This morning, we head to Ulaan Baatar's backpacker hangout, Café Amsterdam, to meet with Tom, the founder of the Adventurists. He lives in Mongolia organizing the Mongol Rally six months out of every year, and when it comes to dealing with cars in this country, he knows a thing or two.
Over tea and coffee we learn that the import fee for our car will surely be in excess of $2,000 USD, and that customs will definitely hold us if we try to leave the country without proper documentation. He's seen it happen many times. He also warns us not to sell our car to anyone, even if buyer says it will be done legally. Even if a customs official offers (it has happened), he advises against it.
Normally, we're quick to dismiss ominous it-can't-be-done style warnings, but not today. I wouldn't be surprised if Tom knows more about this particular subject than most of the Mongolian government. We're sobered by his advice, and also at a loss for what to do. I am feeling pretty hopeless about our situation when Tom mentions an option we never would have known was possible without his help.
Instead of paying the import tax, we can officially give our LRC to the Mongolian government. All we have to do is go to the customs office, fill out a few forms, and surrender the car. We won't get any money, but we'll be able to leave without paying the import duties. When I ask what they'll do with the car, Tom says he isn't sure, but it is possible they would scrap it for metal.
Initially, this strikes me as a horrifying waste. Why not give it to a family in need? They don't want old cars in the country, even good ones? Scrapping our LRC now seems a bit like sending a beloved horse to a glue factory well before its time. I don't like it, but right now, it seems like the only good option.
When Tom leaves, we talk about the pros and cons of our logistical choices. The whole scenario is a tangled-up flow chart with arrows flowing into, around, and across one another like a ball of yarn. Most of the arrows end in a box labeled "Bad Plan".
Options We Are Considering
Sell our car illegally
PROS: We break even or possibly make money on our purchase.
CONS: We might get caught at the border. If this happens we lose the difference between our sell price and the import duty which would probably be over a thousand dollars.
Sell our car legally
PROS: We can leave the country!
CONS: We have to find a buyer willing to pay the hefty import duty. Then we'd have to convince them to come down to customs to complete the entire process, not speaking the language, not sure if we're getting taken for a ride.
Surrender our car to the Mongolian government
PROS: We don't lose money, no further logistics with LRC to worry about.
CONS: The Mongolian government might scrap a perfectly good car that could be given to a family in need. We get nothing for the car.
Return to Russia?
PROS: We can leave the country! We can see more of Russia.
CONS: We face the same problems in Russia, though maybe we can bribe our way out?
Give our car to Charlie & Tim
PROS: The guys are driving back to the UK in their taxi, they could take our Toyota too.
CONS: Don't know if customs will allow this. Don't know if not having his name on the title will matter at border crossings (the last thing we want to do is create problems for them).
Try to send LRC home, from Russia to Alaska
PROS: We get to keep our car!
CONS: If we successfully found a boat to take it across, there's an impossibly complex set of logistics involved in importing the car to the US. Probably way too expensive.
Amid all of these options has sprung another, very unusual possibility. Tim and Charlie are driving their taxi back to England on a whirlwind westward road-trip. We could go with them, leave the car at Tim's parents' house, and we would subsequently have a EUROPE CAR! Tim could use it in our absence and pay for road tax, and whenever we wanted to travel in Europe, we could go and simply pick it up!
Drive back to England with the Cabbies
PROS: Our LRC would be in good hands. The time we'd spend dealing with logistics in Mongolia could be spent having fun with friends. We could prepare for our SE Asia tour in a big city with resources. Flights from London to Bangkok are really cheap.
CONS: It will not be going slowly. There will be lots of night driving, and another two weeks on the road. We'd be backtracking our entire trip. Finally, the clincher: we've just realized the fuel costs alone make this wholly infeasible.
We have many options, all of which are fraught with complication, and none of which have completely satisfactory results. There's not a whole lot we can do today, however, because it's Sunday. So, it's time to hang out with our friends before everyone disperses. The car can wait until tomorrow.