To The End of the Earth

I skipped blogging since Sunday because of a wild three-day trip to Mongolia and back. I have posted about the need to renew a document (which required leaving the country) and I planned twice already to go, but then just delayed until the very last moment: Monday.

Early Monday morning, I packed a day bag and went to the bus station (where the long-distance taxis gather). After asking around, I found a driver headed to the border town and within an hour, we were off. The road winds its way through the mountains for about 500km. We arrived in the evening, and it was too late to cross the border. So, I found the town’s most suitable (i.e. only) hotel and then wandered through the town and the market, standing out like crazy (I must have been the only non-Turk around that day). After a couple of hours of that, I went back to my room and read myself to sleep.

The next morning, I found a car willing to take me to the border. My plan was to cross the border and come back the same day, and that would have been great. As it turned out, I barely made it out before the border closed for lunch (yes, they close for lunch). And when I got across there were no more cars crossing the border back to Russia (one must find a car/van/truck and pay the driver to ride with him across; it is the only way). Good thing I brought my day bag.

The Mongolian side of the border is a semi-deserted town with about 20 old Kazakh-style houses (complete with dung roofs) and a few Mongolian Yurts. The cold, dry wind and blowing sand complete the sense of being somewhere very far away. I was the news of the day. Everyone wanted to see the strange bearded American. One person followed me around saying (in English), “I am your friend, I will help you.” Later, someone explained to me that that guy was the town’s ‘fixer’ and if I did have a problem he would 'fix it' for a fee. He knew everyone (even the officials). Thankfully, I did not need help. I located the only hotel, which consisted of a big hall full of beds that the owner rents ($1.50 a day) to travelers. No place to wash, no toilets, etc, just a warm sort-of-safe place to sleep.

By 8:30 this morning, I was at the border looking for a ride to Russia. A group of Kazakh-Mongolian merchants pulled up in their Uazik and kindly agreed to take me. Today’s border crossing was the most interesting for me – ever. If you are looking for an unusual adventure, try traveling and border crossing with Kazakh-Mongol traders. You will never be the same. I got my new document and was glad to set foot on Russian soil again. I found a car and headed north, back through all the high-mountain passes. The weather was worse this time (snow & ice), but I arrived safely at about 9 PM. What a crazy trip! There was more, of course, than what I have written here, but my tired brain needs rest.

The study on Sunday and the one I missed on Tuesday deserve their own post, and I will do that tomorrow. For now, I'll just say that we are very encouraged.


2 Responses to “To The End of the Earth”

  1. 1 steve March 16, 2006 at 4:46 am

    I love posts that talk about “Mongolian day trips” and feeling good to be back on Russian soil and border crossing with Kazahk(sp) traders. Those are the best. It sounds more like a cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones.

  2. 2 Alissa Maxwell March 17, 2006 at 2:19 am

    Sounds like a perfect story. I love that you noted with appropriate resignation that crossing the border in a car is “the only way.” 2 years ago, I think you would have spent much more time trying to figure out the “why” behind the situation. Now, you have a true Russian attitude to the circumstances. =)

    Can’t wait to hear about the start of your new group.

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