Broke in Mongolia

2011-09-22 003 (600x338)Having arrived at the ger camp in Jargalant, our luck began to change and the man running the place was really nice. We had a cosy ger for a cheap price and even better they had a hot pool, which would be great for our muscles.

The next day we were trying to decide what to do next, our Mongolian visa was running out in a few days and we were 800km from the border. Our plan was to cycle to Tosontsengel 90km away and arrange a van or jeep to take us the rest of he way to the border. However the man here seemed to be saying he could drive us to the next town Ik Uul for free to help us out. We asked him if he could take us to Tosontsengel (we’d pay). He didn’t want to do that but was happy to go to the next town. So we said yes. First though we needed to go to the bank in town and change our last few dollars into Tugrik as we had none left, and said we would meet him by the bank. Unfortunately the bank wouldn’t change dollars, maybe the next town…  We weren’t able to buy any food, but hoped that the next own might be better. We waited around for ages for the guy and eventually he turned up, but had a flat tyre that he needed to get fixed first. He told us to cycle on and he would catch us up. We went a few kms and then stopped to wait. And wait, and wait. It got to about 2pm and we both felt a little frustrated, we’d left the camp at 10am and gone nowhere, we would be half way there if we’d cycled. This is often the case in Mongolia – people offer to help you and then you wait around for an age, wishing that you’d just gone and done it on your own. So we sat there with no food, no money, waiting for a man or may or may not turn up!

A jeep pulled up and a Korean guy called Solomon got out, he was really nice and spoke great English. We explained that we were waiting and he sat with us a for a little bit chatting. We also asked him about ATMs and banks, explaining our predicament over having no cash. He very kindly offered to exchange our dollars, giving us some tugriks. This was a big relief as neither of us liked being in a situation where we had no money, especially when we didn’t know when we’d be able to get some.

Not long after our friend turned up in a different car, a shiny 4×4. WE quickly unloaded the bikes and got ready to out them in. The man was saying something and shaking his head… he seemed to be saying there wasn’t room for both bikes and one of us would have to cycle. We tried not to roll our eyes. Having waited all this time, the idea that one of us would now cycle was a bit ridiculous. Chris took charge and quickly convinced the guy that both bikes would fit. In the end they did and we set off. After about 25km of bumpy roads and river crossings we stopped and pulled up near a couple of gers. There were lots of people here and there seemed to be something going on. The man told us that we would get out here and cycle the rest of the way to the town, about 15km. Right. We didn’t want to be ungrateful for is help, but were a bit puzzled as to why he wasn’t going all the way – we could have cycled 25km?! But we didn’t have time to worry about it as we were soon surrounded by a large group of friendly children, and lots of photos were taken. Everyone was very nice and the man who brought us was very proud that he had brought us to meet everyone and was telling them about our trip.

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We hadn’t eaten anything and it was about 4.30pm, so we went over to one ger to see if we could buy a meal. We managed to ask for Tsiuvan and the lady agreed.

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Cooking this from scratch turned out to be yet another long wait for us, so we spent time playing with her little girl…

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watching the children practice on their horse fiddles…

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Then we got talking to the other people and we realised that there was a small wrestling festival going on, the kids were there to play.

Some of the men had a go on my bike…

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and we showed them the map with 20 people crowding round us. Mongolians really like seeing maps of their country, they are a bit of a novelty as most people navigate by the rivers, mountains and dirt tracks.

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Eventually our food was ready and we sat down to eat. Lots of people came into the ger for tea while we were eating and one family invited us to stay at their house/ger in Ik Uul. However it was late now and we planned to cycle a few km down the road and camp – it was a bit too far to the next town, and despite not having cycled anywhere that day we were both a bit exhausted, mentally after the day we’d had. So we said thank you but no and then left to waves and goodbyes.

We camped up the road, on a hill side and both agreed that we much prefer being master of our own destiny rather than at the mercy of others! Despite that the man had been very kind and helpful and we got to meet a whole group of lovely people that afternoon.

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The next day we cycled to the town, an easy ride along a lovely river with interesting rock formations and a good road. We would have a meal here and then carry on to Tosontsengel, 45km away. As we arrived into town, a scooter pulled up alongside us and we saw that it was a man and his wife from yesterday. They had been particularly friendly and were the ones who had offered us a place to stay. They now asked us if we wanted some food. We did, and not wanting to say no twice, we took them up on their offer. We then spent 3 hours with them having a lovely lunch, looking at family photos and we showed them photos on our laptop.

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They were extremely nice and it was a very genuine encounter with a Mongolian family. They made traditional dels and boots, so we tried on a couple of shirts when they asked. They lived next door to the temple and we understood that his father had been a llama /monk here. He took us to have a look around…

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Finally we said goodbye and got back on the road.

The road into town had been great, but it took a turn for the worse now and was sandy, rocky, bumpy and really hard to cycle on. It was hard going and after 10km we both decided to stop – we weren’t going to reach the next town today anyway. We found a great camp site by the river and sat down to relax.

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It wasn’t long before we were invaded by sheep and goats, who looked quite put out! Goats eat anything so we kept a close eye on them as the bolder ones got close to all our gear!

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In the morning, I poked my head out the tent door to a welcome sight, it’s not always you can wake up to such a nice view.

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Next day we reached Tosontsengel on a sandy road that made us feel like we were back in the desert.

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Reaching town was a relief and we headed straight towards the centre hoping to find a bank or ATM. The banks were closed but there was an ATM hurray! But, ‘computer says no’ the ATM didn’t want to give us any money, or anyone else either. It was either empty or broken. Great now what? We realised it was Saturday and that everything would be closed tomorrow, so we would need to wait until Monday. I was fighting back the tears. I don’t know why, but getting here was a milestone and I was hoping to get money out, stay in a hotel, charge our laptops, have a nice meal and then find a jeep. We had a little bit of money but not enough for a hotel. Chris suggested we cycle out of town and camp, then come back on Monday I wasn’t very impressed by that to be honest. We asked about getting a jeep or van to Ulaistai (200km south) and got a few shrugs and try the edge of town waves. This was not looking good.

I went into the hotel to see how much it was and then called our friend Dash in UB. I explained that we couldn’t get any money until Monday and asked if the hotel would let us stay and pay on Monday They agreed and said no problem. Phew. They were really nice at the hotel and helped us with our bags, made the beds nicely for us and brought us hot water. So long as we could get money on Monday we would be ok.

Immediately cheered up,we had a hot meal, which was really good and filling and with power for the laptops we kept busy all day Sunday. I managed to draw our route and a picture of a truck, plus us and two bikes so that we could find out about a jeep or van come Monday First though we went to the ATM. It was still not working!!!! So we went to the bank hoping we could withdraw money using our bank cards. After a tense 15 minutes and a lot of huffing from the queue of people behind us, we were finally handed some money!

All we had to do now was find a jeep and get to the border before our visas expired in 4 days time!!

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2 Responses to “Broke in Mongolia”

  1. I feel your stress! The photos today are particularly beautiful. The Rugby World cup Final was tense, New Zealand will be rocking. Your posts are so informative, but they still make me feel old!

    Mr E

  2. Catherine says:

    Our fast-paced society does not equip us well for these kind of experiences which require patience and acceptance, I think… living in Spain tested my endurance with the ‘manana’ attitude and I know that I would not cope well in the situations you describe above… but the rewards are so wonderful! Your experience with the Mongolian family so lovely, the scenery you wake up to so beautiful… these will of course be the things you remember (I hope!)

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