On the road

August 8th, 2008 Comments Off on On the road

It usually takes a a week or so to get “That” feeling. You get over your jet lag, lower your expectations of everything, adjust your gut to the local fare, downshift into the low and slow gears, and in most cases “That” feeling arrives with mixed company in establishments that serve beer and the local version of meat on a stick. A day after arriving in Olgii is when I knew I was officially on the road.

Olgii is located in the far west of Mongolia. The borders of China, Russia, and Khazakstan are all within a days driving distance. The main spoken langugage Khazak is followed by Mongolian and Russian. The people are a mix of Sufi Muslim and (insert here) mostly herders and their traditions have probably not changed for hundreds of years. Time in Olgii creeps along, unlike the wind and dust that relentlessly eat away at the soviet era buildings that populate the town. It is still pretty “wild west” out here, which seems to draw adventurous characters from all over the globe.

“That” feeling came while making friends in the local beer garden. Beer garden is a loose term here. It is more a place that the local young couples or groups of young people come to escape the very close living quarters that most families share in their Ger. It is also a place for families to come to with their children to talk, eat, and drink (the Sufi’s are a little loose and slightly tolerant with alcohol consumption) with friends. There are small pavilions scattered around a walled-in garden with a swing-set in the middle and various plastic children’s riding motorcycles or cars and some music playing. There are also 5 or 6 very small Gers that couples can rent out for maybe a little more private time, and backpackers can rent out (yes, odd as that sounds you can stay in a Ger in the beer garden). From what I could tell it was not quite a love hotel thing, the culture is fairly conservative so more a Ger of our own for a few hours kinda thing.

Back to “That” feeling. I could write pages about all the details of each eccentric character I met but it seems more fitting to just throw them out like the lost hollywood casting director’s face book that fell from the sky and blew into Olgii: the bohemian Italian pizza maker hallucinogen inspired oil painter; the Lithuanian linux head-cum-Mongolian Altai guide with a penchant for vodka and beer; the Swiss-French 21 year old girl with a hidden penchant for the Russian Soul who had hitchhiked through Russia to Olgii to try and scan the eclipse with a camera-obscura,; the professor of Botany from Moscow with his two muscle bound Russian equivalents of the Navy SEALS (these three brought out the hidden penchant of the former); the Dutch-English girl who went to high school in Saratoga CA who was taking a break from a road trip gone awry; the Australian Cambodian Ger merchant who was spending the summer ferreting out new Ger to export while staying with a local family; a tech geek from SF who worked some magic for a Khazak TV documentary film maker who happened to be filming in the area; a certain girl from SF who’d come all the way to stare at the sky for 2 minutes to see why eclipse-viewing is so addictive and found she was our eclipse expert. There are a few more characters, but that’s another night in a Ger camp down the road, and includes 4 naked men and 1 woman (yours truly, Ben and Cheryn) in a Russian Banya.

All of the above found sitting under the abundant stars around a few plastic tables and chairs in one evening in the middle of nowhere Mongolia. “That” is the warm feeling of being on the road.

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