Mongolia — The Rescue Mission

Devin Finneran
Aug 20, 2017 · 5 min read

So the last you heard is that we were stuck in a river, with no way to get out. But you do know that we completed the Rally… so here’s what happened next.

It’s all thanks to these guys below. Well, and the idiots that decided they’d be sound-ish to tow us out of the river, but I’ll elaborate on that shortly.

Picture this… it is approximately 12.30am on the first night that you enter the country that was the pinnacle of your trip. It is a beautiful night and there are millions of stars for you to see, but all you can think about is the disturbing fact that your car is slowly drowning in a river, a river which shows no sign of slowing down and draining into turlough. The comrades from your convoy have gone to look for a bridge to cross, rumoured to be a mile or two up the road, in the hope that they can come and tow your beloved team member out of her slow death. But that was at least an hour ago and you have no way to contact them with no phone signal, or contact numbers…

‘that was the first time that I felt — we may not go any further than this because of the time, hassle and money it could potentially cost to fix it.’ — Nelly.

For all you know you have managed to get stuck on a deserted stretch of river, seldom used, and that no traffic would pass for hours, or at least until daylight. When you have reached a crisis point like this, and can do nothing else, what do you do next? The answer is to combat all the damage you can manage. We began to empty the contents of the car boot, and back seat as the entire car was beginning to be engulfed by the cold harsh water. After the realisation that the torches, and then the spare torches packed are out of battery you rely on the moonlight. You do what you think is best and you pitch a tent, close enough to hear noise but far enough away as to not draw too much attention.

‘Helpless, frustrated, confused, emotional, wet and cold. Don’t be going quoting me now!’ — Feargal

You try to settle in the tent, layering up in an attempt to raise body temperatures and morale. You don’t succeed. You root around in your bag for another pair of socks for Nelly as his sleeping bag was part of the deceased supplies and you find none other than that bottle of whiskey you had bought at the border and completely forget about. Over two hours have passed since ChaCha was partially submerged, 1.30am and you are just about to open the bottle when Feargal has a bright spark to put reflective jackets on the roof-rack.

He is gone for no more than 2minutes — all of a sudden there is shouting and commotion. An oil tanker crosses the river taking almost no notice of Feargal’s attempts to speak with the driver whilst a pickup truck awaits to cross on the far side. We rush to try and gain their attention and the boys begin to attempt a deal. The group of men from the pickup eventually agree that a pack of cigarettes and $30 will cover the fee to tow ChaCha out of the river and onto the nearest town. We quickly rush to gather all of our belongings from our makeshift pitch before Feargal & Nelly set up the tow rope. ChaCha still wouldn’t start but we could only hope they had enough horsepower, inevitably they did. As ChaCha escaped the stream, water flooded from the exhaust and the back seats.

I can’t be positive but the journey to Khovd took roughly two hours. There was a gleam of hope that we could still finish the rally. But after two hours and several slips off the tow rope and struggling to stay awake in a drenched car being pulled by what seemed like a gang of drunk stoners it was hard to keep the faith. Even worse, on arrival to a hotel they proceeded to demand an additional $70. But there were some other rally cars on site.

Not ideal but what could we do, they now knew where we were staying and we weren’t sure as to how far they would go to get the extra money. This extra hassle woke up Priya who beloned to one of the rally cars outside, she was very calm and kind and offered any help she could, she also noted that the rest of the troops form the convoy we lost at the river had made it to this base safely. One less thing to worry about.

Between time changes and being awake for half the night it was now almost impossible to figure out what time it was. When we woke, nelly checked ChaCha, surprisingly she didn’t start. We managed to track down the rumoured mechanic Bamonkh. By the time he arrived to bring us to his yard Nelly had already emptied 5l of water from the car.

Enter stage left, Joe. The Cambridge PhD student who had a grasp of both languages and lived in a yurt with Bamonkh and his family! Joe moved here to research Mongolian anthropology. This was his second summer of helping ralliers get to the mechanic and translate. Whilst Bamonkh got to work Joe shared watermelon with us while sharing stories of his thesis, living in the culture, other ralliers who had passed and potential routes to journey through Mongolia.

The mechanic and his brother in law got to work straight away as we were shown true Mongolian hospitality with mounds of fresh watermelon. The back seat of the car was removed and the fuel was emptied by hand, the engine was looked over, we had no spare spark plugs so he had to make do with drying them off. And then the moment of truth — it turned on and we were back in action! Although the gearbox was stuffed and the back seat was still sopping we were good to go and we were now under more time pressure than we had ever been in the hope of reaching the Russian border before Friday, August 21 — day 34. (Usually you take four main stops, we were going to attempt to do three).

For anyone planning to drive through Mongolia in any sense, I found this useful breakdown of the road conditions which I wish I found beforehand. Granted it is from a biker but there is barely any difference.