The Mongol Rally 2018 is over. There are still some teams driving around the globe but for most of the participants, life is back to normal. As always, it’s astonishing how quickly one is back to everyday routine. Being stuck at borders and pushing Fröschli across the finish line already feels like far in the past. However, few days go by and fewer beers are drunk without one of us saying something like “back during the Mongol rally, we…”.
The adventure of the summer, the adventure of the year (maybe even the adventure of our lives) has left us with countless impressions and stories. Those desperate moments at the port in Baku, in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, in the Steppe of Mongolia, they are going to survive longer than Fröschli, Füchsli, Matthias’ Drone and Felix’s hairband. (However, stories from the rally are not going to survive longer than Hubi’s stories from the Swiss military. Nothing ever will.) We are privileged for having the opportunity to do something like this and we are grateful for anyone who supported us before and during the rally.
A big thanks goes out to all sponsors who made us reach our charity goal. More thanks go to our parents for advice, time, financial support and faith in us. We would like to thank Savannah and Quynh for designing our and creating and printing our merchandise. Thank you to all the people we met on the road who helped us to find directions, a skilled mechanic or anyone else. Special thanks go out to Ali in Edirne, Barbaros in Istanbul, Emil in Baku, Nodirbek & Friends in Uzbekistan, Adli in Bishkek, Sultan in Almaty, Jack&Helena wherever they are now, Tilek in Khovd and all border officials in Central Asia – you truly made our rally the adventurous and beautiful thing it was!
May the spirit of the rally go on.
Day 48 - 51, Ulan-Ude
The first day in Ulan-Ude would be dedicated to rest and relaxation. We slept for ages, had a nice breakfast and only left the Airbnb at 2 pm, to get Fröschli over the finish line and take our well deserve finish photo. As it had to be expected, the deregistration process was rather chaotic, but we didn’t mind. After almost eight weeks on the road, who cares about spending one more hour. After the formalities were done, we spend the rest of the day exploring beautiful Ulan-Ude, Netflixing and Felix even treated himself with a massage. Helena and Jack had arrived in Ulan-Ude too last night, so we made plans for dinner and started preparing us mentally for the highlight of our time in Siberia: the infamous finish line party, where all the drained and potentially gone insane ralliers would meet and get absolutely plastered. And plastered we got. Overexcited to have made it through Mongolia, we got a bottle of vodka and some Jäger shots, which we downed with Jack in a very idiotic and irresponsible sprint. After the Adventurists got everyone a round of beer, the evening climaxed when Felix invited Jack to dance a passionate waltz. We enjoyed the time with our companions and adequately celebrated our heroism. The rest of our days in Ulan-Ude passed in pleasant quietness. We went out for a couple of meals, but mostly relaxed in our apartment or strolled through the city centre. On Monday, we towed Fröschli to the Cargo train station, where we would leave it to be transported to Estonia. The paperwork we had to go through was surprisingly little but in the end, Moritz knew Fröschli’s technical specs by heart. We spend some time in the area admiring all the cars that were gathered there and took some pictures with Füchsli, which Matthias and Hubi had dropped off there a few days ago. After having a last meal together, Felix left for the airport and Moritz started working on his visa issues. A call to the embassy got him the address of an alleged migration office. This turned out to be a normal police station, but the officer there was helpful nonetheless. Some translating by the Airbnb host later, he understood the problem and ordered a taxi that would take Moritz to the actual migration office. After some more explaining, waving visas around and translating, the situation got cleared up a little. Apparently, the issue couldn’t be resolved in Ulan-Ude, but in St. Petersburg, the next stop on his travel, a three-day extension could be granted. This was more than he could hope for, so he said final goodbyes to Ulan-Ude and got ready for some after-rally visa struggles. At least we were experienced embassy visitors by know.
Top of the day: Celebrations and Russian techno clubs.
Flop of the day: Goodbye Fröschli.
Day 47, Altanbulag - Ulan-Ude
The motel we spent a short night at, just at the border and cars (including some ralliers) were already queuing when we got up. They told us to be ready at 8am for another guy to take us across the border to Ulan-Ude. After about an hour Felix lost his patience (not the first time on the rally) and we decided to start queuing on our own. The queue was going slow so it was not tragic that our engine was dead. We slowly pushed our car out of Russia and into Mongolia. Locals such as other ralliers offered their help to get us step by step into Russia again. At some point a guy approached us and gave us his cell phone where another guy explained that they were responsible for taking us to Ulan-Ude. We realised yesterday already that the people transporting Fröschli from Khovd to UB had taken our tool box but more importantly our towing rope (which had ripped once already and was hence knotted in the middle). A real bitchy move to steal a tow rope from a broken car, to be honest. Nevertheless, the guys found a rope and pulled us through the border crossing. There was only one last big wait (about 3 hours) were we waited for some car import papers to be processed. The Russian border control was also a bit confused that we had two visas both of which were valid for that period but one of which was already stamped out (when we left Siberia to enter Mongolia in the west). However, after some calls they called us through and we were back in Mother Russia again. Somehow we managed to get Fröschli on a tiny truck, it's a mystery how that worked. For the last drive we were sitting the three of us in the front of that tiny truck. The roads were supreme once again and Siberia beautiful. We got some sights of Lake Baikal (the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, containing a fourth of the world's fresh surface water as from Wikipedia) and became more and more excited the closer we got to Ulan-Ude. It was obvious that we would not arrive at the finish line by the time it was still open but we still navigated our driver there as we thought the ramp on the finish line podium might be a good thing to use for unloading Fröschli from the truck. The finish line is situated right in the city center, next to a beautiful square with a big fountain and Vivaldi's Four Season was played through speakers all around the square. It was perfect. Two guys working for the Adventurists approached us, congratulated us to our success and asked us to park Fröschli right next to the podium as they wanted to block it overnight so nobody else could block the stage. With a last effort we pushed Fröschli from the truck onto the finish line.
It had been done, Fröschli had successfully completed the Mongol Rally 2018!!!!!
Top of the day: We made it to the finish line!!!!
Flop of the day: The last but not least long and inefficient border crossing.
Day 43 to 45, Ulanbataar (Moritz, Felix & Matthias)
Our time in UB was a real bliss. Before Matthew joined us we spent two days going around the city visiting the national history museum other sights and not to forget going to the Russian embassy. Compared to a French couple who visited the embassy three times already without success and a Malaysian mongol rallier who left his team in Almaty and flew to UB straight to solve visa issue, we realised that we were quite lucky once again. We only waited a little at the embassy and got told to come back in two days to pick up the visa. We were absolutely relieved that we would make it to the finish line and be allowed back into Russia, our risks had paid off!. Also, Matthias was reunited with us as he joined us from Ulan-Ude to make use of his Mongolian visa.
We had a wonderful time going around the city, visiting the National University of Mongolia, a monument from the Soviets on top of a hill over the city and driving to the famous Genghis Khan statue with a motorbike and a buggy. We also met Helena and Jack again with how we ate at a North Korean restaurant from where we took some Propaganda Magazines that are some of the coolest souvenirs to be taken home from this rally. We were also blessed to meet Ari in UB, a Canadian-Mongolian guy that Moritz met on exchange in Melbourne - small world phenomenon on point. With him we did our day tour to the statue outside the city. Matthias's parents generously sponsored us renting those vehicles with whom Matthias planned to make some final drone shots to round up footage for our after-movie. The 60km drive to the statue sounded fine in theory but we didn't account for rain which we did not had since Romania. At some point it felt like we were driving in Siberia in January. It was cold, rainy and we VERY much regretted not having taken the Landcruiser Ari's stepbrother offered us for this daytrip. However, the short period it stopped raining we were able to take the vehicle off road which was a lot of fun.
After Matthias left we were going into rally struggles again when picking up our transit visa for Russia and organizing the transport to Ulan-Ude.
Top of the day: Three quarters of the Colonial Cousin Corporation united in beautiful UB.
Flop of the day: Driving in the pouring rain, experiencing true Siberian winds without proper clothing on a buggy and motorbike - the coldest we felt on the rally.
Day 46, Ulanbataar - Altanbulag
Today was going to be the day, we could pick up our new visas for Russia! We said final goodbyes to Matthias who was going back to Switzerland today and went to get some souvenirs. We spent quite a while at the embassy where a whole bunch of people were also hoping to pick up their visa. And contrary to our fears, when we got called in we had a shiny new Russian visa stamp in our passports. We had to sign something and within two minutes were out of the embassy again. The first moment of euphoria passed quickly when Moritz noticed that his visa was only valid for eight instead of the intended ten days. But this was an issue to be taken care of another time. After some phone calls we found out where meet up with Fröschli to hit the road one last time. We had organised a tow truck that would take us across the Mongolian border to Ulan-Ude, the final destination of our journey. After several near-death experiences in a taxi that the driver misinterpreted to be a formula 1 car, we got out on a field near the Genghis Khan airport. There was a lot of nothing, horses and indeed, our beloved Fröschli. The drivers had already gotten it of the truck and rushed off to get some cargo to bring back to Khovd. We inspected our dear comrade: judging by the smell, it must’ve been used as a container for a lot of watermelons and the exterior looked like it had a rough ride. But non the less, the steering mechanism was still functional, and it had all its wheels – we were thrilled. The towing truck was already there, but apparently that wasn’t the one we needed. The driver took us to some parking lot next to the Ulaanbaatar stadium and disappeared. So, we started doing what we were masters in by now: waiting. We enjoyed sitting in our seats again, and Moritz got some food and beers at the supermarket nearby. They had sheep heads, horse penises and even some Swiss cheese. Not knowing how open Felix would be for local specialities, he decided to go for the latter. We shared dinner and after only a few hours of waiting the truck finally arrived. It didn’t take long for the driver to fix Fröschli to the cargo area and we all got in the driver’s cabin. It was already dark, but our driver reassured us we would get to the border by tonight. After having left the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar we didn’t doubt it anymore. The roads were still horrible, but this didn’t stop our driver from driving about 100 km/h, a speed we hadn’t dared to drive in quite a while. Our driver listened to the same cd over and over, smoked at least one pack of cigarettes, drank about two litres of coffee and ate something which seemed to be a thick slice of raw bacon, which made him a very comfortable guy to sit next to. It was almost 4am when we finally arrived at the border, happy to touch mother earth again. We said thanks to our driver, gave him the rest of our beers when he asked for vodka and watched him driving off. Another truck would get us to Ulan-Ude tomorrow. Completely drained, we got us a room in a hotel next to the border and passed out instantly. We couldn’t wait to finally reach the finish line!
Top of the day: Getting Russian transit visa for Felix and being able to get Fröschli out of Mongolia.
Flop of the day: Moritz getting a faulty Russian transit visa.
Day 41 & 42, Khovd – Ulanbataar (Moritz&Felix)
We did not fully recover yet from our night out in Khovd when heading for the bus stop. Felix was slightly worried when realising that our first aid kid did not include any travel meds that could help us and our stomachs take on 28h on a probably tiny and packed bus driving across bumpy roads and no roads at all. We arrived at the bus on time and were told to store our luggage inside (with our seats) as the bus's trunk was used to carry watermelons and other cargo. A lot of people taking the bus were our age and we learnt from them that they were going back to their colleges as the semester was starting soon. Though, communication was very basic as our level of Mongolian and their level of English was very basic. However, everyone was very kind and shook quite some hands when entering the bus and pushing our way through our seats at the back. The journey started off well and we were glad our vodka and bumpy roads experienced bodies seemed to handling everything well. The drive was relaxed and we listened to the same CD of Mongolian folk music probably 50 times for the day and night. The bus regularly stopped for people to relieve themselves in toilets or wherever our drivers decided to stop. Surprisingly the roads weren't all to bad for most of the way. The driver definitely seemed to know where he was going and we were happy to sit back and enjoy Mongolian steppe. It was only for some hours after midnight where we went off-road and the bus was bounying really hard. We did not really sleep during that time but then again, there were many more hours to come in the bus. After all the journey went well and we arrived in Ulaanbaatar (from now on referred to as UB) in the afternoon (as scheduled !!!). We soon realised the traffic in and around UB is wild as many streets were flooded and it took us 15 mins on the parking for the buy to get to his point of destination. We got off the bus, said goodbye to a big fan and supporter of the Colonial Cousin Corporation (see next page) and took a cap to our Airbnb. Our hosts were really friendly and the Airbnb nice, despite water dripping on you when sitting on the toilet. We went out for Indian food and beers at Seoul Street where a night market was going on. We were surpried by UB and how modern and fancy many things seemed to be. It's good we are spending some days here so to go around and see more of this city.
Top of the day: A surprisingly relaxed 28h-journey to UB.
Flop of the day: Language barriers.
Day 40, Khovd (Moritz&Felix)
In the morning, we said goodbye to our fellow ralliers. They were in quite a rush and obviously couldn’t tow us all the way to Ulaanbaatar(ca. 1500km). The mechanic we’ve been told to go to didn’t exist, but we found an old Mongolian guy that took Moritz on a walk around the area to find another one. About half an hour and a lot of Google translating later, we found a guy and pushed Fröschli to his workshop. The tiny piece of hope to get our engine fixed here was shred within 5 minutes. The mechanic looked at the engine and after some translating, it was clear that he couldn’t do anything without a spare part. The only option we had was getting a someone to bring our car to Ulaanbaatar. We got ourselves a nice hotel room to forget the struggles of the rally for a few hours, showered and drew up a plan to find Fröschli a ride. The mechanic didn’t know anyone, so we talked to some people at petrol stations to see if they knew any truck drivers. Felix got told to check out the local bus station, which resulted in another completely random acquaintance. While walking there, he got stopped by a guy that turned out to have been working for the adventurists when the rally still ended in Mongolia. He was happy to help and promised he would find someone. In exchange for some of our camping gear, he found someone that agreed to take Fröschli to Ulaanbaatar, for a fraction of the price that a proper towing company asked for. After turning down the polite offer of getting us some prostitutes for the night, we went back to the restaurant we had been the night before, where we met up with Jack and Helena, who were also in Khovd that night. We also met two guys from New Zealand, that were backpacking in Mongolia for two months and came on a wild night out with us. Many a drink later we called it a night and went to get some sleep before the long (around 28 hour) bus ride to Ulaanbaatar the next day.
Top of the day: Meeting a former Adventurist who saved our asses.
Flop of the day: Being told that Fröschli’s engine was beyond saving.
Day 39, Ölgi-Khovd (Moritz&Felix)
After our first night in Mongolia we collected our half-dried cloths in the morning and drove off early. We had another breakfast in the morning and were enjoying decently paved roads for quite a while. The scenery was stunning again and only few cars were seen here and then (mostly other rally teams leaving from Ölgii in the morning). We stopped by a lake and enjoyed peaceful and untouched nature. Shortly after the stop at the lake the paved road was disrupted by a pile of dirt which was put on the street as a blockage. There were marks of cars leaving the newly build road on both sides of this blockage. It felt absurd to drive off-road when a perfectly new road was just going next to you. However, there were piles of dirt every few hundred meters so there was no point of staying on the road. At some point, we realised we exited the road on the wrong side and ended up getting stuck in sand. That was half as bad. However, we found out that our radiator was leaking heavily. Some other rally teams (including a Swiss guy from Ticino – yay) helped us to push the car back on track but damage had been done. Another team stopped by and tried to help us with some liquid to block the hole in the radiator. While trying to fix our car a Mongolian stopped by and showed us his eagle which he carried in the trunk of his car. ‘Blug?’ was a fine looking and quite heavy bird. He calmly allowed his not so calm owner to pass him around an all took photos. Later, we were asked for 5 USD per photo. There goes central Asian generosity.
After lunch we tried again to continue to drive as there was no town around where we could have found professional help. Continuing to drive most probably was a mistake. Unsurprisingly, the broken radiator failed to cool our engine and we overheated constantly. Hence, we were slowly pushing and rolling towards the closest town still 110 km away. The few cars that passed by did not really felt like helping us. As it went uphill a truck and later a Toyota SUV had pity and towed us for some kilometres. Still, we were making progress very slowly. We felt more and more desperate as so few cars were seen and nobody was offering help. Felix ran after a few cars, waving with the towing rope but the few vehicles we encountered were not willing to help us out. In the later afternoon finally a convoy of rally cars stopped by. One of them was a mechanic and he investigated the problem. After some while working on the radiator the mechanic realised that the cylinder head gasket was broken. We were in big s*. The ralliers however, agreed to tow us to the next town. If it wasn’t for them we would have had to camp next to the roads, waiting for help….We owe a lot to them.
Arriving quite late, we enjoyed dinner and some beers with many other ralliers that ended up in that town. The day was full of car related struggles and worries but we were also reminded of this rally’s spirit and people it’s made of! Definitely one of the most Mongol-Rally day of this rally.
Top of the day: Making 110 km without a working engine but with rally spirit on point.
Flop of the day: Fröschli's worst break down so far.
Day 38, Siberia - Ölgi
In the morning, we woke up to rain and cold Siberian winds and headed towards the border. There were only about ten other cars queuing, but it still took us almost four hours to finally leave Russia. Being stamped out gave us a dire feeling, as our Rally’s fate was now in the hands of some Russian embassy guy in Ulaanbaatar – not the most reassuring thought. The Mongolian border post was about 20km behind the Russian one, so for the first time we got to drive to proper no man’s land. After a total of six hours we finally crossed the border and were ready for our first and only robbery, when three Mongol kids stopped our car and screamed for chocolate. We tricked them into taking cookies and headed towards Ölgi, where we planned on staying the night. A friendly local helped us getting SIM cards and a hotel and we went out for some truly delicious dish we randomly selected on the menu. After a we-made-it-to-Mongolia celebration beer we went to our hotel to get some rest before things were to go south tomorrow.
Top of the Day: Half of the Colonial Cousin Corporation reached Mongolia (with a working car).
Flop of the Day: Border crossings still suck.
When they go low, we go Ulan-Ude.
This beauty is called 'Fröschli' which is Swiss-German for 'little frog'. We got it from our neighboor who moved to Spain. Although frogs are not known for robustness and duration in hostile conditions - be aware - Fröschli is gonna set deserts on fire.