Life In A Round House

posted by: Emma

While waiting for the delivery of new rear wheels, we had some time to sit out Olgii, Mongolia’s most westerly provincial capital. We had planned to take a side trip to the Altai Tavan Bogd Nuur national park which borders China, Mongolia and Russia, but with Justin down with a stomach bug and daily phone calls required to ensure delivery of our package, our world was centred around a traditional felt house in the Blue Wolf Ger Camp.

Bicycle outside ger Emma repairing shoe

We had descended into Olgii city through the last of a heavy rainstorm, which had somehow knocked out the internet for the evening, and left the dirt streets more like BMX tracks with deep water traps. Our taxi driver dropped us off outside the big gates of the Blue Wolf Ger Camp and we wheeled bikes into a overgrown yard where seven tourist gers huddled, a little sodden after the rain.

We were offered a spacious five bed ger (in the Kazakh rather than Mongolian style), probably enough space for the belongings of an extended Kazakh family. Our bicycles were stored inside with us, our tent was aired out and the high ceiling allowed us to use our cooker inside. The luxury of space outweighed the rickety floor and cold chill of the evenings, and we decided it was far better than spending a week in a pokey hotel room.

Niko + Mary in our ger Ger being assembled

Heads often appeared through our low ger door, sometimes workers inspecting leaks, at other times complete strangers. We beckoned them in and wondered if we should offer tea but usually they just had a look around and ducked out again. Other travellers were also milling around the campsite and I spent an afternoon with three  motorcyclists on a trip from Japan to England. In turn they introduced us to a Swiss couple, Nico and Mary, who were staying in another hotel having cycled from Ulaanbaatar to Olgii using a route north of the one we were considering. Over cups of tea in our ger late one evening, we quizzed them at length about their time in Mongolia and China.

With Justin curled up in bed for a few days, I explored Olgii’s rain soaked streets on the hunt for food supplies. It looked like pasta and rice noodles would be our main staples and despite finding some perfectly ripe nectarines one day, mostly our vitamin intake would be from potatoes, carrots, onions and apples.

When Justin was feeling better we took a walk through the extensive markets, buying essential supplies including a length of lightweight plastic to serve as a shade and a 5 litre water barrel to add to our water carrying capacity. We decided against trying the huge blood puddings hung up to dry above sheep heads in the meat markets, instead sampling a few huushuur (mutton pancakes) and big plates of meat and vegetable stew along with salty tea. Mongolian food wasn’t seeming so bad after all.

Justin working Our new rims arrive

Online real-time tracking of our UPS package gave us hope that we’d be on the road swiftly, with our package on a plane from Korea to Ulaanbaatar the second day we were in Olgii. Unfortunately we then needed to untangle it from customs and pay money to a Ulaanbaatar fixer to get it on a plane to Olgii, each step taking a day or two to complete. The box finally arrived at Olgii airport in the hands of a Canadian tourist a week after we’d arrived at the ger camp.

Unfortunately that same morning we’d been kicked out of our ger to make way for more important visitors – to be fair, the camp was over-booked and the manager couldn’t find space for us. We left our bags in a pile and started pulling the bicycles apart to fit the new wheels wondering how far we’d get from the town in a few hours of evening cycling.

As Justin was fitting his replacement wheel (not cracked, but replaced as a precautionary measure) we were greeted by a British couple, Tristan and Laura, who were back from a few days hiking around Hoton Nuur. As rain clouds rolled in and temperatures plummeted, they very kindly agreed to let us share their reserved ger for the night. We went together for dinner, beers and conversation, commenting on the cool evening air as we retired to the ger. Waking early to crystal clear blue skies and fresh snow on the mountains around Olgii, we packed our bikes quickly, eager to finally start out on the long unpaved road to Ulaanbaatar.

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route map for this post

The map below shows the waypoints for this blog post. To view the details of our trip to date take a look at our complete route map.