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To Mongolia and beyond

Posted on 2nd May 2007. No Comment

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Even ‘Top Gear’ would be proud of Peter Singlehurst’s adventure through the mountain roads of Kyrgyzstan…

fools r us | you spanner | chuddy, anyone?

Fools R Us
In an effort to do something a little more original than inter-rail around Europe last summer, my roommate and I decided to drive to Mongolia. Just to make life a bit more interesting, we also decided to take the scenic route; oh, and we did it all in a crap car.

And so on the 22nd of July, we set out with a group of other like-minded fools for what must the greatest road trip in the world. Our route was to take us though eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. We drove my grandmother’s 1991 Ford Fiesta van, affectionately named Megan. Megan was in no uncertain terms an absolute tank. Despite initial teething problems (namely breaking down 500m from the start line), our faithful steed carried us 10,000 miles to Ulaanbaatar, and even carried out a major rescue operation in the process.

On entering Kyrgyzstan, we decided that the rally hadn’t been challenging us enough. Despite negotiating continental sized potholes, the rally had yet to deliver serious off-roading. There is one main road which heads north through Kyrgyzstan, but coming off it, we spotted a little road which weaved though the mountains for some 200 miles before rejoining another main road. As we crossed into Kyrgyzstan, we asked a border guard if he knew anything of this road and whether he thought our cars would make it. He simply burst out laughing. He didn’t really need to say anything else. And perhaps we should have listened to him, but two days later, we found ourselves leaving the safety of the tarmac and heading into the mountains on a dirt track.

You spanner
At first the going was tough but bearable. The scenery was spectacular. The mountains were covered in grass and a wide shallow river flowed next to the road, carrying icy water from the glaciers above us. We plodded on for a day, heading steadily uphill towards the Karakol pass, after which we would be heading back down. It was trying to cross the river on the second day, just short of the pass, which caused us so many problems. We found a suitable crossing and managed to get our car though, but the other team we were with fared less well. Their car cut out half way though the river and we had to push it to the bank. On cutting out, water had been sucked into the engine. We spent the whole of the day trying to get it started, but armed with no mechanical knowledge and a couple of spanners, our chances were always slim.

And so as night fell, we realized that we were going to have to abandon their car and turn round. The only problem being that Megan was a van. There were only two seats, and there were four of us. We polished off a bottle of whisky which had we intended to use as a bribe at some point, but desperate times had called for desperate measures. And so we spent the night on the mountain, surrounded by glaciers, and in the morning awoke to find ice on the inside of our tent. We negotiated a final crossing of the river and headed back down the mountain, with three people crammed in the front, and one person sitting atop the roof.

Chuddy, anyone?
We drove all morning, and at about lunchtime realized that we were running out of fuel fast. We had a look over the car, only to find that we had knocked a hole in our fuel tank. This was not good news. We were still forty miles from the nearest inhabited place. So we set about fixing it in true Mongol Rally style. We each took a whole pack of chewing gum, chewed until it was the right consistency, and then tried to plug the gap. Now if you ever find yourself in a similar circumstance, my advice would be to not use chewing gum; as it turns out, it’s soluble in petrol. In minutes it was a gooey white mess, but never fear, we had duck tape. So four packs of chewing gum later, and half a role of duck tape, we had stemmed the flow, with just about enough petrol to get us back to civilization.

On entering the town we located a mechanic. He looked at our mend, disapprovingly muttered something in Russian, got under the car, removed the mess, and plugged the hole with a tiny piece of soap. That bit of soap held for another 3000 miles and got us all the way to Mongolia! Later that day we pressed on to the capital Bishkek, leaving the other team to rescue their car from the mountain side, which incredibly they managed, and only arrived in Mongolia a week after us…

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