A glimpse of our "old life" appears this morning when we leave camp alone, headed to Altai before most of the team wakes up. I've been leaving my work unattended for the last week – I need a day or two to catch up with the jobs that have accumulated. We told everyone our plan last night, they will be a few hours behind us in case anything goes wrong.
We're hoping we can make good time – if we do, I'll have a whole day to get work done while the fate of the Jimny is decided.
Alone again on the open road, the tiniest bit of esoteric normalcy creeps back into our lives. Without any conscious effort, deeply-ingrained and comforting patterns begin to re-emerge. It isn't long before we're stopping every few kilometers for photos, and chatting away happily.
We pass out of the tawny desert, greeted by mountains once more. They are small and soft and green, scrunched and folded like cloth as they settle to the ground. I tell Tyler they look like sleeping dragons, resting on the horizon, and he agrees. It isn't hard to imagine one waking from its slumber, causing a minor earth-quake when it shudders to life, unfurling its wings and taking flight.
We stop once more when we see this woman in a bright pink coat, covering her face against the sand, out here in this harsh place, alone with her horse. I wonder where she lives, and if she has a family, and what she dreams of.
Next, we stop at one of the many roadside shrines decorated with blue strips of fabric. Apparently these shrines pre-date Buddhism and even Shamanism! You're supposed to walk around them three times for good luck.
At the shrine, we talk to a pair of motorcyclists who have inconveniently run out of fuel just before reaching Altai. Either that, or they are taking advantage of us. Whatever the case, we don't mind helping.
After we fill up a plastic bottle of fuel for them from our jerry can, they start asking for oil too. Their two-stroke machines only take a mixed fuel, just like Habib! Unfortunately, we don't have any to give them, but we wish them luck and carry on.
Rolling into Altai, we follow signs that say "Mongol Rally Auto Service." Talk about easy, we were expecting a little bit of a hunt! Sure enough, we pull into the garage, and there's the London Taxi. Charlie and Tim look absolutely destroyed, as do Richie and Freddie. It's no wonder; having left around 11PM, they must not have gotten into town until one or two in the morning. Who knows where they slept?
It all becomes clear when Richie tells us that they literally arrived thirty seconds before us. They were on the road for twelve hours. We are simultaneously stunned, horrified, and filled with pity. As we shake our heads, feeling grateful we made the 80 kilometer drive in just a few hours, they explain the story of how the massive, dying beast of truck broke down repeatedly throughout the night. More details from the guys to follow.
While Richie and Freddie work on getting the Jimny unloaded, Tim and Charlie are busily inspecting the Mongol Rally graveyard behind the shop. This is one of the places where broken cars can be left by the ralliers (if they don't leave them at a designated checkpoint, they don't get their deposit back).
While I think The Adventurists are doing a good thing, raising money for charities and providing transportation for rural families, I question how some of their rally participants treat the cars.
I know most of the vehicles are donated to families in need, but (for me) that doesn't excuse the garish paint jobs many of them have been given. As well, the interior of several cars we saw were covered with writing in permanent marker, like some mistreated college dorm.
As I ponder the logistics involved in running an event the size of the Mongol Rally, a conflict over the Jimny, its ill-fated journey to Altai, and most of all, money, is about to occur.