Crash!

Trip Start May 16, 2005
1
14
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Trip End Nov 01, 2006


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Flag of Mongolia  ,
Sunday, July 10, 2005

The next day started well but I think that if we'd all known what it was to entail we'd have just stayed in bed! We were aiming to get to Moron that day, where we would be staying for a day to watch Nadaam - the classic Mongolian festival that involves wrestling, archery and horse racing. On the road heading west from Tosontsengel we hit a rut in a typical section of Mongolian highway (i.e. dirt track) and came off the road. Initially I think we all felt we had temporarily lost it and would just slow down, calm our nerves then head off again. However as we left the main track at about 60kph, we started to roll and soon we were all flailing around in a tumbling Landie with bits of gear, food and people all rolling around inside a tin-can! I think we did a full 360 sideways but it was all over very quickly. I crawled out, shoeless, coughing and with my eyes full of dust through what had been the front window. I heard enough muffled talk from the back seats to think that evrone was OK. When I looked round however, the first thing I saw was Jamts lying on his side (he had been in the passenger seat while Chukka drove) with blood pouring out of his head and his arm trapped underneath the metal spar separating the front and rear windows. This initially panicked me as I could hear him talking or see him moving. Things quickly got worse as I looked round to see Chukka desperately trying to tear out the battery cables as smoke was coming from behind the dashboard! The battery in a Landrover is under the passenger's seat so for a few moments Chukka and I stood together through what had been the driver's window (the Landie was on its side) tugging frantically at the cables - to little end. By this stage Jamts had started to give remarkably calm instructions to Chukka so that was reassuring us a little, however, the fact that James had managed to get out of the Landie and had walked round it to announce that it was "pissing diesel everywhere" upped the ante a little as Jamts was still trapped. We all thought that we would not be able to lift the Landie without help. Desperate times meant that we all thought we had to have a go as we couldn't seem to disconnect the battery! Amazingly we were able to shift it up about an inch all together enough for Jamts to pull his trapped arm out. Even more amazingly he crawled out and all that appeared to be wrong with his arm was a few cuts and scratches! His head, however, had a nasty gash in it that was wide open and still leaking blood. Sonia had come off next worse and was walking around thoroughly confused, battered and bruised. Jim looked like he's been in a bit of a brawl and had a nice bloody nose with quite a bit of bruising for his troubles and his shirt was getting covered in blood as his nose leaked. His bouffant was bouffed up to the max thanks to all the dust and wind! I hauled Jamts far away from the Landie and we all started to gather ourselves and bits of our kit (during the crash the rear door had flung open and spread stuff all over the desert). I tried to patch up Jamts's head which was made very difficult by the fact that he kept trying to jump up and run around organising the scene!! He kept complaining of a sore neck so I was concerned he might have hurt his spine, but there was little I could do to get him to stay still.

Fortunately we had chosen to prang ourselves on a (in Mongolian terms) main routeway and at one of the busiest times of the year (Nadaam). So, within a few minutes of crashing we were able to flag down plenty of help. It soon dawned on me that this sort of accident is a relatively common occurrence in Mongolia - all the vehicles that we flagged down had chunky first aid kits, repair kits and one even had a pair of straps to be used for righting vehicles and towing. The last item proved very handy as we were quickly able to use two 4x4 vehicles to right the Landie with the straps. When it was finally righted the locals that had helped in this task promptly started to hang around and light cigarettes, despite the fact that there was diesel everywhere and much to James' frustration there seemed to be nothing we could do to convince them to do otherwise! Something that quickly became apparent when we did right the Landie was that we would not be driving on to Moron in it - the pictures should give a good indication of how much a bust-up the poor thing had received in the crash. The sturdy roof rack had sheared right off and both axles were looking very wobbly, not to mention the fact that the entire top half had been bent over by about 20 degrees! After a lot of faffing and lots of translation help from a bunch of American missionaries that happened to come to our aid (!) we finally decided on what to do with ourselves: Chukka was to squeeze into one of the minvans that had stopped and head on to Moron to organise a recovery (being the only compos mentis Mongolian speaker amongst us!), Sonia (who had started to deteriorate a bit a looked like she was about to pass out) was to hitch a ride with the American God-Squad, which left me and Jim under our makeshift tarpaulin trying to stop Jamts from running around picking up bits of his beloved, battered Landie! Soon after Chukka and Sonia were packed off with loose instructions to meet in Moron somewhere, at some time, we were able to flag down another packed minivan to take Jamts on to Moron and get his head stitched up. The prospect of what awaited him appalled us (at least two and a half hours of bouncing around in a packed minivan with a possible serious neck injury and a big gash in your head on some of the worst roads we'd ever seen) but we knew that there was unlikely to be anything better on the cards so off he went clutching a bottle of Vodka, several thousand Togrogs (local currency) and with his neck ineffectually supported by an inflatable travelling pillow, packed in amongst the grannies, kids and goats!

At this point the whole day started to really descend into a surreal experience. The whole accident and the immediate aftermath had been over in what felt like a flurry and so it seemed as if like James and I were left alone in the middle of a dusty plain beside a bust-up Landrover and kit everywhere. As the adrenaline started to leave us and it seemed that everyone was going to be OK all that was left for us to do was to sit it out and wait for whatever recovery vehicle Chukka could muster. Given that Moron was at least 2 hours away we were in for a long wait so we broke out the pickled ghurkins we had salvaged, got comfy in the back of the Landie and washed them down with ..what else..Vodka! Frustratingly, almost as soon as we had settled in, Jamt's minivan returned to pick up our duck-tape for their radiator had developed a leak but Jamts took yet more convincing to go on to Moron without us and we had to all but man-handle him back into the van!

Clouds that had started to build looked increasingly ominous and the wind really picked up. We quickly had to convert the tarpaulin tied to the bonnet from sun shelter to wrap-around for the window-less Landie. We couldn't really have left it any later as a riotous dust storm blew in and started to rock the Landrover and threatened to flatten the tent we had set up to hold our stuff. We sat there giggling like only two people can that feel they've cheated death munching stale bread, gherkins and slugging vodka as bits of dust filtered into our cosy new home. The dust storm passed almost as quickly as it had arisen only to be replaced by a torrential downpour! This passed very quickly too and we were glad of its cooling effect. James and I used the next few hours to wander around and gather up everything we could that hadn't been broken (as it tuned out, most things had survived intact) and do our dodgy impression of CSI: Mongolia "I think they had an accident here boss". Borat paid a quick visit from Kazakhstan to lend his thoughts to the accident (watch the clip!) as well as the obligatory, "appearing from nowhere", horse-mounted locals who kindly offered to finish what Chukka's driving had failed to do by trying to poison us with some cheese-related substance.

At roughly six hours after the accident, our next visitor was elated to have broken the Mongolian ambulance service's response-time record. The first reactions of our paramedic team (a rotund, jolly pair with surgical "Dels" on) were disappointment that we didn't need rescuing followed by laughter at our predicament. Jim and I were, it has to be said impressed by their extensive kit selection: an oily rag, a bottle of Vodka and what looked like an ex-Soviet ammo canister full of God knows what dodgy implements. The benefits of this extensive first aid kit became immediately apparent as we tucked in to the "Surgical Spirit"!

Our recovery vehicle did eventually arrive in the form of an Kamaz Russian Jeep, complete with driver, Chukka and a charismatic joker of a figure called Battaar (Mongolian for Hero).

Several attempts at jump starting the Landie failed so we towed it back to the nearest village and left it in someone's front garden to prevent it from being dismembered on the open plain. We then started our ride back to Moron and spirits really started to lift, despite the fact that every time our jeep hit a bump or lost its footing ever so slightly Jim and I panicked a little. Bataar further lifted our spirits with renditions of some Mongolian classic ballads (he had a pretty good voice, but we couldn't let him know that!) National pride was at stake so Jim and I gave him as rousing a performance of "Flower of Scotland" as we could muster. Bataar promptly responded with a song (we think) about how much he fancied Sonia complete with baby-cradling arm swinging motions (Jim, less than an impressed, I found it hilarious)! Just as Jim and I were wondering what song we could respond with we got a puncture! Things went from bad to worse as we discovered that the spare tyre was actually just a convenient way of storing a tatty inner tube that could then be used to cut patches from. A full replacement took about an hour of struggling and fiddling with very basic kit. By the time that we got underway again James and I were at the "I've had a big day and I'd really like to end now" stage. After our third puncture in rapid succession we were close to tears! We finally got back to the guesthouse in Moron that we had agreed to redez-vous in at 5am and caught up with a stitched up Jamts who was in state of considerable distress at our late arrival and a less concerned Sonia that had a real beauty of a shiner developing - a truly epic day!
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