Our Car Receives a Mortal Blow

Altai, Mongolia

Our car is broken, but not our will to reach Ulan Bator.

In the morning, we awake at sunrise and realize that our right front tire is flat. We don’t have another spare, just a can of flat-tire fix. We use this dubious concoction and set out for Altai, 90 miles away.

“We’re getting to this town if we have to drive on our rims,” Andrew says, pushing the Justy into fourth gear. We rattle over the bumpy roads at 45 miles per hour, gritting our teeth as we pray to reach Altai before our car gives up the ghost and strands us in the Gobi Desert, suffering the same fate as those yak skeletons we see alongside the road.

We reach town by 10 a.m. and head to the bazaar. Amidst the morass of chintzy plastic toys, greasy auto parts, and blackened carrots, we discover a row of restaurants. We examine their signs for clues. One appears to offer a full English breakfast. Peering inside, we see that there are, indeed, eggs on a table.

“I’m dying for eggs,” Andrew says.

We ask the middle-aged chef if she can whip us up scrambled eggs along with the sliced sausage sitting on the table. Her eyebrows arch skeptically.

“Eggs. Scrambled eggs,” Andrew says. Utilizing his excellent charades skills, he mimics cracking eggs, whipping them up, putting them in a pan, and tossing in the sausage. The chef looks at us like, “Are you serious?

Nonetheless, she fries up heaping portions of sausage and eggs for Mims and Andrew. It’s an all-American stomach-stuffer, but I opt for the full English breakfast pictured on the awning. What is an English breakfast interpreted by a Mongolian chef?

My plate comes out with big lumps of white rice topped with a fried egg. This is joined by stewed, lean mutton cubes, sticky mashed potatoes, pickled carrots, and browned potato chunks. There’s not a single stewed tomato or mushy bean to be found, much less sausage. I consider this a significant improvement on an actual English breakfast.

But I’m still hungry. At neighboring tables, men are digging into piles of thin, half-moon pancakes: khuushuur, yet another mutton-stuffed delicacy. Our table orders half a dozen as dessert, and we’re not disappointed.

“It’s like a scallion pancake,” Mims says, “but without the scallion, of course.”

The mutton is more seasoning agent than overriding flavor, and with a dash of hot sauce the khuushuur are soon ancient history. Now I’m sated.

And totally worried.

When you pilot a crap car more than 8,000 miles from London to Mongolia, you expect a few things to break. Perhaps a flat tire here, a broken fan belt there. However, you don’t expect everything to simultaneously go kaput.

“Guys,” Andrew says, “I think we’ve dealt the Justy a mortal blow.”

The two front tires are flat. Our suspension springs are shattered. The radiator is falling off. Heck, even the rear stabilizer bar is missing, taking with it the ability to do whatever that part does. Plus, the car screeches like fingernails across a chalkboard whenever we make a left turn. There’s a high probability of us making additional left turns. In the Gobi Desert.

Team Dinosaur makes the executive decision to place the Justy on the back of a truck. We make arrangements with a local truck driver, then pilot the car onto the truck bed. There’s only enough space in the truck for two people, so Mims and I volunteer to take a bus—which is really a van—to Ulan Bator.

“It’ll give us a chance to meet the locals and eat some new food,” Mims says optimistically.

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