Out of Russia and Into Nowhere
18 August, 2012; 10:32
Today, we are waiting in no-man’s land on the Mongolian side, waiting alongside several other teams for the opportunity to enter the country. Yesterday’s drive through southern Russia was one of the most unexpected treats of the journey. We went through the Altai mountains, which were absolutely gorgeous. Then, we barely skated through the Russian exit border before it closed, and, we can finally see Mongolia. Hopefully we’ll be in later today, but more likely it will be tomorrow. There is a slim chance it will be Monday.
The Altai mountains were something I should have expected to be wonderful, but for some reason, I just never considered it. Fortunately, they didn’t need my consideration to stand in their magnificence as we drove (probably a little to quickly) down the winding M52. They started out much like the Ozarks, large chunks of rock covered with trees; admittedly, these were all pine trees and the mountains were actually mountains instead of pretty hills. Looking out over the scenery, I tried unsuccessfully to capture the beauty of the mountainsides carved neatly by the runnoff of ages of water. I did get pictures, I just don’t think they do justice to what I was seeing.
We stopped for lunch at a roadside picnic area; it was the single most magical place we’ve been. Old trees covered in moss stood with little underbrush between them, giant roots rising gently out of the soil like a scene out of Tolkein. A herd of cattle and a few wild horses roamed through the trees around us as we wantdered. We found a creek to eat beside, and our meal was the only thing unsatisfying about the stop; mystery meat jelly and kidney beans, no spices, no heat. Once we finished with the canned “food” we explored a bit, playing near the creek throwing sticks at each other. Once again, I feel like my lack of photography skills hampered me in trying to capture the absolute perfection of the spot, but we’ll see when I get the pictures printed.
One thing I found interesting about this leg of the trip was the number of public use structures alongside the roads. I don’t know if this is a leftover effect of the Socialist mindset or what, but all over the place there are these outhouses and gazebos built for whoever going by has need of them. In our little park, there were several, but even in the middle of nowhere, just on the side of the road, they were still present. It was just one more pleasantly surprising aspect of our drive out of Russia.
From there we drove on, and got to deeper into the mountains. The rocks became mingled with huge sandy hills covered in grass separated by vast plateaus. Eventually, in the distance to the East, we could see snow caps on the high peaks. We reached the Russian border shortly before five, and a good thing we did, as that side closes an hour before the Mongolian side. We only just snuck in. We had a bit of a panic when we realized that the Kazaki customs document they wanted had been thrown away in a trash purge. Luckily, it was only to confrim what we were putting on our Russian exit paperwork, an we managed to find a different document that served just as well. Then, a 30 minute drive through a 20km no-man’s land, and we reached the Mongolian border, long closed, and prepared to camp with the other teams waiting to get through.
There was a little shop in the village down the road, and the border officials allowed us to go to change currency and buy food and drink. We had beers with our compatriots and swapped stories of our various adventures. Then, out of nowhere, one of the ralliers shows up with a roasted goat he’d bought, and we feasted, though it wasn’t the tastiest meal we’ve had. I ate liver, heart, and cheek. I think the problem with it was that it was quick roasted and still a little undercooked, but it was meat.
Last night was the kind of cold that begs proper gear, and, as I was told numerous times before we left, I didn’t have it. Sleeping in the car again helped since I could turn the heater on every so often, but even then, I had to wrap up in my sleeping bag. I wore both pairs of my pants, one short sleeved shirt, two long sleeved shirts, and my sweater. I’ve lost all of my warm socks, so I had to do with bare feet inside the sleeping bag, but, overall it wasn’t the worst night (that would be Goodwood). It rained in the night, but I woke to it and managed to get the few things we had out under cover so we stayed mostly dry. I am going to have to start staying in the front seat when I sleep though, because curled up in the back my knees ache and there’s no room left to stretch them.
This morning the rain persists as we wait permission to leave. Chase somehow managed to haggle with the officials, and we traded our bigger 4 person tent for free car insurance and a spot at the front of the line. Hopefully we’ll get out of here sooner than we expected and get down out of the mountains into warmer air. We’re hoping to caravan with two other teams, one from Canada and the other from New York, but we’ll have to see how that works out. The Canadians have already made it out, and the New Yorkers are waiting like we are. My hopes are high, and I expect that very soon we will be in Mongolia and on the last leg of our grand adventure.