The road up and over the hill by the lake was in fact rather hilly, taking us through yet another little patch of forest (what’s the difference between a large wood and a small forest?), with a very interesting (read: definitely only for 4×4’s or motorbikes) road down the other side of it. Back down in the valley between the hills on the other side we rounded a corner and promptly stood on the brakes, as there was a three-foot deep ditch with a stream in in front of us. It was probably about three feet wide, with a variety of logs and planks scattered across it as temporary bridges. From the most recent-looking tracks it seemed like the only vehicles that had been using it recently were motorbikes, over one of the flimsier-looking planks of wood. We had great fun moving the logs around to try and make sure we had something sturdy enough to hold the weight of the car as we crossed, including using the waffle boards in earnest as ramps rather than just to get us out of sand or mud. Somewhere we have a video of us driving the car across; Niall behind the wheel and me directing from the other side, whilst simultaneously doing the mosquito dance as I was being eaten alive.
After the incident with the wheel nuts, our first port of call when we crossed into Mongolia was to find the Land Rover dealership in Ulaanbaatar to buy some new wheel nuts. Crossing the border from Russia was simple enough – the usual paper filling out, car inspection etc., but on the whole not nearly as bad as it could have been. Car insurance purchased, monies changed, and we were on our way to Ulaanbaatar. We headed towards Ulaanbaatar, fuelled by little fish biscuits, enjoying the scenery and working out where we were going to head off-road before reaching Ulaanbaatar. We figured if we had to go there, we might as well make the journey there part of the trip.
And so it started… we were off. Getting out of Vladivostok was a little tricky, but thanks to the wonder of Garmin and open source maps, we at least had vague idea of where to go, even if we didn’t have the luxury of sat nav. Fortunately, once you get out of Vladivostok, you are rather limited by the number options you can take direction-wise. If you are heading north to the corner of China, and then west towards Moscow, there really is only one road to take. Unless you head north into Siberia and take the Bam highway. Initially this had been our grand plan – travel from east to west along the Bam highway as far as Lake Baikal, and then drop down into Mongolia from there. However, after working out that our time in Russia would be slightly time pressured (seeing as we’d had to get our visas well in advance, before we knew that GAC had caused such a delay on the car arriving in Vlad) and doing a little more investigating, we came to the conclusion that trying to travel the Bam highway in two and a half weeks with only one car was actually a really stupid idea. Even with a winch. So, we had to tailor our initial plan slightly, and decided that we would high-tail it through far eastern Russia on the main roads as far as Lake Baikal and spend a day or two chilling out there before heading into Mongolia for the rest of our time away. Continue reading
The alarm clock went off early. Too early. Early enough for us to get to Heathrow Airport for a 10:20am flight, with time to drop the hire car off, and then stuff our excited little faces with breakfast (varying degrees of healthiness depending on whose selection you looked at). In usual style, we still had plenty of time to kill; Niall has by now accepted that it is far more pleasant for him to just accept that I need to be at airports early, rather than us arriving in a bit of a rush, and me getting very stressed and grumpy. The flight to Moscow was uneventful, but long; they also had a little nose-mounted camera on the front of the plane that they insisted on having switched on during take-off, final approach and landing – that you couldn’t turn off, even if you wanted to… Not a fan. After a bit of faffing around with customs in Moscow Sheremetyevo airport, trying to work out whether we needed to declare the car then as we flew in with all the documentation, or whether we had to do something extra at the port…… We settled for at the airport before our connecting flight – turns out this was the correct thing to do, and saved us a lot of potential faff and trouble further down the line. Tried some weird hybrid of a bread / pastry combo filled with potato and some strange herby cheese as a last resort of hunger in the airport…… not to be repeated. Then onwards to Vladivostok (another rather long flight!). Vladivostok airport is about an hour by train from the city itself; a large, comfy transfer train chugging its way through green fields, past a mixture of wooden and corrugated steel shacks, log cabins and the occasional more western-style house. I had enough trouble trying to keep my eyes open, let alone remembering to take photos, so no photo documentation of this part of the journey I’m afraid!