First fit for new springs

Which don’t fit

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Blame was quickly allocated and dealt with in a reasoned and adult manner. I appear to have my father’s stomach attached to mine in this photo.

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Ed joined us who is studying in Beijing
The guys he’s talking to have been working on the last four Peking to Paris rallies.

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Said goodbye to the skip suitcase and lusted after some of the cars gathering in the hotel car parks:

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And a Mini gives some scale to the La France monsters.

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Heavy rain cleared the smog and we could see the mountains that surround Beijing finally.

Calm before the storm

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Competitors cars in the hotel car park.  Main Time Control One first thing tomorrow at the Great Wall of China.  We’ve passed scrutineering; got Jonathan’s missing luggage; got the maps and Jonathan is busy preparing the road book (Volume One takes us to Minsk).  It all starts on Sunday.

I took this photo after “patting the horse”, Geen is going to go great on this event and Jonathan is super pumped.  I had a good feeling in the sauna (in spite of the number of Chinese bottoms on display – and I thought the Swedes were relaxed about Sauna)

As my friend Bill suggests:
“Dab of oppo, bring it back to Blighty”

Many thanks to all of you sending good wishes it’s great having your support.

Day One Sunday 12 June Beijing to Datong

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A La France starts at number one.  The car and the pith helmeted crew only just made the turn to the arch. God knows how it will cope with Europe let alone Mongolia.
The car boasts a 500 litre fuel tank, doesn’t go faster than 45 mph and the fuel tank filler is 12 inches wide. Oh and the engine size is 14.5 litres.

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Period head gear was popular

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Cute helmetry

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Sadly some cars didn’t make the start, this La France broke a part and was last heard of on a low loader

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We had our moment on the start line, but after an early start were grateful to put all the cymbal crashing, dragon dancing and high tempo drumming behind us.

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Didn’t get a photo but we got stuck in the mother of all traffic jams.  The roads are crammed with trucks, all painted red. In the last few years 50 million people have moved from the country into towns each year.  That programme is supported by a land bridge of trucks. We saw thousands today. At one point we were overtaking three abreast uphill and met a truck being overtaken coming downhill. Not quite sure how we all fitted on the two lane highway.

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The Chinese we have met have been universally charming. The cars are mobbed every time we stop, everyone has a mobile and everyone wants a photo.  Cars slow you down so the grinning occupants can get a picture leaning out of the windows.  The language barrier is difficult, but ” Welcome to China” is often heard.

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Typical street scenes

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Three wheeled trucks are popular but not fast

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The Police were helpful, here the chief is getting his photo taken at a Rally Control.

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Some cars suffered in the heat

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We had a trouble free run, nice to actually drive somewhere. At the hotel Jonathan set about a thorough check while I addressed the important things and went in search of whisky.
I mean water.

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Got water from this nice lady in the off licence – very proud of her beautifully kept shop.

Feels good to be under way, high point of today was definitely securing my second ice cream and Coca-Cola float of the trip and the third this year. Truly the gods are looking after me.

Day Two 13 June 2016 Datong to Erenhot

Weirdness. While exercising at the twelfth floor window of our hotel in Datong:

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Below in the street was a man doing the same exercise I was. He couldn’t see me (otherwise he would have been laughing not stretching) what were the chances of that?

Big shout out to Jackie, the sports physio, the physical prep she led me with seems to be paying off. It almost makes being attacked by dogs, on three separate occasions, while running in the acutely well named Max Roach Park in Brixton worthwhile.

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A dull start in the rain was brightened by meeting the local double act: “you hold it and I’ll hit it”

Bit of a pain we shipped a lot of water in the starboard bilge, which Jonathan found when I set of a bit sharpish and sent his paperwork into a puddle.  Apparently I become “Mr Valentine” when I am bad.  My argument that the docs now had rally patina went down equally well.
Here’s a photo of Jonathan drying soggy A4 sheets at the hotel tonight:

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Today’s drive was wet and long as we headed North into the big open spaces.

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Time enough to make our mark on the roadside infrastructure

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Geen gets to look adventuresome

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The cars cause quite a stir every time they bunch up at controls.  Every period of motoring history is present in the field from 1915 to 1975

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This is what three km of straight road under an open sky looks like.  Your perspective and sense of distance get really played with in this environment. That really is three kms to the horizon.

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The famous kissing dinosaurs of Erenhot are a landmark very much associated with the Peking to Paris Rally.  They aren’t at the border but they do mark the transition to Mongolia and out of China.  The competitive element of the event starts tomorrow with the first time trials. The event can be won or more likely lost on these stages. It will be interesting to see how the field shakes out at the end of tomorrow.

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Tonka toys. In the car park all the stripey cars laagered together and gave this photo opportunity of Jonathan taking the same photo which I prefer.

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So much muscle.

Day Three 14 June 2016 Erenhot to the Gobi

Bit of drama late last night as we found one of the ball joints had cried enough.  Our plans for a quiet night went out of the window and we only just finished in time for dinner.

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Best apparel of the event is already won by this couple at breakfast. Reminds me of Caroline, Jonathan’s wife, navigating for me. As we approached a corner she called: “not sure… not sure…Reft!”

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I met this charming man who had worked on the hotel hot water boiler for many many years. Coal fired from a huge pile outside.

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He even started it up for me specially. What a thing, really clever with hoppers and all sorts of conveyors, as he says: “once many men” I am fairly sure it’s just him now and that includes humping coal in from outside.

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You would need to enlarge this image to get the effect of the sparks blowing past the furnace door. A really nice encounter across continents, technologies and cultures.

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Our instructions for crossing the border, looks so simple on paper, but I’ve been sitting writing this as a distraction from the long waiting.

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The Rally has left China now and this is the queue into Mongolia.

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And this is us in Mongolia

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Even managed to get the Mongolian courtesy flag on the bonnet in no man’s land

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Amazing open roads

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And beautiful puffy cloud skies

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Mobbed by Mongolians at the last control before the first stages in the desert

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Sunburst over the campsite at the end of the leg.

Today’s two stages were great. We took the wrong track twice on the first, I didn’t drive particularly well and we went cross country to arrive at the finish control at 90 degrees to the normal approach.  I. Don’t. Think. Our. Time. Was. A. Good. One. (Gritted teeth).

Second stage was the fastest I have been to date on a stage. I saw 179kph on the clock but we were faster elsewhere. I felt I was driving within my limits, as fast as I felt safe to go.  We were clearly faster than some of our competitors and it was valedictory to feel competitive enough to be on the event. 

Geen is just astonishing off road, what a car.  So now we’re in camp and euphoria turns to concern.  The ball joint on the right side has crapped out too. So that’s all our spares gone.  We are hoping to re supply in Russia in ten days time but there is a lot of Mongolia between here and there.  We may get lucky and find something to fit in Ulan Bataar where we have a rest day tomorrow night.

If a ball joint let’s go at speed on a stage, the relevant corner digs in the wheel collapses to the rear and the car launches end over end…
We have three stages tomorrow.

Hopefully our logistics helpers are on the case and we’ll get re-supplied in Novosibirsk.  In the meantime we’re going go have to hope our luck hold out on the spare ball joints fitted. It isn’t encouraging that the spare we fitted has already got some movement…

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Sunset campsite chat, Nicky lost her dad at 54 and she’s here with her mum in the car he prepared.

Day Four 15 June 2016 Gobi to Ulan Bataar

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Geen greats the dawn

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Rally cars muster at the mess tent

PostScript on yesterday, we set the fastest time on our stage two and even with our rubbish routing on stage one we would have been seconds off the leaders and a front runner.  Professionally we were travelling too fast on stage two, what we should be doing is keeping in about third place and 15 to 30 seconds off the pace of the leaders to best preserve the car.

The ball joint issue puts thoughts of competing out of consideration. The test for day two is to make the controls on time and get to Ulan Bataar.

Hopefully we can get a fix to the problem there. After all, after Havana, Ulan may be the capital of mend and make do.  We had a fixer lined up to meet us on arrival so fingers crossed.

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Another day begins.

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William Medcalf flew out from Britain with parts for one of the Bentleys he prepared and got to the desert at four in the morning. The repair took ten minutes and the car was back in the running.

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Geen packed up and parked up ready for the start. Nomads camp vehicles in the background. Pure coincidence that we’re parked near the beer truck.

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Finish time control stage three. Heartbreaking driving down the stages at 40 kph all day when we could have been competing at the front. Guess we got our preparations 99 per cent right. But this is rallying and the one per cent error component failure is tough, but at least the crew didn’t fail at this stage

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A lunch stop along the way, a Volvo with a nice crew of jolly women from New Zealand rolled but seem to be ok.
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Not this Volvo

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An Oovo. These are shrines along the road and are often huge and decorated with blue plastic sacking. I particularly liked this one as it was mostly sheep skulls and crutches. Tradition has it you go round them three times for good luck. No one seems to know if that is clock or anti clockwise. Far be it for us to tempt the wrath of the gods.

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As we drove by the local village the kids rushed towards us and we’re grabbing stuff from the floor. I tensed up expecting a stoning. But they were throwing flowers of welcome. Well adding more weeds to the crew. I felt a heel for being so cynical, but you just don’t have the experience. Wish I had realised the real situation sooner as we have a supply of hats, pens, fags and whisky for gifts or bribes. With the ball joints such a concern I didn’t want to slow and turn back, but I had my first regret since starting the event a week ago. By the time I stopped and got a photo this was all that was left of a festooning. I have a small bloom left on the dash to remind me of the encounter. Sorry little Mongol guys.

We got into town and had major stress trying to find the last control and get to our hotel. Our local fixer who we had set up to take us to a local garage proved firstly elusive and then didn’t show. We needed a hand as we’re unlikely to find a ball joint shop under our own steam.

A very long stressful story later, we ended up in the workshops of Nomads, the people who make the camp/glamp sites for us in the desert. Had a long chat with the owners Jan and Suzanne who came from Koln in Germany originally but have been here for twenty years. Nomads is a major concern and I think we’ve done a good job to get in on Friday night.

Bed was very welcome

Day Five 16 June 2016 “Rest Day”

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Another day, and for a change, giggling female omelette chefs.

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Made an early start to get into Nomads

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Even Nomads have trouble getting their trucks through the desert.

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Ingenuity on the event is astonishing. The crew of Doomba had a piston detonate. They have welded shut the lifters and aim to finish the event on five out of six cylinders

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We always park in the dry and always service in a puddle. I mean really? Every time we park? Really?

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Broken cars litter the yard.

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With more arriving after an overnight journey. This is what being trucked out of the desert looks like, loaded by reversing the truck into a ditch and driving the car up two planks.

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Repairs to the leaf springs of the Lancia on the left.

The Rally is astonishing for the highs and lows it generates. A Mercedes crew were limping out of the desert with a major part failure, thinking they would never find a part. In one of the villages, by the roadside, they saw an identical model on bricks. Twenty minutes later the deal was done and they were back in the event.  I don’t think we’d have the same luck in an AMX.

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Down to the auto market to search for ball joints and Jonathan is a man on a mission.  Korean dealers are frowned upon.

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A successful purchase from the Korean shop!
We were hoping for Russian to satisfy local niceties.

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Telmuun our local fixer was really helpful, he’s in the middle with the oil salesmen. He speaks great English and is hoping to visit an English speaking country one day.

Rumours from the competitive department: it appears Gerry Crown has blown his engine, don’t yet know how much time we lost doing the stages at a walk, but hopefully we can leave Ulan Bataar in running order. I think the leader is probably a very serious Datsun 240Z
And we could be forty minutes behind in 18th place after yesterday’s limped stages.  It will be interesting to see how accurate that prediction is later.

Seven more days in the desert will be a big test of the crew relationship. I think we could still progress but Jonathan wants more caution. The leader board may help resolve what speed we should make.  I am thinking it’s going to be rough and we need to be slow.

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Werner asks Jonathan if this was the best holiday he could find. To be honest he is really in his element, field repairs and engineering with what comes to hand. I keep hearing his laugh coming from a workshop 100 metres away. But I don’t want him taking all the glory, I just fixed the off side screen washer jet.

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Local street scene, note the coal fired power station in the centre of town and the industrial gaffer tape repair to the pipe on left.

We are expected at a nose flute and throat singing demonstration tonight.  It’s put on by the Lotus Child charity for abandoned orphans. I carried over two pairs of Adam’s football boots as getting sports gear is as  useful to them as money.  I had a dream last night that Adam’s boots were the start of the Mongolian Pele’s career.  I suspect the reality is a big orphan putting a stud shape in the face of a little orphan…

Situation report 6.30pm
We’re 21st equal and 32mins behind the leader. Jonathan has been working his nuts off trying to get the car drivable and can’t be  cheered by ice cream. This is a very worrying sign and a new low along the way.

I hope we can get back in the event but Jonathan isn’t confident.

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Had great help from Jan and Suzanne, Nomads owners and their son Arian. Their crew of welders and grinders helped us no end. Got a great Nomads logo for the back end of the car too.

Update car is fixed but geometry is a little wiggy, we may start using tyres.  Ceremonial start from the centre of town tomorrow.

Day Six 17 June 2016 Ulan Bataar to Bulgan Camp

Going off to the desert where comms will disappear your best bet will be to follow the event on endurorally.com where you can find our tracking, results and event reports.

Just broken my thermos flask, going to miss my daily tea, bumped into Telmuun he is going to try and get one and get it to camp.

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And this is what our bottom arms look like half way through fixing. That boy Jonathan is a genius.

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Big Chevy is still looking great the driver’s wife broke her tibia in eight places seeing him off in Beijing, the navigator decided to carry on with the car. That’s got to be tough and lonely.

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Took this Duff photo in the main square of Ulan Bataar where we have a ceremonial send off. I include it here as I had a bit of a moment sending messages to the family at home while sitting on Geen’s bonnet. Particularly thinking of my daughter Inez, who turns eighteen on Sunday. They’re all off to New York tonight so when I try to get a connection in the desert we will be nearly on different sides of the planet.

Euro 16 update England beat Wales and go top of our group, hopefully as we progress through the tournament we’ll look a bit better as a team.

Left Ulan Bataar in horrendous traffic, cut 40 mins off our journey by using the bus lane but still only just made the first control. Did the first stage with too much vigour and bent the front suspension 10 per cent one side and a load more the other. Crew tensions rise.

Our competitive assault on the Peking to Paris Rally is over. Limping in from the first stage was an agonising drive at 26kph for hours trying to drive round the bumps and feeling every thump.

Jonathan worked his usual magic and repaired the suspension again. I’ve watched it happen so many times I could now do it blindfold. Jonathan has clearly impressed the chase mechanics on the event. If it wasn’t for him we’d be on a truck back to Peking.

We’re still on for a gold medal as we’ve just made every control so far, but there’s many days of Mongolia to nurse a wounded car through.

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Bulgan camp
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The Capri rolled three times over and over, they think, didn’t even break the radiator.
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Jo rolled the Volvo she’s working on. She’s great.
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Jonathan’s dinner for one a la Geen, He was still hard at it as the kitchen was about to close. Painful trying to make myself useful while someone else is repairing your mistakes. Can’t help feeling like a badly behaved child where everyone is disappointed in you but not making a fuss about it.

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Jessica and Nick Sleep on either side of Isabelle Mathew. Their blog? “Always a Sleep at the wheel.

Day Seven 18 June 2016 Bulgan to Mulrun

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A beautiful start to what I hope will be a better day, as we pack up in this beautiful valley a herd of horses passes by. Mongolia really gets to you.

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Passage Control on the highway. An easier day today.

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Grey weather, typical bridge.  All the bridges are on concrete piles while the roads are built on gravel berms. When the roads sink with use the bridges stay put so you get a ramp on and ramp off, sometimes a foot deep…

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Typical track view, huge views and distances play with your head

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Time trial start

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Spanner check, a better day for damage

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The view ahead

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Muran Campsite

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A duff spot indeed.  Missed two great pictures today: one when we closed up on three other rally cars on the stony top of a hill; the other as we pulled up tonight.  I have been wanting to get a photo of an eagle and one swept past about five feet from the windscreen – I took a photo of my hand, the dashboard and an empty sky. One of Nomads crane trucks snuck into the picture above. This one puts up a huge boiler for the camp showers and recovers cars that can’t continue, ominous

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More campsite photos

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This is the mess tent where we eat or in this case shelter from the rain. Notice how the Mongolian light turns everything red, no idea what that is about. This is the first night Jonathan hasn’t had to work late into the night.  A really tough, sort the men from the boys day tomorrow.

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This is Alexander from Belarus (next to Poland). He’s driven all the way to Mongolia and was waiting at the border in his Ukrainian-built car. He wrote the name down. I couldn’t make it out but I think his is the de luxe model as it has kindling wood in the boot.

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Finally found someone with the same shoes, who would have thought it would happen in Mongolia with a man from Liechtenstein.

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Dark clouds threatening from the end of the valley.