We’ve made it to Olgii!

July 26th, 2008 § 9 comments

We have made it to Olgii, the town from which we will depart to the Tavan Bogd National Park to camp and view the eclipse. We arrived yesterday after a very BuMpPy 5-hour journey via hired jeep from Hovd. Benjamin summed the drive up nicely when he said, “It was like driving from one landscape painting into another.” It was also a bit like a safari-I didn’t realize how exciting it feels to see animals in the wild, without herder or fence.

We saw bactrian camels racing each other across the steppe (bactrian camels have 2 humps), yaks grazing near shallow but fast moving streams, herds of goats and sheep, and of course horses. Some of the landscapes we traveled through were full of rocks (more rocks than I’ve ever seen in 1 place), and some reminded me of an underwater scene, by the gradation of colors that rose from the plain up mountainsides, shifting from unreal mossy greens to blue-ish green and then brown. We also passed through a multitude of weather systems: hot and cloudless sunny skies in one instant, gray skies with wind and rain another. All along the way are the white circular-shaped gers (maybe more recognizable to you as yurts), where nomadic Mongolians live temporally-they move up to 5 times a year.

Our time in Hovd is a story in and of itself-I have several pages in my journal devoted to the brief time period of having arrived there and leaving it (less than 24 hours). I’m not sure I’ll cover all the details here, but suffice it to say that it was on arrival in Hovd, in this dusty nowhere of a place with all the charm a crumbling communist-era desert town can offer, that we started to wonder if we were really stupid for coming to Mongolia on a DIY tour.

Arriving at the airport, there are no taxis or touts as we’ve become used to in even the most remotest places in our travels (sign number 1 that you might be in over your head). Having asked a kid (named Hasha) hanging around the airport if he might give us a ride into town, we did secure transport, but he had to stop at his family’s home on the way to pick up his father because, he said with a giggle after we were on our way again, “I do not have a license.” When his father came out to the car, he was followed by the boy’s entire family who joined him, apparently, to see what Hasha had picked up or gotten himself into. Benjamin and I joked that his parentslater scolded him, “Again with the tourists? When we let you borrow the car…”

It’s unclear whether it was a random event, this family-style taxi service, so Benjamin asked, “Do you do this often?” and Hasha said that he didn’t, but nadaam was the next day (nadaam is an annual festival that involves horse racing and wrestling competitions). ‘Crap’ I thought to myself-it might be hard to find a room or a driver that wanted to leave the next day due to the festivities-our goal being get to Olgii! Get to Olgii! Get to Olgii! Indeed, it was hard to find a room, but we managed to squirrel our way to an overpriced hovel for ‘one night only’, and in the dark and after having been to another hotel that Benjamin described as ‘scary’, we were happy to pay $35.00 for a dingy room with no hot water and only 1 pillow.

Before leaving us, Hasha promised to help us find a ride to Olgii the next day-suggesting that perhaps his uncle would make the trip. He promised to return the next morning at 9 am and that he did, to our delight, for after our 1 night in Hovd, with crap for accommodation, and with Benjamin waking ill, and me feeling as if we’d landed on the moon (with all the hospitality that would entail, which is little), getting to Olgii became more of a mission than it ever was.

After a confusing morning of walking around town with Hasha, which I won’t bore you with the details, we finally ended up at the family’s home (once again with the tourists!) and made the deal in the family’s ger over milk tea, bread, and pungent yak cheese-Hasha and his uncle agreed to take us to Olgii that day. We left an hour later, after picking up a friend of Hasha’s uncle who, Hasha said, “…knows the way; there are many tracks.” Benjamin whispered to me, “I thought there was a road.” But a road in Mongolian terms is a track in the dirt-or several of them actually, running in parallel, or parting in places to overcome obstacles, such as flooded rivers or muddy traps, and others that lead off to some other place, where we didn’t want to be.

One final hitch in our grand getaway was a police check point on the one road out of town, set up to catch drivers with expired (or without) licenses. As our luck would have it, of course, Hasha’s uncle didn’t have a valid license. It was confiscated and after about 20 minutes of pleading with the police to give it back and let him be on his way, Hasha’s uncle returned to the car and drove off without it, checking the rear view mirror to make sure the police were not in pursuit. The heavy nadaam traffic kept them distracted, as well as the another police man further down the road, who we evaded by pretending to be nadaam attendees headed to the parking area (undefined as it were). Once far enough to get away undetected, Hasha’s uncle veered toward the road, and sped off leaving the issue of his license to deal with on return to town.

Benjamin and I breathed a huge sigh of relief that the issue didn’t send us back to Hovd to start the process of finding a ride all over again, especially as we’d filled the jeep’s double tanks up with petrol ($100.00) and had been feeling unlucky up until this moment, as if there were some force working against the success of our trip. For me, all along during the planning stages, getting to Olgii was always the important thing and also became the one thing that proved to be the most difficult thing to arrange. I’d always thought that once in Olgii, we could relax about the success of our eclipse trip… and we can, weather permitting.

Despite one last hurdle of maybe not having a tent to camp with (the town is dry with all the eclipse chasers), we’ve not only secured one but also found another group of DIY eclipse chasers looking for 2 people to join their group and share the cost of petrol… it’s exactly the opportunity we were looking for and it found us, while sitting right here in this internet cafe, typing up this post.

We plan to leave the day after tomorrow, on Monday and camp for 6 days. Unless I find time to write more tomorrow, the next post will be a glorious, life altering description of the sight of the eclipse… or it will be a description of a really expensive, far-away-from-home camping trip.

I do have much more to say about Mongolia in general; I have 20 full pages in my journal since arrival but have had little opportunity to write about my experiences on this blog (or have been shut down by sudden power outages).

Clear skies!

§ 9 Responses to We’ve made it to Olgii!"

  • gwen says:

    aha! I love the comment regarding safari, next trip- to africa with mum!

    glad to read that all is as well as can possible be in
    a location which sounds as remote as mars…accounts sound enticing and exciting,at least from the safety & comfort of my bed. have fun, take good care & stay in touch.

  • gwen says:

    So glad to hear you have landed & are now interested in going on safari with me!

  • agent k says:

    i’ve already got a picture of hasha in my head (although, everytime i read it– because of the spelling– i read “hasna”, a morroccan classmate of mine)! can’t wait to hear more, xo.

  • bobbi says:

    Hi travelers of the remote and wild world. Your harrowing escapes sound familiar to me even though 180 degrees different. Finding my way around a warm (??) and friendly environment, esp the computer and book order supplies makes me chuckle. I am settled in and orders are a breeze now – I look forward to them. All is well here and I hope there too! Have fun – Clear Skies!! mom

  • julie says:

    damn you guys were lucky to meet those peeps in the cafĂ©, how cool! I can’t wait to see your pictures cheryn. hope you’re feeling better benjamin (no yak milk!). xo j

  • ghwang says:

    Can’t wait to read about the eclipse. Hoping for a great story.

  • Rob says:

    What a scene. Looking forward to the photos.

  • Karen Sivak says:

    I’m looking at photos of the eclipse on Yahoo and it’s pretty amazing. Can’t imagine what it’s like in person. Looking forward to seeing your photos. Take care,

  • Benjamin says:

    I just have to add here about the night in Hovd- The sound of dogs barking all night long. My mental picture of the amount of dogs sounded like a moat around the town filled with dogs, an entire sea of dogs barking and answering each other creating this chain reaction and barking dog loop that seemed to echo for miles around. This same vision was also re-enacted in Olgii for a few nights, fortunately not all of them.