Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Main roads

Yesterday I took a Russian jeep (uaz) about 240kms from Hovd to Olgii. The road was a single lane unimproved dirt road (the best sort in Mongolia), and the trip took about 7 hours. Of course, the road has lots of bumps and corrugations, so the jeep, whose doors barely closed, was weighed down. In addition to the luggage of myself and my 2 travelling companions, there were 10.5 people in the car. 4 in the front (one of whom was pregnant), 5 in the middle (one a toddler), and two in the back. Luckily we were packed in so tight we didn't feel the bumps!
The road took us up a series of valleys and passes surrounded by snow covered mountains, not unlike parts of australia. There were no trees in sight, and often herds of goats or yaks covered the road. Gers in the distance added to the atmosphere, although the principle component was dust, stirred in huge clouds by large russian trucks (kamaz) with multiple trailers. The road often split into ten parallel streams of equal bumpiness, as the ground was usually pretty smooth.
As we drove past a very large high altitude lake the driver pulled over for the second time and we all burst out like a magic trick. Previously, the driver had switched tanks, refilled the radiator, twisted some wires together under the wheel and cranked the engine to get us going. This time, things were more serious - the right rear tire had blown out (I hadn't even felt it). The jack was put in position, and copious muscle available to lift the corner of the car and wind the jack. At last we removed bolts and the tire, and wheeled the spare into position. It had several large gashes in the rubber, but we were assured the inner tube was good. Sadly, the car was still too low for the inflated tire, so Michael resourcefully grabbed a rock and dug a hole under the hub to give enough space. Soon we all crammed back in and were on our way.
Later in the evening, we arrived at the state boundary border post, and local law meant putting the extras in the front into the middle, so we wouldn't get fined for overloading the car. For a while, we had seven in the middle, then proceeded unhindered. This was all old news to Michael, who had taken a Russian van for 56 hours from UB to Hovd, in which there were 24 people in a vehicle of similar size! The girl who sat on his lap for the duration of the trip ended it by proposing!
Today it was raining, but we proceeded to the muddy and cow-adorned market regardless to buy provisions for a five day trip to the base of Tavan Bogd Uul, the highest mountain (and longest glacier) in Mongolia. For this reason, there are no photos or updates for a few more days. Hopefully it wont rain the entire time!

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