Posts Tagged ‘border’

China Khorgas to Kazakhstan

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

We checked out of the reasonably priced hotel in Qinguancun that we had found the day before and pointed our bikes towards Kazakhstan. It was only 30km but it was cold and raining, we had our waterproofs on for the first time in ages. As we rode I contemplated our last day in China, a country that had surprised both of us from the start. We had quickly fallen in love with the country and the people, and the cycling and travelling potential here is almost endless. For me, China is one of my favourite countries that I have cycled and travelled in and I look forward to having more adventures here in the future.

We arrived at the border a little after lunch and once we found the right gate to go through and fended off the rather keen money changers we said our last goodbye to China. The process was quite straight forward and we were soon cycling into Kazakhstan. We were met by our first Kazakh official who after a few seconds broke a smile and pointed us in the right direction. We took our bikes into the main passenger area, filled out our entry cards, got the passports stamped and managed to wheel the bikes through without unloading them and having everything scanned by the x-ray machine.

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A new country, a new language and everything was unfamiliar once again. It still amazes me that you can travel only a few kms and feel totally different. It leaves me feeling a little lost and and excited at the same time. I try and remind myself that a little effort, learning the language now from the start will go a long way in the future.

The town we had arrived into was a little sparse to say the least, compared the Chinese side. We were hoping for somewhere to stay but there was one small shop, a cash machine and a small kiosk to by mobile sim cards. We got some cash and cycled on debating about what to do. It was a little late into the day to get to Zharkent, the next major town 30km but perhaps there was more further on. We kept cycling, Liz was cold from all the stopping and starting in the rain so we kept moving. There were plenty of camping opportunities and we had pretty much decided that we were going to camp when we rounded a bend and got to another check point. We passed through without incident, just beyond was a petrol station and a large square building that we hoped might have somewhere to sleep or eat at least.

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An hour later having made friends with a few people who could speak English and help translate, my Chinese was no good here, we were sat in front of two plates of hot chicken and big hunks of bread. As we ate we debated about what to do next, camp in the cold and the wet, or stay in the ridiculously expensive hotel above the restaurant. The lure of a dry warm place was to much for Liz so we checked into the hotel stripped of the wet clothes and enjoyed a hot shower.

The next day the sun was shining and things were looking a lot nicer, we had eggs and bread for breakfast and cycled the 30kms to Zarkhent were there would be internet, shops, people and we could get sorted for the 300km ride to Almaty.

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The ride was pretty easy we passed through a few small villages on the way there and were thankful for our mirrors as old ashfelt road was a little bumpy at the edges so cycling Mongolian style in the middle of the road was much more preferable when the cars and trucks allowed.

Zharkent is a small town but it had everything we needed. A friendly English student helped us find a cheap hotel and we sat down to make a plan for the rest of the day. Firstly we needed more money, things were a lot more expensive compared to China. We found the ATM, internet cafe and market and celebrated with a kebab and a few shots of vodka courtesy of the guys that were at the same kebab stand as us.

The next day we got up early and hoped to get a good start, a puncture on my bike and then a problem with the hub dashed our plans. We also remembered that on the back of our arrival cards it said that we had to register within 5 days of arrival. By the time the bike was fixed up we were hungry again so opted for some food before checking the internet to see if the 5 days were more of a guide line than a rule. We cycled to the centre of the town and struggled to find a place to eat. It seemed that every place was closed for a wedding or private party. We were just about to give up but the last restaurant we tried happened to have an English speaking employee who pointed us in the direction of a good restaurant that he assured us would be open. Just as we were about to set off we were asked to wait a moment. The young guy came back and presented us with two large bottles of coke. A gift from our village he said. We thanked him a lot and waved goodbye. We arrived at the other restaurant that we were amazed we had missed and were greeted by a guy who spoke good English. We have been expecting you he said, please come and sit down and we can help you order some food. The guy that had just given us the coke had phoned ahead to the other restaurant.

We made friends with the restaurant owner and had a good meal, as we were leaving we asked if they knew if we could register in this town. It turned out the restaurant owner was not from Kazakhstan but Uzbekistan, he said that we really had to register in 5 days and that the nearest place was in Almaty. We were already on day two in the country and it would take us at least 5 days to cycle to Almaty. We pondered the dilema, cycle and hope that they don’t really care but risk a fine or some other problems, or work out a way to get to Almaty. The latter was not really an appealing option as this was going to be our only cycling in Kazakhstan. We had decide to take a plane to Kiev after Almaty as it was the cheapest way to make up some distance. Not travelling by bike was something I always wanted to avoid but we have to be back in England at the end of January latest. We decided to spend more time in Mongolia but the trade off for this was having to take a train or plane for some of the next part of the journey. I was also keen to get to know the country a little bit better as after only two days, the friendly people were making me feel relaxed and keen to explore.

The owner of the restaurant then told us he was going to Almaty later that day as he was flying home for his brothers wedding, he reckoned that there might be room for us and our bikes in his car, if we would be interested. With the fear of a big fine and no other information we gratefully accepted his offer and a few hours later we were on the way to Almaty.

It got dark quickly, mid way we stop at the small mountain pass that was covered in snow and apparently not far from a beautiful canyon. I wished I had done a little more research about this route and country before had so that we might have had enough time to cycle.

We arrived in Almaty at 11pm and our new friends found us a place to stay. Hotels are really expensive here and renting an 1 bed apartment is actually a cheaper option. We paid up for two nights and hoped that our warm showers host would be able to accommodate us a few day earlier.  We said goodbye to our new friends and settled in for the night

The next day we walked out of the apartment block on to a main road, we had no idea where we were. This didn’t seem to bother us at all, and it was easy enough to find a shop selling a map and then navigate our way to the immigration office to complete our registration. We found the immigration office and started to fill in the forms until we got to address. We had no idea of the full address of where we were staying, we tried just putting the street address down but they did not like it. We opted to go home and come back the next day.

That evening we got in touch with our warms showers host, he was happy to host us from tomorrow and gave us his address for our forms. The next day we submitted our forms in the morning and by lunch time we were cycling to the other side of town to find Taz our warm showers host.

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The Silk road or the Cotton road?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Leaving Urumqi together we joined a big highway out of town, having been in Mongolia only a couple of weeks earlier where you see one car an hour, suddenly being on a 3 lane highway was quite an adrenalin rush to say the least. However the benefit of the highway is the hard shoulder which is a lane in itself, and the fact that it is a good, smooth, fast road. We whizzed along and managed to do 45km in a couple of hours or so. Unfortunately when i have longer periods of not cycling (a week or more) and sitting, my leg muscles seem to contract or tighten, and the first day back on the road usually means that my knees hurt after 30km. We know this happens and try to allow for it, but it is frustrating and having to stop when the rest of you is ready to carry on can be annoying! However continuing is painful and can also mean that they still hurt the next day. So we stopped, pulled off the highway and into some bushes to find a place to camp. Hidden amongst the trees was a small concrete building, empty apart from a pipe with a big hole going into the ground. The ground outside was lumpy and not flat enough for camping so we decided to camp inside the little building.

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Looks a bit grim, but with the tent up, it was perfect and we had a good nights sleep.

roadosignThe next day we continued for a while until we saw signs saying no bikes and we pulled off onto a side road that ran parallel. This was very quiet and we had the road to ourselves, which meant we could talk and cycle side by side.

This road is actually the old Silk Road, which has seen traders coming and going across Asia for centuries. Even now the road was full of produce, with people drying corn or spices and chillies along the road ready to sell.  We wove our way in and out of the lanes of food.

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We cycled into one town to have lunch and found a nice little restaurant run by a Kazakh or Uyghur family. The father spoke Chinese but couldn’t read it. We carry a little piece of paper with all the food we like written in Chinese, so we can ask them what they have by pointing. he called his daughter over and she was able to read it and tell him what we wanted. We love having rice at lunch as it fills us up and gives us lots of energy, so we always ask for this  – “yo, mae yo meefan?” which literally means “have, not have rice?”. They said yes so we drank tea while we waited. A plate of hot fried meat and onion arrived, which was delicious. But no rice. Eventually the girl called me into the kitchen and pointed to the fresh hand made noodles that her mother was making and asked if we would have these. They didn’t have rice after all but the noodles were delicious!

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We continued on after taking some photos with the family and headed to the next town Shihezi. Along the way we started to see lots of small tractors with a big trailer full of white stuff that looked like balls of cotton wool….

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There were hundreds of them and by the roadside were balls of white fluff everywhere, in 100 metres alone there were probably enough balls of cotton to keep me going for a lifetime!. We played a game of overtaking them, and then they would catch us up and overtake us. The drivers were all very friendly and intrigued by us on our bicycles.

As we reached Shihezi everything felt more industrial, dusty and dirty. We thought  we might stop in Shihezi and find a hotel, but we couldn’t see much. Then finally we found a place. It was a good price (60 yuan) and we wheeled the bikes in, unloaded and went to register. In China hotels have to be registered to take foreigners and many hotels are not allowed. I showed the lady our passport and said “Yinggor’, which means ‘English’.as well as handing her the money for one night. She made a phone call and then handed me back the passports and money, shaking her head. We couldn’t stay. This has happened before and it isn’t their fault, but i do find it frustrating that they don’t tell us before we unload the bikes and bring them inside, surely they can see we are foreign travellers!

However they were very nice and helped us find another place to stay. Another woman borrowed a bicycle, hopped on and led us 4km across town to the hotel that would accept us. It was very kind of her and she stayed to help us see the room and negotiate a price. Chinese hotels have a price board, but you never pay that price. That said, it was a very expensive business hotel, and they wanted 180 yuan a night. It was Chris’s 30th birthday the next day so we decided to stay and managed to get them down to 140 which is about 14 pounds, for a very nice room. Having cycled through the town we found that it was really nice, away from the highway.

The next morning I covered some little cakes in chocolate ( by melting some little chocolates that we had) and added birthday candles which we have been carrying for 2 years for our birthdays! When Chris got out of the shower he had mini birthday cakes and fresh coffee waiting for him, to celebrate his 30th birthday!

Feeling slightly old and with that beard he was certainly looking older (just needs the pipe and slippers now!) Chris decided that we should have the day off and relax.

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However we did need to cycle a long way still to get to the border before the 28th, so we left that day after and rejoined the highway following the G312 /G30, with a longer day in mind.

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The purple line is the Kazakh /Chinese border, 650km from Urumqi. We had 500km to go…and it was already the 23rd… We cycled with rows of trees lining the road, with the occasional blast of colour.

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As the landscape became more barren and empty, it felt as if we were cycling through no mans land, with the exception of power stations and people gathering cotton or chillies. As we cycled up a slow hill for a long time, we saw piles of red. At first I thought it was brick or some kind of stone, but as we got closer we saw it was mountains of red chillies. We cycle for mile seeing people bagging up chillies and loading them onto trucks. We nicknamed the hill, Chilli hill!

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We cycled until late and then pulled off to camp near an old mud sheep fold, in between our road and the big G30 highway in the distance. it was a great spot and we had a peaceful nights sleep.

Next day we continued and needed the help of our ipods to keep us going. The road was beginning to get monotonous and the landscape had little for us to see, so music can be a good from of escapism – thank goodness for Mumford and sons! At times we could see that there was a huge mountain range to our left and we knew it was there on our map, yet the air here is thick and foggy, hazy and seems to act like a layer of cloud. With all the coal burning power stations in this area I couldn’t decide if it was pollution or just wintery mist. Either way we couldn’t see the mountains until sunset, where the absence of light seemed to give a brief glimpse of them.

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We put in a long day and struggled to find anywhere to camp. The fields were covered in cotton plantations and every inch of land was in use. With darkness falling we pulled off anyway and had a mini argument about camping there. There was a small patch near the cotton plants, not brilliant but good enough to fit the tent. Chris loves finding great camping spots, where as I really dislike cycling in the dark and trying to find somewhere to sleep when the light and temperature is dropping away. We agreed to camp there albeit with Chris in a grumpy mood and I put up the tent whilst he cooked dinner.

Being on the road together day in day out does mean that now and again you disagree and fall out over pretty minor stuff, especially when you are tired, cold, hungry or all three! But we are pretty lucky, we rarely fall out or argue and both try hard to listen to each other and communicate – and not expect the other to be a mind reader. Of course there are days when you are feeling grumpy or fed up or impatient and we know each other pretty well, so can sense when the other person is unhappy or annoyed. Sometimes we just need a bit of space or time to ourselves, other times we need to talk, eat food or have a big hug. Most of all though, I think being kind to each other is the key.

In the morning it was cold and the sun was rising when we got up. In between the cotton plants there were large cabbages growing too

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Having arrived in the dark the night before, we now had the chance to see the cotton fields and plants up close. I have to say I haven’t really seen cotton growing before and didn’t really know much about it. This what the plants here look like…

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Having done a little research since, we found out that China is a largest producer of cotton in the world! Although most it is used domestically (in China), and the US is still the biggest exporter of cotton. We see the workers in the field picking cotton all day long starting at sunrise an finishing at dusk, it’s all done by hand and  it seems that China has an army of cotton workers!

The next day we cycled a long old day again, clocking up 90km.

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and we camped by the road again, but this time the land was sandy almost like desert – felt like the gobi again only we had a huge tarmac road nearby!  It was much colder too, the temperature was steadily dropping now as we reached the end of October.

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Getting back on the road we had a stop / start morning as Chris’s trailer was wobbling, nothing we tried seemed to fix it and it was slow going. After 75km we were losing the light again and reached a town where we found a hotel and lots of very friendly people. We had planned to do 100km and we were running out of time. Despite our efforts and long days, we still had 200km to do to reach the border and only 2 days left – including actually crossing the border. We had heard that the fines at the border could be as much as $500 so there was no way we could risk that. We decided to get up very early and try to do a really long day.

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However, after 4 days of hard cycling, our tiredness got the better of us and we slept through our various alarms, waking up at 9am!! So once again, we decided to look at hitching a ride or finding a taxi/bus to the border. It would be nice if there was a international cycle touring visa that allowed you to cycle in countries without time restrictions and cross borders without having to put your bike in a jeep or have all your bags checked twice – it feels as if we are always racing the visa deadlines!

We asked around town but the only people willing to take us wanted 1000 yuan! We cycled out for a few km and waited by the side of the road but no-one stopped. Eventually a police car came and chatted to Chris. They offered to take us to the nearest bus station where we could get a bus to the border. Another policeman met us at the station having been called by his colleagues. He spoke some English and was trying very hard to help us. He was very sweet and obviously nervous about being given this task – his hands were shaking!  He helped my buy tickets and then said goodbye. We weren’t really sure what time the bus was arriving and having asked we came back with 15 mins, 5pm or 10pm and didn’t really know which.

The first bus arrived after a few minutes and promptly told us that we couldn’t get on, no room for all the bikes and the driver was quite rude really. The second bus said no too and we were a little worried that this wouldn’t work out after all. It was 3.30pm and we just had to cross our fingers and toes. Finally another bus arrived and the driver already seemed to know about us and was friendly and helpful. We loaded the bikes and all our bags under the bus, with other passengers watching from the windows above. It all fit and we were ready. The driver asked us for more money for the bikes and luggage. It wasn’t unreasonable as we were taking up a lot of space and we had no other choice really. Once on the bus we explained what we were doing and where we were going. They agreed to drop us at the town nearest the border, about 30km east of khargos.

The bus journey went smoothly and we crossed a high mountain range with a huge lake by the side of the snowy mountains.

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and as we passed between the mountains we saw some amazing feats of engineering and architecture, with huge roads soaring over the valley below, feeling like  we were on a helter skelter, we wiggled our way through and passed through 3km tunnels before coming out a few hundred metres below.

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A few hours later we arrived at the town and unloaded our bikes, repacking them, with an ever growing crowd forming around us. Phew we made it. Travelling is funny really as you never quite know what is going to happen on any given day. One minute you are worried about how things will work out and think that it’s going to be too difficult, the next you are laughing and smiling, wondering why you had worried at all! Things generally do have a way of working themselves out you just have to keep smiling and being positive, and eventually the universe will provide :)

It was getting dark and we were too late for the border that day, but we would cross tomorrow on the last day of our visa and go to our 10th country – Kazakhstan.

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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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