We made it! Last night we rolled into UB and some of the most chaotic traffic I've seen yet! We found a hostel and settled into a ger (yurt) for the night. Today we are happy to be taking the day off from driving. We have nothing planned but relaxing. We may also do some housekeeping with the Jeep and a bit of laundry, though. It's been a tough last leg and we're excited to be stationary for a moment.
The challenges began the day after we left Novosibirsk, Russia. Sections of the road through Siberia, M-53, was under construction and the detours were horrendous. We were funneled down washboard gravel roads with cobblestones the size of volleyballs, old paved roads with bathtub-sized potholes, and mud tracks. We tried to go slow and avoid as much of it as possible, but there was no getting around some of the obstacles.
We got our first flat tire late morning that day, which was quickly remedied with a swap of the spare. At the next village we brought the flat into a tire shop to see if they could fix it. A chunk of scrap metal had cut a gash about two inches long in the tire, and the techs were unable to patch it. There were no tires of the appropriate size for our rims for sale, so we rolled on down the road without a spare.
The second flat came just outside of the next big village, luckily. We limped into the tire shop there, nearly riding the rim. This time they were able to patch the punctured tire. Once again, though, there wasn't a tire available for sale that fit our rims. We moved on without a spare.
We went to sleep that night happy to have four inflated tires. We were disappointed the following morning, however, to find that the patch didn't hold. We had a flat and were camped between towns. This meant that one of us would have to leave the Jeep, take the spare rim (from which the useless tire had been removed), and find a new tire to put on it.
I volunteered to look for the tire. I left around 9AM while Randall stayed to keep an eye on the Jeep. We agreed that if Randy had not heard from me by noon the following day, that he should start worrying. I took off with me a backpack of essentials and the spare rim, walking a half-mile to the highway, and then hitching a ride to the next village.
The Russian man, Roma, who picked me up was what Randy calls "a Fixer." He knew where to go and who to talk to. He didn't speak a word of English, but we communicated with little Russian that I know and some sign language. Within 3 hours I was back to camp with a brand new tire. I offered to pay him for all the driving around that he did, but he refused, and I ended up stashing a $20 bill in the car for him to find later. Unfortunately, I was in such a survival mode that morning that I forgot to even snap a picture with Roma.
Randall and I slapped the new tire onto the Jeep and immediately went back to the tire shop. We bought another new tire and discarded the patched tire. With five good tires, we traveled on in the direction of Irkutsk and Lake Baikal.
We spent a night at camping resort on Lake Baikal. We had a terrific meal at the restaurant of a traditional Russian soup recommended by the waitress and fresh fish. The following morning we took baths in the lake and then hit the road again towards Ulan-Ude followed by the Russia-Mongolia border. The road was good and the travel was easy (for a change).
We made it to the border just as they were closing down the Russian side. We ended up spending the night in the Jeep there. The next morning we made it through the Russian side in about an hour, which was followed by five on the Mongolian side.
Completely unprofessional customs workers made for a frustrating day. We watched as a woman shuffled our papers, walked them from one booth to another, chatted, walked to another booth, shuffled the papers, and chatted some more. At one booth, the woman inside was busy tending to her child. An obviously drunk worker tried made some gestures that we didn't know how to interpret, while someone's dog barked from the corner where it was chained. Eventually we made it through and continued our journey, driving through a stunning Mongolian landscape.
So here we are in Ulaan Baatar! We're taking a rest day before we decide what to do with the remainder of our time in Mongolia. We'd like to get out and see the countryside before handing the Jeep over to Go-Help/Charity Rallies for auction.
We'll be home soon, and hopefully I'll have a chance to tell you some stories in person and catch up with the happenings and goings-on. Speaking of which, big "CONGRATULATIONS!" to Mike and Megan on their engagement! See you all soon!
Randall with our first flat.
Putting on a wheel after the hitch-hiking and tire-finding adventure.
A village in front of Lake Baikal.
The gateway to Mongolia. Finally there!