Russian Documents Mongolian Dust
An adventure travelogue. Driving overland from Australia to the Netherlands via Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, across a stormy Black Sea to Bulgaria and onwards. I fell in love with Mongolia, land of blue sky and nomads.
In freezing temperatures, there's nothing like camping in the wild to stretch you way out of your comfort zone. Jump into this story with me and you'll experience it. More
Russia was never really a place I’d intended to travel to. "It’s icy cold isn’t it?" Russian Documents… Mongolian Dust is a story about a 21,000 kilometre journey, camping in a Land Rover. It spans over five months, across eleven countries. This “off the beaten track” journey begins in Brisbane, Australia. Flying to Korea, we try to pick up the car and drive north, where we intend to catch a car ferry to Russia. Sounds simple?
Smiling Korean faces are still etched in my mind as we face stark Russian officialdom.
After filling out a mile of paperwork, parting with a sizeable chunk of our hard earned cash and being interrogated, we head off across the cold, wet, dreary grey landscape, which is Russia. Just how I’d imagined it would be!
Eastern Russia and we snake our way through hundreds of tiny villages, filled with broken down cottages, abandoned buildings and peasants with colourful scarves, left to fend for themselves after the iron curtain fell. We camp on the edge of the magnificent Lake Baikal, one of the largest lakes on earth and swim in her icy sapphire waters.
At the locked border gate, we’re jam packed in a bottle neck queue, with dozens of others trying to get into Mongolia. Sleeping under the watchful eye of the Russian spotlights, we squeeze through the narrow entry into Mongolia and make our own tracks across the absolutely dynamic and vast steppe of Mongolia. No fences, no bitumen, no roads, just tracks. Hundreds of kilometres of vastness, thousands of goats and massive contrasts in weather from intense dust storms, blinding heat and teeth chattering icy conditions.
Mongolia is the jewel of my journey as we linger for seven weeks amidst the herders, their gers, the culture and simple lifestyle of these warm, friendly and very resilient people. Back into Russia, we both experience severe bouts of sickness and are ‘adopted’ by a Russian couple who take us to their home and nurture us with dumplings and hot baths back to health, before the next leg of our journey.
Down into Kazakhstan, we drive for ten days at fifteen to twenty five kilometres per hour on a road that was built in hell. Every day is filled with new experiences. Back at the border into Russia we show our ‘documents’ again and again…..over and over. Stuck in a shipping compound in Russia, we wait for the ship to dock which will take us across the Black Sea. We build friendships with Polish, Turk and Armenien truck drivers. After a three day, rocking and rolling crossing of the Black Sea, on a truck ferry with twenty five smoking, card playing truckies, we drive onto Bulgarian soil.
Early winter is upon us and we are pushed to move on. It snows a lot! Sharing the massive highways with horse drawn sulkies filled with gypsy families and fast moving semi trailers in Romania, the contrast of old and new appears so stark. In Hungary, we camp amongst windbreaks of golden leafed trees between fields in fallow,. On to Germany and ‘modern’ Europe the pace of life speeds up unbelievably and we weave our way to our final destination, Switzerland.
I find joy in the many unique interactions with local folk in dusty, desolate towns of Eastern Siberia, with nomadic herders out on the vast steppe of Mongolia and so many people, in so many diverse cultures despite the ‘verbal’ language barrier. Living in a Landrover with someone I’d only known for a few short months provides a pillowcase full of weird experiences. Extracted from my daily diaries, Russian Documents…Mongolian Dust is raw, uncut and unique and encompasses both the physical expedition and my own personal footprints. My account of this journey is interlaced with heartfelt experiences, spiced with humour and tempered with joy as learn to cope with the continual challenges of an unpredictable and unfamiliar environment. I cherish the bitter sweet challenging experiences which is the essence of overland travel.