08.08.11 Day 1
Ulan Baator – Just North of Bayanchandmani (down farm track to weird disused Ger camp with a few new buildings being built) 97km
Took us ages to find our way out of the city, asking for advice resulted in confident hand gestures but all in different directions. The outskirts were busy, colourful and hilly and after about 20km we were well and truly in the countryside. Lots of barking dogs, Gold Buddhas, Yaks, bizarre bug noises and marijuana growing on the sides of all the roads! We saw lots of Ovoos, or shamanistic shrines on the top of the hills tied with blue prayer scarfs. The verges are alive with bug sounds, it is hot and the sky is blue and endless. It is good to be on the road.
09.08.11 Day 2
Bayanchandmani -Just North of Byangol 102 km
Nice riding to start the day up a hill and down through a valley. We stopped at a road side cafe where Tom had his first goat dumpling stew. Every one we pass waves happily and they beep their horns or stop to say hi. We saw a field of vultures, they almost look like people crouching from a distance and we watched them circling above our heads. We camped on top of a hill, or inbetween hills, just off the main roads with loads of huge grasshoppers buzzing and bouncing around.
10.08.11 Day 3
Bayangol – Orhon 101km
Spent the morning passing through lush green landscape with men on horses looking after their herds, parts of the landscape could be mistaken for England. An smooth 10km down hill to Hongor where we stopped for lunch around a table of friendly Mongolians. They were Lorry drivers and were fascinated with our Map and phrasebook. One rolled a massive cigarette with English tobacco and looked completely bemused at the idea of a filter! Later on a guy reversed about 100m down the road to say hi with the Mongolian characteristically friendly face. Another pulled over and rushed to the boot of his car to give us a beaker full of Airag, a sour fermented milk drink, mares milk i think. We rode past Soviet towns which are a really contrast to the Gers and log cabins and often these different settlements are divided by the road, so Gers on one side, and soviet buildings on the other. Often the people can looks stern at first, then after a minute of looking our way, their faces will break into a beautiful smile and they wave and call us over. We camped over looking herds of cows, horses, goats and the Orphon Gol (river) Gers, hills and networks of sandy tracks.
11.08.11 Day 4
Orphon – Erdenet (pronounced Idnit) 117km
Just as we were packing up from breakfast a local farmer spotted our camp spot and galloped over to stare at us for a whjle! Off to a slow start due to some serious saddle sore but adjusting the seat position and getting rid of the padded shorts seemed to solve that problem. Listening to the Strokes and the Toots and the Maytals on our little speaker helped us to reach the top of hills. We struggled up one particularly epic one but were rewarded with an amazing ribbon road down the other side over looking more endless sky and landscape. Last 30 km cruising through an amazing valley dotted with gers, each one with hundreds of goats, horses and cows. Cows crossing roads and horse riders on hill tops tending to their herds. Two guys on a motorbike pulled over to get a picture with us. Erdenet is Mongolia’s 2nd biggest city (pop about 70,000) and home of an enormous copper mine which basically sustains the city. It took us 10km from what seemed to be the beginning of the city to find a hotel. We dubiously locked our bikes together in the staffroom, then following a conversation with the receptionist about or room not having a working lock, the manager proceeded to change the whole lock on the door, rather than just giving us a different room! Pizza and beer at 11pm ahhhhh!
12.08.11 Day 5
Erdenet – Bulgan 65km
After a slow start (taking the wrong road out of town) today turned into a day with quite a short mileage – but our journey was made up of hills, undulating up 3km, down 3km, and it seemed that there was no flat ground around! The hills made slightly easier by the distraction of birds of prey circling above our heads, waiting for one to drop for its catch. We rode further into countryside which soon began to resemble scotland, especially when it started pissing it down! The plan had been to stay the night in a ger camp 10km north of Bulgan, but as the rain got heavier and heavier we decided to find a hotel in the town. The streets were becoming flooded and we were drenched. Finally after riding up and down the main street, we found a hotel for about 3gbp, with possibly the most bizarre decor i have ever seen. The wallpapaper, a collage of floral treats had been nailed on for a start and the twin room provided 2 mattresses, one like a rock and one that felt like 1 giant spring. A chinese fress standing shelf with the slogan ‘flowers on the hillls sprinkling sprouting slowers a rather rainbowish sort of garden’ was attached to the wall with a couple of condoms on the middle shelf and there was a decorative border trim stuck over any cracks in the wall. A wierd moment, having a beer in the hotel when all the family who lived there started singing along to some Mongolia pop on the television, completely heartfelt amost brought a tear to my eye! The owner gestured that we could lock our bikes to a pipe, so we went out for dinner in a ‘kafe’ or meat with rice (minus the meat for me!) and salted tea. Tom was sick in the night and we woke up to hammering, welding and other general work site noises outside our window that was tastefully covered with a see through gold sheer piece of fabric. Oh and did i mention that the heating pipes that ran through the room were pea green.
13.08.11 Day 6
Bulgan to a Ger camp, north and up a valley 13km REST DAY!
Spent most the day chilling in our Ger, eating 3 proper meals and snoozing. We did make it for a walk up a big hill and chatted with a nice lady from the camp who spoke a little English and was very excited to practice the language. We lit the stove in the Ger so we could have a nice warm and relaxing evening.
14.08.11 Day 7
Ger Camp – about 10km from Sayhan 81km
Late start to the day after a lie-in! Tom had been awake in the night watching a mouse scurrying around on the floor of our Ger. We reheated last nights pasta for breakfast and took a picture of a guy with an axe and two dogs pulling a box of wood who stopped to talk to us about our bikes. We made it down a track onto a main road and after a few km 3 guys started waving at us from the side of the road so we went over to find 3 pissed Mongolian guys (11am) working on an electric pylon. We we given a round of large vodkas and tried to explain our route using our map and phrase book. We carried on cruising down a peaceful valley with lots of wild flowers before heading up a pass to a roadside cafe – hard boiled eggs and potato salad, a welcome change to instant noodles! We had spent the morning skirting around a thunder storm, listening to the rumbling in the distance, over the hills, where we were heading. Finally leaving the paved road we are now heading south on smaller roads, mostly like dirt tracks that separate and run off in all directions with no signs at all, meaning that at the time of camping we are not quite shore where we are. Amazing camping though, literally in the middle of nowhere with a few gers scattered around and landscape for miles.
p.s also got completely annihilated by a hailstorm that came from nowhere, after i had just changed to shorts because i was too hot! Absolutely freezing as my shoes filled with icy water and my bared legs were pummeled with sharp pellets and water ran off my shorts – an icy blast!
15.08.11 Day 8
Sayhan – Oldziyt 76km
We woke up early and tried to figure out where we were with the gps and map. We retraced our steps up a track heading south west. Saw a guy lying in the grass trying to shoot marmots and checked direction to Sayhan with a girl in amazing traditional dress on a motorbike. Fuelled by only biscuits for breakfast we headed the 30km to Sayhan – where folk definately thought we were a bit parculiar! We found a shop though and stocked up on noodles, biscuits and water – oh and thank god snickers are easily available and cheap! We rode up the steepest hill yet made harder by loose stones and sand but amazing view at the top of the valley and river that we would be following for the next 60km. The road took a turn for the worse and became thinner, more rocky and harder to make out whether we were heading in the right direction. We stopped to chat to a family building a ger next to their existing two, stringing the walls together with what looked like animal gut. We were given the customary bowl of Airag and tried to explain where we where heading. Mongolians have an open doors policy meaning that they always welcome visitors and are generous with refreshments. The path was getting closer and closer to the river and at one point turned into boulders and rubble before finally heading up a huge hill and becoming more like a passable track. Further on we were stopped by a car of scientists who were researching the micro bacteria (or something) of Airag. They also produced a massive barrel of the stuff and gave us a mug full. They asked if they could take our picture and carried on! We carried on following the valley and the river through some amazing scenery and set up camp on the bank of a dried up stream. Noodles for tea, but with the welcome addition of boiled onion, cabbage and carrot we had manage to pick up meaning we finally had some nutrients in this meaty world!
16.08.11 Day 9
Between Sayhan and Oldziyt – Battsengal 78km
To get an early start we were up at 7 having a coffee overlooking the mist in the valley. We managed about 10km before a guy on a motorbike and 3 kids (two boys with a toddler girl in the middle) on another, rode up to meet us on the track, rode with us for a while beeping their horns while we rang our bells, and then chaperoned us over to their ger. We stayed for a couple of hours inside their beautiful home and were given fried pastry with a Mongolian equivalent of clotted cream, dried milk curd, tea (milky and salty) and a goat stew – i tried to decline the latter as politely as possible but did end up being fed a bit of the stock from a spoon, weird but unavoidable! Tom was also given the ribs which is considered an honour and one of the best bits. The families 3 boys played on our bikes and used them to gather their herd, we thought them, along with the 2 girls to play frisbee and Tom had a little trip on the back of a motorbike (ridden by a 10yr old boy!) We gave all the kids one of Holly’s bracelets she had made (thanks Hol!) and they rifled through our panniers for a while, playing with things and trying stuff on, including the hi vis vests courtesy of the Whittingtons (xx) Tom and I even had a little go at herding! After a fun morning, we left for Oldziyt to stock up on supplies for the next day. Following this I fell of my bike whilst trying to cross a stream and got completely soaked and bumped my knee! Tom managed to escape with just two wet feet, but he did have to come and rescue my panniers and bike! It seemed like the rest of the day we were struggling up hills, through sand and into a headwind! Camped on top of a hill with a peaceful view over the countryside and Battsengal.
17.08.11 Day 10
Battsengal – Tsetserleg (prounouced by removing all the vowels!) 76km
Anther early start, quick biscuit breakfast and down a very bumpy track the last 10km to Battsengal. We bought a coke, which we couldn’t open, much to the amusement of the two girls in the shop so we quickly carried on! Had a little rest on the bank of the river -Tamir Gol. The landscape here is so vast that each uphill usually turns into a couple of hours work, so we struggled up a hill, got chased and circled by 5 dogs, then cruised down the other side! We ended up down at the river again on a PAVED road thinking we had nearly reached the town, but it turned out to be another 30km, and the paved road didn’t last long! Tsetserleg is lovely, riding into town was worth the struggle of the last few miles of bumpy roads, it is nestled between dramatic mountains, with colourful wooded houses disappearing up the hills, and gers behind green patterned gates. We decided to spend a rest day here, especially as the hotel has proper coffee and a veggie menu! We met a couple of cyclists doing a similar sort of thing to us, Mark and Marianne so went out for beer and chatted about our experiences in Mongolia so far.