We travelled for most of the day in convoy with the five other teams, having fun with the driving, sliding around and racing each other. Micras are definitely well suited to Mongolian roads, Mud Lab's 1.6L Peugeot 306 the only one able to keep up with the two Micras.
After lunch Kai and I and Mud Lab broke away from the four other teams and made it into Altay, Mud Lab running low on both fuel and money. We milled around in the town for a bit, picking up some supplies & money, Mud Lab making some more repairs. This time, worryingly, to their brakes, having already had to fix a fuel leak on the way.
I decided I was tired of noodles and fancied eating in a restaurant. A helpful gentleman said, through a translator on the phone, that he would show us a place. He got in our car and we literally drove around the block. He showed us a restaurant. The guy on the phone then said we should give him 15,000 of the local currency. Reluctantly I did. He refused asking for 20,000. By this time Kai was still sitting in the drivers seat, but I was out of the car and the guy was blocking my way. Eventually Kai started to drive off, I jumped in the front seat and we sped off back to Mud Lab. Considering that it was just around the corner we were concerned that we might have an angry Mongolian or two on our tail and were rather put off Altay.
Kai and I decided to go ahead and scout out potential camp sites, but when we found how cold and windy it was went back into town to have a look at hotels. We weren't impressed and together with Mud Lab and their newly working brakes headed out. We aimed for what we thought could be a natural wind break over a hill, but managed to end up in a natural wind tunnel. It started to rain.
The next day was slow going, partially due to the bad roads, but mostly due to Mud Lab's bad luck. (Or perhaps poor planing in choosing a Peugeot ;).) After a couple of hours driving they sailed over a ridge and hit the other side, blew both airbags, dislodging their front grill and fan. As they couldn't reattach the fan their car started to overheat at regular intervals and they would have to stop and point their car straight into the wind for a while. Moments after one of these stops they discovered one of their tyres had split.
Towards evening the wind was really getting up, causing something like a dust storm, as we approached a gher camp and large river. Looking at our maps it seemed that the road was on the other side of the river. Several locals pointed us in the direction of the river and one offered to tow us across in his tractor for $30 each. We were dubious and waited. After a while a mini bus approached and we followed it, watching as it crossed the river, from one island to another. We followed in its footsteps. It was pretty nerve racking to be honest, especially as there were about four crossings in total, two of which we hadn't seen the mini bus cross, but we made it. I really regret not taking a picture of what greeted us, a desolate, apocalyptic even, vision of dust caught by the sun blowing across several ghers and virtually nothing else for as far as the eye could see.
By this time there was only an hour or two of sunlight left, and we'd only done about 250km of 400km, but we decided to press on. The roads got even worse and our speed slowed and slowed as night drew in, and the wind got colder. About 40km from Bayankhongor the road started to get quite wet and muddy. About 10km from town Mud Lab looked like they got stuck in mud. Their car sounded like it wasn't quite in gear. Ale reckons they might have a broken Axel. We managed to tow them out of the worst of the mud they were in, but didn't think we'd make it the 10km due to the mud, we were having difficulty getting just ourselves out of some of it. So we left them there and went to get help. Practically over the next hill we were able to see the lights of the town and had mobile signal and were able to call the Adventurists hot line, but by the time we got back to Mud Lab to give them the good news they'd already managed to get a tow from a Mongolian mining magnate.
Kai and I visited several hotels before picking one we liked and were just checking in when who should turn up but Mud Lab!
That was last night. We woke this morning, opened the curtains and thanked our lucky stars.