Sand, rivers, gravel and asphalt. Conquer them all and Genghis Khan will welcome you in Ulaanbaatar. Fail, and prepare yourself for a long wait in the middle of nowhere surrounded by yaks and lakes. Could be worse, could be stuck in a traffic jam in London.
Expect the unexpected
A pleasant surprise, as all of the sudden the roads were much better. With that I mean a multi-lane dirt track of course, but this time it was flat, allowing us to have some fun. Every now and then, herd of sheep and goats come to meet you. Even better is when a horseman is chasing them with the help of a lace.
Driving in better roads makes you lower your guard and inevitably all sump guards took a few hits. While chatting to a local mechanic to figure out how bad the damage was things turn ugly as a group of drunken men came on their cars to mess around with us proving that “there are idiots everywhere”, even in Mongolia. We were not having any of that, so we took off. Some half an hour later we pulled over and with the help of a hammer and a few other tricks all cars where ready to go once again.
A bit further ahead we came across lake Hyargas Nuur. Nearly 60 km long it was the perfect opportunity for a much needed quick dip after a few days without a proper shower. But things are not that simple in Mongolia. Whilst trying to get close to shore, we managed to get all three cars bogged in the sand.
Following an unexpected stretch of tarmac on a recently built road, it was dirt tracks all over again. Perhaps in a few years all this will be full of paved roads, restaurants and hotels, but for now one can pull over anywhere to set up camp, and so we did.
Chocolate con churros
Driving on these conditions is exhausting. We hardly make 300 km despite being on the road for 10 hours a day. Driving consists on picking one of the many dirt tracks available, hoping it is not too bad and keep an eye on our GPS to make sure we are going in the right direction. And don’t forget to look at the yaks.
Towns are colourful and basic although appearances can easily deceive you. The high street may not be what we are used to in the west but it is easy enough to find open wifi, water, toilets and noodles!
Things are getting greener as the days go by. Mountains covered in green blankets with beautiful monasteries and yurts scattered everywhere make you want to stay in Mongolia for a good couple of weeks. This is despite how badly the state of the roads tries to make you wish you would have stayed in Europe.
Craving for the swim we could not have the day before, we camped by a lake. Unfortunately the water was full of algae which spoiled the bath and also Steve’s opportunity to catch some fish for dinner. Two things were required to warm the night up a bit: a big fire and chocolate con churros. To round up the night, a local horseman dropped by to say hi and after a conversation about family and horses he brought us homemade biscuits. Made of mare milk, we can’t honestly say they were the delicious but the gesture was much appreciated.
Probably the most challenging day waits ahead of us. Lola is driving superbly, negotiating every pot hole, steep hill and river crossing like if it was her natural habitat. Ulaanbaatar in 3 days!