It wasn’t that late when the army arrived. Five men in camouflage must have heard the guards were being treated like kings and wanted a piece of the action. They had large rifles over their shoulders, fingers on the hilt. They did not look amused. To entertain the guards and make the holding pen bearable teams had purchased vodka. The army guards rounded up all the bottles and put them in the trunk of a car and told the ralliers not to drink. They turned off the music and said we needed to keep it quiet. A little drunk already, the ralliers thought they could charm the army guards the same way they thought they were charming the border guards. One of the army men pulled his rifle in front of him, cocked the weapon and leveled it at a young British kid in a purple scarf. The kid’s eyes widened but he didn’t move of yell. He just stared straight ahead with his hands in his pockets. I was out of my tent and standing near the boy in the scarf. The guard eventually lowered his rifle, and the kid nearly crumbled to the ground, he was in shock, I think. In the background I saw another army guard with his rifle pressed against a rallier’s back, bending him over the hood of a van. Everyone was silent, mouths agape. The man pushed his gun hard into the rallier’s back one more time then they withdrew and told the ralliers to be silent.
After they left a new emotion settled on the group. It wasn’t anger this time, but pure defiance. Someone turned back on the music and someone else got out the vodka. After a while of drinking a third person had the bright idea to drag race the cars across the holding pen. They lined up several cars. I was in my tent reading again and heard the idea as it was shouted out. Knowing no one was sober enough to drive out there, I got out of my tent. I didn’t want to be run over and wrapped up in tent fabric. I jumped out, video-camera in hand, and filmed the cars reaching the end line. Next came e-brake contests trying to spin the cars. They came dangerously close to the tents, people sleeping inside. Next came the idea to race the ambulances. They were lined up and reeving their engines. Some moron turned on the sirens and as they cleared a bigger race area the army guards reappeared. This time, I couldn’t really blame them. Ralliers were drunk and drag racing ON government property after being warned to be quiet. I turned on the video-camera and caught the guards harassing ralliers, pushing them with their weapons and then, stealing everyone’s cameras. They didn’t get mine as I snuck back in my tent and filmed through the tent fabric.
In the morning, I marched into the border guard office and demanded to use a phone to call the American embassy. I wanted out of this situation. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine how last night could have gotten out of hand if the ralliers had thought it a good idea to fight back against the guards, or if the guards had lost it, or god forbid, if someone had brought a local girl back to the holding pen or something. I wanted out right now, and I wanted the American embassy to know what was going on to file a complaint against the Mongolian government. I demanded a phone (politely at first). They turned white, shook a little and took me to a phone. Since it was long distance, they said I couldn’t call and tried hard to keep me off the phone. I knew there was a phone in town at the post office. I turned on my heel to go call from there but I heard in the background the guard picking up the phone and very quickly issuing a new command. At the post office, to no shock at all, we found the door bolted. Locals around the post office said it was strange and should be opened. Obviously they had called ahead to have it closed. The post office clerk was probably watching us through the peep hole. A sympathetic local pointed to the top of a nearby hill. ‘Emergency phone’ she said. It was a good 2 hour hike up the hill, and yesterday when ralliers had tried to fly a kite on the hill they had been held in a separate room and questioned for a while. We couldn’t reach that phone without being seen. No cell phone reception in the valley so we were literally stuck and back to square one. I went back and told the guards I’d be reporting them in UlaanBataar. They promised we would all get out that day, Saturday, as the place would be closed Sunday and they didn’t want to babysit us another night.
It was not surprising when they cleared every car in the pen by 5:00pm. We were out at 3:30pm, having been forced to pay yet another bribe. $10 USD directly into the guards pocked that everyone was kissing up to the night before. I’m glad we didn’t participate in the sucking up process. I took a picture of the head guard stuffing money into his pockets, and we sped off down the road.
We had been held for two days, no food or water provided, no heat or comfort, no explanation, no phones or way to contact anyone, and no help from the guards or the Adventurists. Everyone came out of the holding pen speeding. A small booth selling insurance demanded everyone pay, our car stuck out middle fingers and didn’t slow down. No more bribes from us, that’s final! We pushed the car as fast as it would go on the gravel road out of town. We rounded the second bend and came to a screeching halt. The Belfast boys car was ahead of us in the ditch. Before the car had halted we were running down into the ditch. The boys were not there, the van was totaled and the windshield broken. Glass was everywhere, but half the insides of the van were gone. All of their bags, everything. They had left maybe 2 hours ahead of us. There was no blood inside the car. We packed up as much of their stuff as we could gather and fit in our trunk then set off towards UlaanBataar, hoping we’d find news along the way of the Belfast boys and return some of their stuff. We slowed down our car and drove carefully again.
What a harrowing two days, the worst of the rally. The Adventurists did not help us at all, what was the registration fee for? They had one job, one job in the entire rally and that was to make sure we imported the cars legally and quickly and they had failed. As a result, guns were pulled the night before on what could have been a horrible incident, and today the Belfast boys had crashed, probably doing just what we had done- sped out of the holding pen. It was unacceptable, and the Adventurists would be hearing about everyone’s anger and the danger they had put us in. Already one rallier had died, and they could have easily had several more deaths at the border and right outside it because no one cared that we were being held there, treated like animals, and robbed.
Thats a very sad story and a different kind of adventure one could have done without. Did you hear about the Belfast boys later?
Your Mongol Rally stories are almost like heading to some place in medieval age!
I can’t believe that guy had just finished putting a wad of cash into his pocket right before that picture was taken.
wow, that is a crazy tale…Glad to hear you guys are alright. Belfast Boys??? I was really looking forward to perhaps participating in this in 2012, when we should be in the area, but this story definately soured me…let’s hope there is at least a happy ending…