Sunday, August 19, 2012

Down in a hole

Driving in Mongolia is an unique experience. I would love to explain it to you, but I am afraid it's pointless. You simply can not imagine it unless you try it yourself. I know cause I remember Roxi and Grisza telling me about their trip through this country and I though I knew perfectly well what they meant. Now I know I had absolutely no idea! And I believe it was better that way, cause otherwise I would have to reconsider the trip ;)

Let's start with a fact, that there are hardly any asphalt streets here. You have some around the main border and the capital, but that would be about it. The rest, even the main roads are unpaved earth roads. I know earth road does not sound that bad, but try to imagine an earth road acting as a highway, with lots of cars, trucks, bikes, cows and yaks crossing it every day, leaving bigger or smaller holes and traces all over the place. And imagine that after a heavy rain there is a river coming down that road, doing it's part of the job too. And then try to imagine what is left of such road after a couple of years... Well I can tell you it doesn't look good. And it makes you and the car shake in all possible directions allowing the maximal speed of around 30 km/h. And it's not a straight drive, but more of a slalom between holes requiring driver's full attention.

If that's all not enough of an adventure for you add the river crossing, as bridges are also not too popular around here. So every time you see a river on a map you start wondering... Will the river really be there (it's not always the case), if yes, will there be a bridge to take us to the other side (that's not always the case neither), if no, will the river be shallow enough for our cars to cross it (fortunately this was always the case so far, since Karossi turned up to be quite a good swimmer and we really hope it will stay this way).

And if you are unlucky you may cross yet another obstacle on your way, the swamps. As I said it's raining a lot recently, so it's quite easy to get stuck suddenly, even with a 4 wheel drive. And that is exactly what happened to Gerrit's car. The place that looked like a perfectly normal grass field turned up to be a trap, which sucked all his 4 wheels before we could notice what's happening. The car was stuck for good. Karossi did his best, but his engine power was just not enough to get Gerrit out of trouble. The line we were using broke in 2 pieces, but Gerrit's car was still in the same place. We tried digging, pushing and all the other tricks we could think of, but it was just no good. With every trick we tried our public was growing bigger, since the locals found us an interesting attraction. Then we saw one family driving by in a car that looked strong enough to help us. They came down to us without hesitating (though they already knew the region was a swamp) and offered their help, but unfortunately they were not able to get Gerrit out of the hole neither. Even worse, their car eventually got stuck too. Fortunately Karossi was there and this time he managed to save the day. The family promised to go and get some help. So we had nothing to do but to set the camp where we were, as it was getting darker and we were not really sure if we'll be able to leave this place before the night comes. We were just praying it would not rain. And it didn't!

We were preparing a dinner when a guy on a horse came to us. He obviously found our situation pretty amusing too, so he was hanging around admiring the car from every angle. He was trying to start a conversation, but since he could only speak Mongolian it wasn't really taking us far. But he managed to make Gerrit's day a bit better by offering him his horse to ride, which was what Gerrit wanted to do since he entered the country. Then he started the conversation again using a few English words he remembered, a lot of body language and some paintings. From what we understood we would have to wait till 9 the next day and then someone would come and get us out. We were ready to sleep anyway, so we decided it's a good option. Otherwise we would go to the main street which was fortunately not too far from us and try to stop a car that looked strong enough to get us out. The food was ready and our guest looked as if he wasn't willing to miss such a chance, so we offered him some food without much thinking. Well we could have thought a bit, since the sauce we were having that day was an extra spicy one and most Mongolians are not even used to using salt and pepper. His eyes went red after the first spoon and he asked for water immediately. We gave him some and told him he doesn't have to eat it and we'd give him some other food, but I guess he took it as a challenge. And he did eat it all, so I don't even want to know how he felt like.

We woke up next morning and made some nice breakfast as we knew we will need some strength again. We also knew Mongolian 9 o'clock can mean anything between 9 and 12, so guys decided to get to the main road and look for alternative help just in case. They didn't get far before they met the family that tried to help us a day before. They got a longer, stronger line and a new plan. Some more digging was done and we joined all free cars together. Karrossi was pulling the Landcruiser, which was then pulling Gerrit's car. The longer line allowed us some nice distance, so that the pulling cars were able to stay on a flat ground and have enough place to maneuver. This time it worked perfectly and a moment later Gerrit was standing on a flat ground too. We were saved and very grateful. The family went into a lot of trouble to help us, so we asked them how much we owed them, as we really wanted to pay them for their efforts, but they only looked at us as we were from some strange planet and declined all our offers. Moreover they gave us a bottle of the best Mongolian vodka. And after we were done with packing and decided to leave the place for good they were waiting along the way with some horse milk for us to try. And we got some horse milk cookies too. We have no idea how we managed to earn such hospitality, but those were definitely the nicest people we met so far.

That is why we did not hesitate as we saw a stuck truck a day after. We stopped to help, as we knew what it feels like to be in such situation. The truck was big and fully loaded, so it was not an easy thing. And their line was breaking all the time. But we got another one and tried the trick with 2 pulling cars one after another again and we managed to get them out too. And we got a huge glass of blueberries for our efforts :) I hope from now on we will always be on the helping side, as helping feels much better then getting stuck.


  1. Oh, I love this story. My mum alwasy told me that once you help you'll be helped too and this will be a full circle. It means even more when you're in Mongolia I guess:) Keep going and do not hesitate. I'd love to meet Karossi and give him a big hug. x

  2. You will certainly meet him someday, as we are sure we want to keep him! His a part of a family now!