Reisebericht Mongolei 2014
Reisebericht MYTHOS MONGOLEI 2014
von Dan Geiger (USA) und Michael Ortner (Deutschland, Fotos)
Abfahrt in die Mongolei am Dienstag morgen den 26. März zum Treffpunkt nach Fulda. Dort treffe ich Helge mit seinen 3 Kindern und 2 US Amerikaner die uns auf der Überführungsfahrt der Mercedes Sprinter begleiten. Die Abfahrt verzögert sich, da die gebraucht gekauften Fahrzeuge noch Standschäden vorweisen. Problemlos erreichen wir die Polnische Grenze. Die Autobahnen sind gut ausgebaut.
Das Visa für Russland hatte ich mir schon über eine VISA Agentur im Januar bestellt. Gut, dass ich 2 Reisepässe habe. Die Kosten für die einmalige Einreise nach Russland betragen € 350 .
Leaving for Siberia on Wednesday, March 26 2014. For those of you that I have confused, my posts of the Peking to Paris Road Rally are from my travels last year. Actually I’m on a new adventure and am in Germany now. Will leave in a few days with my German friend Helge who hosts me when I am in Mongolia. We and another friend from Montana, Dale Morrow will leave in a few days on our drive across Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Siberia and all the way to Mongolia, about 6,000 miles and three weeks. Experienced 120 mph on the autobahn the other day and it felt very safe. Love Germany, neat, clean, education is a priority for children and residents can attend university for $500 a semester, they tax the rich and are environmentally conscientious and trying to move away from oil. You can say what you want about socialism but this country is moving ahead of the US focusing on education while their economy is doing well. Gas is expensive as it is in all of Europe, $8.50 gal so I don’t complaint about $3.50 gas in the US. Stores are closed on Sunday and no one works in their yard or washes their cars as it is a day of rest. Such a nice peaceful day.
Will try to post more on the trip. Arrive in Mongolia around end of April.
Arrived in Germany March 19, 2014, last week and spent a week getting ready for our drive from here to Mongolia. We have to 15 passenger Mercedes busses. On the trip is my German friend Helge Reitz, his son Arian, daughters Nurel and Alina, my friend Dale Morrow from St. Ignatius, Montana and Michael Ortner a tour guide from Germany who does off road tours around the world. We left Germany after a week of preparation, lots of paper work for the vehicles and some maintenance. We purchased the vehicles on March 20 in Hamburg and drove them back to a small village near Frankfurt where Helge grew up and where his mother lives.
Left Germany Wednesday afternoon the 26th and drove through Germany to Poland the first night. Then through Poland yesterday and Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia today. We are at the port of Tallinn, Estonia and will put the buses on the ferry this afternoon for Helsinki and spend two nights there. Sunday off to St. Petersburg, Russia then the long drive to Moscow where Alina and Arian and will fly back to Germany and the rest of us will continue on across Siberia to Mongolia and arrive around April 17.
The drive here certainly sharpened my driving skill as European drivers are excellent drivers but more one along. We have been camping at night in the buses and leaving at day break and driving until 10:00AM and then a stop for breakfast. I brought an inverter to run a coffee maker off the battery so we can have our coffee. There has been much discussion which is more important the coffee maker or the GPS.
We all have maps down loaded on our smart phones so even the coffee shops are indicated at high magnification, it makes traveling easy. We did manage to run into a small island of Russian inside Lithuania and had to back track around it as it would take to long to clear customs. Driving in Europe is a joy as the borders have disappeared for the most part and on can drive across the border most everywhere without stopping. We were stopped at the Lithuanian border late at night but after a glance at my passport the guard was more interested in our drive to Mongolia and wished us good luck.
We have driven every type of road system from the fast moving Autobahn in Germany where the passing cars traveling 130mph at times rock our buses with air pressure. East Germany still looks much like it did in the 1940’s and before as there was little new construction during communism so all the villages are very picturesque. In Poland we drove through the countryside on narrow roads where a village appeared every 2-5 miles and we slowed to 20mph. Fog, rain, sun and dark of night, with little traffic or fast moving bumper to bumper. I followed Helge through the City of Tallinn at a very fast pace trying to make the ferry connection. It was cat and mouse with me being the cat and inches off his bumper so we would not get separated. I’m learning to drive like a German.It is a great experience for me as an American to learn how isolated we are from the world and how the rest of the people in the world are happy, doing well and not complaining about things that seem insignificant now that I am here. It is a great education and I’m thankful for the opportunity. The world and its people are indeed a beautiful everywhere one travels
Helsinki, Finland. Enjoyed a sunny cool day in a small village north of Helsinki. There is ice on the lakes and snow in the forest. Spring still needs a few weeks more. The village is neat, well ordered and everyone has a sauna in their home. Leave in the morning for St. Petersberg, Russia and begin our trip across Russia.
Petersburg to Moscow, May 30-31, 2014
We arrive at the Finland-Russian border at 11:00 AM and seem encouraged that the line of cars seems to be moving along nicely. Passports checked quickly and it’s only noon but now the fun starts. Because we are driving two 15 passenger buses the authorities are worried we will use them for business picking up people along the way for a fee. So the process of filling out papers, getting stamps of approval and more forms, phone calls to superiors the hours begin to while away and continue until 3:30PM when the last stamp of approval is given the officer says, “Welcome to Russia”. Four and a half hours of trying to take hidden videos, laughing about making a run for it and eating snacks. Probably quicker processing us then the US customs would take to process a bunch of Russians coming across the Canadian border into the US.
The Russian countryside is beautiful with birch and pine trees and snow patches and thick ice on rivers and lakes still waiting for spring. The housing is beautiful old craftsmanship but long neglected and some showing signs of paint peeling, roofs and wall sagging, some occupied and some abandoned. Others are pristine.
We spend our first night near St. Petersburg in a small gas station parking lot sleeping in the buses. It’s cold and we wake up to snow and begin the long drive to Moscow some 330 miles but because of weather and constant slowing down to 25mph in villages it takes us eleven hours. The highway is dotted with tables where locals sell canned vegetables and fruit from last summer’s gardens.
We begin to enter Moscow driving about two hours into the center of the city at one time passing by the beautiful Kremlin. This is a city of incredible architecture and the beauty of the city lets us forget the dreariness of the weather. I follow Helge who leads in bus number 1 or Putin 1 with me in Putin 2. He dodges through the traffic and I struggle to stay a few feet behind him to prevent other cars from getting between us and me not making a green traffic light and thus getting separated. He has a GPS and I have only faith. After an hour of driving down main and side streets we arrive at the Fabrika Hostel. We get our room which sleeps six people and quickly log on to the web with the password, “ILoveFabrika”.
It nice to be here in Moscow after the grueling drive. The drivers here are considerate and obey the law contrary to some of the videos one can see on the internet of Russian drivers. Many people have these cameras in their cars so it is probably an accumulation of millions of hours of video to produce the ones seen on YouTube. After two long days of driving in Russia we have had no problems and I compare it to driving on the California freeways only at a much slower pace and with more pot holes in the asphalt. Off to dinner tonight and then sightseeing tomorrow.
Moscow May 31, 2014 The early Moscow morning
greets us with five inches of new snow. From our second story window of our hostel room I watch a black cat slither through fresh fallen snow almost as tall as him. He is on a mission to find a warm snow free place and doesn’t appear too happy. We arrived last night and spent a couple of hours walking around downtown Moscow in a driving blizzard seeing Red Square, The Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb and the dozens of impressive churches in the neighborhood. The architecture is very impressive with most of the major buildings lighted at night. The weather made it feel like Moscow should feel in the winter; trudging through cutting cold. This morning the wind has quieted and the final snow is falling in large flakes. Once again we are off but now it is brighter and everything is white with the brown winter grass hidden beneath the snow. City maintenance crews are busy removing snow from the wide avenues so common in Moscow. They drive large front end loaders, graders and small American made Bobcats to scoop up the snow and put it trucks or on park lawns. As the sun begins to shine the streets and sidewalks fill with slush and large puddles. For the most part drivers are considerate and always give the pedestrian the right of way waving us across intersections. There is very little horn honking in the city and traffic moves in an orderly fashion. Pedestrians and drivers respect one another.
The dreary, dull Moscow I visited in 1988 where there was only one department store for tourists to shop has now been transformed in a modern city similar to New York, London or Paris. Red Square is surrounded by high end fashion malls, coffee shops and international restaurants giving one a choice of most every cuisine. Cars in the city are new with BMW’s, Mercedes and Lexus quite common. Inequality of wealth is alive and well here in Russia just like every country I have visited including the US.
I watch people passing me on the sidewalk where the cool temperature has people wearing fur hats and coats. It is a fashion parade of large hats and long coats. Like any large city people don’t greet one another on the street but if we ask anyone for directions they are happy to help. They even enjoy an occasional Putin and Obama joke but it is in good taste. Russians love their country just like everyone loves
their country. It seems like most everyone feels home is home and can’t imagine living in another place. People bond with a certain place and feel comfortable there. Russians seem to be well informed about international affairs as are most Europeans, where US citizens seemed to be distracted with internal news. We walk for hours crossing a large river several times giving us a panoramic view of the city, churches with gold onion domes from the expansive bridges. I survey The Kremlin, The Duma (parliament building) and never ending four story ornate marble buildings with sculptures and gold leave adorning them. I can count 14 of these from one bridge.
Moscow like any city would take weeks to explore but we do our best today. Back at our hostel I enjoy an Americano made from an expensive espresso machine. The desk manager a young woman is from north of Kazakhstan and has lived in Moscow for eight years. She has the features of a Mongolian. Her English is very good and she is happy to visit with us and enjoys living in Moscow. Tomorrow we leave Alina and Arian here in Moscow to fly back to Germany in a few days. We prepare to head east into Siberia and eventually Mongolia some 3,600 miles left of never ending landscapes and interesting things to see.
Epilogue, Journey across Siberia, April 13, 2014
I’ve have a day to reflect on our drive across Siberia and as I sit here in the comfort of Helge and Suzan’s home I’m thankful to be here safe and sound. While the drive was challenged by weather, questionable roads and endless miles and hours of driving it wasn’t what I expected Russia to be. It was a good lesson in prejudice. While we all like to think we have no prejudices they are subtle and cynical. My impression of Russia before the trip was based on some internet information, conversations with Russian friends and a trip through Russian in 1988. I expected the drivers to be terrifying, personal safety marginal and anti-American sentiment but we experienced none of this. The drivers were about the same as Los Angeles, California but drove much slower, rarely over 70 mph. For the most part they signaled when changing lanes, pulled to the side to let us pass if they were going slower than us, and dimmed their lights at night. I used my horn a couple of times when passing but never for someone cutting me off. Our dash camera spent most of the time turned off and I saw few dash camera’s in other vehicles after expecting everyone to have them. We passed hundreds and hundreds of trucks moving along at about 50 mph and I can remember only one truck passing us coming down a hill. The truckers were considerate and moved over on hills to let us pass and rarely tailgated us. Amazingly most truckers were not over weight and seemed to take pride in their profession. The truck stops and road side parking were filled with trucks at night with few on the road during darkness.
We felt safe sleeping at night along the road and no one bothered us. There were lots of police checking speeding and drinking drivers. We were only stopped once when towing Puttin 1 and they quickly waved us on. We were pulled over once at a truck safety station to see if we had the proper papers for a bus and waved through after a few minutes. People made jokes about Putin and Obama over the Ukraine but they were good natured jokes and not derogatory. Many Russians were reserved about foreigners in the rural areas but once they saw a smile they warmed up. I would expect Americans would act the same if a group Russians showed up in a small shop. Before my journey across Russia I probably understood about 1% of Russian culture and now after the trip I may be up to 2%. One would have to spend months and years to begin understanding the complexity of Russia, with almost two hundred minorities, twenty seven official languages and another sixty unofficial languages and nine time zones down from eleven. The Russian people are many in number and diversity. So for me to sit in my home from bits if internet information, a few books and conversations with a few Russian friends and from this make any kind of judgment of Russia and its people is foolish.
The people are unique, with their beliefs, values and views of life that only they know in their own hearts. While they may share some of this I have no way of knowing what is in their hearts but like all humans they have the same universal human spirit to grow and expand themselves mentally, emotionally and spiritually. So why drive across Russia rather than take the Siberian Express train with comfort and safety? It is that same human spirit that pushes us to explore the world and ourselves. The trip was a stretch for me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I said more prayers than usual. Would I do it again, perhaps? Not today or tomorrow but in six months maybe and after a year yes, as by then one only remembers the adventure and excitement.
About half way across Russia we came upon an accident in the early morning where a driver apparently fell asleep and crossed over the center line and hit a small truck head on. As we slowed at the scene of the accident with Puttin 1’s engine stopping again and we had to tow it from the scene of the accident. As we were readying the tow rope I looked over at the car with its front end almost cut off and the windshield gone. Still sitting in the front seat with his seat belt fashioned was the driver, instantly killed staring at me from about ten feet way. His chin was cut but no blood as his heart stopped instantly. In an instant he went from driving down the road in this physical realm of idle fancies and vain imaginings to the spiritual realm that all the religions of the world attempt to describe. It is a place of infinite concepts that our finite minds cannot grasp. We create metaphors and images but they are all physical concepts. Even the white light described by most who experience a near death experience is still a description of light a physical phenomenon but it is the closest we can come to describe eternal joy and happiness.
As we secured the towing rope I glanced at him on occasion. His face created a permeate image in my mind, a reminder of the fragile and ephemeral state of this physical life. I said a prayer for the progression of his soul and tried not to wonder or make any judgment of his station in the spiritual realm as judgment is is reserved only for God. My thoughts were that of “O Lord, glorify his station, shelter him under the pavilion of Thy supreme mercy, cause him to enter Thy glorious paradise, and perpetuate his existence in Thine exalted rose garden, that he may plunge into the sea of light in the world of mysteries.” At that moment he became like a traveling companion who followed us across Russia assisting us in his own way.
Warm regards Dan Geiger