Friday, August 7, 2009

Aug 5: Goodbye Russia, Hello Mongolia!

Once in Kosh-Agach, we found ourselves a hotel, got some supplies and tuckered down for the night. We decided to take a taxi from here to Olgii in Mongolia, a distance of around 190 km, as we knew that we would have to go by car anyway for the 20 km "No Man's Land" between Russia and Mongolia and that it would likely be much easier to find a car in town. Mike also had some kind of bug that night, so we didn't really feel up to biking the distance, especially given the lack of great areas to camp between here and the border/Olgii.

Our hotel, the "Hotel Transit." No luxury palace, but the owners were super friendly and helpful, and we met some backpackers from Italy and a motorcyclist from Romania that we later crossed the border with.

After some negotiating at the Bazaar, we loaded up into a taxi with our Russian driver, a Mongolian businessman and two Italian backpackers, and were on our way!
(Check out our post about Russian visa registration for some comments on the border and some tips on taxis, prices, etc.)

Our Italian friends, Christina and Sara...

... and us with Huat, a Kazakh-Mongolian from Olgii whose wife was working in Kosh-Agach.

Me and our Italian friends chatting it up with a convoy of 11 trucks from France crossing the border into Mongolia

The change from Russia to Mongolia once we crossed the border was dramatic. First of all the roads went from smooth asphalt to dirt 4x4 paths shortly after crossing the border, and all of a sudden gers dotted the landscape everywhere. (Gers are round white tents that are the homes of the large majority of Mongolians, both rural and in the ger suburbs of many towns.)

Katraa, a 10-year old Kazakh girl who lived in Olgii, hopped onto the taxi at the border, by herself. I'm pretty sure neither Sasha (the taxi driver) or Huat knew her, but she rode with us all the way to Olgii, stopping at a Ger that we think belonged to her family (cousins, perhaps?) shortly after the border to pick up a bottle of Airag (fermented mare's milk) that we all later enjoyed. We thought that this might have been her payment for the ride? (At first, Huat and Sasha thought that she actually lived there, and were a little confused when she hopped back on the taxi with the pop bottle full of milk!)

Katraa's little cousins(?), at the ger where she picked up the airag.

Our taxi, on the "road" at the top of our first pass in Mongolia.

Though getting to the top of this pass wasn't easy (not exactly what you'd call a smooth ride), Mike and I assume we'll feel a little less "refreshed" at the top of the next one that we'll be climbing up on our bikes in a couple days...

Enjoying an "airag break" at the top of the pass....

Sasha got us to Olgii, safe and sound and much faster than all the other drivers we met at the border. When we stopped for some tea and buuz (mutton dumplings, the mongolian version of wontons or pellmenie or tortelini and the staple of the menus here), we learned that he is a very seasoned driver through these parts and can make the typically 60-hour drive from Olgii to Ulaanbataar (1600 - 1700 km) in only 36 hours. He currently lives in Russia (after having grown up on the Beiring Straight) but by the number of border guards and other folks along the way that he knew, obviously makes this trip quite often.

Now we're in Olgii, finalizing our plans for the bike through Mongolia, doing more laundry, resting our legs, uploading photos and downloading books in the internet cafe. It's a small town that in the evening when it quiets down, feels a little like a ghost town in an old western movie. The people here are friendly, used to tourists but not sick of them, and all the kids yell "hello goodbye" to us as we walk by in the streets. We've seen even more of the Mongol Rally folk all over town, especially in the touristy but excellent restaurants we've been enjoying...

So far so good! Our plan is to leave Olgii on Sunday for Ulaangom, which should be about 5 days bike away. We've both enjoyed the rest and the chance to explore Olgii, and are also very excited for what the next few weeks have in store. It looks like the two toughest stretches are the first ones, after which villages should be alot more frequent and roads not quite as rocky. Next time we post, there should be lots to tell!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, looks amazing guys!! I can't believe how far you've gone already! Thanks for all the updates and enjoy the rest of the ride :)