Day 145 - south of Sukhbaatar to border crossing, to south of Gusinoozersk - Thurs 18 Jul
What a magnificent picture on waking of pine trees and a meadow of wildflowers. Just finishing our (Malaysian) baked beans when we heard Miles on radio to say he was outside farmers gate, but going on to border as they need to reach Ulan Ude tomorrow to lodge application for visa back into Mongolia (luckily ours is multiple entry). Gave farmer’s daughter a kangaroo keyring, and closed gate behind us. Road bordered by pines, some silver birch. Pulled in for diesel at Sukhbaatar, attendant had porcupine in box, which she lifted out and showed how to stroke quills down to avoid spikes. GirlRob gave her sticker of echidna, then the man wanted a sticker too – pointing to kangaroo - in end everybody got one!
Border crossing on both sides was ordered, organised, total calm – what a treat! As usual, details of crossing will be posted elsewhere on blog, but a couple of items of interest: GirlRob was asked to explain purpose of Mongolian business visa – officers happy to hear about MSM plans to import EarthCruisers, and of the inspection of Ozzie by their managers, engineers and mechanics. Delay at her passport window when they checked her face against picture and gestured downwards on the cheeks, which we interpreted as “stop smiling”, but then called over a woman who smiled, and mimed fat cheeks, then drawn cheeks indicating GirlRob has lost weight – a special moment!! And then customs wanted to see what was in gel packets used for toilet sanitation – good we had some fun moments, because the Russian side was more serious. They took 2 hours deciding whether our documents proved ownership (esp when they saw "registration is not proof of ownership" on the Australian registration paper. Marina was more than helpful interpreting and helping fill in forms – otherwise it could have taken double that time. Their customs inspection involved gloves and dogs, but finally we were free to go - and were finally in Siberia!!!
Stopped for lunch just up road, overlooking new housing development, like American barns, and plenty of pine trees. Moved our watches forward an hour. OMG Russian tanks, driving along a trench beside road; cheerful though, one soldier waved! Good road from the border for a short distance, then more ”normal”, then sand washes all along road. Oh oh, spoke too soon, large potholes appearing - work gangs filling with sand and gravel, but definitely bumpy ride. And a new concept - corrugated bitumen! Immediate changes noticeable - some blonde hair and European features appearing. Driving across remote borders is a more gradual awareness of population or demographic changes, rather than if we were coming in to cosmopolitan hotels via airports and their multi-nationalities. Caucasians are from western side. Pines everywhere, distinctive orange trunks and branches, random shapes and sizes, irregular distances between clumps, not the symmetry of plantations around our home in Bribie Island. Boriarty people Mongolia influence but not nomadic, are Buddhists with temples/stupas.
Turned off road at confluence of two rivers, into convenient clump of trees, (version of poplars) and wonder of wonders, a fireplace AND dead branches AND chopped logs - a fire for the first time in just under five months. What a joyous ambience - sudden changes to planned menus to include anything that can be cooked in foil covered in embers!! Guy appeared in a red Tshirt with the communist star on cap - quite fitting! A very very pleasant camp, including Miles' ceremonial burning of Andy's bed (our Chinese guide) and many funny stories. Our camping buddies that we left at home will be tickled to note that Bucky Squirrel got a mention, as did the misadventures of desert trips taking out all the tyres and one transfer case, and the unforgettable Roly, King of the Fire.