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Author: Maria Zehentner
Beitrag vom: 15.11.2017

The Altai – the Siberian Switzerland

Russia, August 2017

After Byisk, the Altai Mountains finally smiled at us with their beauty. Thousands of kilometers of lumbering on the Russian roads made it fun to be back on the road. Even Leander could enjoy the dreamlike landscape while driving. With Gorno Altaisk, the district capital of the region, the gates of "Siberian Switzerland", as the Altai also likes to be called, opened. Majestically, glaciated mountain ranges rose above a unique untouched and mysterious nature. Dense coniferous forests huddled close to the banks of the raging Katun River, which meandered through the landscape. In between, alpine meadows appeared again and again in front of our eyes, where cows, sheep, goats and horses ate with relish.

Leisurely we rolled down the street, looking for a nice parking space, which unexpectedly presented a great challenge. Because not only we noticed that the Altai was a dreamlike patch of earth. At every turn it was buzzing with tourists seeking relaxation. Which was not surprising at this time of the year. It was August and thus holiday season. Huge holiday resorts struck us in the eye, which were carelessly built into the landscape to meet the horrendous onslaught of guests. Rafting and trekking tours on foot as well as on horseback were offered at many street stalls. Restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops shot out of the earth like mushrooms. Two, three times we stopped at a booth and inquired, because we would like to have experienced a rafting trip. But none of us had the desire to be penned in a dinghy with 20 other people and gondola for two hours in a quiet spot of the Katun River.

No rafting, but a nice meeting. Anna and Heiner, a German couple with whom we were already in contact on Facebook and, who were also heading to Mongolia, crossed our paths and recognized Akela on the roadside. They stopped to introduce themselves and chat a bit. Their travel plans were very similar to ours. We exchanged phone numbers and were sure that sooner or later we would meet each other again. You can find out more about them here:

In my opinion, the Altai region is a victim of the wrong tourism marketing. People want the fast money and do not care about the environment around.

Often, when we sat in the cab without Lennox and made kilometers, we lost ourselves in discussions that we think, we are traveling several decades too late. The world, as we would have liked to see and perceive, probably existed only in our imagination. This does not mean that we started with a romantic, naïve attitude. But it was sometimes shocking to see whole regions including their inhabitants exploited for tourism and fast money. Without regard to losses! An action, or a way of thinking that can only be reversed with great difficulty, as you can see from many examples. I only say ski areas.
Was it stupid of us to be in search of a country where people lived in freedom and harmony? A country that was not on any map, not even outlined as a white spot? Hidden, somewhere in the mountains, far away from our conflicting civilizations. Far from everything. Only findable for the one who laboriously sought the land. Maybe we still find it, we do not give up hope!
It was therefore not surprising that we drove up and down the Katun River for several hours to catch a suitable place. Until we finally came to a climbing park by accident. Why not? We had the climbing equipment with us. The complex looked very inviting and was integrated harmoniously into the landscape. We jumped out of the cab and strolled inside. A young girl came to meet us smiling and greeted us. Asel, that was her name, introduced herself as the junior manager of the facility.
For climbing enthusiasts, no wish remained open. In addition to the adult program, there was a separate area for kids, a flying fox and a via ferrata. Rock walls with different levels of difficulty for free climbing were also offered. For today it was too late to unpack the climbing utensils, because it was already beginning to dawn.

After Lennox had exhausted himself at the children's stations, and we had the OK from Asel to camp in front of the park, we returned to our cozy home and prepared the dinner.

Early the next morning, Leander climbed Akela's roof and picked up our climbing gear. We spent the whole morning alone in the rock walls and tried different routes. Even our youngstar did very well. As a reward, he was allowed to drive a round of Flying Fox, which was not entirely without. When he got to the jump point, he got his knees short term, but the curiosity on the adventure defeated his fear. Full of Adrenaline, he arrived at the bottom and did not stop chattering. He was so flashed from the drive. We also met Asel`s mother, who immediately grabbed Lennox. Like a grandmother she cared for him and coddled our little one all the time, which gave Leander and me after more than a year the opportunity, to try the via ferrata and finally come back into the wall. Finally an opportunity to do something together. These are such rare situations for a couple on a family trip. It was so much fun, that we climbed the tour the next morning a few more times. As it turned out, the owner of the climbing park, as well as her husband, used to be true luminaries in Russian climbing. She proudly presented us pictures of the past, where we saw people climbing the mountains with cotton gloves and hemp ropes. Amazing and impressive photos. With what Spartan equipment you used to go to the mountains in former times. Unthinkable today.

The climbing park also had a place for archery. Lennox tried with the crossbow, but the bow was way too big for him.

On our last evening together with the family, they invited us heartily for dinner. They prepared atraditional Tajik ploff over an open fire.

Unfortunately, after three days of climbing, time required hitting the road again. However, the next change was already at the door.

Peter and Margrit, the Swiss couple we met several times on our route, had changed their travel plans due to the fortunate circumstance, that they became grandparents, and returned back home. They crossed our way, coming from Mongolia. Peter sent us via Whatsapp a nice river side, where we could meet. It was always a joyful hello, seeing this nice two people.

During dinner outside, they provided us with plenty of information about Mongolia, which was our next destination. They left early the next morning, we stayed another day before we moved on.

The Altai was beautiful, but you could see that the barren landscape of Mongolia was approaching. The horizon became wider and more open again, the woods gradually fading, and the lush green of the meadows turned into the ocher brown of the steppe.

In the small town of Aktash we provided ourselves with the most necessary food and set off again. We were already several hours on the road when we accidentally discovered a nice spot off the road. Leander braked abruptly, and turned into the narrow bump. A small fenced plot was the object of desire. It looked very idyllic, a small stream made its way through the undergrowth, even a bench and a small table made of logs was set up. And it looked clean! In Russia, in general, both in the cities and in the countryside, the garbage problem was noticed, at least in the Altai. It was just stupid that the spot was blocked by a gate. But, no worries, we did not have to wait long for the owner to come. For a small fee, he opened the gate and let us stay inside.

In the Altai the temperatures were cooler than we were used to, which did not prevent Lennox from jumping into the freezing cold water. As the water was crystal clear, I made my way over the dirty laundry. Leander once again grabbed his fishing rod, which he had gotten from a friend, with great ambition. So far, he had not caught anything, but it could not be that difficult to keep the thing in the water and catch a fish for dinner. But I think fishing also needs to be learned and requires some experience and tricks. In the end he caught a very little fish, which hung desperately on the rod. No doubt, this fish was too small for dinner, that`s why we released it to freedom. But we were spontaneous and dispositioned. For dinner we grilled meat skewers at the campfire, where we additionally warmed us up, as it already began to shiver a little. We spent another day at the charming spot, before we moved closer to the Mongolian border.

After a relatively long day of driving, we parked Akela about 80km before the Mongolian border, at the foothills of the Altai region, on a large meadow. As we could already see on the approach, we were not the only ones who had the intention to park the car there. An old, rather wrecked VW Polo with English registration and a huge blue sticker on the driver's door with the inscription "Mongol Ralley" parked there as well. After we had turned off the engine, we went over to the two guys, who were busy building up their campsite and introduced us.

Olli and John seemed to be two interesting characters, and they were crazy about any nonsense, especially John. It was not surprising that Lennox was tethered close to his heels.

They were participants in the Mongol Rally, whose background or meaning we have not fully understood until today. Starting point was somewhere in Europe and the final end in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. There was no time limit for this distance and also no distance specification. The participants paid a high entry fee and crackled around with very old cars. Just for fun. In the end there is no real winner in this race. Either an exceptional car or an exceptional experience during the trip could be rewarded. The last two weeks of August were the temporary end of the rally. Until then, all participants had to be in Mongolia. Well then, we did not participate and therefore did not have to understand it. In our mind, Olli and John had already scored points in their funny and bright way.

We ate dinner and then started a campfire with them and roasted marshmallows for dessert. After we finally managed to get Lennox to bed, Olli suddenly appeared with a bottle of vodka. The percentage of the alcohol, they had gotten somewhere on the way was so high, that it was hardly possible to get the stuff straight down. With good music and conversation, which just did not want to go out, we only crawled into bed, when the last log was flared, which was late.

The next day started a little later for us, as we had to catch up on some sleep. When I opened the door and blinked from the truck, I saw that we had been added. A second old cart with a Mongol Ralley sticker had been added. Ben and Ewan, that were their names, were the rearguard of Olli and John and already knew each other. We rekindled a campfire, as the morning hours were already very fresh and got to know each other better over tea and coffee. Meanwhile, Lennox and John chased each other across the field with a pop-up gun. I do not know who of the two had more fun.

It was fun and varied to talk with the fours and spending time together. Since the chemistry seemed to harmonize with all of us, we decided to spend another day together, before the four aimed their goal straight to Ulan Bator.

At noon we all packed up our clutter and drove in a convoy to the town of Kosh Agach, where we once again did a bulk purchase, since we had heard and read that in Mongolia it should look rather scarce with fresh food. In two banks we tried our luck to exchange Tugrik, the Mongolian currency, but in vain. In the evening we camped together one last time and kindled a decent campfire. However, a strong wind stoped the nice talk very abruptly. Frozen, we crawl into our warm beds. I'm talking about our sleeping berths in Akela, which were warm. I would not have wanted to swap with the boys that evening. Their small tents were shaken by the storm and it all looked relatively uncomfortable.

The next morning we all headed for the Mongolian border.

Documenting our trip in words and pictures is a lot of work. And as you have seen, our website is ad-free. We want to leave it that way and want to avoid annoying you with advertising, but due to that we don't earn anything either with our website. If you like our blog posts and would like to support us, we would be very happy to receive a donation so that we can continue to report. Thanks very much!

Comments (2)

  1. Martin
    Martin at 21.12.2017
    Hallo liebe Reisefamilie,
    eine tolle Internetseite habt ihr auf die Beine gestellt und eine wirklich tolle Art zu schreiben hast du, Maria. Bis jetzt habe ich nur bis zu eurem Aufbruch gelesen, abber alle Texte bis dorthin sind schon klasse und toll formuliert - macht wirklich Spaß zu lesen!
    Die Umbaustorie von akela finde ich super informativ und prägnant. Und auch hier: Hut ab, dass ihr dieses Restaurierungs- bzw. Neubauprojekt angegangen seid (wider Willen ;-)). Und das, obwohl ihr keine Metall- und Karrosseriebauer seid - Respekt!
    Wir 4 (39, 38, 6, 4) tragen uns auch schon einige Zeit mit dem Gedanken rum solch eine Reise zu unternehmen und vor allem auch so ein Rundhauber zu bauen - geiles Teil ist euer WoMo geworden!!! Mal schauen was draus wird...
    Ich wünsche euch auf jeden Fall alles, alles Gute und hoffe, dass ihr viel Spaß habt. Ich werde im neuen Jahr ab eurem Reisestart weiterlesen und drücke euch alle Daumen - also zwei :-)!

    Viele Grüße in die Ferne!

    Martin (Troisdorf, NRW)

    P.S.: Ich hoffe ich habe es an der richtigen Stelle in den Blog geschrieben. Ansonsten einfach nicht veröffentlichen, ich wollte nur kurz los werden, dass ich eure Seite total klasse finde - und ich habe schon über 100 Blogs und Homepages von Expeditionsmobil-Weltreiseseiten gelesen.
  2. Maria Zehentner
    Maria Zehentner at 25.12.2017
    Hallo Martin,
    vielen Dank für die vielen Komplimente. Es tut gut zwischendurch immer mal wieder Lob zu bekommen, das motiviert zum weitermachen. Ja, unser Akela, im Grunde ist er super toll. Allerdings auf Reisen so wie wir unterwegs sind, haben wir die Erfahrung gemacht, dass er einfach eine Spur zu groß ist. Schwierig in Städten zu manövrieren, und Parkplätze zu finden. Von Kosten bei Verschiffungen oder Fähren will ich gar nicht reden, da schlägt der Kerl schon ordentliche Löcher ins Budget. Wir dachten halt, er sollte den Charakter einer Wohnung haben, vor allem weil wir mit Kind unterwegs sind (was im übrigen beinahe die Größte Challenge bedeutet). Wir wollten es halt so gemütlich wie möglich hinbekommen, was uns auch gelungen ist, doch wie gesagt, eine Nummer kleiner wäre in vielerlei Hinsicht praktischer und vor allem günstiger.
    Für euer Projekt wünschen wir euch alles Gute. Genug Nerven, Ausdauer, .....
    Viele liebe Grüße
    P.s. Wir glauben übrigens, dass es mit 2 oder mehr Kindern auf Reisen einfacher ist. Unserer vermisst ganz brutal Kinder im gleichen Alter zum Spielen. Als Erwachsener kann man das gar nicht kompensieren.

    Somit bis vielleicht bald mal irgendwo on the road

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