After gaining my bearings in Ulaanbaatar and making a few friends over rocket propelled grenades, I set off for Ölgii – a dusty city of roughly 29,000 people and the capital of the remote province of Bayan-Olgii Aimag.
From Ulaanbaatar, the flight to Ölgii Airport was just 2 1/2 hours in a noisy Saab 340B. Flying over the wide expanses of the Gobi desert and Altai mountains, it was difficult to imagine that I’d be traversing everything that was passing below me in just under a week.
Joined by Mel, a journalist from an English newspaper, I arrived in Ölgii without much of a plan; to get a ride into town and hope to hitch a ride. But in order to find a team to ride with, the only thing we could do was sit by the side of the town’s one main road and wait – hoping that whoever came along would be willing to pick up two outsiders carrying cameras and notepads.
So, we waited. We wandered markets and sat by the side of the road. After just a few hours in the sun, we were relieved and exhilarated to see a convoy of four brightly painted cars and one ambulance heading in our direction. We were no longer lost in the Gobi; we had found the chariots that would (hopefully) take us across Mongolia.
Transmongolia – Part Two: Hitching a Ride
Luckily for Mel & I, we quickly made friends with a team dubbed Party of Five; consisting of a team of three (one member had dropped out) friends from Australia and their mutual friend from England. They were proudly commandeering an old Ford ambulance that they had named ‘Olive’ – a reference to the lovely interior paint job in the back of the ‘ambo’, which had served as their home for the past several weeks. With just enough room for two more people and our bags, we hopped in and got on the road; eager to begin our journey.
It was short lived; only a few kilometers down the road, we encountered our first breakdown – a car that had left Ölgii before us had lost the use of one of its tires after slicing through the rim of the wheel. The unforgiving nature of the dirt tracks that served as highways here, suggested that we’d see many more breakdowns in the coming days. The dust, rocks, and bumps would surely put everyone to the test. So after a quick push to turn it the broken vehicle around for towing, the convoy packed up and headed out to scout for the evening’s camp site.
Finding the perfect spot wasn’t very complicated; we pulled off to the side of the road, looked for a flat place to pitch our tents, and set up camp for the first night in the wilderness of Mongolia.
Transportation was made possible by the scholars & gentlemen at the Adventurists. No editorial content or opinions were guaranteed, and nor was anyone’s safety or hygiene.