Zick – Zag – Zick – fall – Repeat …

The last couple of days have been ‘Challenging’, in this case it stands for a euphemism of ‘bloody hard’.

In Ulaanbaatar I teamed up with another rider, Neil from Adelaide. But only after ‘rewarding’ myself with the world-wide-travellers known Oasis Wiener schnitzel.

This ‘teaming-up’ turned out to be the right move. I strongly believe that it is dangerous to travel alone in Mongolia as soon as you leave the pavement. Keep in mind that about only 10% of all roads in Mongolia are paved, or sealed or asphalted … call it what you like, these roads are about Russian standards, sometimes better. Mongolia has, as Russia does, put $$$ into their road infrastructure and attempts to connect its major cities with the capital Ulaanbaatar. Therefore many roads leading out of UB are sealed ones.
The remaining 90% are ‘Piste’ I talked about before. What I have learnt to-date is that if you are not Toby Price or a hard-core off-road fan, these Pistes are most challenging, especially on a fully loaded bike. The surface is constantly changing. But of of this later.

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ze bike, struggling with the surface, as did the rider

Neil and I had intended to travel in the same direction: towards the border exit and re-entry into Russia in Mongolia’s far north-west.

So Saturday we had an easy ride to Kharakorum. This now a rather sleepy place, best known for its monastery, one of two which escaped the Stalinist purge and since independence has been rebuild. Now it is a tourist attraction for local and overseas people, however I saw more of the former.


The place was of interest to me as it is said that this monastery was built from stones of the ruined (thrice-sacked) former Mongolian Capital of the same name. This former capital ~1220 – 1260 was one of the Khan’s attempt to demonstrate an alternative to a nomad life-style. It is said to have been of incredible design and structures, established by the ‘intelligencia’ the Khan ‘brought home” (otherwise they would have had their head chopped off) from his raids into foreign country. Apparently a few travellers have seen this city and described it as ‘legendary’ at a level and even exceeding of any other well-known city of these times. Most famous is the Silver Tree sculptured by Guilaume Bouchier which sprouted wine upon Khan’s demand. The city is also ought to have unprecedented religious tolerance. Google for a while …..
Well, for me it was almost a little exciting to touch some of the stones in the monastery, especially the bottom placed one in the wall surrounding the monastery.

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ancient stones, perhaps ex Kharakorum?

I took a guide receiving a better insight into this Mongolian Erdene Zuu -Yellow hat – Buddhist temple, one of three inside the compound.

 

The following days saw a change of scenery, more hills, sometimes gently rolling and covered in green pasture, herds of horses galloping – almost like in a movie – in the distance and young Foleys (foales) trying to keep up to their mother 😉

Camel herds, many still with their wool on their back, and finally Yaks!  What a pleasant animal this seems to be. The way it jumps off the road when approaching and revving one’s engine looks rather funny and clumsy. Imaging a large shaggy dog, just bigger again, a floppy hairy bushed long tail, the head of a cow with a little sheep thrown in and a seemingly gentle nature. I’ve seen Yaks laying on the gras just like a dog stretching out comfortably on the floor. They look at you with curious interest and you just wanna walk over and give’em a pad.     ….. I resisted though, getting westwards had priority.

Large green-covered valleys rolling along, even Fir-tree forests, just as if you were in the Otways (a mountain range in Victoria, Australia for all non Ozzie readers). Sometimes large rocks thrown in, goats herding along the cliffs – rather picturesque.

Along the road we met Jan, a dutchman riding a local (read: Chinese) 125 ccm motorcycle to interrupt his Trans Siberian train trip. Although Jan, or better his arse was complaining about the hard seat and slow progress. We kind-of arranged to meet for a beer in Kharakorum, but Jan probably stopped by the large sand dune (is that a tautology??), he had expressed interest in.

We ducked and weaved the rain, large black clouds threatening,

but always our road lead us into the more clear looking space. We also noticed the election was in full swing, close to voting day. The Mongolian Parliament has 76 members to be elected for a 4-year term. Noticeable is the high proportion of women, as the Electoral system prescribes an Affirmative-Action-like quota. Two major parties (National Democratic Party and Mongolia People’s Revolutionary Party) and an increasing amount of independent candidates vie for a seat. One evening we got – by coincidence – caught up in a victory celebration of the local aimag (district).

 

However, for me these past days have confirmed that I prefer the tarmac to the dirt! Too old for riding a heavy bike over sand, mud, stones, bull-dust (not over, rather “through”).

An ever-changing road surface keeps you absolutely focussed, not even able to glance left or right. Constant focus to avoid a rut or large hole or mountain of sand or roll-split. No fun for me doing this. Almost 700 kms of this type of road has filled my “off-road-inner-bucket” to overflow. Exhausting and aching everywhere, arriving coated in dust at the-one-and-only hotel in a small town, no shower, often not even a sink in the room and definitely the pleasure of using a drop-dunny without a seat, perhaps a thunderbox?? Soft-wipes are in big demand and I have learnt to perform a complete body-wash with no more than five sheets … well I like to believe that this IS a body-wash.

These little hotels are, in our western perspective, run-down with doubtful electrical work which Work Safe would instantly shut-down the entire building, creaking floorboards and interesting wall-hangings. I saw pencil sketches of medieval Germany in some …

But, I go with the flow, muttering in my undisciplined growing beard, smile and ask for a beer to drown my sorrow – naahhh, I am overstating this. In truth it is a basic life, dusty with the wind blowing almost without a break.

Now, I am in Ulaangom (google it) …

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Entrance to Ulaangom

… found a hotel with a toilet, functioning shower with warm water, nice clean bed and a good-smelling kitchen.

Tomorrow off to the penultimate dirt-section. A ‘challenging” 100 kms through  ~ 2500 meter above sea leavel elevated Piste. Wish me luck as thus far I dropped the bike only twice. Once I overestimated my ability to ride through bull-dust and the second, more minor glitch came when I tried to ride over a steep soil barrier, created by road-workers to prevent traffic on going onto a nearly finished road. We preferred this to the sand and most trying piste. Wish me luck.

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break, hoping the dark clouds won’t break

Die wüste Gaby

19 June – 21 June South Gobi tour
and back to Ulaanbaatar 588 km – Total 7068 km

Uhmm, sorry, wanted to say “Die Wüste Gobi” a subconscious mistake …

Well, this 3-day guided tour trip was a revelation! In more than one sense.
Having been driven along almost 500 km ‘Piste’ I now have a rather clear idea what this is like. Even in a modern, air-conditioned Toyota Landcruiser with big knobby tyres and a local driver, it takes skill, local knowledge and time to navigate and moving forward. We experienced every kind of surface: sand, small sharp stones, mud, grass, gravel – you’ll name it – you’ll drive/ride on it!

And all gets much worse after a rainfall.
The locals say that this 2016 Mongolian summer is a good summer! Cause it has brought plenty of rainfall. I was told, this amount of rain happens every twenty years or so. Much rainfall means good grass for the Nomads’ goats, sheep, camels, horses, the latter are represented here much less. This is Camel, sheep and goat country. Horses are in small numbers entirely used in the hilly parts, the Altai mountain range, well it’s east/southern end. Horses are better than the small Chinese-made 125 ccm motorcycles to locate and drive your Camel or goat herds back to the Ger camp.

So, riding on these surfaces with an Oceanliner-bike, fully loaded, brings little pleasure, much sweat, little progress and most likely falls, several. My decision to go there, if at all, only as a pair or small group is the right one. Support in such circumstances is crucial. I recommend this to any of you who plan a similar ride – take my word for it.
Another confirmation was the mode of travel: a guided tour. Of course, I am seeking confirmation after spending a packet. Nevertheless, I had to rethink considering this: a driver, a guide, about 600 kms covered, petrol for this big Landcruiser, entrance to National Parks, all meals, o/night accommodation and so on. Specifying and realising how many components make up such a tour, the price paid becomes more ‘more agreeable’. If you ever do this, take the modern Landcruiser, not the old Russian-originated ex-Army, OAS 4-wheel truck. The latter is slower, extremely bumpy and loud inside. I also doubt it has aircondition. With such a noise constantly around you, well I would tire quickly.

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Guide Noruum (left) driver Sergchje

Finally, the actual experience: well frankly I would not have had even half of it, would I have attempted this on my own. If so, attempting on my own, my experience would be different: lost, broken down, lost, little contextual information about where I am, NOT experiencing Nomadic family life. Have I mentioned thirsty and lost…?

The opposite was true. Great information from my well-informed German-speaking guide, Noruum pointing out things I would have over-looked, providing context to what I saw, sharing rules & regs of Nomadic and city live and the list goes on. Guiding me to places I may not have found myself. A guide, speaking perfect German and a vast knowledge of this country’s past & present. If you are here, make sure you’ll find and engage him. Our driver, and owner of the car, Serrchje (I am sure that is NOT how to spell it) was about my age, local to Dalandgadzad and knew the area like the back of his hand.

My trip started a 9.30, the agreed time for the hotel pick-up. However, I had to solve two problems: what to do with the gear I didn’t need for this 3-say trip and where to park the bike safely??
“No problem”, says Noruum. Loading the gear into a Russian-van (where was the promised Landcruiser??) and ask me to follow on the bike. After a short ride through backstreets of Dalandgadzad, following this Russian truck ,we arrived at a green iron gate leading into a small property, fenced all-round. Here Steppenfuchs has a kind of external support spot, a place where both my problems were solved instantly. The old, white haired man who greeted us, was the father of the girl who had worked hard to organise this tour for me. Thank you Uuree! Later I found out that this small man was a champion mountaineer. A framed picture in his living room taken when he was 66, showed him with medals literally from top-to-toe. Incredible. Another of his daughters is a champion mountaineer in her own right having climbed the 10 major world peaks. Uuree, one was a promising marks-woman, but now works at Steppenfuchs. The people you meet …..

No sooner had I parked the bike undercover, the Landcruiser arrived (Phewww – relief). Some quick shopping in town for a locally-made water ‘Mirage of Gobi’ and some food stuff, which may be unobtainable at the two Nomadic family Ger-camps and we were off.

The road I had plotted the night before on my Zumo navigator turned out to be brand-new: all sealed! The turn-off to our first destination was something I would have missed, just a little wooden sign.
After some off-road we arrived at the park, being the entrance to the Yolyn Am canyon (Bartgeierschlucht/Vulturecanyon). Here was also a small but packed museum which impressed my by showing the large variety of wildlife in the Gobi. Did you now there are Gobi Bears, a specific breed of brown bear only existent in the Gobi?!

fossilised Dinosaur eggs

Moreover, the Gobi is home to Wolves, Lynx, wild Sheep, Steinbock, wild cats of a smaller kind, Gazelles, wild Camels, a specie of a wild donkey, and the mysterious Gobi-Worm, most probably a Nomads’ tale. A wooden replica was exhibited and … well, I am still not sure if this is a real animal. Then they are the many birds, dominated by the large Bartgeier or Laemmergeier, roughly translated as “bearded Vulture” or “Sheep-Vulture”. Smaller birds of prey are equally represented. Last but not least all the animals on the ground, especially Lemmings! and jumping mice. I saw Lemmings everywhere (not only in Richmond in a well-frequented Vietnamese eatery), one trying to hide inside an Oovoo…. The Lemmings here were indeed much younger (insider-joke).

This museum also had a display of some dinosaur eggs, all turned to stone, as the area is known for its rich findings of pre-historic animals.

IMG_4148From the museum we walked into the actual canyon. Basalt stone got narrower and narrower, ultimately leading to a small gap which still had a solid slab of ice! Slippery!! Underneath I could hear the stream flowing. Looking up, I could recognise the Bartgeier on its white-feathered breast, cruising lazily high above the cliffs. On the ground the Lemmings were busy changing holes, running across the hills pretty fast considering their little plumb bodies (another communality with the Richmond place, I refer to the the latter:, the plumb-ish bit J

The views were just magic! This was a moment where I wished I should have taken a proper camera. So instead, I shot-away with my iPhone. It won’t represent the place properly, but at least you’ll get an idea.

Back at the parking spot, some Mongol entrepreneurs had set-up horses for hire, horse-heads carved from the local hardwood and other locality-related trinkets – all handmade – were for sale. A woman sold food out of the back of her truck, freshly-made and we enjoyed Khuusshuur (Fleischtaschen) for lunch.

Then we drove on soon hit the Piste form thereon-in. Gee, how does one select which one to take.??!  Looking ahead they were at least eight lanes all seemingly going into one direction, but soon veering right or left. Confusing for the newcomer, known to my driver. He steered the car safely through dips, mud, sand, more dips and over the rims of dried-out creek beds. The landscape was unimaginably vast. To my right (south) the dominating, black-looking mountains of the Altai. To my right a seemingly shorter mountain range more of a reddish-colour. Our destination were the sand-dunes of Khongoryn Els. After 150 km driving on Piste the dunes appeared. Running in front of the Altai it provided a stark and beautiful contrast, with the vast green steppe before it.

At the highest peak of these dunes we stopped in a kind-of carpark. I, old fool I am, attempted a climb of the dune. I made it more than ¾ quarters up, about 180mtrs higher than the car, then gave in. It was just too hard to crawl up-wards with the sand giving in under each footstep. Well, the view from ¾ quarters up was brilliant and I had earned a rest. Going down was ‘funner’ and much faster.

Arriving at our overnight spot, a Nomadic family’s Ger-camp. This is a ‘normal working Nomad family with four Generation in one Ger. This family runs Kashmir goats, Camels and some sheep. They also have three more Gers available to travellers at a small cost.
Upon arrival you are warmly greeted and the head of the family, usually male, invites you into the family Ger. Make sure you duck and step in right foot first, otherwise you invite bad luck! Opposite the entrance is an altar-like arrangement. Religious and family pictures share this place. Other small ornaments relevant to this family complete the altar. The head, or any super-important guest can sit in front of it. Otherwise, ensure to sit on the left hand side, on the floor, just in front of a bed. This is the male-side. The right side is the female side. Another bed and often a cupboard with cooking utensils make this side complete. As we sit, the host offers his Schnupftabak dose (snuffbox) made from semi-precious stone, to all guest. Offered with the right hand, supported by placing the left and on the right underarm and received with two hands and a nod. Smiling is not as common here in Mongolia. I took a little portion of the contents on my hand and inhaled. It had a soft and nicely-flavoured aroma.

Soon after tea arrives in a large thermo can.

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Mongolian Milk-tea

This is hot water with a considerable dash of milk and one can dangle a tea-bag for more flavour. A lump of sugar is another option. The tea is poured into a bowl, which later will function as a food bowl. Nomadic life has this in common with motorcycle-travel live: things ought to have more than one function. The conversation flows, however all in Mongolia, so I understood absolutely nothing. I was happy to sit there, noisily slurp my tea (copying behaviour of everybody else) and be in the here & now.

Since Mongolian summers have long days (sun goes down at ~ 22.00), it was still good daylight when the family begun to separate the baby goats from their mothers.

Having no corral, neither a long wooden horizontal bar, the mother-goats were roped together, in a head-to-head pattern ready to be milked. This milk then was cooked (all milk gets cooked immediately after milking, but not mare’s milk!) and overnight the cream would rise to the top serving as ‘butter’ next morning for breakfast. I recommend it.
Later the men sat together, Mongolian Nomadic life has a clear role allocation, and a bowl of milk-schnapps made the round. Another product derived from goats-milk with a relatively low alcoholic content ~ 12%. It certainly tasted sour-milky, but not too bad. About one litre, judged by the size of the plastic bottle when it arrived on the table, was consumed by five men, but I had only one decent sip. Happy to have tasted it once 😉

Reflecting on a great day, full of new impressions, landscapes and Mongolian country life gave me sleep in my own Ger in no time. Early next morning some goats hopped on the roof of my Ger, another new sensation, but I continued to slumber.

Here is what I learnt about a Ger (Mongolian) or Yurt (Khazastan) describing the same round-house tent.
It is a removable home of Nomads, a mobile and interesting construction.
It starts with a ‘groundplate’. IMG_4233A puzzle of wooden planks nailed onto boards. Nine pieces make it complete to form a circular shape. This is the one-and-only piece where nails are used. Some Gers may not have this groundplate rather are build straight onto the sandy floor. Mongols use wood, felt and rope, to erect their Ger, usually in an hour or less, faster than it takes me here trying to explain it.

IMG_4230A solid-wood round roof-piece is supported by two wooden poles. The circumference of the Ger is created by unfolding a wooden mesh, fence-like frame, just like lattice. Where the two end of this mesh meet a low wooden door frame connects both ends. FullSizeRender 21The door always points to the south! The surrounding frame is connected to the round roof piece with about sixty wooden thin poles. They are stuck into small holes in the roof-piece and roped onto the top of the mesh frame. Once this skeleton of timber and rope is up, thick felt is slung around the outside, again ropes (made out of Camel or horse hair) ensure is stays put.

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Inside the Ger carpets or thick blankets cover the lattice fence on the inside walls. Carpets on the floor, especially on it’s north (Altar) side, give it a homely feel. The family Ger has beds, small wooden cupboards and other utensils. The ‘surplus’ traveller Ger has three or four beds. You will have to duck to get in (bumping your head means bad luck) and I was able to an stand up-right in the middle. Inside appears to be rather roomy, compared to the outside look. The wind curls around it’s round shape and I can see the sky through the roof-piece. This spot is only covered when rain appears, usually with two layers, one from south – one from north, the main directions for wind and weather. These days, Mongols also use a plastic sheet between the layers of felt, to increase insulation and rain-proofing.
Being inside gave me a happy sense, feeling save and protected in its space. Outside the Camels were singing …

The next morning, the Camels were waiting…

One differentiates between female Camels still nursing their one ones, and riding Camels, usually castrated males. A Camel saddle, a guide and a Camel to smoke made the morning complete.

I soon figured out what might have been the least awkward style to be on top and move with the Camel’s rhythm. Didn’t even have to hold on. A Natural …. 😉

Back onto the Piste and driving north-east towards the ‘Flaming Cliffs’, a huge sandstone jumping from the otherwise superflat surrounds. You drive right up to the tip and take a look:

One can walk everywhere and have a look, a dig and a climb. No constraints nor any restrictions where to explore. Rubbish unfortunately is everywhere. Mongolians just don’t seem to see it.

On top of the ‘Flaming Cliffs’ I could see that a recent strong rain had created deep rivulets down the slopes. At many spots it was still wet underfoot.
It made me wonder how long it will take to make this entire mountain disappear!? The erosion caused by weather, sheep, goats and people is massive. Still nature tries its best to dominate and this little plant certainly wasn’t thinking of giving up.

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Off, towards the final Ger-camp which was located directly on the edge of a forest. Indeed a forest as the guide explained. The Saxaul trees are a specific Mongol hardwood, growing in a much twisted way, no taller than 2.5 meters. Several aid-sponsored projects exist creating nurseries for this plant, to be planted in the south Gobi, with the hope to stop or at least delay the progress of sanding.

Just 500 meters away from the camp I took a walk into this ‘forest’ and sat and listened to the nature around me. Flies and the wind made little noises, and soon a small Springmouse appeared digging frantically a hole after the next. It almost looked like a miniature Kangaroo… When I moved a little this animal, stood up and made a loud whistling noise, presumably to inform his/her mates of the immediate danger.  Well, the ‘immediate danger’ soon walked on, stumbling over some Camel bones.

Some of which still emitted a rather unpleasant smell.
To my minor disappointment this Ger-camp had no animals, therefore no chance to sample  Nomadic life for a second time.

Next morning a little walk to yet another small museum offered to see some 100-year old photographs about Mongolia and, yet another, dinosaur skeleton, this one only in parts, the backbone. The area is known for these finds. My guide explained one can test by licking the stone/fossil/bone if it is a stone or a real fossil. The latter makes your tongue stick, the former not. Well, let me tell you I – of course – had to try it! I found out that my Australian-Germanic tongue is not sufficiently fine-tuned to make these distinctions.

After enjoying a shower in the Dalandzadgad Hotel I had a ‘Stechdurchtag’ run back to Ulaanbaatar.  Getting ready there to head west.

 

Choices …

18 June Mandalgovi – Dalandzadgad 280 kms – Total 6372 km

 

I am pretty good at making decisions s-l-o-w-l-y.
I do need time for percolation, weighing up the options, make up my mind only to change it a few moments later after getting another piece of information.

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it is hard to capture the wide-wide spaced Gobi

This rummaged through my mind en route to Dalandgadzad, the district capital of Omnogov in the south Gobi. The question I pondered was how best to see/experience this part of the Gobi.

One, my preferred option was to break the ride on a bike and swap over to a guided tour. This 3-4 day event would allow me to see all sites in this area:

  • Chongorijn Els/Khongoryn sand dunes,
  • Yolyn Am canyon and its museum,
  • Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park, the “Three Beauties” peaks,
  • Bayanzag, (known as a Flaming Cliffs.

And I also wanted to ride a camel, securely fastened between two humps.
This guided tour is offered by many operators and cost are about the same: expensive! The expense is caused by my one-man-group. It seems next to impossible to join another group …
But I certainly considered this expense as worthwhile, as it always provide more substantial information about the sites and their history. I can sit in a 4-wheel drive, relax and look around, without risking to hit a pothole.
The ‘little’ problem was that I needed to do such a tour with little delay once in Dalandzadgad, ideally the day after arrival. This presented a challenge to the tour operators. But she came through with the goods. My tour starts tomorrow at 9.30 pick-up and all I have to do is pack and find a safe spot for the bike and remaining luggage.

My contingency option was to make Dalandzadgad my home-spot and explore the area on my own sans all the luggage and weight, but on the bike. Probably not as ‘rich in info’ compared to the guided tour, but special in its own way. I would stay two or even three nights in D and then head on. The risk is of being on-your-own and in case of any accident this could be tricky.

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parked on a hill beside two markers, of which are many by the roadside. Meaning …. dunno

Heading-on was another topic for rummaging: where to, what route and is it advisable to do this alone. More thinking, my head is aching! To cut through this maze the final point was my decider: alone or not. Well, after reading through many posts of past riders/drivers who did this area I became more-and-more convinced that doing it alone would be the less best option, considering the many kms of Piste I will have to take.. A break-down, fall, river-crossing or other malevent could become a dangerous situation. Here I am, an old bloke on a heavy bike not being able to continue.

So, alone is second choice for Mongolia, especially when trying to go off-piste and navigate through unknown Mongolian country side. I learnt that a pair of riders on lighter bikes made 80 kms a day navigating through creek-beds and sand dunes! I am running short on remaining visa time (30 days in total) caused by my lay-up in UB fixing the fork-seals, so this risk I like to avoid.

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my artistic attempt to capture the mood

I am happy to go alone the middle route, but even there are long stretches of off-road. I am told that the Piste is clearly visible and cannot be lost …. famous last words.

So, alea jacta est! I shall be doing the guided tour and then head up north again to connect to the middle route via Karakoram. If possible Neil may join in provided his clutch if fixed in time. I know he prefers to travel Mongolia with company, especially after his recent break-down, which happened right in the area I am in currently.

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Paul is looking good: new tyres, fixed fork-seals

On the road again

17 June Ulaanbaatar – Mandgovi 280 kms – Total 6372 km

On the road again. Willy Nelson or Canned Heat come to my mind, but Jonny Cash’s lyrics I find most suitable:

On the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

Here we go, on the road again
Like a band of Gypsies we go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turnin’ our way

(don’t worry my ‘musical-phase will soon be over). But, finally, I am on the bike again! – that counts!

Brand-new seals and a set of brand-new Heidenau tyres. Shiny black they are so I’d better take it carefully for the first 200 kms.

The total ride to day will be just below 300 and is the half-way point between UB and Dalandzadgad, the Gobi town right down south.

Leaving Oasis Hostel is an interesting dynamic. I’ve been there more days than planned and more than I want to count, but it’s almost two weeks or more? It has become a ‘honey-trap’. A cumfy place with interesting people, all fellow-travellers, always leaving and some new arrivals. Beer in the fridge, food on demand and hot showers. One can easily get used to it and this may make leaving harder that consciously aware.

Here are some impressions on the place so you can understand me better.

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the crowd @Oasis Hostel, Brazilians, Italians, Australians, Germans

The ride getting out of UB was terrible, as expected. Traffic her seems mayhem anytime of the day or night. Smog, horns and Police-checks for alcohol. Everybody has to blow into a little handheld thingo, no straw or even replacing a mouthpiece or even wiping it clean, just blow. And everybody does. Well, “not on my nelly!”, so I smile, play the dumb-tourist card and drive past. No adverse reaction by the coppers.

The maps.me navigates me through all this southern part of UB and not too soon I find myself on the road to D. Another toll-booth requires me to play dumb and just pass, now I can relax.

I can feel how these tyres, especially the front react differently when cornering, not that there are too many corns, but still it is noticeable. A matter I shall get used too soon. After all, the previous set took me for 7000kms through Russia and I gotten accustomed to their ‘falling onto the most outside knobby when cornering’. Well no worries, it will work out just fine!

I am conscious not having my ‘mojo’ back, yet. Not only the tyres are ‘fresh’, I also re-adjusted the handlebars, so I can manage clutch and front-brake easier when standing in the pegs. This opportunity arrives soon, a long stretch of ‘Mongolian Piste’. I shall offer up a pix soon, so meanwhile only words: the road ends and through a little dip one is side-tracked onto dirt. Almost immediately several tracks are on offer. Which one to take? Well, id a local is in front of you, I always choose the same. S/he mist know. If not, well more tricky, somehow a middle-one will do. After a while you ride on a track and on each side are at least 6 more. It is quite smooth and easy to cross-over. However, I ride standing up, as I need to get more familiar with ‘Pistes’ and hate to fall on the first day of riding it.
Ahead I can see a big truck and note what track it is taking. I also make a mental note when it is slowing down, as I expect the Piste to be a tad tricky there.

Indeed it is, but all goes well.
After about 10kms or so I find myself back on ‘save’ asphalt.

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southwards, Gobi-bound ..

The landscape in undulated. No trees anywhere, just rolling green hills, wherever I turn my head. The grass is short and any animals must feed for a long time to get their belly-full.
I see so many horses, never seen as many before! Some with young foals. Each bunch ahs at least 80 animals in it, some are even much larger. Surely a horse-country. They roam free, none is hobbled or otherwise constrained. Often the hang-around close to the road and I decelerate substantially to be prepared for any sudden movements.

I see sheep flocks in large numbers. All sheep have their tails. No flies here??

I ride past goat herds, I guess 60 or more animals all very wintery looking in their long, zotty fleece. Apparently ‘zotty’ is not in the dictionary, but I am sure you can see the picture …

Even several Camel-herds are nearby, the two-hump kind. I always believed the one-hump ones are called Dromedar …? Now I feel unsure.

As the weather is fine, sun not too hot, a steady wind from the west, I can feel ‘mojo’ again. Good! Fold-out my highway foot pegs and move into ‘relax-position’. Aaahhh, that’s the way. The road is next to perfectly sealed. Neil B, was right, no more than four potholes on 200 kms. A very easy ride.

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still can’t manage good panorama shots: middle-Gobi desert (a tautology?)

About half-way I invite myself having a break. I slow down to find an opportunity to leave the elevated road. Soon I am off the street about 50mtr on fat county-side. A spot as good as any to have a Brotzeit.

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Picnic spot in middle-Gobi

I make sure waving ‘thumbs-up’ to passing cars and trucks to signal all-is-ok. So no need for them to stop and offer help.

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Brotzeit in middle-Gobi

I ride one and arrive mid-afternoon in Mandgovi. The hotel recommended is shut. Well, not quite, it is fully occupied by a bunch of politicians campaigning in the area. Elections are on at the end of the month. Back in UB I could see emerging pictures of people on large photos, cars with same and flags, loudspeaker messages etc, etc – all to make sure you are ‘in’! I guess, like most up-coming/developing countries being a member of parliament brings great privileges and plenty of snout-in-the-through opportunities. However, I am disappointed. The only hotel hotel was specifically not recommended by travellers who had been there a few days ago. No choice, into Hotel Gobi with all it’s former old charm, now reduced to a rather run-down affair.

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Gobi Hotel, Mandgovi

Several rooms are at offer: one, reeking of cigarette smoke with 6 beds; one less smoky with two beds, but I take the one at the end of the corridor with one bed. The room even has a fridge and, once plugged-in, it stars to purr. My room also has its own toilet and a basin. the shower is downstairs, a communal one, and the middle/late-aged landlady is reputed to walk in on you whilst under it ….. Well, let’s see what will happen. For an extra-bonus: e bike is behind a locked gate – that’s reassuring.

So now I am sitting on the balcony.

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Balcony-view from Hotel Gobi

By the look of it I hope I wont crash through. I pulled my one-and-only chair from my room outta here and write these notes. Some traffic goes by, many Chinese motorcycles with two, even three people on it, cars, some rather expensive ones (Lexus 4-wheel drive), a campaigning politician’s loudspeaker car for the second time, even a police car with lights flickering …. Mandgovi rush-hour, well I prefer this to UB even if this IS the arse-end of Mongolia!

For me it will be an early night and an early rise. Tomorrow I should complete my trip to Dalandzadgad early afternoon and the Gobi is waiting to be explored.

Wish me luck to find a little better hotel or hostel, even a Ger-camp will be preferable .. yes, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t he spoilt …… I am!!

Waiting, and hoping, and waiting ….

 

In UB … still

We all know Lou Reed.
One of his songs is ghosting through my mind:

I’m waiting for my man
Got 26 dollars in my hand
Up to Lexington 125
Feel sick and dirty more dead than alive
Huh, I’m waiting for my man

Hey white boy, what you doin’ uptown
Hey white boy, you chasin’ my women around
Pardon me sir, it’s furthest from my mind
I’m just waitin’ for a dear-dear friend of mine
I’m waiting for my man, come on

Well, if you get the melody, then you’ll get my drift.
… and that’s how I feel – right here&now in Ulaanbaatar.

I am waiting for my spare-parts and they’ve been paid already.
Until they arrive no chasing of anything or anybody – just waiting killn’ time, going over my maps for the twentieth time, eat too much and getting fat – just like an Egyptian whey hoo whey hoo whey … make that: just like a Mongolian whey hoo whey hoo whey

Well, you can see that I have time on my hands and the mind tries to occupy itself, usefully or not, just occupy.

Perhaps I should go outside and sun-bake a little, as the overnight rain has stopped and the Mongolian sun is shining brightly. There has been a lot of rain lately throughout the country.

My two fellow motorcycle travellers Mario and Neil got caught up in it whilst riding in the Gobi. All turned to mud and Neil, on his Triumph Tiger, fried his clutch. Now he and his bike are on a Mongolian flatbed truck on its way back to UB. Decision-making time for Neil contemplating his options.

Basically I can see three:

  1. Order spare-parts via www, wait, install and continue. Juts as I just did with my fork seals. Depending on duration it may necessitate an extension to his 30-day visa
  2. Sell bike as is here and get next-to-nothing for it …. buy a local (Chinese) bike (you still could end up with some change) and travel on
  3. See this incident as a ‘sign from above’ and pack up your bike and self to travel home, attempting this journey in a year or two

This has firmed my thoughts of breaking my journey, meaning hopping off ze bike and explore at least a part of Mongolia by other means. Like a small group tour down south with four or more wheels, ultimately returning to UB. Naturally I also hope for warmer, less rain, weather to minimise the clutch-frying option.

I stuck out several feelers and received several options. So now I can examine and see if/what’s do-able. I have a 30-day visa for M, but could extent – at a cost. Looking deeper into this option I will need to ‘fork-out’ (what a befitting turn of phrase!) about US $ 1000 for a trip down to Gobi, a couple of days and experiencing Mongolian airlines (fly there and back). Hmmmh, will need to percolate this a little more. We’ll see …

 

Monday evening my time I received the tracking number for my parts dispatch via FedExpress. I could and see the parts are in UB already! Quickly establish the local Fed.Ex agent and ask the hostel staff to call them. We are told it should be dispatched today. YESS!

Waiting and going over maps. Now it is almost 13.00 part isn’t here. Mongolian time = Pacific time …

Ask hostel staff to call again and bad news: part may come today after 18.00 hours. The driver does the west of UB first, then the east-side. I am ‘east’. Bugger that!  I tell’em that I will come my-good-self and pick it up from their office. It’s in the cbd, close to the large place.

Ultimately, at almost 14.30 I’ve got it! A celebration must be had! Burger and a Guinness! Then heading back and the repair begins.

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undercover work

In the lead-up to the task I have read several how-to-do post on the www. Some have detailed pix and descriptions. Love’em!

The top of the fork is out of the bracket; pulled out the actual moving (shiny) bit and drained the oil.

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Blick ins leere Rohr

Now the ‘fun’ starts. Prizing the dust caps off is easy, but getting the actual seal out of the lower fork-leg (a pipe thingo) proofs a tad difficult. Here the www-instructions recommend a special tool, even show a picture.
Well, another Lesson Learnt: You’ll never have the tool with you that you need for a certain task ….. I’ll have to make do; break only one screwdriver, ever being careful not to damage, scratch or otherwise the fork. Finally the side-stand-spring-tension tool is saving me. Both seals eventually give-up and decide to pop-out. Hallejuhliah!

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da liegen sie, die Gabelholme

Now the reverse, however first a proper clean-up of any residual gunk and visual inspection of the leg and both seals. One dust-cap had it, it’s cracked. One seal (the non-leaking one ??) appears also damaged.

Well, I ordered two, so I change both!

The rest is a satisfyingly easy task: carefully tapping the seals into the leg, not forgetting to insert the u-disc underneath each. Clipping-back the retaining clips, dust-caps on top, oil re-fill. Here I compromise. Getting fork-oil in Mongolia is hens-teeth stuff, “Ugui!” “Niet!” so I settle for Automatic Trans fluid instead. It will make do until journey’s end.
Now the forks can be re-inserted, retightened at the top, the entire wheel re-aligned and all is good.

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sans front wheel, bleeding fork

Since my replacement Heidenau tyres (front & rear) have arrived in UB, I use the close-by motorcycle shop to change them. Ready to go. Happy man!

Tomorrow a final packing, paying getting some food stuff day and early next morning off again. I think I have decided against the flying option and take the risk.

Stay tuned

Mongolian Bikers’ meet

Saturday 11 June – 98 km – Total 6092 km

Since riding through Siberia, and when hosted by several motorcycle clubs I learnt about a forthcoming regional bikers’ meeting in Mongolia. The date was 11 & 12 June at the Genghis Khan ss-Monument, about 40 clicks east of Ulaanbaatar.

“Righto!” I thought, let me see if I can manage to go there and win the price for ‘furthest travelled from …’

Having arrived in UB I started to get worried about my leaking front left fork seal. It risked spoiling the left front break, so immediately after arrival in my hostel, I order a replacement set from the UK, superfast delivery thank you.
It necessitated to remain in UB for a little longer than anticipated.
On the plus-side now a trip to this meet was almost a certainty.

To combine the unfortunate with the pragmatic, I cleaned up the leaking seal with a fork seal cleaning tool – Thank you Neil Barnes! – and determined that the ride to the bikers’ meet would be the test-ride to see if a cleaned seal would prevent further leaking.

Meanwhile my new mate Werner from Austria (mind the ‘L’), who has been in Mongolia several times and for longer stints, had a bike for sale. A Honda Transalp, ‘left over’ from a group of Schwarzeneggers. It didn’t sell as pre-arranged and agreed, and since the group had already left to home shores, Werner volunteered to sell the bike: 2000 Euros –certainly a bargain!
Werner belived going to the bikers meeting will offer a great opportunity to present and hopefully sell the bike. Moreover, he could shoot some nice pix at the meet.

After a hostel breakfast – the standard honey, 3 jams and toast (a tad/toast repetitive), we rode off. The hostel is located close to the east-west thorough fare, right at its eastern end. Since we had to go east, we didn’t have to wrestle through the start-and-stop city traffic, however traffic was at its usual ‘thickness’. Being a Saturday appears to make no difference.  Moreover, it seems that even Sunday’s don’t make a difference to the business on the streets and open shops.

The eastern suburbs of UB are nothing to write home about, so I skip this part and only say that the road leading us out east was shit-house.

About 12 kms out of town a toll-booth greeted us with a long line of cars ready to pay their dues. I had noticed these booths before: when arriving from Russia travelling towards UB. I always had ridden around the barrier, not paying (in these instances I didn’t have any Mongol money) and had not observed any adverse reaction of the toll-collector.

Werner and I did the same: overtaking the car-snake on its left and doing a hard right at the actual barrier. I am never quite sure of my not-pay action, but once again no adverse reaction. The road changed immediately to a much better surface…! I would have gladly paid any toll. But too late – off we accelerated. Werner was leading as he knows the way.

Having ridden almost 35 kms, I could not overlook the silver-shiny massive statue appearing sat the horizon: Genghis Khan, all made of stainless –steel, a private initiative.

Riding a few more kays we had arrived. An Arc-de-Triumphe-like entrance lead us into a large car-park and one could see the many steps leading to the monument.

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However, this wasn’t really the reason we were here! It was all about the bikers’ meet, but we hadn’t seen any other bikes travelling on the same road, neither had we overtaken any? No bikes were parked anywhere.

Well, having learnt that Mongolian Time is very close to Pacific Time, I was happy to wait and explore the ss-Khan statue instead.

Upon my return nothing much had changed. Still we were the only Well, I have been known to – occasionally – forget these things…

FullSizeRender 11Werner, having attached a For sale sign on his bike had a better time.  He had created some interest. Several people had inquired and somebody was about to come back (from the statue exploration) to talk a little more.
So we were happy to wait, but had made up our minds to return to our accommodation and consult the web – no reception where we were L.

Finally Werner’s prospects didn’t turn up, and ready to leave with the helmet already on I spotted two guys wearing MC club vests. Hmmmh, no harm asking these guys. Revelation!!
Indeed we were at the right spot!
Moreover, we were at the right date!!
…we were just a little early. They were part of the built-up crew and the bikers would arrive in two hours.

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getting the stage ready – GK watching

Change of plan and off with the gear, we were happily waiting. The carpark was emptying out of cars, as the Triumphe-Gate doors were kept closed.

Werner’s bike meanwhile had attracted a serious prospect and a day later indeed the bike was sold to this local man, who BTW didn’t even have a motorcycle license …. still, he’s got a great bike for little money.
So, that made Werner happy and he was even more happy when we tasted a delicious ‘Bikers’ Burger” made by the BlueFin Chef Jack himself.

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A litte later together we watched the arrival of the bikes:

Flanked by Mongol jockeys in their traditional outfit, lead by a couple of old cars, the Mongol Chopper Club arrived in style and noise. Unfortunately I cannot post a video on this blog L, so you’ll have to take my word for it and/or come to my 7 hours slide-show ;-)).

Mongol Choppers first, followed by other type/model club bikes, followed by a contingent of Russian bikers, a few Chinese bikers, some side-cars and an entire local club of off-road riders (mostly on KTMs).
I saw a brand-new GS1200 water-cooled (Russian biker), two other 1150 GS and all kinds of other bikes.

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Bikers meet exhibit, notice ‘Paul’ in the background, clearly outshining the chopper

Food stands had emerged, vodka was flowing as the wind (and later rain) relentlessly tested ones mc gear.

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many well airbrushed choppers here

I met many, many friendly bikers, one I remembered from Khabarovsk, Hans the president of this chapter. Hans had made the +4000Km journey in four days, riding a chopper. Bikers from Blagoveshchensk, and the Irkutsk/Lake Baikal chapter were present, met the first female Harley-rider of Mongolia and her sister, and had a jolly good time!

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@GK bikers’ meet

Werner and I decided to ride back the same early evening. We followed a cl

When Werner and I settled back into the hostel, we were certain that most of the bikers we had met had further indulged in merriment and vodka tasting, all part of a Mongolian bikers’ meet.

BTW, I did not get a trophy, the event is somewhat differently structured as one knows events like these form home. No worries – had a ball!

 

Ulaanbaatar, Capital City of Mongolia

 

Ulaanbaatar has been my ‘home’ for the past 5 days.

I needed a decent break, needed time to collect my thoughts, catching up with blog-responsibilities, re-organise my gear and clothes and have I said needed a break….

In doing all of the above, I get out of the hostel every day and take a look at the city.

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Ulaanbaatar’s Shard and General Sukhbaatar pointing

Thus far, Ulaanbaatar has not really turned me on. Sorry to say so, but that’s how I feel. Riding in from the east side a looong east-west street – Peace Avenue – carries right through. Somewhere in the middle you hit the centre, marked by the Parliament building and a huge place in front of it, Sukhbaatar Square, named after a hero freeing Mongolia from foreign rulers (Chinese or Russian – not sure).

The city’s shape is elongated, as in the south a river and then a mountain range contain any sprawl. The north is similarly contained, another mountain range. Buildings are ‘Russian’, meaning square and square. Not many highrisers, just a few, opposite to the square on the south-side, dominated by The Blue-Sky Tower, kind of Mongolia’s Shard (London).

I walked into this prestigious building, popping on my most-confident Expat expression and ask the Hotel Receptionist for access to the top floor. More font than Myers, but it worked. Lift went up and one had a splendid view from the men’s loo.

A few more steps and I found myself in an expensive looking restaurant with brilliant 270 degrees views over UB.

Well, so I felt to learn more about UB and standing on the square, I was accosted by an older man, seemingly just for a chat. Further into the conversation he mentioned that he used to own a hostel and run tours. So, I pricked my ears! Could this friendly mature man be my tour guide?? 60 seconds later we had a deal: 60 000 Mongol Tugrits. I roped-in two travel-mates , so 20.000 each + approx. 15 bucks.

Next morning at 9.00 am we again met Bolgon, a 62-year old witty, well-informed, politically decided man, with a little inner-Anarchist and off we strode.

Was great! Learnt a lot, which all of you can read here.

Here are a few pix.

These ones are taken atthe square. It is large and feels Soviet-style. The building is the Parliament of Mongolia being a relatively young democracy. It seems to struggle like many young states who moved from a Russian influenced Communism to a western government. Apparently Mongolia ‘borrowed’ a lot from the West German constitution when establishing their own.

 

Below we are in the largest Buddhist Monastery in UB: Gandantegchinlen (Gandan) Khiid:

They even have their own university on the premise ….

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Buddhist University, Ulaanbaatar

…and are about to complete a brand-new large temple. Money is not an issue. The amount of money given as gifts by the visiting believers is enormous. Large, transparent plexi-containers are full of it.

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Inside Buddhist Monastery

Entrance fees, albeit small, are charged at several temples and an extra fee, often more than the actual entrance fee, is charged should you want to take photos. Opulence is large. Welcome to yet another commercialisation of religion. Here, there and everywhere.

However the approach to this place is through some ‘normal’ dwellings

In our wanderings we saw several men and women collecting plastic rubbish and cans. With the help of our guide I struck up a conversation with one. I was ready to give him a banknote, however was also mindful not to pre-judge and not to act disrespectfully. Turns out that he made a reasonable/good living.

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Garbage collector

He has dirty clothes on cause he works in the dirt. At home his three children are working (two) and the youngest is in form 9. His wife is currently unemployed, however life is good. Seven years ago he came from Mongolia’s south-west, has established himself here and travels back from time-to-time to visit his remaining family. I left the banknote in my pocket.

 

Later that arvo, we had said our ‘Thank yous’ and ‘Good-byes’ to our guide, we saw an Austrian-Mongolian event on the square. Seemed to be a sister-city partnership between Wien and UB. Lots of Vienna Waltz, Radetzky Marsch etc etc was played, Vienna Waltzs was performed and taught to all spectators. I now can dance the Wiener Waltzer, come and ask me for instructions 😉

I also wandered into a Ger-shaped building. It was a wrestling-Stadium, but locked. My most-charmant approach to the guide made him un-lock and I had a look through. I could even smell the liniment smell

 

A few miscellaneous shots from UB

 

Finally, here are a few pix about eating & drinking …..

 

Leaving Russia

Ulan-Ude – via Darkhan – Ulaanbaatar 596 km – Total 5994 kms

The trip from Ulan-Ude south towards the Mongolian border was uneventful. The last 120 kms turned out to be the worst road in Russia I had travelled on.

The border crossing was “an experience”.
All up it took me 3,5 hours. Fortunately I was in the queue with a large number of Mongolian passport holders. All seemed to know what was required and I just followed suit: unpack everything and lay it out on the road. The Russian border guards were friendly and I wasn’t required to un-pack. Fortuitously, I was parked right behind a Mongolian family and Munkhdelger acted as a great translator, ‘middle-woman’ and mediator, especially with the rather sour Mongolian border guard. The power of the uniform …

Having presented my passport about 15 times I finally was done … that’s what I thought. But before going past the final Schlagbaum (barrier) a pimply Mongol soldier waved me over and directed me to a building. Looked like an official one and two Russian truck drivers were doing stuff in there. Wads of money (Mongols don’t have coins) changed hands and shiny certificates were exchanged in turn. Next it was my turn, but I felt reluctant to part with my dough, besides I didn’t have any Mongol money, just a few Russian Rubels. Turns out this was all about buying Mongol vehicle insurance. Now it was my turn to say “Niet!” – do have already.
Surprisingly that did the trick. 😉
Neil, a rider a few hours behind me, did not have such a lucky escape, rather had almost an argument with the same woman and ended up buying one of them shiny A4 documents.

…. and then I was in Mongolia. Finally, although the landscape in Russia was already looking Mongolian (not mongoloid, Wolfie).

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looking right

It felt good. I had arrived and felt content.

The roads were better than in Russia, however that soon changed as further south I rode. I passed herds of goats, many cows and even more herds of horses, all seemingly used to stand close to the road, paying neither care nor attention to the traffic – albeit light – rushing past. Several times I had to slow-down navigating through cows/horses as we claimed the road in unison.
Now, it was late afternoon and I was glad having decided not trying to make ‘the run’ from the border to Ulaanbaatar in one go. Instead I stopped in Darkhan, about half-way, found with some difficulties the Hotel and was pleasantly surprised, a really nice one! Very friendly staff, English-speaking, nice room and they even called back the cook to make me a delicious Pizza (well, felt like something different). I could barely eat half of it.

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Hotel Buuddai, Darkhan – loved it! less than $48 Aussie

The next morning I opted for the late check-out to spend time in the lobby doing photo-uploading solutions. A seminar was happening in a room nearby and I couldn’t help noticing that the seminar leader talked to his audience for the entire morning with no response. All sitting there quietly and taking it in. A sad, cross-culture example about one-way communication, or shall I call it ‘careless unloading of information’ …. Turns out this was a 10-day workshop for secondary school teachers (in Darkhan) to learn about ‘business’, so they in turn could incorporate this content into their own curriculum.

Getting cash out of the ATM introduced me to this countries currency: the Mongol Tugrik. I ended up with a big wad of banknotes, which I hardly was able to stuff into my wallet. One Aussie $ = 1,470 Tugriks. The largest denomination of Banknotes I got was 20,000 Tugriks. Haven’t seen a bigger one yet.

Off onto the road again, it was an almost balmy 20 degrees, allowed me to shed some layers.
I had a break at a road-house, enjoyed my first Mongolian meal – lots of fat on the meat – and sat on the veranda watching the cows going past.

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Joined by Mongol cows at the break

Arrived at Oasis Guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar (I finally figured out one form of spelling this capital’s city name). The ride lead me from the town’s west along Peace Ave, the main thoroughfare, to the town’s east in hectic stop-and-go traffic with lots of tooting and lane-swapping. I just tried to keep away from all this bustle.
The town didn’t exactly look exciting, however too early to pass judgement.

Oasis has a known name among bikers. Originally founded by a German/Austrian couple about 15 years ago it has become the ‘go-to’ point for motorcycle travellers from all corners of the globe. These days it has been taken over by a group of lovely local ladies and one couldn’t wish for a host more friendly. The one-and-only drawback is the poor Wifi connection 😦

Upon my arrival Oasis seemed securely in the hand of German travellers. We had three ‘mature’ couples in each their own, large Mobile Home. Two required a ladder to climb in, big beasts. However their owners were nothing than happy with their home-on-wheels and had travelled the globe intensively.

Arnold from northern Germany and I got on very well immediately. He had spent 7 years in Frankfurt/Niederrad whilst working at Lufthansa. So we were trading dummes Hessisches Gebabbel and had fun doing so.

There also was Hank & Marianne from the Netherlands.That was the couple Carolyn in Ulan-Ude had made me aware of – small world. On the road for many years and on their way ‘home’ to receive their new 4-wheel drive ready for their next trip. Both have build and improved their outfit bit-by-bit using their decades of experience.

Stefan, another German, had just sold his bike and was waiting for his plane to take him back home near Karlsruhe.

Stani & Marta, another young couple waited for a bearing to fix their broken down Landrover arriving via ‘special courier’ from Hamburg.

Mario from Portugal, riding with group of mates, had an incident with his R1150GS ripping of it’s left foot-mount and breaking a large chunk of the engine housing in doing so. He was trucked back ~400kms to UB and now is sorting out how to ship the bike back home.

Alastair ‘Glennfiddich, a cold-water Marine biologist from Warrnambool had arrived o his Honda Transalp and offered it for sale, soon successfully, then heading to US to meet his partner Rachel. BTW his real name is Baylis, however he’s talking about whiskey every moment and never delivers.

There was Mario, the guy I had travelled with for a few days, having arrived a day or two earlier.

Finally I also was able to put-a-face-to-a-name for Neil from Adelaide, he arrived a few hours after me.

A whole bunch of Austrians were arriving, who rode from Latvia to UB, all on Honda Transalps, already pre-sold to some locals, thus flying home sans bikes.

So this would be the place I would stay for a few days, perhaps a week, to sort out bike & tyres, insurance cards, and even the visas for the ensuing countries. I shared a room with four others and everybody got on well with each other – a bonus.

Lots of stories, possible routes, visa experiences etc etc were shared. Here is another advantage to stay I a hostel with its communal kitchen area, hence the interaction between travellers.

I decided to buy a bottle of champus (rose) and celebrated my arrival in Mongolia, together with one of my two Cuban cigars from my friend Eddie. A merry evening for self.

There is a lot of coming and going, besides that this is still the ‘pre-season’.

 

Back in Ulan-Ude

04 June from Slyudyanka – to Ulan-Ude 352 kms travelled = Total 5398 kms

Returning to Ulan-Ude I couldn’t bring myself to go back to the motorcycle club: no showers, no toilet, little water ….- I NEEDed a shower and a good bed, specially since I just had overnighted in such a club with no amenities, not even a toilet. A recurring need.
Indeed leaving S. I ultimately stopped in the forest and found a private spot to attend to my pressing physical needs.

I also needed a clear mind to solve the case of my forgotten Apple Powerbook powercord. Therefore I booked with bookings.com a hotel right in the centre of Ulan-Ude of which I had seen previously only a little.

Here is my hotel in which I immediately indulged in a long, hot shower:

 

It offered me a relatively safe parking in the courtyard and was indeed right in the mall, which I drove through unashamedly.

I realised the night before, that I had left my charger for the MacBook in the last place …. BUGGER. No way to go back! No way they send it to any address, too costly for their economy.
Fortunately I had sufficient battery power and an internet search revealed three Apple shops in Ulan-Ude. Luck was on my side! One shop, a seemingly a large one with its own website, was close to my accommodation. So off I walked  feeling confident as I had sent an email, advising my need and arrival. Ensuring it was understood I translated the text into Russian as well.

This is what happened:

I found the mall and knew the shop was on the third level. Found it and a young men served me, or tried to. He didn’t know about my email, so I showed it to him (still 40% battery). “Niet” no have. You could hear my heart plummeting. What tF would I do without a charger? A second young man, who was fixing a phone, looked up and intervened. Turns out he is the owner, James. His girlfriend (not sure) Surena spoke a little English. So after a while of doing the Google Translate dance I learnt that there was a charger at another shop. Great! I buy it!!  Well, the shop was right at the other end of town  (imaging sound of plummeting heart). I already thought to change tomorrow’s plan and make it my first stop in the morning, when James and Surena gesticulated to come with them. They would drive me in their car to this shop!

… and that’s what they did! Indeed it was at the other end of town into another shopping centre (somewhat substantially smaller than the ones in Melbourne). It appeared as if James also owned this shop.
This shop did have an original Apple charger, even with a Russian plug which is super-fine as it will work in Europe as well! No need for an adaptor, which of course I had left behind together with the charger. We tested it and it worked! Hurray! Saved, again.

I happily paid the OEM-Apple (Over-)price and got even 1000 Rubels off, as I didn’t require the power cord. Too bulky and I had left mine at home right form the start.

James and Surena apologised for not having time for a celebratory drink – my shout of course. Neither did they eat chocolate. So with many thanks and smiles I expressed my appreciation to both for going – literally – out of their way to help me, a stranger who just walked into their shop.

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my saving Angels Surena & James

I am most grateful to both!
The Apple cost for the charger I shall ‘mind-book’ as ‘Lehrgeld’, meaning the cost of making (and hopefully learning) from an experience.

Deep inside I wondered what else I will leave behind …. That I haven’t lost my keys for the bike is sheer preparation! I had ensured to affix a small carabiner hook on all my trousers, permanently. So all I need to do is to hook-in my bike keys whenever I pull’em out of the ignition. I have stuck to this process religiously, hence the good outcome.

Later on I meander down the mall, or better the Fussgaengerzone, and pass a woman which does not look local, rather European. we pass, but a few moments later Carol approaches me wondering if I am American. I have been taken as an American already on several occasions since here in Russia – so no surprise. We chat and find commonalities, so decide to share a small meal and tea together in a side-street. Carol, originating from the US has been living in Ulan-Ude for the second time. She teaches at one of the four universities here. Her ‘posting’ finishes soon, and she plans an interesting trip involving the high-speed train from Peking to Lhasa, the Himalaya, the Base-camp and riding a horse in the Mongolian Steppe. We both agree on how lucky we are, being born on ‘that’ side of the road, hence being able to fulfil our travel-wishes, representing a minute fraction of the world’s population.

Carol assures me that she usually does not accost strangers, rather my ‘good karma’ made her approach me.

So all in all, I had a great day! Hope you can find some good vibes in reading about it.

 

Here are some more pix from Ulan-Ude – their ‘Paris Place’

Last news arrived from Dimon, our host in Blagoveshchensk: the article had been published in the regional newspaper:  Armur Pravda – see it here and try Google translate.

 

Contemplations when riding …

Warning: only two photos …

Here are some of my thoughts, returning again and again, thus worthwhile to be captured. Some of them are rather personal, others are more of a statistical nature.

  • Russian men and most of the woman smoke. It still must carry a large ‘cool’-factor here. It also is cheap! A pack of 12 ciggies costs 70 Rubels = $A 1.50. They hardly believe it when I show them the cost for an Aussie pack on my currency converter app – 30 bucks.
  • All drink beer, me included.These pix are for Rob: do you know these labels?

 

A few statistical thoughts:

  • I figured I should calculate to make on average 300 kms per day. Currently I am doing much better on this average distance travelled, as the roads in Russia are better than anticipated. To-date I have had 12 actual riding days. I have covered 4952 kms, thereof 540 in South Korea the rest in Mother Russia. I estimate my average speed at 80 kmh. Can only estimate as I do not keep track of exact times.
    I expect this to come down. The roads in Mongolia are hardly ever tarred, so going will be slower, distances covered will be shorter. Similar in the countries afterwards.
    Above excludes any rest-days. To-date – 02 June- I had six . So that 2/week in my six weeks travel thus far. Perhaps a few more than anticipated, however to see some parts one needs to rest. … andI can always make reference to my age = energy levels.
    Ideally I aim for say 1.5 rest days per week. 
  • On average I am using 5.6 litres/100kmh. The litre of 95 RON in Russia is around 37 – 41 Rubels = 76 – 84 cents. So applying a medium of 80 cents/ltr, petrol travelling 100 kms would costs me ~ $ A4.50. That would mean that the total journey of about 25.000 kms (that is the plan) creates petrol cost of ~ $A 1.125. Add an error margin for petrol costing more in Europe and less in Central Asia – so I’d say a max of $A 2000.
  • Initially I was worried that the bike was using too much oil. I had to top-up almost 1 litre after the first 1000 kms. Now the consumptions is totally stable – almost nothing. How does that makes sense??
    I figure that I may have neglected to fill-in the right amount of oil when I did an oil-change immediately prior to leaving. Perhaps I mixed up the number with/without an oil filter?? I’d better not even think out loud about this to not spoil the oil-karma.
    For calculation’s sake, if I use 0.5 ltr/1000 kms I’d need ~ 13 litres. The cost for oil would amount to $ 120 … am I getting this right? This math does my head in late evening at 23.25.

So, where does all this brain-Callanetics lead?
Dunno, just part of my entertainment when riding for too long through Russian forests.

more stuff if you care to read on, rather dribble …

  • Solo versus joint
    There is lots to say to go solo or as a small group, here are a few sitting-on-the-bike-thoughts.
    For me, like almost all things, there are pros and cons. It seems as if the pros slowly dissipate and the cons grow. Or has it to do with my age? Hmmmh, soon I can see myself joining Waldorf & Stadtler on the balcony of the Muppet show.

    Seriously traveling with another rider is pleasant.
    – You are not alone on the road in case something happens.
    – You not always have to worry about taking the right turn, ‘cause you take turns of being lead-rider. Although this route offers only one option: straight ahead.
    – Company at the lunch and dinner table and often sharing a room brings down cost of accommodation: a major factor when on a budget.
    – You can discuss decisions where to go and what to see, but there is clearly no obligation to stick together.
    – When camping you have a much lesser chance of being eaten by a Russian bear or Siberian Tiger. The animal has a choice (and I have capsicum spray).

    So all good …? Well, almost.
    After a while I quite like being on my own. I can travel at any pace I want, do not have to keep-up with the lead-rider, as otherwise I indeed may take a wrong turn. I can stop whenever I see something interesting, without risk of loosing connection. Locals do approach you much more when travelling alone. Even as a pair there is some lesser amount of spontaneous contact. At the end of the day I have the luxury of my own space (room) if wanted.

    So no clear winner, rather a matter how long is ‘being o.y.o. good’ and the same for travelling together.
    Travellers may share similar routes but have different time constraints, so the mix&match shall continue.

  • The old man
    Being in Russia, on the bike on long roads, bring up long-buried memories of my old man. Somehow especially today.
    My old man travelled to Russia as well, although not necessarily at his own choice. As soon as he tuned 18 in 1941 he was drafted to replenish Hitler’s troops. No choice, other than running away or killing yourself then&there.
    Then again, who knows what it was like then. Perhaps all the brainwashing created a sense of wanting to defend one’s Fatherland, just as the movie Gallipoli showed. But I digress.

    So, off he went. Since he was tall, strong and healthy he had the ‘fortune’ to get drawn into Hitler’s elite troops, the Waffen SS. These are the guys shown in movies who are the real bad bad-arses. Every movie goer hates them and loves them to be killed slowly and mercilessly (recent Brad Pitt movie). So, off he went to the SS. Didn’t get a long, black Leather coat, instead he was posted into the Panzer-Spaeher. This is a Scout in a semi-armoured small vehicle, i.e. Hotchkis.
    To make his luck complete he went to the East-Front, that is the Russian front. Off to Russia he marched. But coming from the West and being armed and malintended.
    I even recall, and I haven’t thought about this for 50 years, the songs he recited when marching:

Klotz,
Klotz,
Klotz am Bein – Klavier vorm Bauch wie lang ist die Chausee
Rechts ‘ne Pappel
Links ‘ne Pappel
In der Mitt ‘en Pferdeappel
Klotz
– just repeat again and again.
“Kalvier” (piano) refers to carrying a machine-gun.

Let me tell you it is indeed heavy, the machine-gun I mean. I had the pleasure during my compulsory Army time more than once – was ready to kill anybody who glanced at me – so heavy and burdensome was the thing. Drove me mad.

My old man got evacuated back to Dresden twice. Dresden was later (1945) mercilessly burnt down by English Bomber Commandos with Phosphor-bombs courtesy of Mr. Churchill. I recommend to read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. Vonnegut was a American Prisoner of War working in Arbeits-Kommandos in Dresden at the time and luckily survived the onslaught to tell the story from his perspective.
My father came to Dresden, serving as a major military hospital for the East-Front, once with a hand-granate splinter stuck right into his neck, missing his spine by a fraction. Another time he was shot straight through his lower left arm. I remember seeing a photo of him in uniform convalescing in Dresden, smiling. After being restored to health, back to the East-Front.
The second wounding saved his life, as a result being separated from his original unit he was not in Stalingrad’s 6th Army. Instead he was with the German troops to the west of Stalingrad attempting a break-through – unsuccessfully. All the remainder /surviver of the 6th Army including General Paulus went into Russian prisoner ship. My old man saw how the light plane a Fieseler Storch with Gen. Paulus onboard was shot down by Russian infantry when trying to fly-out of the encircled Stalingrad. Told the story reluctantly, but I saw his Soldbuch, the little book every soldier carried, basically your military CV captured in a small pocket book. Green it was, washed out, with all the confirmation in old-style German handwriting inked-in.
I also recalled that the last German prisoner of war was released from Russian prisoner ship in 1956 or 57. That’s 12 years after the war had finished. The then German Budeskanzler Konrad Adenauer made this happen. Fox Toenende Wochenschau (newsreel shown before every movie) showed black&white moving pictures him greeting the poor bugger at Koeln airport arriving in Germany. A big fuss and a lucky fella.

So these and other war-related father memories bobbing up in my mind whilst cruising through Russia meeting nothing but friendly people. Guess most who experienced the WW2 have died, as is my old man. So resentment against all things German may have dissipated in most areas.

Finally my consistent dull painin my left underarm, hanging about since starting in Vlad and not gone away after a full course of broadband antibiotics. What’s the word for it: referred pain or so. A bit spooky was one’s subconscious can do. See if the Mongolia wind will blow away this ache …