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Frequently Asked Questions

How long did it take?
How much did it cost?
What were the roads like?
What problems did you have with the car?
What else went wrong?
Where did you finish?
Did you have any trouble with the local Police?
Did you have any problems with petrol?
Where did you sleep?
What did you eat?
How did you keep clean?
Where did you get those wonderful t-shirts from?
What were the best / worst bits of the trip?
Would you do it again?
What would you do differently?
Tyre market

How long did it take?

It took us 4 weeks, 4 days, 21 hours and 50mins. Our pace was quite slow compared to some of the other teams. We had quite few problems en route losing us two or three days, and we also lost a further two days in Mongolia to another team's problems. We did very little night driving, only putting in between 8 and 10 hours' driving in total per day.

It would be possible to complete the rally much quicker, but as it was, we felt it was a shame that we didn't have time to see many of the places we travelled through.

The first team to arrive in Mongolia took just over three weeks (24 days). They were on the northern route, although due to time limits they did not go into Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan missing out the third checkpoint in Samarkand.

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How much did it cost?

This is a tricky one to answer, but in short, a lot. In reality the preparation cost more than the journey itself, although that needn't have been the case had we managed to get more sponsors on board.

Here is a rough breakdown of the costs (figures are approximate):

£300 Car preparation
£246 Visas & letters of invite
£200 Petrol and Oil
£100 Travel and Car Insurance
£50 Food
£40 Accomodation
£20 Bribes, Fines and tolls
£330 Return Flight (Aeroflot to Europe via Moscow)

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What were the roads like?

Terrible!

The roads started getting worse from Poland onwards, where they were far from smooth. The bumps upon entering the Ukraine were just laughable. In Russia, out in the country side was smooth, but in the cities there were many a pot hole to contend with.

Western Kazakhstan had the worst roads. Huge craters, pot holes and ridges often caused us to drive at 20mph, constantly watching 10 meters in front of the car.

In the deserts of Uzbekistan, the roads were under construction, with large amounts of gravel laid down, but with ridges perpendicular to the road giving a corrugated iron type surface.

In Kyrgyzstan, the government is investing huge amounts of money in improving the road that links the two main cities (Bishkek and Osh). A large task given that this crosses a mountain range with two 3000 meter passes. Although some of this was still under construction, the completed part provided one of the best roads I have ever driven on.

And Mongolia? There were no roads. Just a random collection of gravel and sand tracks that link the provincial capitals. The toughest part here was the 2500 mountain pass before Khovd... extreme off road, in a Mini!

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What problems did you have with the car?

Full gory details to follow on The Car section, but in summary:

  • Rear suspension component snapped, twice.
  • Rear suspension trailing arm bearing disintegrated.
  • Ignition gremlins caused a day of anguish in Kyrgyzstan. Fault: condenser wire snapped.
  • Exhaust pulled off numerous times.
  • 2 Rear wheel cylinders (brakes) fell off their mounts.
  • Hand brake failed (due to the above).
  • Snapped rear brake lines.
  • Crushed brake line.
  • Complete brake failure (due to the above).
  • Radiator leak.
  • High oil consumption (due to a knackered gearbox oil seal).
  • Engine stabiliser bar rattled loose.
  • Heater Matrix leak.
  • Overheating.
  • Rear left wheel fouling outer wheel arch.
  • Rear right wheel fouling inner wheel arch.

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What else went wrong?

We had problems getting the V5 document from the DVLA. A typo at the Stanmore regional office caused large delays, so we had to set off for Mongolia without it. Thankfully the problem was sorted shortly after we left, and it was DHL'd over to meet us in Krakow, Poland.

We got the car stuck a few times. In the mud in Germany and in the dust/dirt in Kazakhstan, but Mongolia was king. Stuck multiple times in gravel, sand, a stream and a river.

We both suffered from stomach upsets due to the changing diets throughout the journey. Surprisingly the worst of this came from switching back to western food having arrived in Ulaan Baatar.

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Where did you finish?

The Mongol Rally was not a race, and the first to arrive were not necessarily the winners. That said check out the Finish Statistics to get a rough idea of who got how far and when.

Of the 42 cars that started, only 19 made the finish in Mongolia. We were the 18th car to get there.

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Did you have any trouble with the local Police?

We'd heard lots of horror stories about corrupt officials in Russia and the ex CIS states but we didn't have any serious problems.

Several teams were stung with heavy fines / bribes in Russia, but we only got one speeding fine $5 and had to bribe our way through a "closed" section of road in Kyrgyzstan (a further $5).

Apart from the fines, we were constantly being stopped at road blocks which litter all the roads close to built up areas. Generally these didn't pose problems, but were large time wasters. Especially when the Police insist on writing all of the vehicle and driver details down in one of their large books. Normally, though, we were stopped out of curiosity more than anything else. Large groups of (often drunk) Policemen crowding around the "Mr. Bean" car taking a good look were the norm.

Despite being frustrating at times, these checkpoints were the source of great amusement. Below are several of our top memories from these police encounters:

  • Constant references to "Mr. Beana Machina"
  • A drunken policeman driving off in one of the team cars, with a co- driver inside.
  • Running from the Police at the Uzbek border after refusing to pay for a "required certificate".
  • The suggestion from Uzbek Police that the large double sun roof on one of the Pandas would make an ideal machine gun turret!
  • A drunk Policeman falling off the barrier he was perched on, while another policeman rushed to close the barrier before we got there.
  • After paying our $5 speeding fine in Kyrgyzstan, the near insistence on the part of the Policemen that we return to the previous town rather than go on to Bishkek as the whores are less than half the price. All of this explained with sign language...

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Did you have any problems with petrol?

Before leaving we were a little concerned about the low octane fuel that we might encounter and also the availability of fuel all together.

In addition to the small 25 litre tank in the Mini we also took two jerry cans to cover the long desert crossings. There were a couple of times when we cut it very fine and had to search for fuel, but we were never stuck.

With regards to the octane levels, the quality started dropping off from the Ukraine onwards, although in the Altay region in Russia we did find 96 octane. The lowest we saw was 73 octane, which was the only thing available in the Furgana Valley in Uzbekistan. This wasn't a big problem for the Mini, but some of the more modern injection engines really suffered.

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Where did you sleep?

Most of the time we were camping. We would just search for a suitable track and drive 500 meters or so away from the road. This was easiest out in the desert, but pretty tricky in built up areas. Twice in Uzbekistan, locals took pity on us, allowing us to stay on their grounds.

We stayed in hostels in Prague, Samarkand and Ulaan Baatar and were put up by an Englishman in Kiev.

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What did you eat?

Generally when camping we would cook either packet noodles, or pasta. During the day we would stop at roadside cafes and sample the local goodness... Mutton, mutton and more mutton.

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How did you keep clean?

Washing was a problem. We took full advantage of the facilities provided when we stopped off in hostels. Otherwise it was a question of washing in rivers or lakes. Washing in an alpine lake or river after 5 days of accumulated sweat, desert dust and car muck, is truly an amazing experience.

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Where did you get those wonderful t-shirts from?

The design was put together by Andy's girlfriend and her flat mate. These were then printed very much last minute by SidStore.com who did a fantastic job.

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What were the best / worst bits of the trip?

The lows were the lack of sleep, constant police harassment, long border crossings and night driving with terrible headlights.

The highlights are much harder to define, but the beauty of the Kyrgyzstan mountains and the remoteness of Mongolia stand out among all the others.

The ultimate high, was rounding a corner to see Ulaan Baatar reveal itself, and realising we really had made it!

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Would you do it again?

Definitely, but the preparation takes a lot of time and money, so it will have to wait a while.

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What would you do differently?

If we were to do the rally again then the Southern Route would be a must. This takes in more countries and more cultures.

The Mini's rear suspension wasn't up to the job. We'd purchased special suspension to raise the ride height, but it was a lot weaker than the original setup. This would need to be done differently.

Our lights were pathetic. We needed better lights. Some of the night driving was just plain dangerous.

We really needed a "squeegy", to clean the windscreen with. The amount of dirt that accumulated on the screen was incredible.

We thought we were travelling light, but we could have done without a lot of the items we took with us. With less weight the suspension might have coped better as well.

Navigation was not too much of a problem for us, but we didn't have any maps of Russia. In hindsight, we wished we'd downloaded and printed city maps from the internet for all of the cities we expected to pass through.

The language barrier was a problem. As we saw from one of the other teams, being able to speak a little bit of Russian really enhances the experience with the locals. Andy studied enough to get to grips with the alphabet, but not further than that. Next time, we will study harder!

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If you have any further questions, please mail us at info@mongolmini.com and we will do our best to answer.


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