Russia Part II, aka we finally made it to Mongolia (August 21-23, 2011)

By Kara Van Malssen

Although it seems like it should be possible, there is no way to cross directly from Eastern Kazakhstan to Western Mongolia.  A 1200 km drive through Siberian Russia is required.  With our double-entry Russian visas close to expiration, we forged ahead toward Mongolia.

View Semey to Mongolia in a larger map

We found ourselves rejoicing almost the instant we crossed into Russia.  Good roads! Petrol stations that accept credit cards! ATM machines!!! It had been weeks since we had consistently seen any of these things.  We realized that we really love Russia after all.  And our trip over the next few days through the Altai Mountain region of Siberia certainly reinforced that.

We stopped for the evening in the rather bustling metropolis of Barnaul (Prounced like “barn owl”? In my mind it is.) and grabbed a few rooms at the comfortable Hotel Barnaul.  There were three things I especially loved at this hotel: the 24 hour guarded parking lot, the homemade food at the canteen, and this Soviet-era radio mounted on the wall in our rooms, pumping out Russian pop hits from the 80s, 90s, and today!


After a good night’s rest (two in a row!), we hit the road early, and enjoyed a little rain shower, which we hadn’t experienced in weeks.


With the team now all back in good health, we decided stop at a little roadside cafe and risk our first shashlik for lunch since our disaster in Uzbekistan about a week earlier.  It was fantastic.


By the afternoon we were beginning to pass through some stunning mountain scenery. The area was crowded with Russian tourists enjoying the therapeutic waters of the mountain streams, hiking, and relaxing.  Wishing we could just stop for a few days and join them, we reminded ourselves of the visa expiration deadline coming up in a day or two, and pushed on.




We found a nice spot to set up camp by the river.


This rainbow was an excellent touch at the end of the day.


The next day, the drive just got better.


We had one of the better car-hood lunches of the trip.


We were in good spirits.



The scenery changed rather abruptly, and before we knew it, the lush greenery was gone, and we were back in the desert. Mongolia was just around the corner. As we approached the border, we stopped for petrol and to use what was probably the smelliest outhouse of the trip. Something must have died in there.



Our car was signed one last time in Russia by a couple of cute kids at the border.


And we set off into the no-mans land between Russia and Mongolia, an unusual 30km between the two borders. We had finally made it to Mongolia.