Saturday, June 8, 2013

Peking to Paris 2013 Update #5

Our guys march on to the Russian border and beyond. Heres' Stanley's words.

"The last three days have been exhilarating, tiring, adventuresome and a little bit frustrating."
"After our failure to get an early visa entrance from the Russian Embassy, we decided we would leave UB in time to arrive at the Russian border station of Tashanta early on the morning of June 7 when my visa permitted us to enter Russia."
"So we left the Chinggas Khaan Hotel in UB at a few minutes after midnight on June 5, covered in the last post. We had two vehicles; a truck with the Porsche and a Toyota Land Cruiser for Brant and me to ride in. Both vehicles had two drivers and it was our plan to run "Banzai fashion" for 48-straight hours, no stopping except for gas and an occasional meal for the drivers at roadside huts. This meant that Brant and I would sleep in the Land Cruiser for two nights."
"The journey covered 1800 km over the worst surfaces I have ever driven. Less than 5% was tarmac. The rest was dirt paths; I do not mean dirt roads. These paths had potholes large enough for a swimming pool. Worst yet was the powdered sand. This sand is like lady's makeup, except it is 5 feet deep. There are no road signs, and after going through several mountain passes, one gets disoriented, even with a compass. Add to that a couple of river crossings, and it's becoming hard work."
"Of our four drivers, only one spoke English, Augie, (who learned English working in an Indian restaurant in Leicester, U.K. for 8 years). He kept assuring us that they knew where they were going, but Brant and I had our doubts. We stopped for two things: (a) bathroom stops, which were all al fresco as there are no facilities in the desert, and (b) once-a-day food stops for the drivers. While they ate local food, Brant and I went to our emergency rations. I survived the two days eating tuna from the can and eating most of a box of Oreo cookies and a lot of power bars that my friend Filippo gave me for the trip. No baths; no change of clothes....hygiene is not a high priority with the Mongolians."
"At 10:30pm, we were 3 km away from the Russian border. Our two vehicles stopped at a local fuel pump before we stopped for the night at the border. The station was closed, but our drivers found the family in the village and persuaded them to open for us. This station was run by a Kazakstan family and the father and 10 year old son came out to give us fuel. Actually it was the 10-year son who was very proud to show his father how he could open and operate the pump. Both vehicles filled up and started for the border 3 km away. Within 1 km both vehicles stopped running."
"Brant understood immediately that our beautiful 10-year old boy had filled both vehicles with gasoline, notwithstanding the fact they had diesel engines. It was 11 pm and the temperature had dropped to the mid-30's. For the next 4 hours, our 4-man Mongolian crew drained the fuel tanks, drained the filters and found diesel (which was 25 km away). I sat in the cab of the truck and I was freezing. These Mongolian drivers did heroic work to get us running again. We finally got to the border village at 2 am."
"Our driver found a guarded lot about 300 meters from the border. We drove our two vehicles in and an elderly Mongolian lady greeted us and offered that all 6 of us should sleep in her yurt. Initially I wanted to sleep in the Land Cruiser, but later decided to take her up her hospitality. This was a traditional yurt; six cots around the perimeter. We all slept for about 6 hours. The proprietress slept on the floor all night adding kindling wood to the stove in the middle of the yurt to keep us warm. She served us tea when we awakened. The price for this night's lodging was $7."

"Getting the Porsche 911 off our transport was a fete in and of itself. Our flat-bed was not the type that lowered itself to accept a car. Rather, it was like a very big pickup that had no ability to raise or lower itself. To load, we had the car on a flat-bed that lowered itself to accept the car. We then drove the car from one truck to the other. When we unloaded at the border, the Mongolian crew found a ditch which they drove down into. They then backed into the side wall of the ditch which was level to the truck's off-ramp and we drove the car off the truck onto level ground."
"Enough with the hardship. The Mongolian people are terrific; polite, helpful, cheerful and with great ingenuity. They loved the cars. They loved Americans. The countryside, while desolate, still managed to support herds of cows, goats, horses, sheep, camels. And, as we climbed in altitude to the Russian border (which is at 6000 ft) we saw yaks. The country while desolate, is beautiful. You can see for 50 miles in any direction and the loneliness of being out there is amazing."
 Mother we are.
"The border crossing between Mongolia and Russia took us about two and a half hours. The Mongolians want to make sure that you're taking out the same vehicle you brought into the country. They keep asking for the car's passport (there is none). I showed them the CA registration, the CA Title in my name, but the thing they liked best was the FIVA Certificate (it has a little French in it and looks very international). After we got out of Mongolia there is a 25km drive through "no-man's land." Only thing here, which is in the middle, is a Russian Police Station checking papers. We drove the car these 25km (even though she' s wounded). On the Russian side there must be 6-7 inspectors who look over your papers and car, verifying VIN number and engine number. Every inspector is fascinated with the California license plate entering Siberia. One inspector, who spoke English, said under her breath "crazy" as she handed our papers back to us."
"We did arrive in Russia. For now I'm going to bed after one more vodka."

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