Mongolia is a large country with not many inhabitants. Half of them are nomads who live on the endless steppes ( in ger tents, ger means cover) where they are surrendered to one of the most extreme climates on earth. The scenery and landscape of Mongolia changes constantly, there are enormous deserts to huge mountain regions. Mongolia is a country with many contrasts. For instance there is a big gap between rich and poor, there are salt and sweet water lakes, kilometers long and endless steppes and high, steep mountain roads. They hardly eat any vegetables, by which I mean that they don’t grow it over here.Blog Image

There is more cattle then people. Sometimes 4 seasons take place in one single day. You can walk around in your summer singlet in the morning, then suddenly the clouds stack up above you, the wind sets in and when you least expect it, it suddenly starts to hail badly. It can be really cold but a half hour later you cannot stand the heat of the sun. Sounds strange but it is true. Blog Image

Hello readers, I would like to say, grab a cup of coffee and sit down comfortably because I have some catching up to do and have lot’s to tell…………….

Here we are at this big hotel, the Chingis Khan in Ulaanbaatar, de capital city of Mongolia. Very luxurious, streaming hot water which is wonderful after being 4 days of survival. First we want to freshen up and catch up on shaving! Yes, the days fly by, getting up early in the mornings and late to bed at night. We really don’t drive that many kilometers in a day anymore because the roads here are so terribly bad (you really can’t call it any road over here). So it will take you about 1 hour to drive about 30 kilometers, so count out the hours if we have to drive 630 kilometers a day!!! However it is very beautiful over here, a true paradise, all around you there are mountains, blue skies, deep blue lakes, flowing creeks, winding rivers, endless stretched out landscapes, steep mountain passes, a starry sky as I have never seen it before in my whole life!!Blog Image

Not to forget all the grazing cattle that you see everywhere, camels, horses, cows (yaks), goats and sheep. A group of horses who suddenly gallop across your way in front of the car. Just amazing! I wrote my story today on the computer in the car which was not easy with all the good and bad situations on the road. It was about the last 4 days (almost two full pages) when suddenly the car hit a pot hole and I seemingly pressed the wrong key on the laptop and I lost the whole story. Nowhere to be found. What a bugger! Blog Image

4 days ago, at the border, we split up into two groups. The 4×4’s who would drive the extreme route and the Citroën 2CV (Peking Duck team) and the Volvo (Parket Plus team) which drive the challenge route along the southern region including a guide). They both broke down and had to be towed and will arrive by transport in Ulaanbaatar tomorrow. The drivers themselves flew here by airplane. 60% of the population of Mongolia lives here in Ulaanbaatar. It’s a large busy city with lot’s of air pollution. The people are very friendly, always smiling , laughing and when you drive through a village they wave at you. Here and there we give some toys to the children which we brought with us. The kids are very happy with these and are eager to pose for pictures. Most children understand English but don’t (maybe scared to) speak it back to you, they learn the language early in life at school. All in all you could say that time stood still here for about a 100 years, but the schooling of the kids is a priority and is being taught at a high level. I seems like the American Wild West when you drive through the villages you see rows of wooden houses left and right which look like towns from the old west. Also the people look like American Indians (we think). When we get home we have to investigate if Mongolia and America were once connected. Maybe that’s why we make the link???Blog Image

The nomads (people who live in Ger tents) on the Mongolian steppes live the same as the Indians that we know (from movies). Their ger tent is not coned but much wider. They have horses fro transport and to help guard their cattle as a shepherd. What you first notice when you come close to these people is that they carry all the same odour. That’s because they mostly drink Yak milk and use it to make all kinds of foods. They have Yak cheese, Yak bread, Yak cookies (my stomach is still upset) and for us it all tasted YUCK!Blog Image

More then half of the year it is winter over here, going down to -40 degrees Celsius. We are very lucky and have had great weather every single day we have been here, bright blue skies and up to +35 degrees. It should have already been snowing this time of year!Blog Image

From the day we passed the border all has been a great big spectacle, tarred roads stopped and in return we got sandy roads, big rocks, mud and finally we ended up in the swamp. We had to drive through the rivers to get out of the swamp. Honestly, I was shitting 7 colours in my pants!! The water came over the hood of our car up to our windows. We floated across the water and lost all grip to the under ground. But Pieter knew how to get the situation under control quickly. (mum, don’t worry, you know him, right!) Our cabin luckily did not flow under water but we surely got wet feet and the rest. The ambulance had more trouble and had to be towed out of the water. After we drained the water out of the ambulances cylinders it strangely enough was able to start her engine again and was able to drive on. So that was quite an adventurous first day in Mongolia. I immediately thought; what is more to come? The first couple of hours I have traveled next to Pieter with my toes pulled in and sweaty hands but soon enough you learn what the car can handle in these quite extreme conditions. You just have to find your confidence. We told each other that if the car can get through Mongolia that we can handle the rest of the world in it. Sometimes it has to handle a lot of rough conditions, taking big blows that we think that the axels will drop off, but having experienced these blows more then 100 times now we are finally getting used to it and just fly over holes and bumps. The car has been able to handle it all well till now without breaking down. So far (next to a tear in the fuel gasket and needing to change the petrol filter) the car has not had any major problems. We can speak of being lucky as the other teams have had to deal with many but all different kind of car problems. All those lucky charms and christoffels are helping us well and travelling with us.Blog Image

The sandy roads are very dusty and that annoys Pieter extremely. As especially when you have to drive last then your car eats a lot of dust and that doesn’t also do much good to electronics in the car which slowly start to deteriorate in your car. The teams have automatically formed groups as driving in a convoy is time consuming and not practical. We drive together with the Crew – Arthur and Niels (organisation) and with Jaap van den Ende (European and Dutch champion Toyota starlet in car racing). Jaap has Jan of Aktueel Sport Magazine with him as co driver. We form a great team.Blog Image

In the evenings it is planned that we all meet up together but considering the tight time schedules and kilometres that we need to drive this has not always been possible. The first two nights we all got settled together and spend the night in tents and our cars in the middle of nowhere. Waking up along side of a big lake surrounded by mountains. Just amazing! Taking a piss behind a little sand dune , no water only the lake. What a peaceful place, until the trip begins again! We are lucky that Pieter has gotten his Goops GPS system up and running again because it is difficult trying to find a Ger Camp at night. Luckily he planned and set out the whole route at home before we started the Challenge. Now we can just drive straight to our destination. But what if you reach your destination and the camp is gone. No more camp…………(because the winter is coming and so they have packed up and left) and then there we stand at 2:30 am in the morning, but of course we are not giving up that easily and drive on through rivers and climb mountain passes to finally reach on top of a volcano in another Ger Camp. Here other challengers have found their way and here we can sleep comfortably. Very romantic, a ger tent with a stove inside and a good night sleep can begin (well for 4 hours max) the strange thing is that it is very cold at night over here, almost towards freezing point. So even when we have to sleep in our car we are happy with our warm sleeping bags and thick mattresses. Blog Image

The first evening we camped out all together sitting around a camp fire, telling strong stories, drinking Wodka, you know how that goes. At times like this I sometimes think that it is a shame that the group is split up and we can’t meet up with each other like this every night as it is very enjoyable and nice like this together.Blog Image

Frankly, I am enjoying myself (also because of the baggage I was given to take with me from the hoem front) evry minute of it. Pieter sometimes has to calm down and get used to the fact that he cannot always drive up front and that it is a fact that the car is a big mess when we use it as a major living quarter for over 4 weeks. But finally accepts those facts, although he keeps fighting with the sand. Tomorrow he wants to find another carwash to have al least the bottom of the car cleaned. The group has named Pieter, Willy Wortel (crazy inventor duck in Dutch Donald Duck comics) but he finally is sowing his own seem! ( to say crudely) and in time one by one they come and ask Pieter which way they should go!Blog Image

Today we were envited by Habitat for Humanity, this organisation makes sure that homeless, handicapped people or big families get a home to live in. They will have to help also to build their own homeand in 24 days the house is standing. The organization had organised a whole party for us yesterday with horse racing with Mongolian competitors on to wrestling matches, folk dancing, performances and a visit to a big temple which was build up by Genghis Khan. We were very disappointed that we couldn’t make it yesterday but this morning we joined a project and were allowed to take a look inside the home of the locals in a ger tent. I thought it was a little awkward when I entered their tent. Grand pa was lying in bed, 2 women were laying on another bed, a 4 year old boy ran around, a young couple came inside with a twin in their arms and these people all lived in one tent. It could not have been more the 6 x 6 meters, including kitchen, washing basin, beds, it was their only and complete house. An unimaginable situation for us western people. And these people are so kind and friendly, they always straight away offer one of their Mongolian specialties to us, most probably mad out of Yak milk) brrrrrrr, just the smell of it! But you cannot deny their offering that would be very rude. I thought it was very impressive and surely good work that Habitat for Humanity offers these people!!! We also visited the governor of this toen. Pieter noticed that all important positions were filled by women. To this he was told that the women are the smart and wise ones and that the men choose to do the heavy and tough physical work through which the women have more opportunities to enjoy and make use of better schooling. Gentlemen, this is something for you to remember well!Blog Image

Tonight we visited another project in Ulaanbaatar. Her the press and tv were present and they asked us if we could join the project and pretend we were helping to build a house etc. (see pictures)Blog Image

I am realising just now that I must be forgetting to mention many other things but I have to make choices in what to tell as it is almost 3 am again and we want to enjoy a little of the luxury that we have tonight, which includes INTERNET. Off course it is not as fast as we are used to but we do our best. Tomorrow we leave towards the Gobi desert, first 200 km of asphalt (whatever you could call asphalt) and the begins the washing board effect. Blog Image

Dear all, I have to end my story (please excuse the spelling mistakes, but I don’t feel like reading through this story again before I post it).

Greeting from the two of usxxxxxxxxxx

Pieter & Gaby