Archive for the ‘Mongolia’ Category

Mongolia to China the Bulgan Gol – Tashiken

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

We packed up the tent and started pushing our last few kms in Mongolia, i was still happy to be free again and excited to be crossing this particular boarder.  I had wanted to cross this for over a year and now it was open and i was free to cross it.  I was excited and smiling to myself as we got closer.  We had probably done only about 5km when a white car pulled up in front of us and a familiar face got out.  It was our driver, he was a passenger in the car that was actually a taxi going to the border.  The driver of this car and our old driver explained that the border was closing in just under an hour and would be closed for a week because of the Chinese holiday.  This was a tricky and funny situation, on the one had he could be after more money, on the other had he could be telling the truth.  We know that China do have some long holidays and the government does shut down during this time.

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It was an easy decision really, although it would cost us £10, we could not risk being stuck here for a week.  We quickly packed the car up and i was fuming all the way there as i had lost my freedom again and was pretty sure that the border was not going to be shut, but we could not risk it.

We arrived at the border and spent 2 hours waiting for lunch to finish.  We had missed the morning entry and the border was not closing that day.  I put it down to experience, and Liz and I spent the time designing our house that we want to build when we get back.  The border guards were friendly and we chatted with them for a bit until eventually we were let through.

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We cycled the bikes to the main building and were directed to an office and asked to wait.  Eventually a guy turned up and looked all our paperwork over, he made a few calls and 30 minutes later we were on our way.  We crossed the line and were greeted by a friendly Chinese face.  We were now by the bag check point, we leant the bikes against the wall of the office and we had all our bags checked.  They were quite thorough but polite and nice throughout.  Once this was done we went to the passenger terminal and put all our bags through the scanner.  Our passports were scanned by a small machine and our entry cards were printed for us.  We moved to the next desk got our entry stamp and opened the door, we were back in China.

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We cycled a few kms down the lovely smooth road and had a light late lunch before heading to the town of Tashiken.  We cycled around the town looking for the bank, after a loop we ended up at a hotel.  We checked with the staff at the hotel, no bank in the town and it was not really clear where the next bank was.  The friendly staff told us there were buses and taxis going to Urumqi for reasonable costs.  We decided to cycle out of town to camp and work out what to do.

We had the equivalent of £30 on us,  it was just enough to get to Urumqi that was about 600km if we were careful.  Liz really wanted to have a wash and sleep in a bed and was worried about the time it would take to get to Urumqi, as she had to start work and we had no power on the laptops.  The other issue we had was my bike was down one spoke and my rear hub was moving from side to side.

I was super keen to get back on the bike but Liz was ready for a break so we discussed the option of me cycling to Urumqi alone and Liz getting a taxi.  We had some food and got some rest.  We were both excited to be back in China but kicking ourselves for not be a bit more prepared.  Tomorrow would be a new day and things would work out, as they tend to do.

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Driving to the Border

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

With money in hand we were in a much better position, we asked the hotel staff where we could get get a van from.  We were pointed to the end of the main road.  We had been here the day before but Monday morning meant is was busy with people and the loud speaker was voicing a constant stream of announcements.  There is only a small public transport system in Mongolia that serves the centre of UB and the trains to Russia and China.  The rest is privately owned minivans, Russian jeeps or hitching.  Larger towns will have a place, usually by the main market, where you can describe your journey to a person in a small booth, they will announce your requirements over a tannoy and then you have to hope that someone is going your way. So we got our message across using Liz’s pictures she had drawn the day before.  A small group had started to gather around us anyway and we were ushered to different cars and people, hoping each time that we might get a ride.  Eventually we were sat in one van and started negotiating a price.

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Our issue was we had four days left on our visa or 14 if the exit visa gave you 10 days to leave the country.  We could not be sure and did not want to risk a hefty fine or problems at the border that has also only just opened to tourists.  The driver said he could take us and get us there in four days but the price was astronomical.  We called our friend Dash in UB to double check that we had everything right.  We did and Dash had also checked with a friend of his who confirmed the price was reasonable. The driver want fuel money not only for the trip there, but also to cover his costs for the way back – 1600km round trip.

It was a lot of money, but we decided to go for it.  We did not know the exact date for the visa. Hitching rides could take a lot longer and Liz had some work to do in the coming weeks.  This work relied on a good and fast internet connection, something that we had not had since leaving UB, so we needed to get to China.

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We went back to the hotel and loaded up the van with all our stuff, then had some food.  You never know how long something is going to take in Mongolia so its always good to embark on any journey with a full stomach and plenty of food for the journey. After lunch we got back into the van and in true Mongolian style we spent another hour driving around the town picking up parcels from different houses before setting off.

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We drove across more wild country with nothing but grass and the occasional animal, stopping at a few small towns on the way.  We arrived late at night to the city of Ulaistai, we did not really know what the plan was now, we told the driver we had camping stuff and hotels were expensive.  They asked if we minded sleeping in a Ger, not at all but how much would it cost?  We drove up to an apartment bloc, not a ger and were made welcome into a families home with tea and a place to sleep.  Quite confused, we chatted with our new hosts who turned out to be the mother of our driver.  She was very nice, with kind smiley eyes and made us feel very welcome. We were given food and then offered a place to sleep for the night, but not before game of chess with one of the children and some group  photos. We rolled our sleeping mats out on the floor and settled in for the night.  It seemed quite normal for some reason to be sharing a small room with our drivers mother and sister while Liz and I took the floor with our Thermarests.  The next morning we were woken at 8.30 am and had a light breakfast before saying goodbye to the mother of the house.  She was a kind smiley old lady whom we had felt at ease with.

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It was 10 am before we set off, we didn’t know it yet, but it was going to be a long day.  We left the city and the houses became less and then the gers became less until we were out in the open, as the day progressed it got colder and colder and there was snow all around us. The road varied between good  tracks and really bumpy intothe evening where we were driving at night negotiating boggy tracks where getting stuck would have been all too easy.  Our driver did a good job and we made it out the other side of the mud and back on to firmer ground.  It was now almost 1am and we were not sure where we were sleeping.  Eventually we pulled up to a ger in the middle of nowhere.  An old lady welcomed us in.  We laid our beds out in the ger and quickly got to sleep.

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The next morning we had tea and soup and were back on the road in record time. It was a crisp fresh morning and i was missing the bike.  I had really missed the bike over the last two days, the freedom of stopping on your terms and being in control were a far cry away from the van ride that i was not really enjoying.  Partly because i wanted to be outside  and not inside a metal box and also our driver.  We had not really connected with him, and there was a certain amount of wariness on his and our parts.  Normally spending a few days with someone you will bond, but here there was nothing.  I don’t think i really trusted him and i was also resentful for paying all this money.  The latter was a bit unfair as i had agreed on the price but we were paying for him to go back home as well which i felt was unreasonable because he could have easily filled his van with local traffic moving between towns.  I think a few bad experiences in the week before the van ride had really made me wary of people.   Still this was the last day of the van and i would be back on the bike soon enough.

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A few hours into the first day and we joined the tarmac road that comes from China.  It was built by the Chinese mining companies to provide good access to the mines in Mongolia.  The riches in Mongolia are being exported to China helping fuel its industrial development.  We stopped for some tea by the side of the road, we used the last of the water in our thermos for the driver, his wife and friend and us before the final push to the town of Bulgan. 

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We arrived there about 3pm and were surprises to find a large town with quite a lot of people shops and buildings.  We unloaded the van paid the rest of the money and the driver gave a short wave before heading off.  There was no emotial goodbye or farewell this was a transaction that had now ended and i think we were both glad. We got some food and cycled out of town on the road to the border.  We found a quiet spot to check email and move some money into our current account so that we could get some cash out in China.  While we were doing this a large group of kids came by interested in what we were doing, they had been fruit picking and offered us some of the fruit.  They were excited and full of energy which was a pleasant change from how i had felt over the last few days.  We accepted their gift and they told us we could get some more not far from here. 

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We packed up the laptop and set off a few more kms up the road and towards China to find a place for our last nights camping in Mongolia.  We found a good spot off the main road, well hidden and Liz cooked up the last of our food.  We reflected on Mongolia and our time here in general.  I was a little sad but Liz reminded me to think of all the good things that had happened too. The time that we spent in UB, where we made some really good friends and met a lot of lovely people will stay with me forever and i hope that some of those friendships will continue to grow. Outside of UB though  I  had found interacting with people in the countryside to be hard.   They were either super friendly, excited to see you and welcoming;  drunk;  trying to steal something from you, or asking to have something of yours or your money; or indifferent to your presence.  On top of this our basic Mongolian was not enough.  I think that having a better grasp of the language or travelling with a person that spoke Mongolian and English would have made things more enjoyable and interesting 

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I also realise that i could have been just unlucky, we have met people that have hated countries that we have loved because they had bad or negative experiences there, a lot sometimes comes down to chance.  I still like Mongolia and i want to come back so don’t let me put you off, just be aware of some of the annoyances here as there are in any country in the world.  I have already thought of a short expedition here for the future.  It is quite a challenge and will probably be almost some of the hardest things i will ever do.

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So with the reflections over we switched off our headtorches and had our last night in Mongolia, fee again. 

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Broke in Mongolia

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

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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Mongolian Microadventure

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

We filmed our 3 day adventure, however our laptop couldn’t cope with the large video files, so instead we’ve made this (4mb with sound):

This movie requires Flash Player 8

Music by Eddie Vedder from the movie  ‘Into the Wild’.

See the photos of our adventure

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Saturday, September 24th, 2011

For the last few days we have been filming our adventures as we cycled along, making a short video to enter for a competition being run by Al Humphreys and Howies. We’ve been wanting to film some of our trip for a while, so this was the prefect excuse. The northern shore of the White lake is spectacular and made for an excellent location. Plagued by punctures and a ripped tyre, we made slow progress and ended up camping next to the lake, which we were both secretly pleased about and we had a camp fire too, a rare treat for us.

We crossed a number of small rivers and climbed a 2300 metre pass the next day, which was so rocky I pushed most of the way and helped Chris too. We reached the top as the sun went down. The descent was steep and not without another puncture for Chris! We continued down in the dark and then camped as soon as it was flat. We were still pretty high and It was very cold, reaching  –10 overnight.

The following day we sailed along a beautiful stretch of downhill, with the forest showing all the colours of autumn. After crossing a river into a valley, we stopped at a ger to meet some local people (they called us over). After chatting briefly and showing them our map, one man decided he wanted the back reflector light off my bike, we said no and left shortly afterwards. As I cycled off, he ripped it off my bike, breaking my mud guard. Chris went back for it and the man returned it, grinning. It put us both on a bit of a downer and we were disappointed at this blatant disrespect for other people’s property.

Chris then had 2 back to back punctures and we were convinced that the tyre or rim must be causing the problem. Stopping to fix the inner tunes we also noticed that the hub was wobbling about. We tried to fix it but couldn’t tighten it. Various people on scooters stopped to see what we were up to and guess what? One of the men wanted our bike pump. Again I said no and explained that we needed it in case we got a puncture (like now!) he kept asking for it. In the end I said he could buy it for 400,00 tugriks (about 200 pounds) and he stopped asking! Do people just think we carry this stuff for fun, that we don’t need it?? Getting slightly fed up with it now.

We blasted out 15km, before stopping to camp in a nice spot near the river amongst the pine trees.  Chris cooked dinner for us and we wrapped up warm for a –7 night.

me doing a sleepy piece to camera

The next day we reached Jargalant and came across a small ger camp with a spa pool! We couldn’t resist and enjoyed soaking our muscles in a hot pool, followed by a nice meal. The people here are very friendly and helpful and cheered us up after the previous day. We need to focus on the positive encounters and not let a few idiots sour our last few days in Mongolia.

So the videos are looking good and we now need to edit everything, before posting it on our youtube channel. In the meantime, we are glad to be getting support from the north of England, with the Westmorland Gazette giving us a mention:

And Class 2 at Middleham School who sent us this picture of their wall display at school, following our journey!

Also a big hello to Jack McGee, cycling through the Gobi at the moment and Adam Hughes cycling through Java. Just keep pedalling!

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