18.08.11 Day 11
Tsetserleg – Rest day 0km
A really chilled day with a proper breakfast! We pottered around town, used the internet and climbed the 200 odd stairs to see a giant 17ft Budda Statue half the way up a hill. All the trees were decorated and tied with blue prayer flags all over the branches and covering the trunks. Great view of the pretty Aimag (province) capital, colourful roofs and watching people just going about their days! Good to just be lazy for the day.
Spent a lot of today looking for a run off that apparantly we had already taken! We expected today to be mostly off road but it seems a new paved road must have been built since the map was printed. A Kazakh girl and her family pulled over to talk to us. She was studying medicine in China and speaks Chinese, English, Kazakh, Russian and Mongolia – amazing. She seemed a little bemused and asked why we wanted to travel in a ‘poor, cold’ country – cold, what? Later we were invited into the home of a mother and 3 young girls. The ger was bigger than those we had previously seen and the patterns on all the furniture – orange and blue floral and abstract designs – and the rest of the decorations were amazing. She offered us salty tea and tried curd pieces (aaruul). The landscape leveled out and we camped on flat open steppe.
The sun woke us up early toady with no hills to cast a shadow (which normally helps us to have a lie-in!) Lots of Mozzies too buzzing around and nibbling while we were having breakfast. We carried on cycling on the road towards Harhorin. A canadian guy on a motorbike pulled over to chat to us (pretty obvious he wasn’t Mongolian as he was wearing a crash helmet which are practically unheard of over here). He had ridden across America, Mongolia and was heading up to Russia before shipping his bike to South America, he had also done a few bike touring trips in his time on the same bike as Toms. He sped of with the wise words ‘Stay safe guys, and keep the rubber side down’ (!!!) my new favorite saying! 25km later we arrive in Harhorin for breakfast. Brought some pretty amazing leggings at a market which seemed like an esssential addition to any cyclists wardrobe! We pushed our bikes around the Erdene Zuu Khird monastry outlined by 108 stupas. All but 3 temples in the compound were destroyed during Stalinist purges, like a lot of architecture in Mongolia, but the monastry has since been restored. A tibetan style temple is the only one still in use and is absolutely amazing inside, everyinch of it is decorated including he ceiling. We sat their for a while during a ceremony (through out which the monks seem to be aloud to slurp tea and snort snuff!) Saw and kissed a stone turtle marking the edge of the ancient city – of which there is pretty much nothing left to be seen. Riding out of the city the roads and landscape are becoming more sandy and we have been told there is an area of dunes coming up. we camped in a quiet valley listening to the squeaks of mice coming from the networks of tunnels that must lead off from all the holes in the ground we have seen and the snorting of horses – which is becoming a familiar sound!
Early this morning we cruised through our first 1000km Whoop whoop! We had started to get a bit panicky about our water situation but luckily the inaccuracies in our map (which we come across quite often!) worked in our favour and we found a small cluster of shops and gers on the side of the road so we could buy water. We had thought we had seen a town in the distance earlier but as we had got closer it gradually turned into patches of sand! – not what you want to see when you are thirsty! Carrying on we rode through the Mongol Els or ‘mini Gobi’ – an unusually rugged landscape in comparison to the rolling hills we had become used to, with small dunes nestled between. Stopped at Rashaant for lunch of bowls of salty tea, noodles and soup. A group of girls from the cafe picked up the courage to talk to us after giggling for a while, one was learning English at school and they sat with us for a whil and sat on our bikes when they thought we weren’t looking! We stopped to watch some new stupas being build on top of a huge hill and some were being decorated with patterns. Tom got his first puncture – but i am still living the dream that i might make it home without having one! Camped at the base of a hill at the end of a valley – chatted briefly to a guy on horseback herding his sheep around our tent. Still amazing to watch, how one guy can control hundreds of animals.
A farmer rode over as we got up for a chat as he was collecting his herd from the rocky hills and moving them on, a different farmer and herd from the previous night. As he rode away in the morning mist we watched the grasshoppers flying out in all directions and catching the light as the hoofs trampled on the grass. We rode over the steppe back to the road. Being off road is good, but today on the same paved road all day we are flying – an easy 105km over an undulating ribbon – clocked nearly 60km an hour at one point and music from our speaker (billy idol and stone roses) helped us keep a good pace all day. Amazing sweeping road down into Lun as the landscape and hills in the distance began to resemble Mordor, claps of thunder erupted over our heads and an almighty wind gathered across the valley floor, sweeping me into the middle of the road and ripping the map from my bar bag and off tumbling down the road! We struggled into the wind for a further couple of km into the town, where after a few laps we found a (probably the only) place to eat and shelter. A couple of pints later…the weather calmed down and after chatting to a few local cheeky kids we found a camp spot out of town and hidden from the road. We will miss being able to camp anywhere as we head into China.
- Most of the land is unowned so camping anywhere is fine
- Men like to walk about with their belly’s out
- The sky is endless
- So is the steppe
- The people are beautiful and friendly once they get over our curious appearance
- Meals are meat
- Someone is probably always watching you through their binoculars – meant to check on the herds but clearly used for spying!
- The babies are the cutest ever
- Sand and sandstorms
- Milky salty tea
- Animals in herds where ever you look
- The doors of gers always face south which is helpful if lost (or follow the pylons, if there are any, to the next town)
- Gers – simple from the outside, but the most beautiful, round, colouful, warm, welcoming space inside – i want one!
23.08.11 Day 16
Lun – 60km from UB 77km
Fell asleep last night to the loud snorting of grazing horses around our tent and the loud whooshing of air under the wings of these peculiar birds – a seemingly uneconomical way to fly. As if to pay for our good day yesterday we spent the morning battling uphill, into a headwind and our speaker had rant out of battery! After a challenging 35km we noticed some cyclists in the distance. Bizarrely, they turned out to be Chris and Liz or Bikeabout.co.uk (cycling from Nz back to the Uk) Tom had been checking their blog while they had been away, they are from Ambleside and following our Lands end to John O Groats cycle Lis (toms mum) had saved an article from the Westmorland gazette, on them for us. This had got us thinking about a longer trip in the first place – and there they were in outer Mongolia, on the same road as us. Weird. We all happily put down our bikes and hung out on the side of the road for a few hours drinking coffee, eating biscuits, and we got to ask a million questions about our route ahead (thanks guys x) After hearing about their 21 day struggle through the Gobi into a headwind and sandstorm, we are getting a little worried about the 9 days we have allocated ourselves before our visa runs out! After a lovely few hours, we reluctantly got back to the pedaling as thunder clapped over our heads and lightening arched over the road and flashed in the distance. Just before a storm it normally becomes unbearably hot, but as the rain begins to fall, so does the temperature. After dinner in a road side cafe, a guy from the bar came over just as we were leaving with a shot of Chiingis Vodka for each of us! Not the best campsite tonight but I think we have become too fussy, every where is so beautiful, Mongolia has spoilt us! It seems odd that we are able to camp so close to a capital city.
We were quite excited this morning about getting back to UB, prehaps the only place on our trip we will end up revisiting. Peering out the tent it was grey, misty and raining, abit more like the North Yorkshire moors than Mongolia! Setting off into yet another headwind (the legendary Mongolia North Westerly wind is clearly bullshit!) we cycled back into the city. Over a few hills and the roads gradually became more and more chaotic. A closed road meant we had to take what i think was a ring road – but was essentially unpaved crazy madness. Cars and trucks didn’t seem to have any idea which side they were on, or how many lands there should be, honking, shouting and swerving to avoid potholes. Luckily there was a strong wind which turned the top layer of the bumpy track into a dust storm so we couldn’t see. Anyhow, through squinted eyes we could tell that people were thinking we were completely bonkers. So absolutely filthy and tired we managed to cycle into our first Capital city