The owners of Matso's Brewery, Martin and Kim Peirson-Jones are off on an off-road 4WD adventure raising money for Go Help in Mongolia.

The Mongolia Charity Rally is an epic 10,000 mile pan-continentalroadtrip for charity across mountain ranges, deserts, and more barren and inhospitable lands than you'd care to shake a gear stick at, that starts in London with its final destination in the ancient Mongol capital of Ulaanbaatar, to support Go Help's flagship ambulance service in Mongolia!

Keep up to date on their adventures!

Friday 14th
the air is clear, jagged mountain tops shining above the tree line and the roads quiet apart from cattle wandering the streets poking around the road verge rubbish.

Part way back down the range a stop is made at one of the numerous roadside cafes where food and tea is available and eaten in a small shelter consisting of a raised carpeted platform with cushions and a roof. The proprietor cooks fried eggs, tomato omelette, soft white cheese and cream with honey and fresh flat bread. Very peaceful in the quiet of the forest, breakfast finishes as he starts his generator.

The road to Gorgon follows the coast part of the way and then swings inland, the Alborg range getting closer to the sea behind the city.

The coastal strip along the highway is pretty much developed the whole way. Every so often a group of modern shops display international fashion labels, travellers simply pull off the highway and shop. If your particular label is not featured then one of the numerous hawkers stands with clothes pegged in long lines like washing or shoe vendors with their wares neatly presented is sure to satisfy.

Decided to take advantage of the 28 cents per litre fuel price by filling the jerry cans, bit difficult as the service stations are only allowed to put it in the vehicle to try to counter the black market of fuel going across the border. The chap helpfully fills two jerry cans.

Saturday 15th shop for fruit and veg on route to the border, the road north away from the mountains opens up, crops diminished – desert.

Azar, God bless her runs the rabbit firstly for customs for the vehicle, we lose 20litres of diesel into a Turkish semi, 20litres into our tank. Then to a brick office in the middle of nowhere, chat to some young men outside, then down to immigration at the bottom of the hill. She goes between two different offices and presumably the boss on a camp chair in the shade of a semi-trailer. Finally say fond farewells and to the last gate the only motor car into a long line of semi’s, sorry passports please, pull over out of the line there is a stamp missing, Azar returns to sort it and we are off to the Turkman border.

Staff here consist of enthusiastic and serious young skinny youths with pimples and rather jolly overweight sergeants all dressed in military camouflage. Some two way radio chit chat at the first gate to some higher authority over the hill and after 20mins off to the customs and immigration. Round the line of semi’s and waved to park just so in front of an imposing building. The youths don’t know what to do with foreigners in a car they only get trucks and local traders who arrive with sacks and bags of stuff and long rolls of carpet.

Turns out the first window attendants have gone to lunch-take a seat at a spare table on the line of tables where the trader’s goods are checked. One of the jolly sergeants happily extracts a dozen packets of cigarettes from a chaps bag and drops them into a glossy shopping bag on the back of his chair and passes us a cold can of Pepsi from the chaps bag with sign language saying.

“You’ll be here for a while and he doesn’t need it”

Up and down the line of booths and to the bosses office upstairs and the bosses office out the back. Apply for this, get a form for that, take the form to the accounts man, pay and get a receipt and move on. One form has an outline map and the country with major roads, the route is highlighted and tax levied on the millage.

In a couple of hours get to customs, western handbags are of great interest and comment, the contents of the back of the ute enthusiastically approached by the youths, eventually the older sergeant says enough, put it all back.

All in all they were friendly, even the large trader ladies in the long floral dresses with gold teeth took having their goods rifled through, took it all in good humour.

The road is bad as we go west to the coast and then north along the Caspian, extremely hard on the semi’s even the locals on bikes go through the bush.

Has been some scattered rain, the herds of camels are covered in dried mud, see occasional small herds of mixed coloured cattle, a few donkeys and some flocks of mixed sheep and goats in a variety of blacks and browns. Low saltbush looking scrub, some drift sand, a dusty haze. Villages are huddles of square block buildings some with verandas’ with colourful balustrades, stock lay up in the offered shade. A camel rests in the shade offered by a hanging fishing net, some fish suspended to dry.

Find a shop and ask for some Vodka, a check through front windows, a call into the adjoining residence and a small boy appears with a choice of three types.

Finding a camp on the water proves difficult, take tracks from a village in the general direction the twist and merge across the endless marsh, motor bikes appear and disappear in the haze. Back on the edge of the dunes a camp site is selected.

Sunday 16th empty the vehicle and re-sort after yesterday’s customs assault. A young man on a Chinese motorbike in a blue oil company uniform calls in on his way to work for a chat. He is an electrician on a drilling rig some 10kms up the coast where they are drilling five wells for gas.

Numerous signs of petroleum industry, new and and old pipe lines criss cross the desert, huge derricks with ant like workers, valve assemblies protrude from buried pipelines, trucks with big oversized wheels.

At Ekerem a long jetty has a crude vessel alongside, up the beach people lay on the dark sand and swim in the shallow water. The town is spread out, random dirt streets, no obvious shops or centre, aging oil industry plant. Find lads with a pressure hose washing an old Russian? 4WD, ask to fill our water cans, a man takes us over to his house and buckets water from an underground concrete tank. The gold Kangaroo pin will match the lady of the house’s teeth.

Head inland and north, in parts the drift dunes have blocked half the road. The bitumen is deteriorating badly into pot holes that join up and extend. Great advertisement for BMW’s they fly past regardless of the conditions. Men on motor bikes have eye holes cut in their head dress, herders donkeys graze with the sheep and goats.

Gumbag has had rain, water lays up to the steps of the houses, tide line of plastic waste along the road. A line of hill approaches from the right, both fuel stations in Balhanabit are out of diesel, continue on seeking a camp. To the left of the now highway low lying marsh disappears with the dusty haze, eventually a road to the right skirting the hills. Tracks lead into the hills past a stock trough cut out of large diameter oil pipe and a brush goat yard. Camp high on the slope just below a saddle with a view to the west. The hot dry wind blows all night, not a good night.

Monday 17th a man with a donkey is pumping water from a well, explains in sign language that his sheep will be in for water from over the hill later, the donkey seems to appreciate our carrot for breakfast.

The highway is wide with enough booby traps to keep drivers awake, traffic is sparse. Dropping down into Turkmanbasy the extent of the oil and gas industry becomes apparent. Major construction is underway, land backed wharves, casing yards, tanks farms, seriously large cranes and pile drivers. Wharves for the ferry boats from Azerbyjarn, a feeling of commerce and prosperity, growing trees and no rubbish. Enquire about a good hotel from an attractive young lady between her calls on her mobile, best are in Awaza further around the coast.

Awaza is a cross between the Gold Coast and Dubai. 15 ten story plus hotels with half a dozen more under construction line about 5kms of the coast. All is new, wide landscaped streets, stainless steel bus shelters, a wide canal with water front restaurants, stylish bridges with elegant lamps- fairyland. Which one to stay at, maybe even a couple of nights, not so, 100% occupancy – OK back to Turkmanbasy, the tallest building in town will have rooms, not so, refuel and back on the road. Head north on the rapidly deteriorating bitumen road past an LNG plant under construction and back onto the coast.

The road flows a narrow isthmus between the Caspian and Garabogaskol Basin for about 140kms, low stunted shrubs, power lines and a gas pipeline, occasional graves beside the road with steering wheels on the headstones.

Look for a camp, adjust type pressure in the talc like sand, work across to the water and camp on the shell grit beach that runs to the horizon in both directions, nothing but the beach, sea and sky. Last night the wind was from the east and bloody hot and dry, tonight soft and moist from the west, break out the jackets after the sun goes down.

Tuesday 18th on the way at 9am after pumping up the tyres, at Garabogaz some major projects are underway, presumably oil and gas again. A bit reminiscent of Port Hedland, salt flats, dust, heat, lot of machinery, workers camps, trucks dumping fill onto a salt encrusted lagoon. Next to all this are dilapidated Russian era building, what look like big power stations, railway rolling stock and locos, skeletal trucks and dozers all rusting away.

In the confusion of the new and old we end up at Ozernyl on the lake side of the peninsular it runs along an exposed barren ridge and down to the water. A setting for an end of the world movie; empty crumbling 3 story apartment blocks, more dead machinery, the roads have long ago washed away, a couple of dogs some men working on an old car in the remains of a big workshop, a lady in colourful clothes waiting?, a man and a boy resting in the shade beneath a rusted loco engine next to a dirty car with the bonnet up.

They direct us to the border, 50kms away, select one of the tracks up the hill past a strange cemetery with collapsing cement block walls around the graves amid the weeds and rubbish. The tracks are rough and stony or turned to bull dust, they form an irregular crotchet patterns as they weave north, drivers select a path at random. Check directions with a couple of small rattling 4WD’s coming in the opposite direction, windows all covered with towels to keep the sun out.

Arrive at the border and wait till lunch is over at 2pm get through both the Turkman and Kazazak borders by 4.30. The last man on the Turkman border goes through the camera and deletes every picture of infrastructure both new and old, luckily only get a very cursory customs check unlike the locals who get similar going out as coming in.

The first 50kms north of the border is the same as the south, even the semi’s are on the side tracks instead of the main road. Occasional mobs of camels and horses – the treeless steppe for mile after mile.

The road improves, decide to head to Aktau on the coast, text to Australia and Dannielle books a room remotely at the Silkway Hotel. The road heads into the setting sun, major roadworks, still underway in the dark, poorly marked diversions are extreme hazard with streams of oncoming head lights. How to find the hotel at 10.30pm, road signs where they exist unreadable, roads and intersections wide and dark, traffic fast and heavy, a man at a servo offers to lead us to the hotel, but it is the wrong one. The receptionist speaks English and arranges a taxi to lead us to the Silkway, she pays the driver as he won’t accept USD, that’s hospitality for you. The corner café produces a fine salad, pints of beer and a light Spanish red.

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