraine. Against our hopes, the border post led us into Moldova. Even though there's about 100 km of common border between Romania and Ukraine, there seems to be no direct crossing between the two countries.
Moldavian border officials like getting "presents" from people passing, and don't hesitate to openly say so. we bought our way in by giving the official a couple of ball-point pens from our local newspaper, Westfälische Nachrichten.
Our actual route through Moldavia was only about 30 km, but it was enough to get an impression of live there. There area seems to be very poorly structured with people leading very simple lives, even more so then in Romanian backlands. When we stopped by some wall at the roadside to cook some coffee, we figured out that that wall was actually a ramp for people to drive their cars onto, and do an oil change, indicated by a big puddle of old motor oil and a pile of old filters on the ground.
At the border out of Moldavia we were asked for presents again. We ended up paying three dollars to get out, to proceed to wait over two hours to get into Ukraine. The border guards seem to be quite efficient in doing nothing, and smoking cigarettes while looking at the cars piling up at the gate.
When we finally reached Odessa that evening it was quite late. We drove around looking for a camp site for a long time without any success, when our ignition started to cause troubles again. At this rate of ignition coil death we will never be able to get far, so we'd have to think of something soon. We decided to park at the beach and get a look, which turned out to be a bad idea. Our parking space was actually a big pothole, and when we fell in, we saw that a) we wouldn't be able to get out without any work, and b) our exhaust had broken off. So there we were with a troublesome ignition, broken exhaust, and a stuck car. And still about 10000 km to go. We did what any self-respecting men would have done, and went to the next bar at the beach to eat some steak and get drunk. We postponed the problems to the next day, and ended up sleeping in the car.
Friday, 27th
After a short night of sleeping in the car, and some bathing in the black sea, we went to look at our problems. It actually didn't turn out to be all quite as bad as we thought. Getting the car out of the hole was easy be piling up some rocks as a ramp, and the exhaust wasn't actually broken, but could be stuck back together. So we still had the problem with the ignition coils. We can't just go on replacing them as they die, because we'd run out of spares way to soon. Since the problem always starts to come up when the coils get hot, like in stop and go traffic, we figured we'd need to cool them somehow. We came up with an improvised ignition cooling system, consisting of a fan built for sticking it to the cars windshield, and some extra "acceleration holes" for venting, which we hammered into the cars hood with a screwdriver. A perfect piece of german engineering. Happy with our accomplishments, we went on, and right now I am sitting typing this on a nice beach we found, 40 km before the russian border. Some locals are camping here, so we figured we'd do the same. The people we met in Ukraine seem to be very friendly, but it's usually impossible to communicate anything, other then our plan to drive to Mongolia and the funny fact that our car has only three cylinders, which seems to amuse everyone a lot ("Tri cilindri? Hahahaha! )
Saturday, 28th
Today we crossed into Russia. The border crossing took a long 6 1/2 hours of waiting in the heat. Once you were at the front of the queue, the process of entering Russia was rather bureaucratic, involving lots of paperwork for us and registering the car. The entry process itself was pretty straightforward and unproblematic, though.
Once we were in, we ran into the first police stop right after the border. We ended up paying 500 rubles (about 15 Euros) because it is forbidden to have stickers on our car. Yeah, right. We figured that this was way too much for bribes (and there wasn't even a real reason to bribe here, since the crime we were accused of obviously didn't really exist), so we spent the next hour of driving discussing our strategy for future police stops. We'll see, if it works out better the next time.
Right now we are in a hotel (for a change) in Rostov on Don, and plan to move on east after getting some breakfast in the morning, so we could be in Kazakhstan by Monday.
Sunday, 29th
After getting some proper breakfast and a shower in the hotel for a change, we headed off for Volgograd. After about 200 km we met our friends from Team Hammongolia on the road, and joined them to meet the girls in the Micra, and a Team in a micro-van. These teams were planning on sleeping somewhere, as some of them crossed into Russia without sleep that night, so we decided to move on to get some miles done. On the road we came across many police checkpoints, which we were rather vary of, considering our experience at the checkpoint after the border the day before, but we were actually pulled over only once, and the officer only entered our car and passport details onto a list, without any further trouble.
We passed Volgograd, but all we really saw was a lot of heavy industry, and the whole area stank of pollution. After Volgograd the Landscape began changing becoming more of a deserted steppe scenery. At the end of the day, we just pulled off the road to sleep in the prairie.
Monday, 30th
After we went up, we continued down the road to Astrakhan. On the way there we could see some beautiful views of the river Volga, and many poor russian villages. In Astrakhan we stopped to get some water and supplies for the journey.
50 km further and we were at the Kazakh border. The russian side was no problem at all, and we were out of Russia within 15 minutes. From there we went on for several kilometers, until we came to the border river. The border guard there reminded me of some Vietcong fighter with his asian face, camouflage suite and an AK47. We crossed the river on a small ferry, and then we were at the Kazakh border. The whole procedure didn't take to long, but the whole situation was a bit dodgy, the soldiers doing the customs inspection were all trying to get us to let them keep some of our belongings, and in the end, one managed to steal a screwdriver in front of my eyes, by passing it on to a little boy apparently working for them, and let the kid ran away with it. Bastards. Some of them seemed to be quite ok and helpful, though. Might be part of their teamwork, but it didn't really feel like that. The whole situation wasn't completely understandable to us.
After we were out of the border complex several people ran to us, babbling some things. Annoyed, we just floored the pedal and left. Which means we passed the chance to change some local money, and we don't have an insurance for the car (Though we also don't know whether it is mandatory or even at all possible to get one).
The Kazakh scenery was again entirely different from what we saw before. The steppe (and sometimes the road) is crowded with animals - horses, sheep, cows and many, many camels. People were living in simple clay huts. We then did the mistake of waiting till the dark to find a place to sleep. We went down a side track, and camped by the road side, in what seemed to be sort of wilderness. Apparently it wasn't quite, as we got woken up several times that night. First there came a group of teenage boys, who wanted to figure out what we were about. After we chatted a bit with them (without any common language to understand), they left us alone, only to come back half an hour later, to show us to some of their girlfriends. They finally wished us goodbye, and good luck for or journey, but next we were woken up by a car full of drunken young men, who were quite annoyingly persistent in talking to us, even though we didn't understand a word. When they finally left, we decided to move on, only to be chased by them in the car, and be stopped by the roadside. They apparently wanted us to sit down and have a bottle of vodka with them, but that was not what we felt like at all that moment. After some more discussing they finally let us go, and we were on our own again. As we didn't want to go camping again, and just staying in the car also wasn't an option, as it would become unbearably hot with the windows closed, and filled with mosquitos if we opened them, we only had the option to move on (so we'd get some fresh air, and the mosquitos would die trying to get into the windows at 70 km/h). We drove until sunrise, when we could see well enough to drive off the road and into the steppe, to find a nice and lonely space to camp.
Tuesday, 31st
Since our first day and night in Kazakhstan was rather discomforting, we didn't feel happy with the prospect of going on alone. While the locals here do seem to be friendly and hospitable, and mostly just interested, we don't quite understand their mindset yet.
After some expensive phone calls to some other teams (those in front of us also told us to by no means go on alone), and to mother back at home (who can check the teams status messages on the Mongol Rally web site), we figured there must be a convoy of six teams about half a day behind us. So as of this typing, we are parking by the side of the road, waiting for other Rally cars to come by to hook up with.
Continued: After half a day of waiting, we did meet a convoy of three teams passing by, so we joined forces with the boys from team "We're Actuarilly going to Mongolia" in a Polo, the Berrow Fellows in a Fiesta, and Swizz/Luxembourgian team Justy in a Subaru Justy. That day we continued to Atyrau where we booked a cheap hotel and went out to drink some well deserved beers. Atyrau is a city which recently profited a lot of western oil money, and this is quite visible. When you approach the town you pass through many broken down slum residences, but once you reach the center of town you get all the virtues of western capitalism. Air conditioned shopping malls, Coca Cola and fast food. And we did actually appreciate all of that after the hard way of getting there.
Wednesday, 1st.
Rather late on Wednesday, after shopping for supplies we set of for the route south. First we went to Qulsary. As the other german teams in front of us warned us, that road was extremely bad, with potholes and dirt tracks. But the really bad roads started after Qulsary. When we hit the first sand tracks, the sun was already setting, so we quickly found a place to sleep, to see how far we would get the next day. After we set up tents, a Lada Niva stopped by with the friendly local policeman, who introduced himself with "Hello, Sheriff!". He shook hands with us, and told us to just ask for him, should we have any problems within the next 30 km.
Thursday, 2nd.
We got up early this day, to try the sand tracks. This got really ugly. The situation was, that the original road from Qulsary to Beyneu hasn't been maintained since Soviet times. So it became so bad that it was basically undrivable. There where meter deep potholes, and driving there wasn't a matter of avoiding potholes, but of choosing the less devastating ones, resulting in an average speed of 20 km/h. Finally the Kazakh government decided to do something about it (or they got enough new oil money), and fix the road. The problem was that they are building the new road right where the old one used to be. So in those places where the road construction takes place, drivers are forced to just go off the road, and drive through the steppe. For basic street vehicles like ours, this would mean finding the paths which other SUVs our trucks had cleared before and driving in their tracks. But often enough, if the track had been used to much, the sand would become to soft, and we would become helplessly stuck, often wasting hours digging the cars out of the sand. Since our Wartburg was the most off-roadworthy vehicle in the convoy we usually went first. If we got stuck, we knew the other guys would have to find another track, cause they could never make it. The Berrow Fellow's Fiesta coped worst - we had to dig or tow it out so many times that day! Though, I must admit, when it worked out, racing through the deep sand could be great fun, and made you feel like a real rally pilot!
After a long day of hard work, we finally made it to Beyneu. Those where a tough 200 km. In Beyneu, we managed to come up with a very cheap accommodation, all in one big room, which was otherwise used as the local restaurant. Very friendly people, great time!
Friday, 3rd.
From Beyneu a long, straight gravel track took us to the Uzbek border. Driving was much better then the day before, but still, you could rarely make speeds exceeding 50 km/h. A the Kazakh exit we were welcomed very friendly by the border posts, but the procedure took some time, because first, each of the border soldiers had to take a photo of us posing with their comrades. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos ourselves, since borders are sensitive security areas. Entering Uzbekistan worked out ok as well, but was an extremely lengthy and bureaucratic procedure, which took us five hours in the hot desert sun. First we had to wait three hours, because the border had closed for noon break. Then we had to fill out dozens of forms (of course non of them in english) and get many stamps to finally be allowed inside. Since it was already getting late again, we continued driving for two more hours, and then drove off into the desert to find camp. Sleeping outside in a clear starry desert night is great!
Saturday, 4th.
When we reached the first town in Uzbekistan, first our plan was to drive up north to see the stranded ships in what used to be the Aral sea. However, the town we came into was completely sold out of gasoline, and we found no place to exchange money, so we decided to move on to Nukus instead, and not to risk getting stuck in the desert without gas. Eventually we did find some gas and money that, both of which is rather strange in Uzbekistan - The local currency is Uzbek Sum, which comes in various denominations, the largest of which is 1000 Sum - which equals about 70 Euro cent! But when you changed money, you'd be more likely to get 500's and 100's, so you'd end up counting huge piles of money for any transactions. The gas stations in Uzbekistan all only sell one kind of gas - no matter what it says on the pumps. Usually either 80 or 92 octane, but you'd take whatever you'd get. Just like in the rest of central Asia, gas is extremely cheap, usually between 40 and 50 Euro cents a litre. Pumps where always quite ancient, and at one station we fueled up, the tendants actually had to pump the gas into our tanks by hand, using a crank!
Another noticeable thing about driving on Uzbek roads are the extremely frequent police stops. Small police stations on the roadside, with barricades, stopping and checking every car passing through. We noticed these in all former soviet countries, but nowhere as frequent as here. We were stopped about every 50 km. The policemen where usually quite ok, and would just check our papers, and write down our details into their log books. I guess I'm registered in twenty different log books in Uzbekistan. Why do they do this? It's not like they could easily access or manage this information when searching for somebody, since it's all on conventional paper. Which documents were actually checked was quite different. Sometimes police would just ask where we are from and let us go, sometimes they'd check or passports, sometimes the car documents. One cop, when we were about to hand him our passports, said "No, no, no! I need something against mosquitos!". We laughed and the Berrow Fellows gave him a bottle of mosquito repellant spray. From the looks of his arms he did indeed need it.
Sunday, 5th.
From Nukus we drove a very long stretch of about 800 km to Samarqand. We and the Berrow Fellows decided to take a short break in Bukhara, while the others went on to organize a hotel in Samarqand. Bukhara was great, a very oriental town with small alleys, unfortunately we only got a brief look, since we had to make Samarqand that night, and it was already getting dark. And driving to Samarqand in the darkness was a total nightmare! Everybody was driving with their high beams on, so you could never see the road ahead of you if there was opposing traffic, but still you had to somehow dodge all the cows, pedestrians, women with children, unlit trucks and cars going the wrong way on the highway in pitch darkness. Crazy!
Monday, 6th
Samarqand is a tourist place, with old Oriental buildings, and crowds of local children running after any westerner, and shouting "Hello! Hello!" and "Bonbon?". We looked around a bit and moved on to Tashkent.
Tuesday, 7th
Wasted too much time in Tashkent, looking around at the bazar, and meeting up with the other german teams, who where stuck here, waiting for a Visa. Moved on for Kyrgyz border, but didn't quite make it that night, camping in somebody's backyard in the Fergana Valley instead, for way too much money.
Wednesday, 8th.
Kyrgyz border was great! Very quick, and now problems at all. Kyrgyz border guards gave me a peach, and actually wanted to give me some money! Since I'm not corrupt, I of course declined. Drove into Kyrgyzstan, very beautiful country - great mountains. Found a great place to camp off the road by some completely unoccupied mountain lake.
Thursday, 9th
More beautiful mountains. Crossed some very high mountain passes. Saw first nomads living in gers up on the hills. The Wartburg likes going up mountains, but has problems coming down, since the breaks would overheat and stop working after a while. Guess it wasn't made with 3600 meter high mountain crossings in mind.  
The Kazakh border wasn't really problematic, but a bit crazy anyways. At the barricade, there were three lanes of traffic, merging into one. Every couple of minutes, the border guards would open the barricade and let a handful of cars in. But instead of some systematic procedure of letting cars from all lanes in, everyone would just honk their horns, rev up the engines, and try to bully the other lanes out of the way. As we didn't want to be bullied, we were actually rammed by the Kazakh in the car left of us, who was just amicably chatting with us a minute before. As a result, our indicator was smashed and our our bumper was a bit dented. His much newer car had a long scratch on the side, but he didn't seem to particularly care about that, and just moved on. Neither did we - we actually had a spare indicator cover with us.
That night we arrived in Almaty, and checked into an old soviet-style hotel (rather late, as we had to tow the Berrow Fellow's Fiesta, since their alternator had broken down), and got some good sleep.
Friday, 10th
Even though we still had a long way to go, with little time, we all agreed that we'd need to take a day off, to catch up on sleep. Coincidentally, my uncle Erwin and my Cousin David had just arrived in Almaty the same night as we did, to do some business there, so we met up for some food and beers in the afternoon. Taking a day off was a good idea!
The Berrow Fellows were also able to fix their Fiesta with a spare alternator, so we were ready to move on the next morning.
Saturday, 11th
This day was rather unspectacular. We went north through Kazakhstan, heading for the russian border 1000 km further up the road. Since roads were much better then in the west of the country, we were able to drive about 700 km, till we stopped over to camp. When we got out of the car there, we immediately noticed that temperatures had dropped significantly, for the first time on our journey we were actually quite cold.
Sunday, 12th
We arrived at the russian border in the early afternoon. At the border queue we met 7 other rally teams, who have already been waiting for quite a while. Exiting Kazakhstan wasn't an issue - I was first quite worried about this, as I had lost my immigration card, so I was expecting a lot of trouble and bribes - but in the end, the woman at the passport control just said "OK", stamped my passport and I was out. What a relieve!
Entering russia was a bit of a hassle, though. Everything worked out ok, but they were just so slow in processing the paperwork, and would always let russians pass us by, because they are easier to process, so that it took 9 hours to finally enter the country. When we were in, it was already dark night. We stopped at a small Kiosk right after the border, and had some food and beers with a border policemen who just finished his shift there. After going on for about one more hour, we stopped to sleep in the cars, as it was too cold and rainy to put up tents.
Monday, 13th
This morning we started early, and arrived in the siberian town of Barnaul, where we were able to shop for some supplies in what would be the last proper western-style supermarket on the way. On we went into the beautiful Altai mountains, where we found a great campsite up on some hill, looking onto a small village. Unfortunately it was still raining a lot, and we were a bit worried about how we would be able to drive on wet, muddy mongolian roads, if the weather wouldn't change.
Tuesday, 14th
We reached the mongolian border in the late morning, and again the border procedure was quite lengthy and there were many other Mongol Rally teams waiting as well. Most of the time was taken by the russian bureaucracy, but the mongolian side took quite a while as well, mostly since we were actually going to leave the car there, so it got permanently imported here.
After the border checkpoint, there was an insurance post, where they stopped rally cars, and said we couldn't move on without buying insurance. Since the whole place looked a bit fishy, another team from New Zealand went back to the border post to ask if insurance was mandatory. It turned out that nobody at the border ever heard about this, so the director of the border post joined them in their car, to take a look at that insurance post. There they all had a long discussion, but finally we were let into the country without paying, by signing a paper saying we refused to pay the insurance. Might have not been worth the trouble, but on the other hand you can't actually expect such an insurance to pay anything, should you actually have an accident, so why give them money?
So here we were, in Mongolia! It became obvious that the days of good, medium or slightly bad roads had finally come to an end here. We'd be driving on either gravel pistes with a surface like corrugated iron, or on some network of many, randomly crossing, parallel tracks going through the landscape, left behind by the trucks which passed through before. In the first village after the border, we met the canadian Team Saskatchewan, who had tried to take the northern route from the border to Ulan Bator, but had to come back, after finding that route absolutely inpassable, and having their car wrecked. Following their advice (and what we planned anyways), we turned south, and set up camp in the steppe soon after, as it was getting dark, and these roads are better traversed during daylight. That night was really cold, as we were at some altitude over 2000 meters.
Wednesday, 15th
We continued on our way in the direction of Khovd, passing through diverse and beautiful mountain landscapes. We would have reached Khovd that evening, hadn't it been for two stupid mistakes of ours:
1. Being a bit over-confident after crossing several smaller creeks and puddles with our Wartburg, Siegfried decided to just drive into a much wider and deeper ford, where we promptly got stuck. As I was climbing out of the window, Siegfried opened his door instead, thus flooding the car, and ruining some of our gear, such as books and the old Powerbook we brought for blogging. So it goes. As we were convoying with three other people, we were lucky enough to have enough people to push the car out of the water, but the whole thing took well over an hour.
2. After getting the car back out of the water, and then through it at a more appropriate crossing, we were faced with the question of which way to proceed. When we asked a Mongolian on a horse, he pointed straight towards a mountain - possible a suitable track for his horse, but not for our cars. Another guy on a motorcycle told us we should go around the mountain to the left. However, Luc from Team Justy brought a GPS, which told us to go the opposite way, to the right. So we followed Luc, who was confidently leading the way, as the tracks would become smaller and smaller. Then we went down first one hill, then another one, both so steep, that we figured there would be no way we could ever back up again. Well, that seemed like a bad idea, especially once we figured that the way forwards was blocked by a huge canyon, which was totally impossible to pass. Or if we could pass it, what would come behind? So we figured we'd have to get back out somehow, and we did manage with a lot of hard work. Basically we would drive the cars up as far as we could, till the wheels would spin, and then take out all the heavy gear, and carry it up ourselves, and push the cars. Quite exhausting, but the alternative was to stay in that valley and settle there.
When we were back up, it was getting dark, so we set up camp in the icy winds, and went to sleep quickly.
Thursday, 16th
This day, we came along rather well in terms of mongolian roads, we reached Khovd at noon. From there we moved on towards Altai - the road was mostly reinforced, but the piste was very rattly gravel, and we blew all our four replacement tires on those 400 km! In the evening we stopped by some roadside guanz, a mongolian bistro for some cheap food, which was a welcome change to all the asian noodle dishes we ate with our camping stove each night.
Friday, 17th
Roads continued to be bad, and we often scraped the ground with our car, so we kept having to stop to refit our exhaust. Also, our gear shifter once got stuck, as the cover for the gearbox controls was a bit dented from hitting some rock, but we were able to move that sort of back into position, so we could move on.
Other teams we met really had to fight against the roads, as well. We stopped by a broken down Polo on the way, which had lost it's complete rear axle. As we stopped there, we noticed that our car had suffered as well, one of our rear spring had broken into three parts, so we had to put in a spare before moving on.
Briefly after, we met another wrecked rally car, a Nissan Micra which had flipped over on the bad roads. We helped them putting the car onto a truck, and then followed them to a garage in Altai, where we could have our tires fixed.
We reached Altai around noon. There, all the teams were busy fixing their cars. We had four blown tires, the Fiesta had a broken tank, and the Justy broke a spring as well. Getting new tubes inserted into all four tires was really cheap, we paid around 20 euros for all four of them! We also noticed a small leakage in the upper side of our fuel tank, where you fill it up. We tried to fix it with some metal glue, but concluded that we'd be better off by filling it only halfway, and using our jerry cans for the rest.
Team "We're Actuarilly Going to Mongolia" decided to split, to get to Ulan Bator faster and make the party, whereas the rest of us drove a bit into the night till about midnight, and went to sleep.
Saturday, 18th
With still about 900 km to Ulan Bator, the last 400 of which were supposed to be paved, we were getting our hopes up for actually making it to the party the next day. But the way wouldn't be that easy. After about 150 km, we completely lost our brakes. It turned out that all the brake fluid had leaked out of the rear right cylinder. As we took a spare, we were back on the road after about an hour.
However the next obstacle would soon come after: we reached a river, about one meter deep and 15 meters wide, with no bridge around anywhere. Some locals said there might be a bridge 80 km north, but nobody had been there in the past four years, to verify if it still exists. After watching some other teams successfully crossing the river by being towed with big SUVs from the locals, we decided it would be best to do the same, and it worked out quite well (except that everyone got their carpets slightly wet).
Further down the way we had to stop for another hours, as the Fiestas radiator was leaking and needed to be fixed. Around the same time, Team Justy found out that three (!) more springs in the subaru had broken, and that the front suspension on one side was torn. Which meant they had to find a garage to weld it.
So we had to decide to either stay with our convoy, or move on alone, and try to make the party. In the end we all checked into a cheap hotel in Bayangkhongor, where the Justy would be welded the next morning.
Sunday, 19th
As we had to wait till about 3 p.m. before we would get going, as the Subaru was getting welded, we used the time to get some food and sleep. In the evening we reached Arvaikheer, with only about 400 km to go. Here we were surprised to see really good paved roads, so we decided to try to go through the night, so we might be able to get a last beer at the party. However, after about 200 km of good roads, the fun ended. The same old dirt tracks as before. As it was late, and there was no pressure to get any further today (no chance of making the party anyways), we stopped, and got some sleep in the cars.
Monday, 20th
A couple of more hours of bad roads, and we finally arrived in Ulan Bator around noon!  We made it!
Before driving to the finish line there (where we would have to hand over the cars), we went to find a hostel, which was very simple, since Martin's (from Team Justy) girlfriend was already in Ulan Bator, and had it all sorted out for us. Great!
Then we went to check out flights. Apparently all the Aeroflot or MIAT flights via Moscow had been booked out for the month to come, so we'd have to seek an alternative and fly via Seoul or Beijing. We ended up getting a flight via Seoul for US$ 1000 - a bit more then we hoped for, but the alternative of booking a flight in advance, and then risking to not make it in time or not at all would have been worse.
After getting those things worked out, we finally brought our car to the finish line at Dave's Bar, and enjoyed the honorary free beer, and then many others.
Tuesday, 21st
Not entirely without remorse, we brought our car to the compound, where it awaits to be auctioned to collect money for charity. What will happen to it? Will somebody buy it and will it live on to see many more miles of mongolian roads? We think we left it in a reasonable condition, and with some little work, the injuries of the rally could be fixed. But what about getting parts for the Wartburg in Mongolia? We left our email address, in case the next owner requires assistance.
For us it was a great car. It carried us 12700 km over the worst roads known to men. It did require a lot of attention, we really had to fix it more or less daily - but the technology is simple enough that we never encountered a problem we couldn't fix ourselves by the side of the road, and the whole suspension is much superior to most of the more modern cars taking part in the rally on the bad roads of Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
After getting a tasty and plentiful meal at a mongolian restaurant, we took a cab to the airport, where we would fly to Seoul right after midnight.
Wednesday, 22nd
We arrived in Seoul in the early morning, and as we had 9 hours of stopover time, we took the train and subway for a brief look at the city. The trip was well worth it, Seoul is an impressive modern Asian city, very busy, people are extremely polite and helpful.
At noon we were back at the airport, ready to embark for the long flight to Frankfurt, where we finally picked up a rental car for the final kilometers back home to Steinfurt.
Travel diary