After a pleasant nights sleep in a small hotel in Kulunde, Russia, we set off nice and early in an attempt to reach the Mongolian border that day. It was about 1100km, so we were ready to do some night driving towards the end.
The Russian roads were a dream after Kazakhstan and we passed the half way point of Barnaul at about 4pm. This was good and we were making excellent progress for the day.
Little did we know, since Kazakhstan, we had risen nearly 2000m into the Russian mountains, and when we first opened the door we were in for a shocking 14°. After a month of nothing below 25° this felt glorious, and the beer we had left on the roof was actually cold.
Jubilantly we plowed on, until, at about 9pm:
Nothing quite like 2 flat tires in 3 days. This was more of a problem though as we still hadn’t repaired our first flat, so now we had no spares. We would have to stay in the next town tonight and find a tyre repair place in the morning.
Unsurprisingly, the small towns in the Russian mountains had few hotels. It was raining and dark so camping really would be a last ditch effort.
We drove past the town and ended up going past what our mapping app said was a hotel, although it looked like a campsite. It was late and we were tired, so we approached.
Initially everyone said no, we could not stay. It was all a bit of a kerfuffle as more and more people came to the entrance. Then one lady appeared, with her son Anton, who could speak English. His mother said that yes we could stay, that this was a holiday camp were you rent camp beds, and that we could have some food at the café. Relieved, we settled in as our new russian mother fussed about us and made sure we were comfortable.
We were given a meal and we asked for only one camp hut to save money, which was cosy.
We fell asleep feeling like Russia really wasn’t as bad as the British media makes out. We were still alive, at least.
The morning after
After Anton explained to his mother that we had two flats, she insisted on driving us to the tyre repair place and making sure they didn’t overcharge us. We waited in the small building as 3 russian men efficiently diagnosed our punctures and mended them in under 20 minutes. During this, Larissa (our russian mother) had paid for the service. When we insisted we should pay, she simply wished us a safe journey. She had also paid for our campsite, dinner and breakfast. Amazing.
We then went back to the campsite to pick up our bags. This is where the Russian owner, a lady similar to Larissa but much less forgiving, glimpsed the inside of the car. She started shouting at us in Russian and stormed off, returning with a cloth and bucket of soapy water and ordered us to clean the inside. This was all in good spirits and we began scrubbing away while she pointed at the dirtier bits. Unsatisfied by our pace and/or quality of the job, she grabbed the cloth and began to do it herself. We found this hilarious but we were equally very grateful.
The day consisted of going to the Mongolian border after that, and it was one of the most beautiful drives we have done. The Russian Altai region is stunning, and the rivers and mountains we traversed were amazing. The pictures can not quite explain the reality but they do a better job than I:
On the top of one of the mountains was a small market, which seemed to be capitalising on the proximity to Mongolia. We had to try on some things.
Eventually we reached the border town of Kosh Agach and settled into a very noisy but very cheap hotel. The next morning would be Mongolia, if all goes to plan!