Subscribe via RSS Feed

The Russian Invasion

September 24, 2015 0 Comments
Driving to Russian Border

“I’ve been everywhere man… I’ve been everywhere…”

Ulaan Gom (N 50° E 92°), as described before, is a nice place in a sparsely-habited region. It’s 600km west from Moron and is a major step in ferrying the two vehicles to Russia, but still 300km from the Russian border, and another 600km to Biysk, Russia, where we will meet B and D.

So we’ve done 600km of lousy, clay, gravel, stone, sand roads to get to Ulaan Gom.

When leaving, heading north-west, we drove past the new airport. It’s a concrete strip, maybe 40m wide, and I reckon 1500m long. Thing is, it runs at a grade of, I reckon, 3-4 percent and the downhill grade runs against the prevailing wind. Meaning you either land downwind and uphill, or into wind and downhill. So you pilots amongst our readers can work that one out.

The first leg out of Ulaan Gom was windy as anything, and cold. So, we’re trying to find a spot out of the wind to camp. Coupled with that was that the Ford won’t start in the mornings, so we need to shuffle vehicles about, so we can get to it to do a jump start.

We ended up in a steep, blind little gully – pretty good. The gas stove won’t work well when the gas cylinder is cold, so we heat water using the metho stove, stick a gas bottle in the hot water, grimace and shut your eyes as the cylinder crackles away. Once it’s warm it works fine.

We’re about 20km from the Russian border and at one stage today we were 12km. I must say I was continuously looking for soldiers at guard posts, as I didn’t feel like a repeat of the incident near the Chinese border. But, no sweat.

Travelling was slow and tedious. At an elevation of 2500m above sea level we hit two snow storms. So here we are driving across the desert in a snow storm. My hunch is that this is the start of snow cover for this part of the world. With 100mm cover of snow, the tracks would be almost impossible to decipher what went where, and where the big holes and sharp rocks were. So you might say we got through with a week or two to spare.

At one stage we drove 10-15km over a flat valley covered in river stones. The stones were biggish and thick, so the car crackled its way across. I just dead reckoned our way across as there was no well-formed track. I knew I was going okay, because at one stage, after a river crossing, we met a double cairn of rocks to drive through. This I have established is a code for the drivers, on where the key parts of the track are.

The river rock had to be negotiated in second gear, took maybe an hour to get through.

That next day brought us to a town called Tsargannuum. It’s an old gulag / concentration camp, with the camp infrastructure collapsing. The exception is the double perimeter security fence around the town, which is still in great condition. The main reason we stopped is because Lynn got another puncture in the Ranger. It was the second of the old front, scrubbed out ones. Pushed a hole clean through the canvas. So by the time we had put on the spare and found a fella to fix the tyre, (thanks Bee), it was very cold, and late, so we stayed with a family in a local home.

It was beautifully warm inside. Grandad and grandmum, son Bee, his sister (a teacher), and a grandson. The grandson could say in English “Hi, my name is Izbah”. We drank tea (English with milk), some bread, and different types of goat starch / curd / lumpy stuff. Dinner was a meaty broth that was delicious.

We got a couple of half empty vodka bottles out of the car, (not the home made stuff), and proceeded to drink them with grandad and grandmum. Also a half full bottle of rocket fuel we got from a Chinese nomad.

Anyway, we slept on single rugs on the floor. The building had an entry room with hats, coats etc in there, then a dining / kitchen / sitting room. There was a partition to our guest bedroom with cupboards for the family and the other side had the main bedroom that everybody else slept in. With a belly full of vodka I slept pretty well on the dirt floor.

Next morning was more freezing than before.

Across The Border

I stress out a bit at border crossings. I hear so many hard luck stories, I just expect the worst to pop up, just when you aren’t ready.

Approaching the Mongolian border, the first thing we had to do was pay a pretty lady in uniform, USD$11 each car, as a road tax. Lynn nearly ripped the poor lady’s throat out, claiming the Mongolian government should give us money to pay for the punctures and tyre wear.

Then the Mongolian crossing.

No sweat. A guy picked us out of the queue and took us to a room where we could explain the cars, etc. All in sign-language and charades! Barry had written a letter, giving us permission to drive and export his car, so the guy, who couldn’t read English, took a copy of that.

We had one issue with the slob of a grotty customs “gatekeeper”, at the second last gate. She was supposed to sign two slips of paper to let the cars through, but she wanted to check through the whole process. I gave her a bit of a spray, especially when she was looking at the wrong bloody Mongolian Visa. The numbers didn’t tally and she wanted to send us away. Actually, at that stage, it was a boisterous spray. Anyway, eventually she apologized and off we went.

We had two concerns with Russia.

One was getting Barry’s car into Russia, when we don’t own it! The second was my rego papers for the Land Cruiser were out of date – expired two months earlier. The car had been re-registered and a copy emailed to me, (thanks Leanne), but I hadn’t saved the attachment, and as they were on a hotmail ‘inbox’, and no wifi, I couldn’t open it.

Neither of the above was an issue. The guy couldn’t read English and the coloured RTA form looked good, so he copied it. And they weren’t at all interested in Barry’s consent letter.

The drug inspector guy wanted to know if I had any dope, cocaine etc in the car and I said, “give me a break mate, I’m 61!” and slapped him on the shoulder. He didn’t smile or kiss me back, but he didn’t arrest me, so it was a bit of a stalemate. He asked to open a few drawers and retreated a beaten man when he saw how much crap was in the back of the Cruiser.

He did give me a spray when he saw we had American coffee in the car though. He thought that was pretty poor.

Anyway, that was the border crossings without mention of the waits, or waiting while Russia closed the gate so they could have lunch!

See ya!

Filed in: Diary

About the Author:

Leave a Reply