There are no Russian wives on the steppes…just models
Novosibirsk, Russia to Mongolia
Novosibirsk was our first taste of a real Russian metropolis. A slight detour as we were about to send Patrick off by the the states to see his family, a bittersweet ending to his journey with us. Because...well...we were supposed to already be done with this trip... on the 31st of August. But sometimes in life you are taken on these wondrous detours to see new sites, meet new people and experience amazing things! You just gotta roll with it and not fight it...at least on epic travels. Schedules unfortunately are a thing of a past on this trip...
We arrived during rush hour, and the size and sprawl of Russia’s 3rd largest city was quickly apparent. The hour spent in traffic was offset by the realization that the city was almost entirely populated by Russian models. We managed to pick our jaws off the floor and find our way to Rocket Hostel. We were warmly greeted by Alina, a really friendly staff member. The hostel has this family feel about it. There was a surprising lack of English spoken, but Alina became our friendly neighborhood translator and guide.
After a nostalgic afternoon sorting our supplies, photos and nicknacks, we hit the town to send Patrick off. The night out proved to be great for making tons of unique Russian friends, but bad for sending Patrick off, as he tuckered off early, clearly drained from the trip.
Then... some true conflict and a side of the human spirit that no one wants to see surfaced... I can't blame he-would-must-not-be-named-cuz-he-got-issues-here-and-abroad.... I mean, traveling across all of Europe and soon a majority of Asia with four boys in a stuffed metal tin is bound to being about some issues. It's surprising that it took this long to come about. A fist was thrown in a drunken rage... as alcohol causes many people to act like idiots and illogically... Things that are logical to me cannot be communicated fast enough to drunken people...The stupid thing is that what set this whole debacle off was a stupid wallet and us not wanting Team member X to go out with some young drunken Russians. We were trying to communicate that he should go to sleep and not spend any more money, but he was switchtracking and focused on his own pleasures and wanted to drink more even when he was clearly drunk...In the end, we sadly gave up and went away divided... you can't reason with drunks...
My advice to other teams doing this next time..
- talk about your expectations for the trip... ever so often as interests will change.
- don't bring your baggage from home on to the trip
- keep an open mind
- never hit your teammate. there is never a situation where this is necessary. don't be an ass.
The awkwardness of the previous night hung over our heads the next day... unbeknownst to Patrick whom conked out early...So to mask thing awkwardness we then spent most of our 2nd day in Novosibirsk searching the city for tires that would fit our tiny Polo (and were within our price range). This was our one last adventure with Patrick. Also because Patrick had popped our tire driving around the night before. We definitely need all out tires in Mongolia. We are smart like that. :P
The adventure landed us at a tiny tire shack, where we found that all our tires were rubbed raw down to the wire mesh... amazingly the mechanic had 4 used tires of similar size (Our car has tiny wheels..13 inches).
We ate complimentary melons and attempted to converse with the local drunk, as our car was prepared for the final leg of our journey.
After Josiah and Marshal said many a declarations that we would return to Novosibirsk in order find wives (and a few heartfelt words from Patrick), we headed off to Biysk to find us some Kiwis (Team Karma Kar). We were significantly lighter in weight, but had hearts heavy with Patrick gone.
In Biysk, we were able to track our kiwi friends down in the next town over after asking around at some hostels. We also joined up with Team Slightly Lost later that night.
We ended up camping in an abandoned hanger on the border as the border was closed for the night. We strung up hammocks and braced for the cold night ahead…
At the border the Russians guards tore our cars apart looking for drugs, while the Mongolian guards were much nicer, only kicking us out briefly while they ate lunch.
The steppe home of Chinggis Khan was virtually unchanged since he left it in 1227 AD. Western Mongolia was a rugged expanse of sparse, rocky flat-land surrounded by spectacular snowcapped mountain peaks. The landscape varied greatly between coarse rock and sand, to coarse rock and sand with patches of rough grass. It was days into Mongolia before we saw our first tree or large bush. Despite the barren landscape, the beauty was absolutely breathtaking. The sky was always a stunning blue with clouds that appeared almost cartoonishly perfect and as white as “#FFFFFF”(hex code, anyone?). There were enormous herds of goat, sheep, cattle, yaks and horses wandering the open expanse, usually without a shepard in sight. White Gers (yurts) occasionaly broke up the natural expanse as they dotted the horizon in small clusters.
Our first experience with local Mongolians were a bit mixed to say the least. We stopped to help 2 guys on a motorcycle whom had run out of gas. Team Karma Kar out of the goodness of their heart gave them some fuel, but the sneaky dudes attempted to swipe an iPod from them and con us out of our binoculars. Luckily Tom was sober enough to catch them on a hunch and came to the rescue confronting them on their heist. Thankfully, that was the last time we had any bad interactions with any Mongolians, as everyone was fantastically inviting and hospitable.
We spend our first night camping in a derelict stone house, to get any shelter from the wind. We were immediately visited by our Kazakh-Mongolian neighbors whom gave us alcoholic donkey milk (bitter but with a cinnamon-y after-taste) and invited us to stay in their Ger. We unfortunately declined as the motorcycle thieves experience hung overhead… a decision that would haunt us forever.