On Tuesday the 3rd of October we drove off in a Russian van with our guide Plan & Dori. First stops of the trip were Deer Stones around Sagsai and somewhere else. According to Wikipedia Deer Stones are ancient megaliths carved with symbols found largely in Siberia and Mongolia. The name comes from their carved depictions of flying deer. Dori got all excited when we stopped at a Deer Stone. Remo and I were just enthusiastic to get out of the car and walk around (driving a Russian van in Mongolia is like being in a rollercoaster most of the time).
The weather soon changed and it began to rain/snow. Well, hello adventure.
We stopped at the house of a nice family and got offered a place to sleep and some food. Dori was hilarious at this point. Giving comments in Dutch about the family’s way of life & making jokes about our guides name (Plan, do you have a Plan?).
When we got up the next day, it was still snowing. As it’s just not possible to drive in that kind of weather, we had to hang out with our host family an extra day.
We got to know them, our guide and Dori a bit better and in the end, we had lots of fun.
We went for a walk, made a snowman and the family also slaughtered one of their sheep in our honour, which was a new experience I must say.
Remo got to watch the whole ordeal from close by, I stayed well out of the way, although I couldn’t really avoid it, as the mother was cleaning the intestines inside the (one room) house. To top it all off, we were offered the best part of the animal for our lunch, the liver. Yummie.
We just went along and smiled. When saying goodbye to the family the next day they gave Remo & I baby shoes. Their children had learned to walk in them and they wanted to give them as a present to us. Our hearts melted.
On day 3 and 4 of the tour we got to enjoy the surroundings of the lakes Olkhon Nuur and Khoton Nuur. Both lakes are an absolute must-see when you’re in Western Mongolia according to the Lonely Planet. We were not disappointed. That night we slept in an abandoned house right by the lakes. We saw the owners move to their winter house in Tsengel the same day. They were really kind about lending us their house, but during the move they seemed to forgot their pet dogs & cats. Later we learned that they just take one of each, and the strongest animals follow. The others are left behind. Survival of the fittest in real life.
Next, we were going to drive further north. There would be Deer Stones and a mountain that, when climbed, would give us a view over the Altai mountains. We had to spend a lot of time in the car before we reached our destination but that’s no big deal when the landscape is as beautiful as this.
The drive was a bit exciting though, at times. Once we had to drive over a glacier (no one was really talking inside the car and you could feel the tension), and on day 5 our car decided to break down.
Plan’s first plan was to stay in the car and wait for another tourist van to drive by, so that we could move on and he could stay to fix the problem. That wasn’t Plan’s best plan (we hadn’t seen a tourist van in the last couple of days).
They helped Plan fix the car, but the mother of the family was a whole new sight. Instead of talking, she shouted. Funny at first, just plain annoying after two hours. She was also the filthiest person we met so far. We understand and could cope with the level of hygiene inside a nomad’s family’s house, but putting your fingers inside your nose and mouth while making butter with those same fingers is just jakkie.
After more than 24 hours the car was fixed. By that time, it was Sunday the 8thof October 4 pm. I wanted to turn back and start driving towards Ölgii (we had a flight to catch on Tuesday). Dori couldn’t stop jabbering about the Deer Stones. So here came the first discussion. Dori won because we didn’t want to fight about it. But I was not the happiest person inside the car at that moment.
After half an hour of driving we came to a stop. Before us lay a river that was frozen over. Not that easy to cross with a Russian van. I told Plan not to take any risks. Dori said the same but wanted to know where the Deer Stones were. As they were just around the corner Plan didn’t want to disappoint us a second time. Result; Russian van got stuck in icy river.
At this point I thought I was the lead character in a very bad Hollywood comedy. We couldn’t do anything else except go to the nearest house begging for help & shelter.
But Hooray! They had a truck that could pull the van out of the river. Sadly, enough the truck needed to be fixed first. We would have to stay the night and the Russian van would sleep with its wheels inside the river. Best.Plan.Ever.
When we went to look at the car the next day we soon learned that there was no way we could get it out of the frozen river and drive back to Ölgii the same day.
At this point it’s Monday our flight back to Ulaanbaatar and civilization is leaving in less than 24 hours.
My stomach ached because of the nerves and tension, Dori on the other hand was only thinking about those freaking Deer Stones.
Couldn’t handle it anymore. As we had no other solution, Plan found us a car and driver that would bring us to Tsengel. Pfieuw! The car needed to be fixed first and we had to cross a river by horse but hey we would get moving!
After a 4-hour drive with 8 people in a Jeep that is meant for 5 we were having dinner & were waiting for our next ride in Tsengel. By that point I was tired and was just staring outside. Suddenly, I thought I saw a Russian van driving by that looked like ours. When I told Remo he just couldn’t stop laughing.
But he was wrong, 3 minutes later Plan walked into the restaurant like a true hero, and I said: are they seriously playing with my feet?!
Apparently, 6 guys could break the van out of the ice and the motor of the car still worked. Plan became our hero and dropped us of at the guesthouse in Ölgii like he was supposed to (just one day too late).
In the end, the west turned out to be a wild adventure. But we would do it all over again if we could (except we would turn back and not listen to Dori after our car was fixed the first time).
*literal translation of: Ben je met mijn voeten aan het spelen?
English: Are you messing with me ?, Are you squeezing my ‘roids ?