Boy did we sleep well last night. After the utter shambles of last night’s accommodation and the sheer relief of finding a place just as we’d resigned ourselves to a night of sleeping in the car, we were shattered.
We had a slightly later wake up than expected and drove to a nearby gas station to repack the car. We unloaded everything onto the forecourt and then, fuelled by cheap instant coffee and Twix bars, proceeded to repack the car from scratch – much to the entertainment of the station staff.
I don’t know if it’s deprivation or what but the cheap instant coffee you find in petrol stations is actually starting to taste pretty good – and that’s coming from someone who never even particularly liked coffee in the first place.
Repacking took longer than expected but as Dad likes to say, a job worth doing is worth doing well. Car repacked we set off for the Mongolian border. With Hamilton playing loud on the stereo, Little Darnley took the first driving stint. Two and a half hours later, the entire Hamilton soundtrack completed, Little Darnley tagged out and we rotated round. With the weather conditions deteriorating and Kermit suffering from an as yet undiagnosed cause of loss of power, progress was slow. I was three hours into a driving stint when I suddenly remember that the Russian-Mongolian border shuts at 6pm. It was 4pm. 216km to go. Oh dear.
By that time we’d diagnosed Kermit’s “breathy” engine as an exhaust problem… hopefully a hole but fearing a fracture. Already trying to go easy on Kermit and now faced with a deadline, Dad took over and powered us towards the border. With a direct route all the way to the border, my role as navigator was somewhat redundant so instead I made cheese sandwiches for everyone – which considering we were driving down a fairly bumpy, very windy road at 100+km/h and all I had to work with was a Swiss Army knife*. The simple fact that I didn’t lose any fingers in the process is testament to the true skill that went into the making of those sandwiches.
Powering down the road on the final stretch – it was tight to say the least. After one particularly cheeky bump, Kermit even took flight at one point. I am not even joking! We arrived at the border with twelve minutes to spare… just as the customs official was locking up and going home. We weren’t the only ones though – with eight cars in front of us it’s not like we even had a chance. As another of the customs officials packed up and left, we asked whether anyone else would be going through – he laughed “No! the border is shut! Tomorrow 9am”.
That was that then. We turned tail and drove back down the road looking for somewhere to stay. We found a little hotel and checked in – only to realise we didn’t have enough money because we’d spent all our change on instant coffee and Twix bars. Fan-bloody-tastic.
Genius moment – “do you take dollar?”. No. Not so genius then. With the help of the wonder of the world that is Google translate, we explained our financial predicament to the lady on the front desk. Is there a bank in town? No. Is there an ATM in town? No. Where is the closest ATM? 50km away.
Hmm…cue a quick Darnley huddle.
Second attempt : overpayment. Dad got out a 50 dollar note – if we overpaid a bit, would she be inclined to take dollars? (A grand overpayment of $2.50 I might add). She phoned the boss, rapid conversation ensued but 10 minutes later, we had a three bed room and keys in our hand. Well, my hand. There was only one key.
It seems we were not a second too late. Just as we went back out to check on Kermit and get our bags, some of the other cars which had been ahead of us in the queue turned up. Could they have a room? No, fully booked. Now that, my friends, is a result.
The room is basic but has everything we need; beds, hot water (sort of – it comes and goes) and wifi (same as the hot water, but I’m not complaining!). Tomorrow we’re off to try our luck again with the border. Border reports note notoriously long queuing times and painfully arduous
interrogations “interviews” so it’ll be interesting, that’s for sure.
PS. Thanks again Auntie Lis for my Swiss Army knife. I take it with me every time I travel and it has been so wonderfully useful!