In one month and 5000+ km in Russia, I saw exactly one other traveler. Now in Olgii, remote western Mongolia, I have seen at least 15. Mongolia is on everyone’s bucket list, and I am beginning to see why.
I came the backdoor way, via Russia. Everyone else comes on the rough roads slowly being improved upon from the capital, Ulan Bator, 1000 miles (1600km) away. Olgii is a long way from anywhere, but if I plopped you in the middle of this dusty town, you wouldn’t feel it. There is enough bustle and energy to distract you from realizing that the next stoplight is days away.
Did someone say stoplight? Check out this video of Olgii’s super funky stoplight!
I met a couple who thought it would be an “adventure” to take a public bus from Ulan Bator. As Pico Iyer would say, it was the last word in discomfort. It took a grueling 48 hours, and they still looked shell-shocked from the recollection of it. They said they had the same driver the whole time, too. He was on automatic pilot, just making the minimum stops for quick food and toilet breaks.
I’ve seen these bus toilet breaks. The bus drivers don’t care where they stop. Neither do the passengers. Everyone just walks 20 steps away and drops their pants. It’s a sight to (un)see.
Speaking of cars, I see lots of Toyota Land Cruisers. Aren’t they crazy-expensive, especially by the time they wind up in Mongolia? Someone must be making serious coin to afford them, so this can’t be a lazy backwater. There’s a lot I don’t know.
The real mystery is the prevalence of the hybrid Toyota Priuses. Priuses!!! Give the Prius salespeople raises. I never guessed my first ride in a Prius would be from hitchhiking around town in western Mongolia, but there you are.
I moved into the Blue Wolf as fast as possible the next day. It was my first experience in a ger, or yurt. Gers are amazing. I’m an instant huge fan. $10 including breakfast. This is a video of what more groovy super funkiness looks like:
Blue Wolf Ger Camp is the go-to place for arranging tours in Olgii. An Italian couple wanted to do a two-day excursion, and (for a very cool, UAZ Soviet-era van) they were quoted $60 a day plus $80 for gas and to see an eagle demonstration it is another $25. The ger would be $10 plus breakfast.
I arrived in town knowing very little. I took a photo of the Olgii Wikitravel page. It’s so out of date, but it’s all I know. Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree is a shell of itself, as are Couchsurfing’s travel groups. I don’t know where to turn. Lonely Planet’s website, too, is very user-unfriendly. Talk about a fall from grace. Lonely Planet, you used to be a god.
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