After a rough and rude introduction to Olgii, I was relieved to find peace and quite in my ger at Blue wolf camp. I hot footed it out of the crummy Bastau hotel and fell in love with my new find. My very own Kazakh ger, what a treat. It was unbelievably cold in Oglii, (it was only mid September) I can’t imagine how abysmal winter must be. But alas my little ger kept me very warm and happy despite the -10 degrees outside. My ger was so beautifully colourful inside.
It was adorned with the most gorgeous hand woven cloth in the curly Kazakh design that I’ve become so fond of. The craftsmanship that goes into making the wall hangings is like nothing I’ve seen before. Every color in the spectrum is visible, its like sleeping in a rainbow.
Unfortunately the few tourists I met were all either going back to UB or doing their pre-organised private tours. I didn’t find anyone to talk into coming along with me to explore the wondrous Altai mountains.
I spent the next few days arbing around the minute town and taking photos of friendly Kazakhs. It was amazing to see and feel how different their culture is to that of their neighboring Mongolian friends. Even in their facial features, one can spot ethnic Kazakhs with brilliant blue or green eyes, even one or two red heads with freckles. Quite astonishing! I also saw my first mosque of the trip near the city center and I felt like I’d got my first whiff of central Asia. Somehow, the Islamic traditions of Central Asia made it over the Altai range and into Olgii.
I bumped into a few people doing the Mongol rally, it was great to get a chance to speak English again. The stories they shared were fantastic, I admire them crazy buggers. What an adventure! Their van had all but broken down, doors were falling off, they were shoeless as well. But what an awesome bunch of crazies.
It’s hard to believe the communists got this far, Olgii has the distinct Soviet feel to it what with the drab concrete slabs around town, and the relics of that era still haunt Oglii. The school children still dress in soviet style school uniform. They are just delightful, I got many a greeting and smile from them on my lonely walks around town. Believe it or not there is a quaint little internet cafe in Olgii in the post office. Well, when there is power it’s great! I met some cool Polish tourists in there with whom I still keep in touch. The epic mom and daughter team travel to Mongolia every year, they drive from Poland to get to Olgii! Then they camp out for the summer on the steppe. Unfortunately they were already finished with their trip so I couldn’t travel with them. Growing ever desperate I went to a tour operator just off the square, to find out if there were any tourists who I could join along with. They didn’t have many tourists at all, tourist season was over kadovers. They quoted me a ridiculous amount for seeing the Altai mountains. I’m glad I didn’t fall for their offer. That afternoon, a strange looking man decided he wanted me to meet his family. So off we went on the back of his mo-ped to meet and great. It was rather strange, I found out later he wanted me to stay chez lui for 10 dollars a night. A trick my rally friends fell for. My gut told me to get out and away, which I did unscathed. He then wanted to take me up the hills to watch sunset. I politely declined, but he insisted. One thing I’ve learnt on my travels is how unbelievably persistent men can be. Anyways, that was one of many occasions where I escaped potential disaster.
I stuck it out another day, growing restless and desperate for tourists. There’s not much to do in the way of entertainment in Olgii. The bazaar is about as exciting as it gets. Vendors sell junk from China and try rip off tourists. The food, eeek. If you’re into salty milky chai and mutton noodles, you’ll be fine in Olgii. If not, I don’t know what you’d do?
There was no good news from Blue Wolf’s side either in terms of tours. Then quite suddenly, in the internet cafe I was so accustomed to frequenting, I was approached by Japur. He spoke fantastic English, and had his portfolio of pictures, letters and postcards from all the tourists he’d taken around Bayan Olgii. I read some of the heartfelt letters from old friends abroad which did reassure me. He’d taken many tourists from all over and many solo travelers as well. I told him I couldn’t afford a tour, he laughed in shock at the quote that the tourist company had offered me. He took me to lunch (at the Bastua!) and we poured over maps and routes. He knew his stuff alright, he knew every nook and cranny of the area as well as the all important weather conditions of the places I wanted to go. With calculators we managed to come to a price for mileage, suitable for my pocket and his profit. Most of the money went to the fuel costs. We needed alot of it, there was no guaruntee there’d be anywhere to fill up en route. Nevertheless, I could see where my money was being spent and It was far less than half of what the other tour operators wanted to charge.
The deal was that I was to pay half upfront, and the rest after returning to Olgii. Sure enough, but this was a huge risk I was taking. Me alone with a random driver I’d just met, exploring the wilderness of the Altai mountains in his rattletrap of a van. It sounded like the beginning of a horror movie to me. But without risk, life is bland. I didn’t want to waste any more precious time sitting around in Olgii for tourists who didn’t exist. So wham, we went shopping to get food and drink for the trip and a car charger for my camera batteries at the local bazaar. That charger was essential I didn’t have a spare battery and there would be no electricity out there. Again, dumb bloody luck I ended up with one. The thrill of being on the road again knocked me senseless, and the butterflies started rumbling again that night.