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Yurt Camp

June 21, 2013

We left Kyzyl after breakfast, embarking on our long travel day to the yurt camp. We really didn’t know much about the yurt camp except that it would take us all day to get there, it was in a quite remote location and that the conditions would be rugged. There was some anxiety about this, but we boarded the bus at 9:20 AM and rode. We passed through such beautiful country, the mountains stretching as far as we could see all along our journey. I noticed the plant life changing, more trees in some places than others and a desolate beauty in the more barren areas.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at a sacred site about 3 1/2 hours into our drive. The site had a Buddhist monument of the same sort the monastery in Kyzyl, mounted on a small pad with steps and surrounded by prayer flags. About 30 yards away, there was a shaman’s fire pit, built out of stones. It looked much like a fire pit at camp, but again, it was surrounded by prayer flags. All around the site, flags had been tied to the trees. It felt serene, tucked at the base of the mountain, under the big and beautiful sky dotted with clouds.

We loaded back up for another hour or so on the road and I began to think about how few towns we had passed. At one point, our driver told us that we had reached the dividing line between east and west Tuva and that beyond that point, there really were no Russians at all living in the region, only Tuvans. We passed only 2 more towns on the remainder of the drive, one of them, Ak Dovrak, surrounding an enormous asbestos mine. The city looked abandoned and the mine itself dominated over everything, enormous piles of a greyish-white substance lying at the base of the mountains, then the dilapidated houses and dirt roads stretching out toward the road. The best description of it that I heard was post-apocalyptic. It would be a terrific set for a dystopian movie. We drove yet more miles until we reached a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Our bus driver told us that this was the place he would be leaving us and we all got a bit anxious.

Our hosts were getting gas into their Wazik. These vehicles were made by the Waz company during the Soviet era. They resemble rugged Jeeps. There were 3 Jeep-type Waz for us to ride in and one large truck into which we piled our luggage. Once inside the Wazik, we took off and we quickly noticed in my Waz that there may be some mechanical issues with it. It was also incredibly hot because the engine block sat right in front of the front seats and the heater was kept on to vent the hot air away from it. We had 70 kilometers to go, half on-road and half off-road. After about a half-hour, we pulled off to see the view of the valley and river below and take more photos of the incredible scenery, check below the hood of the Wasik, and stretch (and cool off) our legs. Then they told us that we would have to cross the river twice and that there were no bridges. One of the great attributes of the Wazik is that they can forge rivers. Apparently, our hosts had attempted to cross the river once in a Land Rover but it didn’t work out.

So, we drove down into the valley, off the road onto a path that does not deserve the word road. The drivers began to have a bit of fun with us and each other, racing in the short stretches where the land was even, then slowing down to a near-stop to go through holes the size of my Corrolla full of water and mud. We were tossed around like rag dolls in that back of the Waz, but it was fun and our driver was clearly adept and manipulating the vehicle in this terrain. We drove up to the river at one spot and my heart either jumped or dropped because the river was clearly fairly deep and at least 30 feet across. The drivers chatted as we unfolded ourselves from the back seat and attempted to cool our fannies. They had decided that this was not a good place to cross, so we back tracked, went another half-mile, and approached in a different spot. All of the drivers gathered together again, drank from the river, worked out the right way to cross, where to enter and exit. Then we got back in the Waz and started across. We were all open-mouthed and scared to death when the water began to pour over the floorboards in the front, but we made it across quickly and without any problems. Then we got to get out and watch the other vehicles come across and take photos.
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Follow this on the next post. I thought I lost this one, so I recapped and finished it on the next post.

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