We checked out of the motel – the staff was straight out of a Soviet spy novel as the female floor attendant. They seem to magically appear whenever you turn a corner or open your door….
We negotiated the highways of Rostov and got back over the Don River on the highway heading in the direction we want. The roads turned more minor and the land very agricultural and wide open….we could easily have been in Kansas or Nebraska, with power poles stretching off to the vanishing point amongst fields of wheat. The picture was completed when we were passed by Jeep Grand Cherokees, Lexus’, and BMWs. However there were also very old Ladas and excruciatingly slow trucks that belched diesel exhaust which kind of ruined the image!
We came to the town of Elista (sp?) and all of a sudden we were in a completely different ethnic area! There were pagodas and Buddhists and the people looked much more Asian than European. We were getting hungry at this point so we managed to find a restaurant, which we thought was Chinese. However it looked very closed but they welcomed us and sat us down and fed us borscht, a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, and meat and potatoes…..not quite Chinese food, but good and filling nonetheless!
Back on the road and the day got hotter and hotter as we headed out into the desert. Apparently it got up to about 43C, which is really freaking hot! The bus performed well and the coolant issue seems to have been resolved which is good!
On the way to Astrakhan, we saw some strange sights. We were in the middle of the desert so we had to see sand dunes, which made Andrea freak out a bit… There aren’t many sand dunes in Salem, MA. Salt flats on either side of the road made us wonder where they came from. There were cows grazing on the desert scrub brush but at one point there was a whole group of them crossing the road… we honked at them to move and what did they do? They stopped and stared at us. Cows crossing the road in the middle of the desert… strange… Something very interesting that we had to stop for was a memorial of the easternmost point of the Nazi Advance. This memorial was a towering monument in the middle of very flat land. It represented where the Soviets stopped the Nazi advance on their way to conquer the vast fertile land of the area, as well as stopping them from advancing on the oil fields of Persia (now called Iran). Imagine what WWII would have held in store if the Nazis had had access to the oil in Iran. Thankfully we will never know.
So we get to Astrakhan, find some internet and post the many blog updates that we put up yesterday. We went to head for the border but noticed a bump in the front driver’s side tire area… When we checked it, Bruce noticed a big bulge in the tire. This would explain the bumping. But it was also not safe to drive on. We tried to change the tire… BUT the very nice Romanian Vulcanizare put the bolts on so tight with his pneumatic wrench that we couldn’t even make one nut budge. We were not going to make it to the border so we started looking for a motel. We saw a tall Ramada called the Park Inn towering over to the right. We put on our hazard lights and slowly made it over to the Park Inn… low and behold what did we see? Two other Mongol Rally teams!!!! One was already inside getting a deal on rooms and the others started helping us try to get the tire off. No joy….one of the chaps was Romanian and he seemed very proud that his countrymen did such good work on the bolts. Another team showed up soon after and we found out that they had planned on meeting up in Astrakhan and we just happened upon them! LUCKY!!!
The front desk people will call a local mechanic for us in the morning to get the bus rolling again!!!
So… we have a room at the Park Inn Ramada in Astrakhan, Russia; cannot get the tire off until the morning; and are looking forward to another good night’s sleep because tomorrow is going to be another long day!
As always, Viva Mongolia!