Monday 14th August - Wild camping under the stars of Russia
Maccas served as our greasy yet satisfying breakfast this morning. It was the western fast food goodness that we needed. Everyone was savouring the hash browns and bacon & egg mcmuffins, they were a welcome change to the oily fried eggs we're always given at hotels.
We decided to run next door to Maccas and look into buying SIM cards for our phones. The young guy at the store started entering all our details on his computer and kept talking to us assuming we knew Russian. Even when we'd reply in English he'd still go on mini rants thinking we knew everything he said. Natalie went back over to Maccas and asked a young staff member who we knew spoke English to come and help us out. Through her assistance we were able to figure out that the young phone shop guy had signed us up to some sort of phone contact which we'd need to terminate before we leave Russia. Not quite what we'd initially wanted when we purchased the sims but doesn't matter too much. The young guy at the phone shop eventually started randomly showing us photos of a water theme park he'd gone to. We just smiled and nodded as he flipped through the photos; once again he babbled away as if we understood everything he was saying. Perhaps because we were from Australia he thought he'd show us the closest thing to a beach he'd been to.
While we were stuffing around in the phone shop our Swedish convoy pals 'Two Gingers & A Rat' had made their way over to McDonald's. We were reunited! The timing worked out great that they'd travelled through Russia to reach Barnaul and we'd gone through Kazakhstan. We'd all ended up in Barnaul on the same day and were ready to reach the finish line together. Our Swedish ginger friends were very patient and waited around while we bought SIM cards. It seems they're always waiting on us Aussies.
After our tyre drama last night we decided we'd need to visit a repair shop to have things looked at. Our Slothy must have looked ridiculous sitting in the Maccas car park smothered in dry mud. Everyone was embarrassing her staring as they drove or walked past. To be honest though she finally looked like a true mongol rally car. Slothy looked like she'd been places and seen things, like a wise old owl. She could finally sit you down with a cup of tea and biscuits and tell you tales of her adventures. The Swedish teams car was parked next to ours and was clean as a whistle. Their detour up to Omsk in Russia to avoid Kazakhstan roads proved to be a very mud-free one. Lucky though, because their tiny little Fiat wouldn't have survived the mudpocalypse we drove in the day before. Unfortunately 'Two Gingers & A Rat' would become only 'Two Gingers' today. Our friends were saying goodbye to Andreas who needed to fly home tO Sweden for his brothers wedding. We all gave Andreas a big hug and asked him to sign our Kangaroo flag which we'd wave at the finish line in his honor.
We all drove over to a nearby mechanics and had them look at our tyres. Of course they were fascinated by the various tennis balls in our springs (which had admittedly seen better days). They felt bad for us and went and brought out some coil spacers to put on the springs free of charge. We had one tyre replaced and the belt changed. We tried to get a proper spare wheel that would fit our car but after running back and forth we couldn't find anything that would fit. We always remark how amazing it is that we rock up to these places without a booking and they start working on our car immediately. If it were back home in Sydney we'd be told to come back in two weeks time. Numerous people were walking by looking at our poor excuse for a cross-country car. One guy took a lot of interest in our big trip and asked what we were doing the whole thing for. His English was quite good and he ended up assisting with a few things we needed translated. In the end he invited us back to his place where his wife would cook us lunch. What a fantastic offer! We were picturing a table full of beautiful meat dumplings, borscht and bread. We were extremely tempted to say yes but by now it was 2pm and we hadn't even hit the road yet. We had to drive approx 5 hours today to at least get half way to the Mongolian border. We offered our new friend the next best thing, lunch with us at McDonald's! As if anyone could say no to that! He took up the offer not before posing for a photo with the mechanics who worked on our car. We asked the men to hold our Youth Off The Streets sign to make a post on our Facebook for some extra donations.
During lunch we found out our friend is studying psychology and also teaches English. The top bloke he was he didn't even eat any lunch despite us offering to shout him. He explained he simply wanted to help us and and chat with us. The kindness of strangers! We eventually got into teaching him some Aussie slang and phrases, see our Facebook page for a video of James teaching him how to say 'how ya going?'
Finally we hit the road, determined to reach somewhere close to the Mongolian border. An hour into the drive we filled up on fuel; our Swedish friends explained that the scenery was starting to look a lot like their homeland. The scenery definitely did change, hour after hour our surroundings became more beautiful. Huge mountains towered over us and we were following a wide flowing river. Small cabins were scattered throughout the towns where holidaymakers could stay. We endeavoured to find a campsite along the way to stay the night. We had a few saved on maps.me however had trouble finding them because they didn't exist or started becoming scarce as we drove on. Eventually the sun began to set and we quickly tried to find a small road to turn off and find some flat grass. Our Swedish friends suggested a small road they'd discovered on google earth. It proved to be a good decision as we found a nice flat area that must have been used previously for wild camping. We found an area someone else had enjoyed a fire and even managed to find a metal barrel to use. We quickly unpacked our cars and set up camp. The temperature had dropped considerably so we set up a fire in the barrel using a bunch of dead trees around us.
To say the stars in the Altai Republic are incredible is an understatement, they're beyond anything we've ever seen. They scattered across the sky like thousands of pieces of glitter and if you stare at them for barely 30 seconds you'd see a shooting star. They were unlike any shooting stars we'd seen in Australia, these stars had a huge golden tail on them. They were the kind of shooting stars that simply made you say 'wow'. We enjoyed a beautiful night out under the Russian sky drinking some of the alcohol stocked in our cars. Of course a nutritious meal of powdered potato and two minute noodles served as our dinner. Our convoy pals pumped some of their Swedish music on their mini speaker. It almost felt like a good old Aussie camping night in the bush save for the fact that it was absolutely freezing and we were all wearing our thermals, beanies and gloves. Pat took some amazing photos on his fancy camera with the starry sky above us, the best pics ended up being ones of James showing us all a trick he'd learnt in scouts using a stick, plastic bag and fire. Once we were all out of party tricks we all hit the hay ready to push it to Mongolia tomorrow.