Olgiy (Mongolia) – Novosibirsk (Russia) 3 day ride 1091 kms – Total 9967 km
Entering back into Russia was always to be a little gamble. The gamble with Customs Officers on either side.
I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories, recent ones from travellers coming form the other (western) direction into Mongolia. Some were caught in no-mans land, a 15 km wide zone separating both countries. Others told stories about discrimination, such as the border guards clearly dealing with their own folks before turning any attention to these foreign motorcycle travellers. Some spend an entire day to make this crossing – the anticipation was … hmmmh … ‘mixed’.
However, before all that Mongolia threw the final surprise at me: despite the marking on an apparently up-to-date map, and some – now obviously – non-specific reports, the final 38 kms to the border were dirt again. Corrugations were so bad, that I searched for tracks beside the ‘main-road’. However, all was bearable, as I told myself these are the final Mongolian dirt roads (in my life). A pacifying and calming thought.
Arriving at the Mongolian border a long line of cars awaited us. A woman in uniform started to walk towards me with a little black book in her hands. Funnily enough “Lovely Rita, meter-maid” an old Beatles song came to mind. Albeit, it wasn’t lovely Rita.
Now one’s diplomatic nouse comes to play: should I ignore her and promptly ride to the front, parking right at the lowered barrier or should I play it differently? Travellers’ tales often claim the former option is the way to go.
I hesitated and decided to stop, mustered my biggest smile and making gestures to say that the road was hard and I am happy to be here. Not quite sure how my limited Mongolia language skills (by now I knew about 14 words – max!) made this clear to the approaching official. “Road tax!” was her operative word and I dared to question “why now?”, as I was leaving the country? “Road tax!” was the repeated response. Not a good time to start any argument, so I paid, still with a big smile. I also asked for a receipt, which was indeed forthcoming.
I then ask if we (Neil & I) should drive to the front of the line. Almost any response I was prepared to claim as a “Yes!”… and since no negative murmur came from this official, I took it as a “Yes!”, prepping my mind to point back to her if I would be queried by the next border controller.
And so we did: drove right to the front, possibly shaving 3 hours from the expected time to cross.
The other ‘liner-upperers’ didn’t seem to mind, or better: I did my best not to read anything negative into anything which was said. Didn’t understand a word anyway and just wanted to get out!
As per usual, we attracted the attention by everybody around. Not for long though, as we are waved through the barrier and now the formalities for the ‘bike passport’ a.k.a. motorcycle registration papers begun.
To our wonderment and against all odds, we are over-and-done with within 45 minutes – a new personal best!
A short ride through the no-man’s-land towards the Russian side of the border repeats this process: I stay in the line, again take helmet & gloves off, have a drink of water and screen-out the negative tales from fellow travellers. I imagine a “half-full” glass, after all!
I walk towards the gate and try to catch the eye of the uniformed guard, showing off my white beard to gain instant respect …. well, at least some.
I ask, in my best – non-existing – Russian, if I need to fill in any form or so. Promptly the guard acknowledges me and passes me a form through the wire-fence. I also ask him if I should ride the bike to the front but get an unmistakable ‘Niet!’.
Having returned to the queue, it soon begins to move forward, as the Schlagbaum opens and several cars are let through for processing. At this rate we might be through in two more takes. But luck is again on our side, the guard waves us to the front.
The next experience is about the Mongolian way of queuing up. I should have taken a photo but needed all my physical presence to claim my space.
Imagine any Zombie movie, where a bunch of them is trying to get through a small window – all at once of course. Basically a “cluster of Zombies” jostling for being first through the window!
Well, I have to confess I became one of them. …. and so this part at the Russian side took almost 4 hours. At the window for the Customs Clearance Officer, I woukld spent the next three hours
for my Zombie-turn almost for 3 hours, he re-wrote my form (Have I got bad hand writing??), moreover used an English form, which I hadn’t known existed. His handwriting is miles better than mine and finally we were allowed to move on. The luggage inspection was painless and over in 20 seconds – I just do look trustworthy (and old-er).
One more gate to clear, out with the Passport and papers again, two more windows and finally we were in Russia proper!
Instantly the roads improved! Almost new tar, little traffic and several bike groups coming from the opposite direction. I didn’t stop, they were just too many. I would have been an unhelpful source of information anyhow, jaded from a too drawn-out border process and still hurting from too many Mongolia dirt roads.
To reach the ‘destination’ for this day, a ride to Kosh-Agach was in front of me. Still plenty of time and pleased that the worst was over. And, let’s be reasonable, all in kind-of ok time.
My descend from the Altay had begun. This Siberian mountain range reaches peaks up to 3700 meters. The actual road was about 2500 above sea level. The road was smooth and pleasantly curvy.
Kosh-Agach presented like a typical Wild-West border town, despite being ~ 80kms after the border crossing. An o/night stay in a clean – hot showers – hotel and the decent continued very early next morning – I had ‘won’ two hours by crossing one/several?? time zones.
Still, a great ride was in front of me/us. To my right the Altay range of Kuraysk and to my left the Severo-Chuyskiy Mountains. All bare, no trees, bushes, just shining black and dominant in the morning sunlight.
As I rode towards the large plain – we are talking a 500 km + ride the landscape changed. I could see trees, bushes, sheep and goats.
Now, even forests emerged and a green cover, cows in good fettle grazing beside the road, not giving a hoot (or should it be ‘a hoof’?) about passing traffic, albeit it was light. To my left a strong-flowing stream of the Chuya river and proof that the Russian holiday time had begun in earnest: tents and campsites at the river, people, families in bathers. What a great spot, so I figure the river must be freezing and appeared to be too fast flowing for a safe dip.
At our O/night stay we were offered a secure parking spot in an automotive repair shop by Sergje. Here Neil found engineering know-how to apply another fix on his sidestand. I reckon now a Mammoth could sit on it, but I think for Neil there is still a little niggle of a worry.
This ride, albeit long, was almost a ‘reward’ for the previous days: great road surface, little traffic, sunshine, great scenery, and lovely gentle curves – good progress.
Novosibirsk was the next major destination and a few days rest for R&R were awaiting.