We fell in love in Mongolia! Head over heels! The country is simply marvelous and the more places you visit the more you want to see. And you soon notice that you could spend a year here and not see half of the things you should. 30 day visa for a place like that is a pure cruelty. It's simply not enough time! When we left Olgyi to drive towards the border we knew that leaving Mongolia won't be an easy thing and that we will probably miss it a lot. We knew there are still a few countries ahead of us, which will definitely be amazing too, but it just wouldn't be the same.
On our way we had to cross the last city, Tsagaannuur. You have probably noticed that I am not a huge fan of Mongolian cities and that is one of the ugliest I have seen. Surrounded by a huge fence it really makes a scary impression. And since we met a British couple, who got their valuables stolen there after being invited to a ger we decided to be a bit more careful than normally. But nothing could have prepared us for what we saw there. Those people went crazy when they saw us. They were running out of houses, jumping in front of our car, trying to stop us and make us follow them. Some of them were chasing us on motorbikes, just to draw our attention. And when we did stop, just to get some fuel a bunch of kids got to us and they actually started begging. I have never seen anything like that in Mongolia! And those children were not poorer then the other ones we saw. They were dressed normally and didn't really seem to be missing much. But they were following our every move chanting “pen, pen, money, money, money, present” for a good 10 minutes. And they were not only chanting, but also hanging on our clothes and even trying to get into the car. I absolutely adore Mongolian children and wanted to adopt at least 10 of them on our way, but I really hated those ones. Even though I knew it's not really their fault, since they were way too young to understand what they doing. But someone had told them to do it and it must have worked with a few tourists if they still continue. But still, after getting to know so many wonderful Mongolian people, who never expected anything and always insisted on giving more then they got from us this was just a huge shock. We did bring along some presents for Mongolian children and we gave away a big part of it, but we were never asked for anything, except for an old 5L bottle, which we wanted to throw away anyway. I just hope this illness will not spread to the rest of the country, but will stay a small problem of the border region.
We left this place as quick as possible, making sure there will be enough distance between our camping place and those begging kids. And once again we managed to find a splendid location on a lake. That is a thing I'm gonna miss the most, the fact that no matter where you go and where you decide to stop you can be sure it will be a great camping spot. And that there will be enough wild animals to keep you company. The only thing missing is wood to make some fire, but well, you can't have everything...
We had to get to a border on a specific day, early in the morning, since our transit visa for Russia was only valid for 5 days and we didn't want to waste any of them. And we actually managed to earn some money waiting in a border line. It turns out that not only 5L water bottles but also 20L jerrycans for fuel are quite popular in Mongolia. We heard that fuel may sometimes be hard to find in the country side and it would be wise to take some extra fuel in the cans, so we bought four of them back in Germany. We used only two and even those we used only once, as we were able to find 92 octane fuel in most bigger cities (95 octane is a really rare thing though). We were pretty sure we won't be needing 4 cans in Kazakhstan neither, so we were even thinking what to do with them, as they take some place and add some weight to our already overloaded car. The solution found us on a border, where people were actually arguing about who can buy them from us.
All formalities went quick this time, mostly because we already knew how it works and which papers we needed to get and since we already filled them out a few times we knew perfectly well what to write, even though all the questions were in Russian. We felt sad to be leaving Mongolia and worrying that we won't like Russia that much anymore. We didn't really know what to expect of the region we were crossing and we were a bit afraid of the roads that await us, which could make crossing to Kazakhstan in 5 days a bit of a challenge.
Well we soon knew we had nothing to worry about. It seems that Russia decided to show us it's most beautiful side at this very moment, just to prove that Mongolia is not the only country that had something to offer. The region of Altai is simply splendid! Mountains, rivers and trees make for a perfect view all along the way. And the road is perfect! The best one we saw in Russia. We stopped in the first city to get some fuel and a new car insurance for Russia and it felt so good to be able to understand local people again. And by the time we stopped to get some food we were all perfectly happy to be in Russia again. Don't get me wrong, Mongolian food was not as bad as I expected, but the choice was pretty limited and nearly almost included mutton meat. It simply can not compete with Russia cuisine, full of many various options, one better then the other. Those are two different worlds.
Leaving the city we met three Russian backpackers hitchhiking their way back to Moscow. Gerrit decided to give them a ride and it all worked so nicely that we stayed together for 2 days, until our ways parted. Camping that night was really perfect. Mountains all around us, a river flowing next to us and enough wood to make fire all night long. We were cooking, baking potatoes, drinking Indian spicy tee and playing cards until we got too tired to recognize the numbers. And by the end of the evening we missed Mongolia a bit less then we did while leaving it.
Driving with locals had quite a few advantages. They were showing us quite a few things we would miss for sure if we were driving alone. And so we had a chance to discover the perfect spots to take pictures and see some extremely old wall pictures, that were better preserved than any I have seen before, although they were in an open air, exposed to rain and sun all the time. But the view I will remember best was a cow along the road, looking quit happy while chewing on a huge bush of wild growing marihuana.
The last stop on our way was Barnaul, where we decided to check our car as we had some serious problems starting it in the mornings. We wanted to check it as soon as possible as the problem seemed to be getting worse with time and because we learned to trust Russian car mechanics and wanted to get the job done here. The thing I like most about them is that they seem to be able to find a reasonable solution to every problem. Nothing is impossible, even if the spare parts are not available. And that is exactly what we needed since we already knew, that taking a starter out of T3 Syncro will be quite of a challenge and getting a new one was out of question.
We found a VW garage and after a moment we knew Karossi is in a right hands. But we also knew it may take a while. All the guys were really helpful and agreed to repair our car on a spot knowing we had to leave the country the next day. A few things were checked, but they all seemed to be in a perfect condition until we were sure it can be nothing else but the starter, a part that is well hidden behind our differential lock and quite difficult to pull out. The fun has just began. I was especially amazed to see how much dust and dirt is getting from underneath our poor car. It was massive clouds of what was soon called “a souvenir from Mongolia”. It took quite a while and an awful lot of effort before we managed to get the source of our problems out of the car. But it was finally out and we hopped we could get it fixed, as we knew there is no way of finding a replacement, especially not in one day. But we put our car in good hands. The starter was cleaned, repaired and tested until we were sure it's working fine again. It was nearly 22 o'clock before Karossi was put together again and we were having a bad conscious for keeping all the guys up so late. They were working really hard on our car, making sure we had something to eat and drink at the same time. And they didn't seem to be loosing their good moods. It was totally dark when we were leaving the garage, being extremely thankful for all the help and support and for the fact that Karossi was up an running again, ready to enter Kazakhstan the next day. And as a souvenir Karossi got new frames for his number plates, as the old ones were broken in Mongolia.