25.08.11 Day 18
Ulaan Baator – Rest day 0km!
26.08.11 Day 19
UB – Just south of Bayan 116km
This morning we left UB for the second and last time. We have 9 days to cross the border and 650/700 or so km to cover which doesn’t seem like too much except the majority of the road is unpaved and apparantly covered with sand! Riding east down Peace avenue (didn’t exactly live up to its name!) to get out of UB was a pretty insane experience, 3 lanes of traffic on either side of the road, trams, permenant honking, potholes, dogs trying to cross all 6 lanes, police waving batons around – all we could decipher was that when the man is green, it is a complete free for all! Over a few hills out of the city the traffic started to die down, the road got smaller, houses are swapped for gers and less and less land is fenced off untill we are in the vast open space again. We had picked up basic supplies for the next week through the desert as we are not sure what shops there will be, we stopped at a petrol station to fill up on fuel for the stove -seems pretty odd cycling up to the pump! We stopped again to pick up 9l of water. And we are feeling heavy! (also one of my panniers seems to have found itself half filled with the most beautiful Mongolian wall hanging!) We pass a couple of cars pulled over on the side of the road, 1 group are passing around a bottle of vodka and the other are all eating huge lumps of meat – the driver is gnawing on a sheeps head! We stop to rest on top of a hill near a shrine/ovoo (it seems Mongolians use these areas as picnic spots) and we are called over by a group of 6 guys who promptly offer us shots of vodka, airag and slices of meat. They turned out to be doctors, who other than indulging in some day time shots and drink driving were delivering medicine and doing some research on a lake about 100km away. By the afternoon the road was stretching out and the landscape becoming flatter and we made a good dint in our journey towards China. Found a lovely place to cook and camp, not far from the road and deadly silent except for the odd rumbling as a train gets nearer and fades into the distance. We will follow the trans Mongolian Railway for the next week through the Gobi.
27.08.11 Day 20
Bayan – Choyr 120km
We set off on the same road as yesterday. There are these odd bugs on the road than remind me of grumpy old men crossed with something from star ship troopers. Tom ran over one and it exploded like a humbug patterned eggshell full of phlegm – yuk! We followed a falcon for a while ducking and diving under an electricity cable. It pretended to land on each pole before swooping under the next wire in exactly the same pattern each time. We got to Choyr late and rode up and down sandy streets looking for a shop to stock up for the next few days. 12l heavier we head out of town. Pulling down a rough track behind some hills we are called over by a couple of guys hanging out in their car. They give us a beer and we got chatting to Patmo (a traffic police man) and his friend (an electrician) whos name we couldn’t say, despite trying! After a while Patmos mate drives off to get some more drinks, they refuse to take any money from us. A couple of beers ad a shot of vodka later we are told to follow their car for camping. Down a track we end up pushing through sand in parts so Patmo and his mate tentatively balance our bikes and panniers on/in the boot of the car and we drive a very bumpy 500m or so across steppe/desert. We pitch our tent near a ger or their friend. We are brough tea and we sit around drinking too many vodkas and get a very noisy nights sleep surrounded by a herd of goats. Patmo (the police traffic controll man ahem) ended up drunk, losing his keys, before finding them again and driving home pissed out of his head! Got up in the night and saw 2 shooting stars.
28.08.11 Day 21
Choryl – Dalanjargalan 67km
We woke up this morning at sunrise to the loud bleating of 100 or so goats, some nudging at our tent. The young family we had camped near were busy milking their cows and goats so we left soon after, with a hangover. There is no more paved road left and we are heading into a headwind – we have had it for 3 days, but it is stronger today. And to begin with, the road it terrible. It seems the road is either i. covered in sand of varying thicknesses, ii. hard, cracked, lumpy, earth/sand or iii. a hard undulating ripple that feels like riding on a giant piece of corrugated metal – this is the worst kind. So the road surface and the perpetual headwind meant we were making frustratingly slow progress, with the only deadline of out trip to meet (visa running out.) Also, its pretty bloody hot – i think we are techically in the Gobi now and at lunch time in desperation for a tiny bit of shade we hung a ground sheet over an upside down bike and huddled behind it! A friendly chap stopped to wait for us and to say hi. He was also heading for China in his truck. He filled our water bottle and handed us boiled eggs, meat and bread, a tin of fish, some aruul and a nestea (the latter the most amazing as in the desert it seems that sugar drinks occupy my mind quite a lot!) We didn’t know what to say, what a generous thing to do. We thank him and ride off talking about how we should take his kindness on board. About 10 minutes later the same guy stopped again, thinking we might also need a lift to China! We politely declined and tried to explain that we actually wanted to cycle which he obviously thought was a bit nuts. later we come across a village which hadn’t been marked on the map. We are invited into the family home of Shataraa who gives us airag (Mongolians are really proud of their national drink!) tea and aruul. He tells us about his family and animals. They have 120 horses and 30 camels. There are some tiny cute baby foals at the front of the house. He takes us to get more water and thanking him, we carry on. Anyway it took us about 9 hours cycling time to do a measly 67km. We push our bikes to the top of a hill to camp over looking the Gobi and watch the sun drip behind the horizon.
29.08.11 Day 22
Dalanjargalan – 67km from Sainshand 84km
Tom woke up to another flat tyre, probably the result of pushing up a thorny, rocky hill to camp. Also it had been raining and a strong wind was blowing. It wasn’t exactly a tail wind, more of a side wind, but is felt like a relief after a 3 day head wind. We bumped and skidded over lumpy sandy track but it felt like we were making better progress than yesterday. We are getting beeps and waves from everone, even the train drivers which is nice and encouraging when the riding is hard. Took a wrong turn coming out of an odd railway town Ayrag and ended up on the wrong side of the railway line. We climbed over/through some barbed wire fences and lugged our bikes and panniers to the other side, and more lumpy tracks! The wind got stronger and stronger all day so putting up the tent was almost impossible – we had to try a few places, but it was hard enough to stand up and breath, let alone put up a tent! No bloody shelter in the damn Gobi! We ended up behind a huge pile of sand with the tent tied to bikes and the biggest rocks we could find.
30.08.11 Day 23
Towards Sainshand 16.5km
I wasn’t feeling to good at the end of yesterday and had to get out of the tent in the night to be sick. Felt pretty ropey this morning but we started cycling, into the headwind regardless, and on a bad road (the corrugated kind!) We think we saw golden eagles too, eating a deer and circling above us. I started to feel worse and after 16km or so we gave in a hitched a lift in a huge red truck (the only passerby we had seen all day) to the next town. Felt pretty bad that we had to have a cheat so soon in our trip, but we didn’t have enought water to just stop and pitch the tent for another night. So, we hauled our bikes and panniers onto the back of the truck and crouched down nearest the cab shielded from the wind and dust. An uncomfortable hour bumping down the tracks to Sainshand. The heat was relentless, maybe the hottest day so far. We checked into a cheap hotel to sleep. In the evening we headed out into this odd town in the middle of the desert – it was so windy outside it took your breath away and sand was being blown everywhere. Managed to find a decentish meal – although my small mould of veg-rice looked pretty insignificent next to Toms fried chicken and chips – serious food envy! Watched an odd Chinese soap opera back in the room before trying to get an early night.
31.08.11 Day 24
Sainshand towards Erenhot 96km
Didn’t have the best nights sleep but woke up early and felt ok – still a bit of a sore throat but we were keen to carry on. The wind had died down too which was a plus. We packed up our stuff, lugged it down two flights of stairs and spent the next hour doing a tour of the banks in Sainshand to find a working ATM – of which there were none – even though we had confident points towards the train station, where, of course, there wasn’t even an ATM! We decided to change some dollars instead. Leaving Sainshand we are on a newly paved road – whoop whoop – every second feels like we are getting further and further into the desert. One day there will be a paved road all the way from UB, to China but for now only sections are complete, so we have seen hardly anyone working on it, so it might be a while. Anyway, the parts of the road that are in differing stages of completion have piles of dirt across them every now and again so cars and trucks can’t use them. But we are having fun riding over them, and it means that we have THE WHOLE road to ourselves, which is amazing when it is a paved section. We can wiggle all over the smooth road, made all the sweeter after the bumpy tracks, and we don’t have to worry about any traffic. We are starting to see more and more camels – the ones with 2 humps which are bizarre to watch as they cross the road ahead of us. Gers, people and vehicles are few and far between. We camp in the middle of open desert-steppe hoping that the winds don’t come in the night.
01.09.11 Day 25
Towards Erenhot further 79km
Absolutely boiling hot today, the sun woke us up at about 6. The road is bad again from the start, rocky and uneven, but we are getting closer to China which is exciting. We are running out of water, we thought the road we are on passed through two towns but we have plotted our route using the gps and it misses the towns by miles! We drag our bikes through some think sand and up a track cut into the sandy hill and at the top it is hard to work out which path to follow. We see a sign for something in 1km in Cyrillic, we don’t understand what it means, but in 1km’s time, we see a couple of gers with a truck out side and we assume it is a rest stop. We are pointed towards one of the two gers which has low comfy seats around the edge and a table in the middle. We are given tea, and the usual bowl of broken biscuits and sweets. Tom has some sort of meat broth. There is a cute kitten on our bench. We are very glad of the rest and the shade. The owners won’t take any money from us and we don’t know why – whether it is free for everyone or just because we are curiosities! The two guys from the truck give us a couple of bottles of water and the owners of the ger help us to reload our bikes. The tracks are becoming more and more consumed by sand and its still slow going. We still get beeps and waves from everything we pass although not some many people travelling in these parts! We camp near an abandoned wooden hut for shelter from the wind. This may be our last night in Mongolia if we can make it to the border in time. We can’t see Dzamin-ude yet but we think it is about 45km away – we both feel exhausted and are ready for a few days off – the Gobi has been a bit of a challange!
02.09.11 Day 26
To Erenhot, China 47km
We set the alarm for 6 this morning as we were keen to get going and make it to the border in time. The sun had only just risen and the tent was casting a really long shadow over the ground. We had pretty much run out of food – another reason for the early start. We had a stale bit of bread, so we fried it and ate it with the last bit of blueberry jam (probably the only fruit Mongolia produces, and they turn it into jam!) Anyhow, a somewhat wrong breakfast, but it tasted pretty good! Its cold in the mornings which feels odd when you know how hot it will be in a few hours time. So we set of on probably the hardest section of road yet and it gets progressively worse as we get closer to the Mongolian side of the border, Dzamin-ude. Thick sand mixed with hard corrugated patches! About 10km shy of the town, sat by prehaps the last Ovoo we will see in Mongolia are 3 guys, they give us a shot of home made vodka while we rest from the sandy hill we have just climbed. Further on we meet 3 Norwegian guys on Chinese vintage army motorcycles with side cars. They look bizarre coming towards us through the desert, as do we probably. They are also just starting the ride home and it looks like a fun way to travel. The last 1km or so of the road into town is paved and it is a dream! We are starving and stop for our last Mongolian meal – we also try to order a celebratory beer but the waitress holds up her arms in a cross, despite the fridge being full – and we don’t know why! At a jeep stand we negotiate for us, and our bikes to be taken the 7km across the border we are not allowed to ride this section. Its cheaper than we expected and our driver appears to be in a massive rush! Im pushed towards the front seat of this falling apart jeep which isn’t attached to anything and the door is held on with a piece of string. Tom is in the back with piles of panniers and the bikes. With a lot of que jumping we are ushered through the Mongolian side by our driver and his wife. Our luggage has to be scanned which is a pain carrying it all away from the bikes – and we hope they will be ok unattended in the car. We have to que longer on the China side. A huge plastic rainbow welcomes us to Erenhot on the Chinese side.
Bayartai Mongolia, Nihao China!
Instantly China is so different although the 2 border towns are only 7km apart. The road are wide and finished, and so are the pavements. The writing looks absolutely insane to us – how are we ever going to understand it, we can’t see any english words anywhere!! Everything is more colourful and we are getting stared at more intently. Finding a hotel is reasonable easy, finding a beer took us about 2 hours and about the same for food! It always seems we are in the wrong part of time, either on the hairdresser street, or on the fixtures and fitting road – odd! Finally, trying to order food, I try to point to the phrase explaining that I am veggie, unfortunately the word above is ‘spoon’, which the waitress must have throught was confusing to say the least! In return she produces the oddist meal I have seen so far, A bowl of meat water, covered with a skin of somthing, maybe thin dough so it looked like some sort of edible drum! – wierd or what. Walking back in the dark, everything is neon and colourful and it is much easier to see where the bars are!