Bayan Olgi Province, Mongolia
Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
92Trip End Aug 10, 2007
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Mongolia was a breeze to get into a truly felt like a breath of fresh air after Russia. Vanya and Tamir, our guides for Mongolia, met us at the border, an absolute necessity since there are absolutely no road signs in Mongolia. At the 8,000-plus foot high border post the paved road ended and we entered an even more wild country of high mountains, desert valleys, and wide pen grasslands. One of Mongolia's statistical superlatives is that it has the lowest overall population density of any nation, so this is real Big Sky type of country with plenty of open space. A large part of the population now lives in the capital city, Ulan Bataar (which we will not visit), and with nearly half the population nomadic or semi-nomadic there are only a few other small provincial capitals and villages scattered around the country. It's said that someone can still ride a horse all the way across Mongolia without ever crossing a paved road.
Vanya grew up as a real nomad and can probably teach a wannabe like me a thing or two about the nomadic lifestyle. Nevertheless, he comes equipped with a fancy G.P.S. device which he claims stands for "Ger Positioning System".
We descended from the border through a spectacular desert canyon inhabited only by a few ger (yurt) dwellers and their herds to a flat spot in the desert surrounded by standing red rocks near Achiit Nuur Lake. Within minutes of our arrival people seemed to be coming on horseback from miles around to watch us, this clearly being an area tourists never make it to. The westernmost province of Mongolia, Bayan Olgi, is mostly Kazakh and the people who joined us this night were ethnic Kazakhs rather than Mongolians. They were eager to show us around the rocks, have their pictures taken with us, and stand and watch us, seemingly most entertained by the fact that several men were actually involved in the cooking.