The Russian Altai: Relaxing in Siberia
February 21, 2018

After three months non-stop driving and not spending more than two days somewhere, we are ready for vacation. We are going to the Russian Altai Mountains to relax. First we go to Barnaul to arrange Kolyas last oil change. He finally earned a holiday and a little bit of wellness. This of course includes a thorough washing, polishing and waxing.

While we wait for Kolya, we sneak through Barnaul. We rent an apartment in a typical soviet style flat in a prefabricated building for three days and buy everything we can find in the supermarkets. The selection is even bigger than in Kazakhstan, and although Russia is still subject to EU sanctions, there are so many delicious things we've missed in recent weeks: salmon, for example, or aged cheese, chocolate, and Russian ice cream. After all, it's the little things that make life more beautiful. In the city itself, the time seems to have stopped in some places and the amount of rain is making the grey soviet buildings even more depressing.

A nice change are the ancient wooden houses and former merchant villas. Unfortunately, most of them are not well maintained and in very bad condition. Government and people are not investing in the restoration. The money is rather spend on new buildings. It is probably quite expensive to keep this old “jewelleries” in good shape, but its a pity, because they exude a certain charm and represent for us the typical houses of the endless wide Siberia.

As the sun shows up we decide to do a short boat tour on the river Ob. It is not really spectacular, but we enjoy the relaxing ride and wind down as we pass by the green surroundings of the city.

And then we sometimes even find a very youthful, modern Barnaul, for example in front of a biker club, directly at our prefabricated building or as a group on the Lenin monument, doing an outdoor Zumba course.

After Kolya has finished his spa vacation, we finally drive out into the countryside. We are looking for a Turbaza, a small campsite. After finding one, we take out every piece of outdoor equipment we have with us. Dima's beloved pavilion is used for the first time and we swear not to move one meter from the spot. Except for the supermarket to buy meat for our shashlik skewers. We are spending six whole days, eating shashlik, going to the Banya, sweating like crazy and enjoying the same view over the river and the trees every day. We do nothing except for playing cards, collecting firewood and sitting by the campfire in the evening. Thanks to Marion and Cornelia, who provided us with the best games before the trip: “Skip Bo” and the “Country Quiz” are addictive and leave the blog empty for a while. Any leisure activities, such as excursions in the area, water skiing or rafting, we reject vehemently. After two and a half months of straight travelling we do not want to do anything, see anything or move anywhere. The fresh air and the peace make us more than satisfied and happy. The Turbaza is so quiet during the day, because all people are doing excursions and so we have the entire birch mixed woodland for us alone.

After a week we move on. We are ready, recovered and strengthened for our last stage and the last month. Mongolia is calling and we have had some time to plan our route ahead, besides playing cards. We are heading off to Kosch-Agatsch, the last place before the border, where we spend our last night on the Russian side. We sleep and wake up with a beautiful mountain panorama in front of our tent.

Arriving at the border we have to wait as usual, before we can move on to Mongolia. Every border makes our stomachs aching already the day before. Luckily we meet some nice Czech traveling companions in their yellow VW bus. When sharing travel stories, time passes much faster. After Mongolia, we will return to Siberia once again. All the rest to Vladivostok will once again take us through these endless expanses.

Tips for globetrotters:

Since the Kazakhs no longer need a visa for Mongolia, the border at Tashanta (coordinates 49.7101838,89.1996235) is pretty clogged. They come with crammed cars, which are checked completely by the Russians. This of course takes time. Also we had to clear the entire car, although we were on the way out of the country. The Mongolian side went faster. Here, Kolya was not even payed a glance, but the procedure was still annoying, since there seems to be no process. An important-looking man with a stamp decides on everything. If he is not in sight, nothing is progressing. The processes are haphazard and there is chaos. You should always play stupid and ask everyone what you should do next. Be persistent. At some point you get to the right person. Overall, the border has cost us 6,5 hours. Another traveller told us that the border near Tuwa (coordinates 50.052166,89.863948) in the north would be quicker to pass, because there are no Kazakhs. But this is more difficult to reach by car, as the road is not very good.


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