While we waited for the bad weather to subside we washed all of our kit and a mountain of sand ended up all over the hotel bathroom floor. We managed to clean it up and put it in the bin, goodness knows what the housekeeping staff made of it! We also stocked up on some more provisions and boiled lots of water using the kettle in our room, so that this time we would have plenty of water.
We ate at another food place and made friends with the people there too – it seems that this town is one of the friendliest places around, everyone is greeting us with smiles and waves – I think this is how famous people must feel when they go somewhere and everyone gasps and giggles. It’s nice and makes you feel welcome but a little strange cos we’re just us. The friendliness of people in the small towns and villages is so heart warming and so different from the city, when you are much more anonymous and treated with more indifference, as you’d expect. We’ve obviously been away from the villages for too long!
On our way out of town we stopped to say goodbye to our friend Wan Jeng, who we nicknamed Eddie and stopped for a cup of tea. We ended up meeting his extended family and struggled to get away. But we finally left the town. As we cycled down the same road as before, only this time in sunshine, we were feeling much more optimistic and prepared.
A few km out of town and we stopped for a loo break, almost the moment after we stopped a police van pulled up and two guys got out, with a video camera looking quite serious.. Chris had only got as far as unzipping and quickly zipped up and came back over. One man went to get his police jacket from the boot and came over showing Chris his badge. Here we go, we both thought, what’s happening now? Turns out they just wanted a photo with us and a little chit chat, then they went on their way! Don’t know why we were worried, all of our encounters with the police in China have been very positive. Chris thinks that he was a senior officer, based on his stripes and perhaps was serious to maintain an air of authority, it certainly worked!
So off we go again, I was beginning to think we would never leave this town. The wind was against us, but not too bad and we made good progress, cycling passed ‘campsite sandstorm’. We cycled until we started to lose the light and then found a great camping spot amongst some trees.
The next day we had a tailtwind, a rare southerly, so I was up and out of the tent, bullying Chris to move from his cosy sleeping bag “Let’s go let’s go”. What can I say, we had an amazing day of cycling and managed 90km. Knees were fine, wind was behind us, the sun was shining and we had a quite a lot of downhill unexpectedly. All the trucks were waving and beeping at us.
We started to see sheep being herded by their shepherds and the faces of the people started looking less Chinese. The language gradually became more Mongolian too.
We had lunch, which was a mutton stew with potato and pasta, with bread rolls, no rice in sight! And it was delicious, like a good stew from home – I’m looking forward to more meat and potatoes! As the sun started to set we could see a town on the horizon, we weren’t expecting to come to a town as nothing was marked on our map, however the tell tale sign was the power station in the distance, it seems wherever their are humans here, they are industrial, smoke power stations. We cycled in and were greeted by hello’s and shrieking children, running alongside us.
We stopped by what looked like a hotel and within a minute had a crowd of 40 people around us. The lady owner was so lovely and welcomed us inside, she let us leave bags downstairs and said our bikes would be looked after too. We then went up to our room and had a shower before heading out for some food. I had pretty bad saddle sore which I haven’t ever really suffered from before so that was a surprise. My riding position has changed since we added the new suspension forks so this may be why. Having looked at the forecast we were due to have a tailwind the next day too and with only 160km to go to the border we reckoned we could get a lot of that done the next day.
We set off with an audience and managed to cycled almost 25km with the wind behind us, bliss, I was sure we were going to make great progress and have another good day. However the weather had other ideas and on the horizon we could see black clouds forming ahead, to the west of us. The land here is flat, like great plains – nothing in the way to break the wind. I cycled faster, naively thinking we could out-cycle the weather if we kept going. This worked for a while but then the wind came gusting in almost without warning and bang, it slammed into us. I went from 23km per hour to about 8km and it was slow going. Then the rain started and we stopped to get waterproofs on…
…to cut a long story a bit shorter, we basically spent the rest of the day, sheltering from the wind, hail, thunder and lightning and rain, with a little bit of cycling in between storms and quite a lot of pushing. We made it to the next town about 6pm and the weather seemed much better and the sun was out so we pushed on. But the weather was waiting for us and no sooner had we left the town (where there are hotels, shelter, food etc) than the heavens opened again and we took shelter for the nth time that day, in a road tunnel. The only thing to cheer us up was a spectacular rainbow.
Tired and frankly fed up with the lack of progress and ‘the stupid wind’, I was all for stopping right there and putting up the tent. It wasn’t a great spot however and Chris persuaded me to continue just a bit more to find a better place. On we went and it got dark. We reached a sign saying 100km to the border and some toll booths. We asked about camping behind the building there but they didn’t really understand, so we pulled off the road after a km of so and camped. It was blowing a hoolie by then and we wrestled with the tent in the dark, By the time we were set up and laying down it was about 9pm! I was shattered and couldn’t believe that after such a long day we’d only managed about 60km. I felt less tired after 90 the day before! Tomorrow was the 5th so we really needed to do as much as we could and get to the border, the last day of our visas was the 6th.
So we woke up and guess what, there’s a side wind blowing so hard that you could barely stand in it. Great! We packed up the inner tent and used the outer for shelter to cook breakfast and coffee. Then packed up and wheeled back to the road, with a plan to flag a truck and get a lift. After two hours of standing by the road and flagging trucks, none of them stopped – they were all friendly but heavily loaded and had passengers. I was pretty cold by now and so we went over to the petrol station near the toll booth. They gave us hot water and we ate biscuits whilst trying to decide what to do. We could cycle back 10km to the town and see if we could arrange transport there or get a bus. I loathe going back on ourselves, especially having already done it a few days ago. However we couldn’t see any other option. We thought about explaining to the staff at the garage to see if they could help us and speak to the truck drivers. Chris managed to explain our predicament to them and with a complete stroke of luck, the China Post van pulled into the garage. They both jumped up and said “Erlian, Erlian”. That’s the name of the border town and it seems the post van was headed that way. They ran out and asked him, the result was yes!! We exchanged some money and everyone got their cut we think, then we loaded everything on top of the mail into the back of the van.
The 100km journey took about 1.5hrs and seeing the conditions outside we were glad to be inside. Sand and snow was sweeping across the plains, with the wind buffering the van. We didn’t really talk and both of us dozed off for a while.
As we arrived in Erlian, we were greeted by Dinosaurs. Apparently dinosaur bones have been found here and an impressive use of the landscape and creativity meant that life size statues of dinosaurs peppered the landscape. Pretty cool!
He dropped us off in town and we found a cheap hotel. The contrast between camping and being outside followed by the warmth and comfort of a cheap hotel room ( I mean you wouldn’t want to take a holiday there but..) is so acute, we were both exhausted, and we hadn’t even cycled anywhere!
This town also had a fast food restaurant called Dicos (which you may remember us talking about when we first arrived in southern China). It’s like a KFC but actually a bit nicer. We went straight there for some additional comfort and had chicken burgers and chips and ketchup! Heaven. Now all we had to do was cross the border the next day and our Mongolia adventure would begin!