Mongol Rally Week 5: Kazakhstan to Siberia

IMG_5356Hey there Alyeska blog readers!  My name is Chase, and I have spent the past three winters working at the Hotel Alyeska and snowboarding all the time. This summer my girlfriend, Charla, and I got the crazy idea to participate in the Mongol Rally; that means we’re driving a 1.1-liter Fiat Panda from Bodiam, England, to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to raise money for the Lotus Children’s Centre in Ulaanbaatar. Alyeska Resort has generously gotten behind us to help raise money for the Lotus Children’s Centre, and we’re grateful for their support.

When we last wrote we were on our way out of Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, heading towards the Kazakh border. Though a sane person would’ve stuck to the main road, we thought we had a shortcut over a mountain pass so we turned right out of Karakol. It turns out that the shortcut was more of a cowpath than a road; it was made of rocks (not gravel, but actual rocks) and the only other traffic we saw consisted of men on horseback herding livestock. After a longer than anticipated trip up and back down the cowpath, we finally made it to the border. It turns out that “ch” sounds are very uncommon in Kyrgyz, and as we were leaving the Border Patrol was having trouble saying the names Chase and Charla. We had driven to a very small and remote border crossing and we were the first Americans who had ever passed through, so instead of saying our names they decided to call us G-Unit and Pamela Anderson as we did our border paperwork.

Once across the border it was a relatively short drive to Almaty, Kazakhstan. In Almaty we met up with Aggey, a Kazakh that I had met this past summer in Talkeetna preparing to climb Denali.  He was back home after a successful climb, and gave us a tour of the city. We learned the fascinating history of Almaty, a city at a crossroads of Central Asia; we also learned that more than anywhere else in Central Asia, Almaty is full of people who enjoy outdoor recreation. The city is at high elevation, and is surrounded by mountains full of climbing trails. Unlike Alaska’s mountains which can necessitate ski-planes and helicopters to access, you could take Almaty’s public bus line out of town and right to the climbing trail. After seeing what we saw, we are already planning a trip back to Almaty for some fun in the mountains!

It took a couple days of uneventful driving to get from Almaty all the way north to the Russian border in Siberia. We didn’t know what to expect in Russia; a couple weeks previously we had been in western Russia (or “European Russia”), but this area was certainly not European. We didn’t notice many differences in the people or the culture, but the landscape was worlds apart.  Instead of desert monotony like in the west, we were driving through the Altay Mountains! The road was beautiful, cut into the side of valleys and hanging precariously over rivers. We found out later that the road we had just driven was supposed to be the nicest drive in all of Siberia.

As we were finishing that drive towards the Mongolian border, Russia had one last laugh: despite being August, we drove through a storm that included torrential rain, heavy snow, and hail, all within just a few minutes of each other. Once again, it felt like we were home in Alaska! We managed to drive through the storm less than 50 miles from the border, and from there it was straight on to Mongolia!

Mongolia was the most anticipated part of the Rally.  The roads were supposed to be the worst, the directions were supposed to be the toughest to follow, and the scenery was supposed to be overwhelmingly beautiful.  Were those all true?  Did we make it to Ulaanbaatar from the Mongolian border?  You’ll have to check the next blog post to find out!  Or, for more detailed stories, check out our full blog at <www.TeamTurnagain.weebly.com/blog> or our Facebook page at <www.facebook.com/TeamTurnagain>!

Ascending the cowpath out of Kyrgyzstan when we had to stop and let the Panda cool down a bit.

Ascending the cowpath out of Kyrgyzstan when we had to stop and let the Panda cool down a bit.

Southern Kazakhstan

Southern Kazakhstan

 

A military town in central eastern Kazakhstan, when a couple of local men approached the car and started asking Charla where we'd been so she got out the map.

A military town in central eastern Kazakhstan, when a couple of local men approached the car and started asking Charla where we’d been so she got out the map.

The Panda at an old, abandoned gas station in western Russia.

The Panda at an old, abandoned gas station in western Russia.

 

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