The border crossing was largely uneventful. It took three hours, not only because I was a novice moto-adventurer and waited patiently for my turn, but chiefly because the Russians were excessively slow. I pulled up to the border gate cutting in at the front, but the border guard lady had other ideas and barked at me to join the queue. I obliged but cut in about half way. In retrospect I was beyond the stop line so she may just have been telling me I was out of bounds. Anyway, we waited and waited, perhaps thirty minutes passed with no sign of any activity. I got chatting with a guy called Unro from Ulaan Baatar who spoke some English and his friend took some pictures of him on the bike. Finally, a guard ushered me through, cool I thought, here we go. Instead of getting down to business I was simply sent to another queue closer to the checkpoint. So I roll up at the back of the queue, switch off the ignition and wait patiently like a noob to move up for my turn.
After another twenty minutes pass with no activity I start to see people behind walking past me with documents in hand. So I get off the bike and walk up to the window with my papers too, where they were duly processed by customs by a lovely lady that was much friendlier than the Rottweiler form earlier. Leaving your vehicle and proceeding on foot to the checkpoint seems to be the way it’s done here so I make like the locals. I return to my bike and wait yet again to get to the next stage: passport control. I was sitting on the bike in my ‘waiting for shit to happen’ position relaxing on my tank bag and slowly bringing my core temperature back up to a normal level, the weather on the ride down to the border had been cold and wet, when I decided to put on my music and smoke my pipe. I light up and immediately someone sends me to the front of the queue. Now I’m not saying it was the power of the pipe that got the ball rolling, that would be a correlation-causation fallacy but it’s definitely worthy of further study. So I proceed to passport control but end up waiting again for the fella to return to his booth. He eventually strolls in about twenty minutes later and with passports checked and stamped I’m directed onwards to the last Russian checkpoint. No surprises here, we wait yet again for about thirty minutes this time for a final check before being ejaculated into no man’s land and onto the Mongolian border control zone.
I finally get to the Mongolian side and drive through the trough to disinfect the vehicle when I am accosted by some crazy Mongolian lady shouting “25 roubles, disinfection” like some lame Full Metal Jacket skit. I look around to see if anyone else is paying or whether she’s taking the piss out of this bad ass, but still wet behind the ears solo moto-adventurer. But it looks like everyone is paying because she’s at least issuing receipts to others, so I cough up, it’s only 50p, and I gesture whether I should proceed and promptly pull away. Then some gung-ho soldier orders me to ‘STOP’ in no uncertain terms and I am informed that I need to go back to this little brick hut to present my customs form from the Russian side. I do as I’m told and they check my documents and send me on my way. Unro, who has now caught up, joins me and we proceed to the main building for customs and passport control. When we get inside we find a mass of people and a load of school kids fresh off the bus, “shit, this is gonna take ages” I decry out loud. We reluctantly join the queue, and Unro warns me about the pick-pockets that operate here and I take a firmer grip on my valuables. I fill in the customs declaration form, but I never get asked for it despite showing it to everyone.
When I reach the booth for my passport stamp Cojack, the fella inside, asks for my arrival card… “what arrival card, I don’t have one” I tell him, at which point the guard pulls me out from the queue and issues me one. Cheers mate, I mutter to myself, I’ve been in the queue for the best part of fifteen minutes, couldn’t you have given me this earlier. By the time I’ve filled it out another massive queue has formed. There is no way I’m waiting patiently in line again, so I cut straight to the front of the queue, playing the dumb tourist, which isn’t as hard an act as you would think. I approach Cojack in his booth again who this time asks me for my Mongolian address – FFS! I don’t have one so I just tell him “Ulaan Baatar”, which he seems satisfied with. Thud, he stamps my passport and dismisses me. Okay, so presumably it’s off to customs. And here is where the fun begins.
Unro says he’ll wait for me outside and I meander over to the next desk where the Bert and Ernie are in deep conversation and Ernie is more interested in eating his sunflower seeds than processing me through his domain. He finally gives me a form, which I fill out, and he sends me off to the senior customs officer but no-one is there. I go back to Bert & Ernie’s counter and they tell me to wait, so I wait, ten minutes I wait and eventually Elmo saunters up and starts entering my bike details into his log book. I can see my bike on the CCTV in his office through the hatch and the guard telling Unro to move on. Elmo then sends me back to the Bert & Ernie where I fill out yet another form, a different one this time, which Ernie stamps and sends me back to Elmo, who also stamps it and bids me farewell and I’m on my way. I’m laughing my tits off by now, what a joke, this is such a load of BS. Not once was the bike inspected, it’s all about getting the right stamp in the right place.
I return to my bike, everybody else has now gone, even Unro, but I soon realise that most of the people who were ahead of me are all waiting to exit the Mongolian border control area at the last checkpoint. And even though I was last to be processed I cut through again to the front of the waiting queue to be the first to leave. I head straight to the cash machine and then to the petrol station to fill up before heading off into Mongolia proper. I had just negotiated my first ‘real’ border crossing and I was now driving through the Mongolian Steppe. I couldn’t be happier.