Featured, Mongol Rally, Mongolia, Russia

How To Wait at a Border – Mongol Rally

11 Comments 01 September 2011

Mongolia Border

Crossing the Border from Russia to Mongolia

They say patience is a virtue.  I’ve learned to developed my patience through traveling, but the border crossings on the Mongol Rally kick it up to a whole new level of patience that is required.  For our last border crossing, “Wait” is the word of the day…and night.

This was it , our last border crossing to tackle and according to Mongol Rally history, it would be our hardest and longest border crossing yet; Russia to Mongolia. I had heard horror stories of teams being kept days at this border in western Mongolia thanks to paperwork; a slow bureaucratic process of importing a vehicle into Mongolia. Plus, as usual, it could also be bereft of border guards that simply didn’t want to deal with rowdy ralliers or simply wanted bribes.

After a fun evening in Barnaul (western Siberia) eating steak and bonding with team Mongolian Madness (3 seemingly insane Irish guys also driving a Nissan Almera), we got our final car supplies (tow ropes, ratchet straps, & extra Gerry can) and took off late in the afternoon to push as far as we could to the border. We camped overnight and got up before the sun to take off and finish our drive through the stunning landscapes and mountains of western Siberia.

altai mountains

The Altai mountains of western Siberia

 

 

Western Siberia Russia

Our drive to the border in Siberia

We pulled up to the Russian border crossing at 11AM and parked in a line of 12 other Mongol Rally vehicles; the waiting begins. It was sort of like a reunion, yet none of us had met before. Instead, we could bond on similar experiences up to this point.

Teams drank beer, smoked hookah pipes, played cricket, and socialized swapping unbelievable stories of bribery, robbery, losing their way, kindness of strangers, and mechanical difficulties. At 3PM things started to move. Everyone threw their chairs and food into cars and quickly inched up in the line assuring no space was left for locals to try to sneak into the queue. There really are no such things as queues in Mongolia. Strangely in a country with the most open space on this globe, people don’t like to give you any space when you are in a line.

mongol rally border

Eating noodles while waiting at the border

The Russian process was actually pretty simple once they let us in; after all we were border crossing veterans by now!  Walk over to this window wait, walk to a different window wait, fill our a form for the car wait, go stand in the corner wait, fill out an immigration form wait, walk to another window wait, open your car for inspection wait, and answer no when they ask you if you are carrying firearms or drugs wait. After this waiting process we were unleashed into no mans land; the 6 km of territory between the Russian and Mongolian border.

We rejoiced with a team yelp of happiness, took pictures, stopped to pee because my bladder could wait no longer, and then we came across the real obstacle – the entrance to Mongolia. A big red livestock gate graced the road next to a little white hut. This was the hand off point between countries. On the other side of the gate the tarmac disappeared into a bumpy dirt road.

This really was the ‘end of the road’.

road to mongolia

The end of the road...Mongolia

They let us through and we bounced through the bumps to the official Mongolia border crossing where a lovely looking Mongolian woman wearing quite fashionable black boots with heels gave a reserved but heartfelt smile at Dave and said “Welcome to Mongolia.” My stomach flipped a bit when I heard this greeting not only because we had made it this far, but because it was said with a warmth and sincerity that Russia and Central Asia lacked in the world of border guards.

We pulled into the border at 4PM and followed all of the instructions of paperwork and waiting – the usual border ‘dance’ we were all used to by now. We still didn’t have our proper original paperwork on the car, but we were hoping our copy of our V5 would continue to hold up to this final border test.

As the Mongolians worked through paperwork with Ulaanbaatar and London regarding the car import process, we were told to move our car into a holding pen – and wait. More and more teams were sent to the pen to join us as the weather turned dark and the wind picked up as if it were queued perfectly for the climactic scene from a Hollywood movie. Two Mongolian guards dressed in formal military attire walked over to the pen as we all eagerly waited for them to get closer and hear them mutter the words of freedom, but our luck had run out. Instead they informed us they were closing for the night and we would have to stay here overnight – and wait.

mongolia border

Our car banished to the holding pen at the border

The wind whipped up even more as we all looked around at our stark, cement surroundings and all collectively thought…where the hell do we set up camp here?! Everyone ran for cover as the storm blew through with a furry. The temperature dropped suddenly forcing me to dig out my long thermal underwear and puffy coat. I looked around wondering where in the world I could put the thermals on amidst all of these people. Then I saw toilets and ran through the pelting rain to the row of wooden outhouses. The typical two planks of filthy wood above a hole of shit and flies awaited me – not the easiest place to change into thermal underwear – but it had to be done. I held my breath as I balanced on one foot taking on and off my sandals and pants one leg at a time; one false move and my sandal would be dropping into the pit of shit.

The rain ceased as quickly as it arrived and teams started jockeying for camping positions within the fenced in area. It was so cold and wet that I had decided to sleep in the car that night and instead focused on something more important than setting up a tent – Deb and I went for a beer run. If we had to wait overnight, then beer would be necessary.

The strange thing about being held at the border is that it was really our cars that were being held, however we were free to come and go. Groups of ralliers walked into the little dusty town and cleared them out of beer, vodka and potato chips. As we were walking back with 12 beers in hand we were graced with a double rainbow after the storm. It was Mother Nature’s way of welcoming us to Mongolia and saying – if you have to wait, you might as well enjoy the view. Of course I missed the great rainbow photo op since my hands were full of beer and chips and I hadn’t brought my camera into town. Luckily Dave was able to capture it for us!

rainbow

Photo by Dave at www.theplanetd.com

Surely this would be a good sign of the times to come! However before we could get too excited about crossing into Mongolia and driving towards Ulaanbaatar to the finish line…we had some more waiting to do.

Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. karen says:

    Once again, amazing photographs of your journey.
    Funny, funny story of your going to the facilities to change. I laughed as you must be a real pro at dealing with travel/restroom issues at this stage.
    Congratulations to you and your team for making it to Mongolia! It has been so much fun following along from the comfort of my laptop.

    • Sherry says:

      thanks for following Karen! Yes – I feel like I can deal with whatever a gross toilet throws at me after all of this travel! The key is to breath through your mouth and try not to think about or look around it too much! do your biz and get out!!

  2. Great story! :-)

    It’s been amazing following this journey with you… it seems like quite the adventure.

    Enjoy the rest!

    Nancy & Shawn

  3. Erin Smith says:

    I love reading your updates. That rainbow was certainly worth the wait. Congratulations on being so close to the finish line!

  4. Kathy Mendes says:

    Ha ha, loved the part about changing in the “toilet”. As a SCUBA diver we get very good at changing discretely almost anywhere. Sometimes in really disgusting places I will change in my car under a towel or jacket. BTW…I have been following your posts on the Mongolian Rally since the first one and have enjoyed every one of them!

  5. Sarah says:

    Have been following along and so happy you are finally in Mongolia. We went there in 2008 and loved the country and her warm and wonderful people. Those toilets, though? Not so much! I had to laugh–I’d have walked off a ways and changed in the open before chancing a dropped shoe in one! Hope you love the country as much as we do–and congrats on making it there!

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks for following Sarah! I also love Mongolia – one of my fav. countries – it’s zen. I was here two years ago and it’s changing fast in UB. But the countryside is much the same. I too would rather change out in the open but there were border guards around and tons of teams – plus pelting rain…I felt like I had no choice…it was awful!!

  6. Mark H says:

    Great ongoing tale of adventure. The rainbow is superb.

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks Mark for following along and supporting! I wish I could claim the rainbow picture – was so mad when my hands were full of beer and I had no camera with me!! but sometimes simply enjoying it and not recording it is even more of a treat!

  7. Natalie T. says:

    Great pics and congrats on getting in finally! I can’t get over the sky in the first picture and the rainbow in the last picture is the cherry on top!


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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