We need cash to pay for another night at our cozy hotel. So, I leave Tyler hard at work in our room, and head outside to search for an ATM. I seem to recall seeing a bank nearby, but I can't figure out where it is. My solution to this problem, which has worked in countless places on this trip when I don't feel like dealing with the language barrier: walk around aimlessly, looking for anything promising!
ATMs in Mongolia can sometimes be elusive, marked inconspicuously with a small sheet of plain paper taped to a shop window, hidden in an unlikely maze of confusing side-alleys, for example. I've been wandering without luck for a few minutes, scanning for signs, when a bright blue car with a home-made roof rack zips by my field of vision.
As its significance sinks in, I am filled with joy: that's Mongol Betty! It's Tom and Alex in the Saxo! THEY'VE MADE IT!! I'm so elated that I am practically jumping for joy. I start running as fast as I can, forgetting the ATM, sprinting after the bright blue rally car instead.
I'm not sure if they can see me – they don't seem to be stopping. I keep chasing, even as they pull further and further ahead. After what feels like ages, running in slow motion, they see me, pull up by a curb and stop the car. The doors open. Tom and Alex emerge, wrapping me in huge hugs!
Though it has been just two days since we parted ways, it feels like months have lapsed. We've all had a bevy of adventures during the brief time we've been apart. As Tom fills me in on the news, he leads me around the corner, and there's Charlie and Tim working on the Taxi, and Richie and Freddie hanging around the Jimny. Apparently Matt, Gem, and Mette aren't far either!
We thought for sure the Chase would've imploded by now. Its broken frame, shock coils, and the snapped-and-welded rear axle have miraculously held up! As I make the rounds of excited hugs, getting scraps of news from everyone, I feel so relieved and grateful that they are all here, that they've made it safely, and that our paths have crossed once more.
I recount our sand story, dying to know if they found our note and arrow or not. When the resulting answer is a confused no, coupled with questions about where all this sand was, we realize we must have taken very different routes. They had no sand, and we had neither of the two very large river crossings the team faced on the way here.
While we endured just a few hours of trouble with our sandy terrain, their watery woes left a more permanent scar: the Swift's low-mounted air intake gulped enough water to hydrolock the engine during a river crossing. The damage is likely permanent, and there isn't anything that can be done about it short of completely disassembling it and replacing the bent connecting rods.
The Doblo was the unexpected MVP of the bunch for this leg, running like a champ the whole way, and towing the Swift to safety. It turns out Charlie pilfered a replacement fuel pump assembly from a crashed Fiat at the Mongol Rally graveyard in Altai and everything has been great since they swapped it. Nice!
Outside Altai, the Taxi suffered a broken ball joint. Tim and Charlie had to walk beside the car pushing it back into place all the way to town. Talk about dedication!
If we have any of these details wrong would you please send us an email so we can fix this, guys?
While everyone leaves to see the local mechanic, I return to the hotel to tell Tyler the happy news of our friends' arrival and the shocking fate of the Swift. He looks dumbfounded when I tell him the story, but his face breaks into a huge grin when I tell him they're all checking into our hotel. We'll meet for dinner and beers after the cars are taken care of!
We're all together once again, eating a feast of Korean food and drinking many rounds of beer.
We laugh; we tell stories; we play round after round of "Shithead".
Late into the night, a pair of police officers walks in and begin pounding beers at another table. Then, some loud and slightly obnoxious American Peace Corps volunteers show up. They are exceedingly enthusiastic about having been posted in Bayankhongor for the next two years, and spare no time pointing out how this is their haunt.
We're in the middle of a game, chatting and laughing away when a horrible dance-remix (our old favorite, "Sexy Bitch"!) suddenly beings blasting over the speakers in the bar. A group of locals get up to awkwardly sway in the middle of the otherwise empty restaurant.
After a few beers too many, we teeter off to bed, which is, conveniently, right upstairs. Tomorrow, we're going to try our best to repair the Swift!