Entering Mongolia: paperwork, wrestling and a party

Posted by on Aug 26, 2013 in blog | 0 comments

Entering Mongolia: paperwork, wrestling and a party

Wednesday, Aug 14

A small, blond border guard in long braids and a camouflage uniform waves us out of Russia, and the tarmac immediately turns to dirt. A few miles later, we pull up to Mongolia, but the gate is locked. It is lunchtime.

The Mongol Rally has caught up with us. The separate, and much bigger, rally of a few hundred teams in tiny cars left London a week after us. Everyone takes different routes, but the Tsagaannuur border crossing into western Mongolia is a bottleneck. Cars start lining up behind us, and suddenly it becomes a social. Out comes the football, the Frisbee, the Nutella and stale bread. An English man shares his power steering fluid with us (we’re leaking again), and I play cards with Narmy on our picnic/mechanic blanket in the road.

Waiting for Mongolia to let us in

At 2pm, a woman in a shed makes us all buy a $1 disinfectant stamp. No disinfectant appears. Then someone opens the gate to the country, and we all drive into a fenced in parking lot filled with more Mongol Rally teams waiting to be processed. Everyone is lounging, eating, chatting and playing games. It feels like a spring break party.

Importing a car to Mongolia takes a lot of paperwork and deposit money. At one point, I saw a man look up the value of my car on Gumtree (a UK site similar to Craigslist). We’d heard rumors that it could take up to four days, which is why we stocked up on vodka. As car owners, Owen and I have to deal with all the vehicle forms and stamps, moving from little room to little room as our papers are passed from desk to desk. We miss out on the parking lot party.

The Mongolian border closes at 6pm. At 5:55pm, we press our noses against the office window, watching people fondle our passports and car registration and occasional type something on an old computer while lazily eating cookies they aren’t sharing. We don’t want to sleep in the parking lot so we give them puppy dog eyes while staring longingly at the cookies. Just after 6pm, a man beckons us out to the lot where we give him $10. We can go.

We drive off jubilantly. Just outside the gate, a scraggly man in a ragged safety vest waving a dented orange baton aggressively blocks our path and tells us he’s police. He briefly flashes a suspicious looking ID and tries to manhandle Owen into a shed to buy insurance. We drive around him as he belligerently pretends to call the police on a beat up old phone.


We drive a little more, past mosquito infested lakes and herds of goats, and make camp. More rally teams pull up, some Mongolians roar over on motorbikes, the vodka comes out and it’s a party. The Mongolians inspect our cars and challenge Owen to a wrestling match. He represents well despite spraining his thumb. There is a little Mongolian dancing. And a guitar. The Bandits make the best lentil curry I’ve had yet. It is a beautiful spot under the Altai mountains, freezing cold, round white gers and blue lakes in the distance. I wrap up in borrowed blankets and fall asleep happily in the van. We made it.

England vs Mongolia

Our campsite night one

Only a thousand miles to go till Ulaanbataar.

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