So with the sides of the glasses gone we headed off toward our northern route. Right as we were about to enter the mountains we were stopped by a man who told us that the rain over the past few days had swollen the rivers we would be crossing and he could guide us to the one crossing out of five that would be passable
. It seemed a little fishy so we told him we'd be ok and headed out after giving some matchbox cars to the kids that had gathered. The valley we entered was full of yurts, goats, yaks and horses with a little stream running through the grass and purple flowers. We learned from our border guard friend yesterday that in Mongolia they live in their yurts in the summers and their houses in the winters so everyone is out grazing their animals in the canyons. After a while in the canyon Steve told us to pull over because the exhaust on the 80 series had fallen off. Because it has been lifted so high the drivetrain rubs against it and eventually we knew there would be an issue. We spent about a half hour pushing the remains of the system back into place and securing it with some rope. Mechanical issue no. 3 fixed we emerged on the eastern side and started across a valley that was probably 100 km wide and flat as a pancake. As we picked our way across the criss-crossing roads we encountered a few streams we had to ford and everyone was feeling great about our very Mongolian day so far.
And then came the trees in the middle of the wasteland... trees = water. Down the middle of the valley is the big river the man had warned us about. It ranged between 50 and 100 yards across and at its deepest was about mid-thigh to waist deep. Only one of the land cruisers has a snorkel for the engine air intake so we are limited to crossing water that's just below the depth of this river
. We searched north and south along the river and even crossed halfway at one point but couldn't find anywhere shallow and slow enough for the 100 series to cross and it would have been very iffy even with the snorkel on the 80. After about two hours searching for a place to ford the river we placed our collective tail between our legs and headed back toward Olgii so we could start the tamer southern route the next day. We all thought these vehicles were a little bit of overkill for the trip until today when we were thoroughly humbled by the great Mongolian wild. Mongolia-1, Charity Vision-0. Ukraine and Russia both scored a few points against us but Mongolia is in another league and we all respect that now.
On the way back we saw a settlement in the distance that, according to our map, maybe would lead to a place we could cross to the eastern side of the valley. We headed over and found the town mostly deserted but with a construction crew working on the main road. They tried to convince us that there was another route back to Olgii that we could take but after a few attempts to get in our cars and drink with us we decided they weren't the most trustworthy. Running low on fuel we turned around and headed back toward our road but not before accidentally running over a part of the curb they were working on and having to pay them off to let us leave.
Finally we were back on the road we came in on and back in the canyon leading to Olgii
. By now it was about 4 o'clock and our plan was to drive the 125 or so kilometers back to town, spend the night then head off on the southern route the next morning. Not so fast. We pulled over because the 80 series was leaking fuel at about a cup per 30 seconds. Big problem. We were already pretty low on fuel and the nearest gas station was all the way back in Olgii. Steve popped the hood and after a few minutes diagnosed the problem as a cracked metal fuel line in the engine. Since these parts are never supposed to break we didn't have anything into fix it with. Steve's solution? A rubber tube, Gorilla Glue, a metal clamp and an hour and a half of drying time ( during the waiting time the rest of the glasses came off for easier repairs). We turned on the engine and the leak that was creating puddles two hours before was now dry. Steve is a miracle worker.
Still 100 km from town we got started without delay and the patch held long enough to get us into Ulgii with the gas meter reading a little above empty. Now our problem was finding someone who had the part we needed and could fix it. Who should we run into outside our hotel but our friend the border guard from the day before! We explained our problem to him and after a few phone calls we were headed, at 9:30 at night, to a mechanic. After a stop at our friend's brother in law's house and picking up him and his son we made our way, with our two cars now full of Mongolians, to the mechanic's house. After some rough translation we explained the problem and he said he could have the muffler and gas line fixed by tomorrow afternoon. What a miracle! A rare part in a small town in Mongolia and our border guard friend that we happen to run into again has a brother in law who has a friend that has the part and A can have it fixed by the next day.
We're all very glad to be in Ulgii and not stuck with a broken car out in the middle of nowhere. Today was a day we'll all remember for sure but I think we're all secretly hoping tomorrow isn't quite as memorable.
Barring any more craziness in the next few days today will be the day that we all remember from the rally. We decided to head north along the less travelled and more scenic route with our fingers crossed for gas stations. We headed out of town and took our time driving around he mountains in whichever direction felt fun because everything is so flat that anywhere can be a road. After a little bit the side parts of the glasses on the 80 series started to come loose again and we decided that it was time for them to go. We can say goodbye to half of the stares we get now because the cars here are either Land Cruisers, Russian jeeps or a small third category of anything else.