This morning was hard though. We woke up not really knowing what was going to happen. The mechanics came and went with parts and sullen faces. Every time Andrea asked them “All good?” (with a thumbs-up) more-or-less asking if the car would be fixed, the main mechanic would shrug and say “No” and walk away. This was not a good way to start the day. Spent half the day “fixing” the wheel bearing. This means banging away at it with a hammer until it gave way and then banging it with a hammer until it when back into place. At one point a car drove up and a man got out. Normally Bruce and I tried to shoo away any other customers so that the mechanics wouldn’t get any more distracted than they already were. But this guy was different than the prior drive ups. This guy was really sketchy, topless but wearing camo pants, blasting Russian techno-grunge and had a handgun in the passenger-side door pocket of his car… The sketchy-topless-handgun-wielding man didn’t pay us much attention and we were not going to draw any attention to ourselves but as we watched him he (1) got out of his car menacingly leaving the stereo blaring, (2) talked to one of the mechanics, (3) went back into his car, loaded his gun, cocked it, put it back in the passenger door pocket and then (4) walked down the way followed by the main mechanic who he had been talking to earlier. Thankfully they both returned and the sketchy man left without causing any more trouble.
During the day Andrea’s rash became really itchy so she asked one of the men to take her to the “Apteca” (pharmacy). He agreed so he and Andrea got into his car and drove off. But the nice man did not go straight into town. He drove up a the road a bit and stopped at a house. He motioned for me to stay in the car as he went into a wooden house with a picket fence and small front yard. He walked out a few minutes later with two women and a couple of young girls. One of the women looked to be his wife but the other was about my age. He actually had brought me to his house where his English-speaking niece was staying. Yerna (which turned out to be her name) actually spoke fluent English because she studied a year in Arkansas on exchange.
She took one look at me and recommended we go to the hospital and see a dermatologist.
So we drove into town, Yerna, her uncle, and I. We pulled up to a green raggedy school building with a high metal fence surrounding it. Yerna walked up the building and waved for me to follow her through what looked like a side door. We were actually in the hospital proper. There were lots of people sitting, standing and talking to nurses, or at least people who looked less official were talking to people who looked more official. In the hospital-that-looked-like-a-school-building, the hardwood floors creaked beneath your feet and the paint was chipping just a little off of the wall and each “classroom” was designated with a different specialist sign on the door. We stopped a couple of times to ask for directions to the right door and Yerna met a couple of her friends who also spoke English while we were walking around. Finally we found the dermatologist’s door and Yerna went in to ask for an appointment. The doctor said that she would meet with me and I went in. The room looked SO MUCH like a classroom. The doctor was sitting at an old 60’s desk with the metal arm chair in retro orange just like the old school buildings back home.
The dermatologist seemed a little freaked out by my rash and asked if I had been bitten, asked to see my stomach (possible Shingles), and asked me a few other questions through Yerna. I said that it probably wasn’t bugs since Bruce and I always share accommodations and he didn’t have a blemish on him (damn him!). I thought that it could be an allergic reaction to the sheets in Kyrgyzstan. The doctor agreed. She recommended a couple of prescriptions but she also told me to stay away from sweet, sour, and spicy foods especially fruits and salty meet because these could cause the allergy to get worse. She also recommended that I stay very clean. The food advice was sound and a more holistic approach to antihistamine treatment than I am used to. The advice about staying clean was going to be a little trickier. We do try and stay clean as much as possible and I really don’t think we smell all that bad but really good hygiene is difficult to keep up on the road.
We left the hospital-that-looked-like-a-school and walked across the dirt road to the Apteca to pick up the prescriptions. We went to two pharmacies to pick up what I needed but thanks to Yerna I feel much better both physically and mentally. I have seen a doctor and she also thought that it was an allergy and not some Russian/Mongol flesh-eating disease.
We returned and a couple of hours later they had put the BBB back together again and we left for the border with our wallets a little lighter but our minds reeling from yet another “experience” on the rally.
We got about 50km before realizing that the repair job was botched…. The wheel was getting hot, and occasionally smoking. But really what were we going to do? We decided to press on towards Mongolia as it wasn’t too far to the border. All we needed was to get the BBB across that border and we were home free. This meant that we were very, very careful with the bus today but the roads were good so we made good time, even with the dodgy repair.
The scenery changed every time we drove over a hill. Brush land was deeply cut with blue/aqua rivers. Then wet lands with pools of water below big, colorful jagged rocks. All we could see in the distance were beautiful mountains, peaks, and soft hills then alpine forests filled with coniferous trees and snow capped peaks. Then we drove over another invisible boundary right into the central Asian steppe. This distinct landscape was everything we had heard about, with rolling land on either side of the road covered with thin hay colored brush and robin’s egg blue skies with huge puffy white clouds rising high into the air. It was unreal.
You could see towns from miles away. They looked like little furry colored dots in a sea of yellow-green. There were a few of them ahead of us, dots connected by single lines through the landscape, which were obviously tracks or roads. We were on one of those lines heading right for a little town before the mad dash to the border.
We decided to stop and get some supplies before Mongolia and use up the last of our Russian rubles. We drove into this little town and the first landmark we see... a huge Lenin statue in what looked to be the town square or government building of some sort. Bruce was excited! We found the supermarket... if you can call anything here "super" as it means "big" and nothing here is very big except for the place itself. Once inside, you can imagine the weird looks Andrea got as she was buying up the cans of Mexicani Beans and bottled water for the journey. We also picked up some chips and pickled carrots of all things. We shall see how those taste later.
Off we went again with our supplies (which a nice store boy helped me take them out to the BBB where Bruce was waiting, as we didn't want to shut off the bus....we were still wary of the solenoid). A few kilometers from the town we were stopped at a check point. They let us through without much hassle, which was good as we were in a hurry by this point. The border between Russian and Mongolia is only open from 9am to 6pm! There was a reason for that checkpoint though, we drove past some serious military radar dishes and armored people carriers and the like. Andrea started to take photos out the window and then decided that might not be the best idea when Bruce told her that these were probably sill active… not left in memorial… Why are the Russians armed and watching this border of all of their borders? This is interesting but not unheard of I guess. The land here was flat, open, and barren. No people, no other cars, no livestock, nothing. This was definitely borderlands and we have seen enough of them to know what they look like. But these borderlands were BIG. We were stopped again only 20km from the border and let pass. These guards were used to Mongol Ralliers at this point. I don’t think they think much of us.
We made it to the Russian border station finally (which was still 20km inside Russia) at 5.45pm; Andrea jumped out and asked to speak with the guards to let us though. She cajoled and argued and sign-languaged the hell out of those guards but we were not in time to go through. Well actually… we were in time to get through the Russian side but not with enough time to make it all the way (25km more) to the Mongolian border before it closed. They were amused by Andrea’s attempts to explain that if we shut off the car then we might not be able to turn it on again. But they were strict with us. We were going to have to wait until 9am the next morning to get through. Meaning we had to sleep at the border, in line until the morning.
We are second in line behind a very nice Mongolian couple. They were in one of those UAZ 452 vans that can go over anything! They asked if we would like to walk down to the magasin (shop) with them for some food. Andrea went and bought some fresh bread, oranges, bananas and a cold bottle of Coke (what a treat after Uzbekistan… not sure how long a cold bottle of Coke is going to be a treat but we are going to savor it as long as we can). On the walk back they introduced themselves (though we cannot remember their names sadly… those Mongolian names are hard!) but the wife did teach Andrea two words, “Sian bai nu” which means “hello” and “bai-er-la” which means “thank you”. I think these will come in handy so I practiced them several times and made the couple laugh. We shared our chai and dinner of curried rice, mixed veggies, and pickled carrots with the couple when we got back to the BBB. They gave us pears. We had quite a nice sunset meal with that couple at the Russian Mongolian border. A memory not soon forgotten.
As we sat and watched the fiery sunset several other teams pulled up behind us!!! Now there is a line 10-deep of Mongol Rally teams headed off by a Mongolian couple going home and us in the Big Blue Bus! We chatted with all of the new teams until about 11pm. Now we are sleeping in the bus. It is getting cold out there tonight but we will be warm and toasty.
Hope the bus starts tomorrow!
Tomorrow we will be in Mongolia!!!!