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Mongolia

Author: Maria Zehentner
Beitrag vom: 29.11.2017

Butter for breakfast!

Mongolia, August - September 2017

The remaining 80 km to the Mongolian border, we drove in convoy with the British guys. The rush of waiting cars on our arrival was limited. Leander turned off the engine and marched to the toll booth to check the situation. When he came back, he said that we could adjust to a longer wait. An Austrian father-son team, which stood at the pole position of the queue, had been waiting for hours for no apparent reason.

As it got too cold in the cab, we climbed into the back, turned on the heater, and lit the gas stove to cook. In Russia, we got several kilos of blueberries at a hammer price, which we then converted into delicious black berry pancakes. Of course, we did not let our four English friends hang and also provided them with extra calories and hot tea, that kept them warm from inside.

At some point the barriers opened and the run on the authorities was opened. The Russians were friendly, relatively quick, and did not interfere with a quick departure. As usual, the truck was left unchecked and we got the green light for the passage.

We gondled about 20km through no-man's-land before we showed up with the Mongolian colleagues. There was a small crowd of people in the terminal building. The officials in all seriousness demanded a claim of all personal belongings to subject them to the scan of the device. We had no idea what we should have showed them. Plates, cups, clothes, groceries ... all of our belongings were in Akela, and unlike most of us waiting at customs, we did not come back from shopping in Russia. Armed with our passports including the valid visas, we walked to the counter. When it was our turn nobody asked for personal belongings, but apparently we did not have an important document. What? No idea. The official kept asking us to present this paper. We rummaged in our document folder, but found nothing he was satisfied with. None of those waiting seemed to be in possession of this important note. The line behind us grew longer and longer. As it became too stupid for the official, he slammed a white note on the desk and asked us to scribble on the missing information,which he could laboriously transferred to his computer. After doing this, he was satisfied and let us go.

 


Our cross was the next problem. When entering, we put only the papers of the truck, as always actually. But an official had noticed the Honda on the rack on his surveillance monitor. So we had to do paperwork again for the bike. After lots of discussions, we received the customs papers for the bike aswell. The missing Russian exit stamp caused a short confusion, but the presentation of the second passes put everything back in the green light and made finally everybody smile. We were done and allowed to go to Akela. Two officers followed as and jumped into the truck and opened the drawers. One of the two said very casually, that we should clear the entire contents under Lennox`s bed, it`s like a cellar in a house. Leander started laughing out loud and made the man understood, that we have no glue what he was talking about. At some point he gave up, mumbled something in his beard and finished the inspection. We were ready for going to Mongolian after a total of six hours. The barrier opened to us and we were allowed to drive through.

We were now officially in Mongolia. Before we started the trip, we often indulged in visual visions of this distant and culturally alien country. What would expect us except yak and yurts? We left everything open and were curious.

As for the fierce Russians, we were also warned against the evil Mongols. Raiding in cities, throwing stones at tourists, we should be prepared for all this. Well, we did not take the well-intentioned advice lightly, but we remained relatively calm, as nobody in Russia had torn our heads off.

One thing had come true though, the streets were in catastrophic condition. As soon as Akela's tires touched Mongolian soil, the bumping began. We had not got very far when John and Olli stopped at a house next to the road. Leander braked and got out too. A local stopped almost the passing cars, greeted us exuberantly and invited us into his house. It was already late and we wanted to move forward, but the two Englishmen drew it inside, because they were super hungry. In our first naivety we trudged after. But our alarms rang relatively quickly. In the living room sat half a dozen young and travel-experienced Mongol Rally participants and munching full steam. Partly a little bit puffed by the beer, they called out to us with bright red heads "Oh, the Mongolian hospitality - it`s so great!" Not awkward the strategy of the Mongolians. He knew about the fact that many "would-be adventurers" were entering his country at this time of the year. Food, alcohol, cigarettes, he had everything in his pantry. Of course not for free, as his guests suspected. After a cup of tea we asked for the bill. At 10USD this would have been the most expensive tea we ever drank. We smiled at him and gave him some Tugrik, we gave his little daughter some fruit before we left the field. Well, only from experience you become smarter.

The everlasting paperwork at the Customs and the misunderstood hospitality of the Mongol had already made it late. Without further incident, we reached the city of Ölgii, where we were looking for a local sim card. But since we were traveling we had somehow lost our sense of time and were on arrival completely baffled, that at 8pm no one could sell a phone card, since all the shops were already tight. Olli and John went for a snack. From Ewan and Ben we had lost every trace since the border.

On a lake just outside the city we made a meeting point with Olli and John.

As we drove out of town the sky darkened. Deep black clouds reared up in the mountains and pushed against us, fluffed up. Massive bolts of lightning shot out of nowhere like fireballs, followed by deafening thunder. Everything went very fast and it was too late to drive around. Apocalypse now! We just have to make sure that a furrow opens up to devour us. But something had mercy on us, and the greatest noise passed us by. It was already pitch dark night when we parked the truck at the lakeside, where we wanted to meet with the English. But we waited in vain. They were as if swallowed from the ground and without internet we could not make contact with them. A bit worried, we went to bed.

We did not set an alarm clock for the next morning. Ben and Ewan took this job by knocking softly on Akela's door. What a surprise? We had not expected the two. Blueberry pancakes and tea for breakfast, we did not have to persuade them. By the time we looked at the clock, it was already early afternoon. It was time to say goodbye. The boys moved to Ulaan Baatar and we to the Mongolian Altai. Olli and John still lacked every trace.

We had not come far. Since we saw a beige MAN truck with German license plates from afar. It was Markus. From stories of other travelers we had already heard of him. He was traveling with his wife and three kids. Unfortunately, he brought the kids and their mom in Ulaan Baatar at the airport, where they are already on their way backto Germany. In exchange, his two buddies from home, with whom he drove the truck home. Much to Lennox's sorrow, who would have looked forward to company.

The three guys were heading to a small bay on Tolbo Nuur Lake, which Markus already knew. He invited us to follow him, if we did not do anything better. We decided to follow them. Cross-country we chugged after the MAN and set it off, directly on the lake shore.

The bleak looking landscape of Tolbo Nuur Lakes, unfolded just 20km off the paved road between the cities of Ölgii and Chowd, invited us to stay. Despite the 2,080 meters above sea level, the slightly salty water in summer is warm enough to bathe in it. On a clear day, the treeless bank offers views of the Sairyn Uul (3,981m), a glacier peak to the east. We felt that the water was now too cold to splash around, but at the end of the day, a Mongolian boy gave us the feeling of beeing spoilt humans, needing warm water for a shower.

The MAN truck was a welcome change for Lennox, and Markus had no problems with our kid rummaging through his children's toys. Maybe he was also so relaxed, since he munched on the third piece of cake in Akela while he reported on his travel experiences. Too bad that we were not allowed to get to know the family "completely", it would have been a great exchange of experience. The next morning Markus and his crew left us. Their time management was very tight. In three weeks they had to be at home in Germany.

Wrapped in warm down jackets and caps on our heads, we explored the surrounding hills the next day. From the top you could spy yurts and many families picnicked on the lake. When we returned to Akela, we also had company. A family from Ölgii approached us with fresh melon and bombarded us curiously with questions. However, I could barely avert my gaze from their son, who had been like a whale for over 30 minutes in the ice-cold water and visibly enjoyed it. For us, the shower in the morning already had the character of a test of courage. Even Lennox, our spartiat about coldness, cried while washing his hair, cause of pain, as I poured the water over his head.

Unfortunately, time did not leave us untouched and forced us to drive on. After a long day driving along the south route we stopped in Chowd. There we rummaged through a supermarket, which struck us in the truest sense of the stool. I do not know who put the flea in our ear, that in Mongolia food would be scarce. I'm talking about the cities, because it was really difficult to get food overland. On the contrary, there was everything, even fresh fruits and vegetables were offered at moderate prices. Of course, with the awareness that the products were mainly imported from China, as much as others. Because the barren soil of the country did not really allow agriculture.

The only problem was, how and where can we fill up our water tanks. The much praised water houses, where you could get water for a small fee, stayed away, we did not see a single one. Or we were just too stupid to recognize them. Anyway, we found no way to fill our tanks. When it was already dark, we left the city and... what was that? Could that maybe be a water house? We stopped and knocked on the door of the associated house. A man opened and told us that there would be no water until 7am in the morning, because there is no electricity left today, for pumping the water.

Well, we overslept and did not show up until 11:00 am with the consequence, that the water was already off again. "The early bird catches the worm," how much I hate that saying. But we were lucky in bad luck, a hotel right on the street let us fill our water tank willingly with their garden hose.

The slopes on which we moved were more than modest. We were shaken up in the cab, which made us kind of car sick. Actually, we wanted to drive to Altai as quickly as possible. This conditions would have meant another day of driving, which nobody wanted. The Khar Us Nuur thwarted our plans. After a short consultation, we decided on the little detour. Anyway, Lennox was "pro" in everything that had to do with See, and there was nothing wrong with a little jolt break. After a few kilometers cross-country through the steppe, we reached the water surface. This spot was not suitable for bathing. Almost the entire bank was moorastig and covered by high reeds. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic backdrop. We parked Akela near the water and explored the area for a while. Horses grazed around us, and a variety of different bird species inhabited the shore.

The Khar Us Nuur National Park around the lake, which protected one of the most important wetlands in Mongolia by sheltering more than 200 different species of birds. It really looked like a fantastic bird paradise.

To make the shore even more creative, we rummaged through the water colors and decorated the surrounding stones with beautiful colors and patterns, rather we returned to the asphalt relatively early on the day after.

On completely new paved roads, we progressed quickly and reached in the evening, the 400km distant city of Altai. On a hill near an airport, we found a suitable parking space with excellent internet access, which was very convenient, because, now we could do some research on the Khar Nuur Lake. Markus raved about the lake, which was to be lined on the south bank of huge shifting dunes, which flowed directly into the water.

 


However, the lake meant a detour of over 100km cross country on Mongolian slopes - oneway. The Mongolian hinterland required a degree of skill in navigational arts. From countless slopes and trails that radiated in all directions, the right one had to be found emotionally. The last piece to the sand dunes apparently contained a key point, that was difficult to crack, for Akela, maybe.

Sonja and Michael, the German couple with whom we spent time at Issyk Kol Lake in Kyrgyzstan, were currently on site. After a phone call with Sonja we were hardly smarter than before. They could not relieve us of the decision, if we should dare it or not.

All of them, Markus, Michael and Sonja had trucks that were a lot more off-road than our Oldi. But the emotionally charged images we found on the internet helped us making a decision. We wanted to try it, according to the motto "who does not dare, who does not win"! We could still turn back. In addition, our sand trays have been left virgin since we started. They are just waiting for being used. So what could go wrong?

Shortly, after the town Altai, we left the south route and drove up to the connecting piece on to the middle route. Back on the usual bad roads, which let us fall into a well-known monotony, we decided in the early afternoon, to park the truck somewhere in the pampa off the slopes and enjoy the rest of the day.

With 300 sunny days a year, it was not surprising that we were lucky with the weather. We jumped out of the cab and absorbed the fabulous vastness and grandeur of the country. It was amazing how much "nothing" could impress this country. It often happened that one went for days in one direction and hardly met a human soul. Solely huge herds of horses, camels, sheep and goats offered a change. Who owned all these animals? Because only occasionally could one recognize from the distance a yurt from whose chimney smoke rose. Another mystery was the numerous empty bottles of vodka, which abounded in the area.

The engine was still warm when we saw a man in traditional dress riding towards us. He dismounted and came towards us. "Sain Banu" we greeted him in Mongolian. With a hand gesture he returned the greeting and immediately began to chat. With the greeting our vocabulary was already exhausted, but that did not bother anyone. The shepherd kept on chattering. He pointed to Lennox, grabbed him, and put the kid on his horse.

With coffee and cookies we learned that our camping spot was one of his grazing grounds for the cattle. He and his family lived behind the mountain in a yurt. It was not long before his neighbor joined, but on the bike. He, too, enjoyed the coffee excellently and both were not averse to a second cup. They explained that they were about to drive the cattle home.

After some time he got back on his horse and motioned for us to follow him. After about 15 minutes we reached his yurt. Alerted by the noise of the approaching truck, his wife, daughter and granddaughter peered out of the nomad's tent.

After describing the circumstances of our meeting with his family, we were warmly welcomed and invited to the dome tent.

In the middle of the tent stood an old wood-burning stove, there were three small beds and an old mirror dresser in it, on the neatly arranged make-up utensils, a shelf with cookware, a freezer .. that was it. No, just before I forget it, on a small stool stood an old TV with news flickering on its screen. As simple and spartan as the Mongolian hut was, solar panels, cell phones and the Internet had arrived.

Busy, the women put clothes and toys aside so we could sit down. The warm served yakmilk was not bad, maybe a bit salty. As we sat with our cups, the master of the house strode through the small wooden door and lay down on one of the beds in full gear with boots, waiting for the meal to be prepared by his wife in a large cast-iron pot by the open fire. The recipe is explained quickly. In boiling water, she cut pieces of yak meat, chopped onions into it and spaghetti. Let it simmer for several minutes, done.

The Mongolian cuisine is nothing for vegetarians. The nomad kitchen is careful to use resources sparingly, especially in the cold season. Every calorie is valuable and should not drip sizzling into the fire. It is mainly steamed and cooked but not fried. Greasy dishes are prepared.

Each of us was handed a bowl full of soup. It did not taste bad, for my part I swallowed the greasy pieces of meat without chewing. After lunch, we tried to learn a little bit from each other, which was not easy due to lack of language skills on both sides. We learned that the daughter's husband worked abroad to earn money. One did not look at the young woman, but she was 5 months pregnant with the second child. The sheep, goats and cows that guarded them were not their property. For a fee, they provided the animals for someone else. Before winter, they moved with their sparse possessions in the city. In the meantime, Lennox was walking around between the livestock with the three-year-old daughter and had fun. Especially the dogs he was very fond of, as everywhere when, he ran into one.

A nomadic day starts early in the morning. When we saw that the head of the family was already closing in on the conversation, we thanked him for the food and got into the truck.

The next morning, we were annoyed that we had missed the daily ritual of milking. We would have liked to help or at least watch. Unfortunately, we had gotten out of bed too late. As so often, doing errands like editing photos, writing reports, or general research, prevented you from going to bed early, which then became noticeable when you got up in the morning. The women were already done with the work and invited us for breakfast.

Lennox was the first running into the yurt. Leander and I followed a few minutes later. We had not reached the tent yet, when our son rushed towards us and shouted: "Mum, Mum, please tell them that I can not eat this!" No idea what he was talking about, we went back together to the warm accommodation. He showed me the bowl the woman had offered him and it was - butter! Butter for breakfast! With such nutritious food even the stomach of our dwarf who otherwise was not sensitive at all, rebelled. Friendly, we gave the woman to understand that we already had breakfast. We did not mean to be rude, but pure butter was too much for our Western stomachs. The woman just smiled and handed over the bowl to her little daughter, who ate with a great appetite.

For us it was a great honor and an extraordinary experience to be a guest in a yurt.

Of course, the family shared their food with us and also gave us a large piece of yak meat on the way. As a small thank you, we returned the favor with a glass of honey and some toys for the little one. The young woman wrote us her e-mail address on a piece of paper with a request to send them the photos that Leander had shot. Then it was time to say goodbye. We were already a long way from the yurt, but in the rearview mirror I could still see the silhouettes of the two women waving goodbye to us.

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