Monday, February 1, 2010

A bend in the road

Sometimes getting somewhere is half the fun or is the adventure itself. If your choice is to drive a vehicle in Mongolia then be ready for an interesting journey. Mongolia only has about 1,500 miles of paved road, the rest is, well, natural. This is where those 4-wheel drive vans that I talked about in my last blog come in handy.

The first morning in Mongolia our group (Alana, Linda, Jim, and myself) boarded a plane and flew to Ulgii(Olgiy) in the northwest region of Mongolia. Our first leg of the trip was to be through the beautiful, glacial valleys of the Altai Mountains. We traveled this area in an old but dependable 4-wheel drive van owned by Bakitjan, our driver. In addition, our team included Boletbek,our guide/translator and Kuatai our fantastic cook. Occasionally we were able to drive on hard packed roads but more often than not we made our own paths. Not too surprising since we were between 8,000 and 11,000 feet in elevation and rain was common.

Sometimes the roads would get less like a road and more like something that sort of resembled a set of tracks. Some maneuvering was required or we might need to get our speed up in order to move through the muck, especially if there was some incline.

The roads we traveled included narrow bridges over rivers. And then there were the paths that literally went through the rivers such as the crossing of the Tsagan Gol. Due to the high level and fast movement of the water our driver felt that we might have some difficulty crossing. After camp was set up we found two Tuva riders who were in the area hunting marmots and they agreed to guide us across. At 9:00 am the next morning, when the water was at its lowest, our guides on horseback successfully found a way for us to get to the other side.

Then there were the roads that didn't even remotely look like a vehicle belonged there such as the rocky slope up a mountain.

Timing is everything and good negotiating skills are helpful when timing is bad. On a narrow dirt road as we were making our way up a large, steep hill we came face to face with another vehicle. After some discussion between the drivers, the other van made a hard right over the edge and went down the side of the hill creating his own path as he went.

The deep set tracked paths made it very clear where you should go but didn't give too much margin for slight swerves.

And finally, what would a road trip be like without asking for directions at least once?

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