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Author: Maria Zehentner
Beitrag vom: 07.12.2017

When a country awakens passion!

Mongolia, August - September 2017

We left the yurt, rumbling back onto the main road to drive on very modest roads to the town of Uliastai. After a short shopping trip in a supermarket, we let it be good for today and parked Akela outside the city amidst a hilltop panorama. Lennox and I scrambled up a hill, watching vultures and eagles fly, while Leander tackled the ungrateful task of greasing the truck, which was badly needed. The terrain would not get better.

The sun had barely begun its day's run when we started the engine. The intersection with Khar Nuur was not far from the city. One last eye contact, check! We stayed with our decision to get to the lake.

The Khar Nuur or Black Lake is located in western Mongolia and offers a wonderful view of the Changai Mountains with peaks of over 4,000m. Amazingly, the water level of the lake is constantly rising, which means that some dunes are currently drowning. Furthermore, the Khar Nuur resting place for many migratory birds is on its way through Central Asia.

The initial gravel road opened in the course of the journey in countless sand tracks that spread in a star shape over the entire plain. It was like a lottery game you chose, and in fact it was always the wrong one. Just changing the track, you regretted it again, because the previously driven seemed much better. Inclinations, which we were known to like, were the order of the day. Also several water crossings were on. Either, that the bridge had collapsed, or we were too heavy for the existing one. The constant twisting between cab and living cabine, due to the extremely rough terrain, put Akela under constant strain. There was a permanent bump, crash, rumbling and clanking. We tumbled through the cab like the balls of a pinball machine.

Our truck encountered on average at 20km / h on his personal load limit. How many kilometers we could cover at this speed of hell is obvious. Huge herds of cattle, Przewalski's horses and camels passed us by, occasionally yurts were discovered in the hinterland and thick marmots, which fled immediately in their caves, when they saw us.

We drove uphill, downhill, through valleys and over mountains, often in the dark. Until we saw something blue in the distance. That had to be the lake. Contrary to expectations, we had reached the eastern shore of the Khar Nuurs relatively smoothly. But we wanted to the shifting dunes, which were located in a bay further south.

So the drag went on for the car and for us. You could literally feel the desert under the wheels. The slopes became sandy and unpleasant slopes awaited us. Akela had to overcome three mountains before the goal was reached.

The last one was really heavy. Huge boulders were scattered all over the runway. Leander stopped and got out to find a passable line. After a few minutes he came back, got in and headed resolutely for the ascent. Millimeter by millimeter the truck pushed up the hill. It was so steep that we could only see the sky from the cab. Unbelievable with what force the rubber pulled up ten tons. Big smoke came from the back, which enveloped us in a gray cloud of smoke. At walking pace we reached the summit and were rewarded with a breathtaking view over the dunes and the lake. We had done it, despite all the fears and murals. Our truck was just awesome, and the driver as well.

Relaxed and blissful we rolled on the other side down the slope towards the lake. We did not dare to go directly to the sandy beach, because nobody was in the mood for digging so close to the finish line. So we left it and dropped off Akela a few meters off the shore. A long and nerve-racking day of driving was coming to an end. We put our tired bones to bed, and fell into a peaceful sleep with anticipation of some relaxing days by the lake.

Carefree, we spent the days at Khar Nuur. Crazy as we were, we clawed our skis and climbed up a dune. It was extremely exhausting, because a ski lift was sought in vain. But the effort paid off in any case. The feeling was crazy. Not every day you had the opportunity to rock a sand dune in a bikini. Even Lennox would not let it go and tirelessly stomped up the ridge again and again with the heavy ski shoes.


Even without ski we had a lot of fun in the mountains of sand. During a walk through the dunes, we let each roll down the sloping side. From head to toe full of sand, we stood up laughing and kept walking. The resulting pressure in the sand caused a frightening noise, comparable to the signal of a foghorn from an old steamer. We also did some schoolwork, although not about letters and numbers, but about animals and Co. Although the sandy landscape in the day seemed as if extinct, one could guess from the traces of wild activity. Lennox would like to become a tracker, and the desert was the perfect opportunity to learn and recognize. From birds to mice, scorpions and snakes, everything was recognizable.

And Leander, he could not decide with which device he should begin to capture the light and shadow moods of the desert. First the drone and then the camera, or vice versa? His night dune shoot is one of my favorites.

Our bike was also allowed to smell the desert air. It took a lot of skill not to sink the thing in the sand right away. After a short briefing, I sat alone on a two-wheeler for over 20 years. A great feeling! And I did not fall over.
After four wonderful days, we packed up and started on the way back. On the east bank we stopped briefly to fill our water tanks, when suddenly a red and white Unimog appeared on the horizon. This could only be Pierre and Theresa, a French Canadian and a Swiss couple, who had often crossed our paths.

While we swarmed Pierre and Theresa from the dreamlike landscape, we decided quickly and followed them. The shifting dunes were a unique place to let the soul run wild. Leander knew now how he had to take the key points best with the truck, so the return trip succeeded much faster than the first time.
When we finally left our tents at Khar Nuur Lake after two more carefree days, Leander made a devastating discovery during the everyday check-up around the truck. Our subframe, on which the living cabin is anchored, was broken in several places.
F ...! Thus, the worst case actually arrived. We did not have to do a long cause research! The shitty road conditions. Here in the middle of nowhere, we had no chance to get the damage repaired. We had to hope for the capital city Ulan Baatar. Every pothole, every trough, every roadside rubbish meant poison for Akela and would only make the already existing damage worse. With deep bulges you could literally hear the "clacking" when the cabin hit the frame. Leander heard it more intense, because he had much more sensitive ears than me.

At the moment our hands were tied and we had no choice but to drive on carefully. In the hope that the living room would not tumble down, we tried not to drive each other crazy and drove on to the volcano Chorgo Nuur, which was located in the National Park Chorgo Terchiin Tsagaan Nuur.
Until about 1920, the Chorgo was considered a sacred mountain that only the chosen ones were allowed to enter. In recent years numerous Ovoos were built on the fire mountain. Cairns where the spirits are remembered and asked to favor by laying one or more stones or other offerings. The last time the volcano erupted 7,700 years ago, leaving behind a vast lava field, to which only a sparse growth of trees and bushes thrives to this day.
Markus from Germany had told us about the only bridge that led to the volcano. It was limited to a payload of five tons. Akela had a fighting weight of nearly ten tons. Hm, how can I say, it seemed like we were too cluttered! But the volcano was almost on its way to Ulan Baatar, so we wanted to get a picture of the bridge ourselves. In case we could not cross it, it was basically not a detour.

It took us two driving days to get there. In the back room always the metal noise of our broken frame, which of course helped tremendously to calm down! Every day Leander checked the breakpoints to see if and how far they were getting worse.

We drove through the small town, which leaded into the national park. The named road sign with the inscription 5T was already be seen. Leander stopped the machine, jumped out of the cab and had a look at the bridge. You could see cast-in steel girders that seemed relatively solid. We went up and down and did not really know what to do. Passing locals gave a thumbs up for Akela, despite his ten tons. Should we trust it? Also Leander`s gut feeling gave the green light. To be on the safe side, he let Lennox and me get out of the car before slowly rolling in. I could barely see as the front tires touched the first few meters of the bridge. But in the end the beams withstood the weight! We were almost at the destination, two kilometers through lava rock separated us from the flag on the sat nav. The frame rattled and crashed and every pothole hurt, but we arrived. When we got to the parking lot, we turned off the engine and looked around. Then we rummaged our hiking boots, slipped into warm clothes and marched on the volcano.
It took us about 40 minutes to get to the crater. There were not many vertical meters to deal with, nevertheless we snorted like walruses. We were completely untrained. It was very important to us to change this situation because we are extremely unhappy about it. On the way up we met some tourists, and you could see very clearly, the further east you come, it became more touristy, but it was end of the season. The souvenir shops and food stalls at the foot of the mountain were already cleared and had closed.

For Lennox it was the first volcano he had seen in his life. Constantly making sure that we were sure the mountain would not spit fire. We smiled at him and moved on. What is still safe today? A fast approaching thunderstorm front unfortunately ended the trip abruptly. We had to accelerate to come down in time.

However, it would not have been us if we had not celebrated a custom family ritual the next morning. And yes, I take everything on my cap! Mea culpa, that we could not enjoy the eggs at the summit at sunrise, because I forgot the eggs in the fridge. Throughout the ascent I had the clump of the two in my neck during the whole walk, sorry guys.

On the second day we left the national park. The broken subframe was of course not planned and if possible, we wanted to get it repaired before we left.

Actually, we wanted to make a "detour" to the south in the Gobi desert, but in this case we had to get to the capital as fast as possible. The truck had to hold on for 600km before he made it. This meant two days on the asphalt. On long driving days we try to keep Lennox busy with playing cards, painting or reading... but after a while, all this get bored too.

Finally, we reached the city of Charchorin, in which the monastery Erdene Dsuu is located just outside the city. We visited the facility, because a bit of culture and history does not harme anyone. The Erdene Dsuu Monastery was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. During its high period, up to 1000 monks lived in it. The frequent destruction of the monastery in the last centuries could be seen widely. 4 of the once 100 thriving temple complexes are open for visitors to visit. The staff went out of their way to give us a personal guide.

After the visit, we set up our camp a little away from the monastery complex. It would be the last night in the wild for now. The first part of our trip around the world was coming to an end. The last few kilometers to Ulan Baatar we would tackle tomorrow and then it was almost as far. Home is calling!

We were a bit shocked when we rolled into the capital. Of the halting traffic that allowed only pace, we had already heard. I can not describe what we expected, at least not a state-of-the-art city to that extent. Ulan Baatar has universities, museums, excellent hospitals, many historical monuments, huge shopping centers, McDonalds, KFC I even saw a Fielmann branch. Karaoke stores, fitness studios, beauty salons, neatly dressed and perfectly made-up young girls ... if you were allowed to experience breathtaking, deserted and unique nature for several weeks and still have the dreamy yurts and countless animal herds in mind, then you are confused and feel a bit helpless, as I did, when we drove into the urban jungle.

We headed for the Oasis Guesthouse, which was a well known hostel amongst Overlander. When the security man opened the sliding gate to drive in, we spotted two familiar faces. Anna and Heiner, whom we had met in the Russian Altai. We parked the truck and got out and looked around. The guesthouse was well visited. While I went to the front desk to clarify the formalities, Leander grabbed a beer from the fridge and joined the round on the terrace to introduce himself. Meanwhile, Lennox ran wildly around the garden, peering into the yurts that were set up for the guests, and just having fun moving around. It was always admirable how much patience he showed on long days of driving.

With Tseke, the junior boss of the Oasis, we already made clear in advance, that we could leave Akela for the time of our home stay, in the courtyard of the guesthouse.

From now on, the clock ticked! We urgently needed to find someone to fix the frame BEFORE our departure. Because when we returned in early October, there was a good chance that winter had already arrived. Ulan Baatar is considered the coldest capital in the world. With luck, or rather bad luck in this case, it could happen that we were received with temperatures around -20 to -30 degrees. Temperatures, where no one wants to lie down under the truck anymore.

We needed a good welder, it should not really need more. But it was weekend, so we had to wait until Monday to start the search. Lennox had disappeared for two days, a Belgian family with four kids had also arrived. Armed with Lego, they moved into the warm lounge of the Oasis and were no longer seen. Thus, Leander and I had a little more opportunity to chat with the other travelers undisturbed. Norbert and Heidi moved back home, Anna and Heiner planned the crossing from Vladivostok to Australia, and Johanna and Nicolas, the Belgian parents were thinking about a similar route like ours. It was an interesting round.
We started to find some welders. But the Mongolian workers are, I would call it different. Two welders had a look on Akela, but Leander sent them away. They were considered by Leander to be unsuitable. Is it really so hard to find a good working man? We did not think so at the beginning.

Well, whining did not really help in this case, so Plan B. Do it yourself and improvise.

On monday morning, Leander went straight after breakfast to the surrounding ironmongers. The plan was to reinforce the broken areas with suitable U-profiles and spot weld. But what we had not expected was that there were no suitable profiles to buy. By chance, he met Ayruna, who worked in the hardware store office. She made contact with two Russian engineers who wanted to see the truck on the spot. A few hours later they were standing on the mat. "Ne ponimayu", we did not understand a word. As often came Alexander, our spare parts supplier from Barnaul into the game to translate via mobile phone. I do not know how many times he helped us out with his Russian translations. Spasibo bolshoi!

The plan of the Russians sounded reasonable. But $ 400 for U-profiles and a bit of welding? In Mongolia? Pure rip-off !!! In our minds.

Leander wanted to save money and tried to improvise. Although we did not find any size-fitting pieces, we were able to measure and cut from existing to exactly the required height. So we could "tinker" wedges that we wanted to use at the break points for reinforcement. Together we went to Ayruna and bought there profiles in the appropriate strength. To save time, Leander let the workers cut the needed peaces. But the Mongolians did not take it so seriously with measurements. Leander was annoyed and getting green and blue in his face, when he saw the cutter at work. Not a single piece fit the dimensions we needed. One piece was too short, the other too long, and so on. That did not work. He took the flex away from the worker and put his hand to it. The Mongols watched him and ridiculed his precise way of working.
With the crafted pieces we went back to the Oasis. There, the parts had to be grounded and galvanized, which meant a hell of a job. Thanks to the energetic support of Norbert and Nicolas, the tools could be put aside after a few hours. Leander gradually tapped the support profiles in the broken profiles, and they fit right away. Now another welder had to be found who could spot-weld the parts. So the world looked a bit healer for us. For saying thank you to all the helping hands, I prepared a typical Austrian Kaiserschmarren, which is always welcomed.
Our guesthouse could organize us a welder, but only the next day. In order not only to sit around in the Oasis, we took the free time and took a taxi to the Black Market in the town center. It is a transshipment point for goods of all kinds. We could not resist warm winter boots. Especially since we could definitely use those on our return.

Oh yes, before I forget it, the Mongolian television came to our attention and wanted to meet us. Weeks before, the Anchorman of a Mongolian television station wrote us a message. He followed our journey via Instagram and suggested to meet in Ulan Baatar for an interview. Of course we agreed. Our first TV appearance in Asia. When and where the whole should take place, we had already fixed with him when we arrived in the city.
But out of sheer shopping we had lost sight of the clock and came back late to Akela. There was no time for the mask or make-up, because suddenly the camera crew was at the door. Then everything went relatively quickly. Akela was filmed from the inside and outside, and for us some questions were prepared in English. "What is the motive of our journey" or "If we like Mongolia"! Questions that were repeatedly asked during the journey on the way. Anyway, it was really fun and we say "thank you" to the Mongolian television. However, we had not expected a transmission at prime time.
A fun but exhausting day was coming to an end and we fell tired in the beds. When I grabed overslept my cell phone the next morning, I was almost hit. Did the date display really show 9/11? Before I woke Leander hysterically, I rubbed my eyes again and dared a second attempt. Damn, 11.09. !! Still!! Are we really that confused that it happened, that we forgot our flight back home to Austria? To be on the safe side, I rummaged through the plane tickets. It was written in black and white. Our flight left today at 6pm, and we had almost nothing prepared. I made Leander weaking up and jumped out of bed. Now everything had to go fast.
But for a coffee to sort the thoughts was always time. We rummaged through the To Do List for our departure, which we had prepared days earlier. The truck had to be made ready for winter, so we did not experience any unpleasant surprises when we returned. Systematically we worked off the points. Empty the water tank, disconnect the batteries, add winter supplement to the diesel tank, fill with antifreeze, empty the fridge, blow out the water lines with compressed air to get all the liquid out, computer backup, packing and much more ... and the welder we almost forgot. He also wanted to come.

At this point a big thank you to Anna, who helped with babysitting services on this hectic day that our son did not worsen the prevailing chaos. Finally, we got everything sorted and waited only for the craftsman who should finish the subframe. The appointment with the welder was at 2pm. But he still was not around at 2:15pm, we called the workshop owner, who had arranged the worker for us. He told us, that he was late, but would come reliably. We sat on needles and danced nervously around, at 4pm latest we had to make our way to the airport. Shortly before 3pm he appeared with the welder. When Leander saw the man, his jaw dropped one floor down. Please do not misunderstand now, but it was an older man who could not bend over like a young boy. How could he ever climb under the truck to weld the hard-to-reach spots? We were skeptical. A lot of time passed because we had to look for an extension cable to get power for the welding machine.

When that was in place, the welder peeled under the truck. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not set proper welds because he simply could not reach the required spots. Eventually Leander broke off the whole spectacle. Slightly annoyed, he complained to the boss if he did not realize that an older man would do much harder work than a young man, because the welding points are so hard to reach. But he could not elicit more than a grin. After all, he offered us to drive us to the airport. Since we had missed in the hectic rush to take care of a taxi, we had to accept his offer.

The unfinished subframe thus continued to be preserved as a large lump in the stomach area. That's exactly what we wanted to avoid!

We threw the backpacks in the trunk and said goodbye to our friends in a hurry. The drive to Genghis Khan International Airport took an hour. I kept looking at the clock. But end well, all right! The luggage was checked in and we boarded our boarding passes to the departure gate, where our machine was ready to board. A big stone fell from our hearts, that we had not missed the machine.

We are coming home!

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