It was Friday morning at 11:00 am when we arrived at the Russian border to get ready to leave the country. We knew that the Mongolian border closed on Sundays and if they had the inkling to take a long weekend, it could close on Saturday too. Getting an early start from our campsite somewhere between Barnaul and the border assured us that we had a good chance to make it in before the weekend closures.
We arrived to a line of cars and transport trucks before noon and after counting our spaces felt very confident that we’d make it through and be able to move onto our first town in Mongolia before the days end. There were only 12 vehicles ahead of us.
The border was filled with Mongol Rally teams trying to make the weekend deadline and we all caught up with each other to swap stories, say hello, share some food and drinks and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
The first team in line camped out at the border assuring an early start and had the enviable position of front of the queue. Unfortunately, they had already been waiting since 8:00 am when we arrived at 11:00 and there was still no sign of movement coming from the border patrol.
We set up camp and made ourselves comfortable, as the sun grew hotter with each passing minute. Some people played rugby as the rest of us got to know one another better.
We decided to make a hot lunch and try regular gas in our multi fuel camp stove for the first time. We had been using diesel up until now, but we had heard a rumor that there was a shortage in Mongolia, so we made the switch to regular old petrol. Bit mistake. The petrol didn’t work at all and it ended up clogging up our camp stove. It is supposed to work in our state of the art adventure stove, but I don’t think anyone anticipated crappy Russian gasoline of the lowest grade being used in it. The hardest part of our journey lay ahead and we needed a stove to survive Mongolia. (Okay, I’m being mellow dramatic, but we did need it if we wanted to eat a good square meal each day.)
There was still no sign of movement at the border so we had the time to work on the stove and hopefully get it working again before moving on. Dave took it all apart and cleaned it out. We then swapped a couple of bottles of beer with a Mongol Rally team that had some extra diesel fuel in a jerry can and within an hour or so it was working like new!
A couple of hours, some noodle soup a few cups of coffee into our wait, the gate finally opened and some cars and trucks were allowed through.
Unfortunately, no Mongol Rally vehicles were allowed though.
The local trucks and cars were first to go through causing some hard feelings between the foreigners that had been waiting for so long.
Cars jockeyed for position each time there was a hint of movement from the gate.
One delay in moving forward when a car was let through and your spot in the queue would be taken over by an eager local desperate to move ahead to the front of the line. Soon all the Mongol Rally participants formed barricades to keep the line jumpers at bay.
It caused a bit of excitement and gave us some good-natured entertainment to pass the time, but it never made a difference to our position in line. The border guard called the local vehicles up one by one and all we could do was watch as they passed through the gate leaving us behind to gaze wistfully at their taillights.
At 3:15, they started letting people through.
Lucky for us, upon our arrival at 11:00 am we went straight to customs and immigration to get our paperwork sorted. The officer had our license plate numbers listed in order of check in on her clip board and even through we arrived later than some others ralliers, we were waived through earlier than cars ahead of us.
It looked like we’d make it before the border closed after all!
Leaving Russia was quick and painless.
Once we were through the gates, exiting the country moved effortlessly. There were little difficulties when it came to exporting the car and we were stamped out in no time. After a quick check in our trunk and an open of the roof rack, we were free to leave.
We drove out feeling optimistic that we’d be well on our way to Ulaanbaatar before the end of the day.
Once we reached the Mongolian border after a 10 km drive through no mans land, it looked like our luck had run out…
To be continued…