We had a few false starts trying to leave Ulaanbatar, we were all packed and ready to go last sunday, then when we woke up on Monday morning, I had really bad stomach cramps and bad diarrhea again. I had this on and off for over a week, but it seemed to get better, then would come back again. So knowing that were about to head out into the wilderness for the next 45 days, and knowing that the only hospitals were in UB, i decided to get checked out and make sure it wasn’t anything serious. Diarrhea I can handle, we all get it form time to time when travelling and at home too, but the stomach pain was acute and made me want to curl up into a ball. I was also worried it might be Gardiasis, which several friends have had whilst on the road. So after a trip to the hospital, where the doctor was very thorough and sent me for various tests, it turned out to be gastroenteritis which isn’t serious, just a bad case of food poisoning really, but she did say the blood tests showed small levels of ‘toxic hepatitis’, which sounds a lot more dramatic than it really is. She was keen to reassure me that it’s to do with the food poisoning and is not the same as the more serious viral hepatitis. Phew! So armed with pills and tablets I went home and felt glad to know that it wasn’t anything serious. The doctor didn’t say anything about not cycling or resting, so the next day I felt ok and we decided to get back on the bikes., agreeing to take it easy…
We knew the roads around UB pretty well by now and so it was simply a case of dodging potholes and holding your own in the traffic. We headed out towards the airport and after 10km stopped to have a final look back at UB.
Down the hill following a rather industrial, dusty, bumpy road we then joined the main road out of UB. After 20km we bought some ridiculously expensive water and stocked up on a few more luxuries, bread, cheese, bacon and coffee, before turning onto the road to Tsetserleg.
Tsetserleg is about 500km west and we hope to be there in about 10 days time. The road climbed and we both realised that 8 weeks off the bikes meant our fitness levels had dropped. We knew this, but it is always hard when you realised that what you previously found easy is now a bit of a struggle. At the top of the hill we stopped and rested, watching people buying and selling sheep. Chris got up and back on his bike, i wasn’t to far behind him, but faffed about for a minute or so. A drunk guy from the ger opposite made a beeline for me and started asking me things. I didn’t really want to engage him in conversation as I could see he was quite drunk. I didn’t understand what he was asking so just said Tsetserleg and goodbye, got on my bike and pedaled fast to catch up with Chris. Mongolian men are very friendly and polite generally, however when they’re very drunk they can behave quite differently, being unpredictable and aggressive so I am quite wary. This is probably the first country where I feel vulnerable around men, in SE Asia and China I always felt safe. Chris and I have agreed that we should stick together as we cycle, especially if we stop somewhere and where there are groups of people.
We cycled on and climbed what felt like lots of hills. It was hard going and I felt a little light headed and wanted to stop to camp, however we kept passing through villages and couldn’t see anywhere suitable to stop. We finally zoomed down hill and we in open countryside surrounded by hills. We pulled off the road and followed a track down the hill for 500m or so and then found the perfect camp spot.
I was glad to stop, we had only done 40km, but I was obviously still not 100% better yet! That said it was nice to be back on the bikes and out of the city. We set up the tent had a lovely dinner. We were both very saddle sore and I’d forgotten what that feels like. We had a really, really good nights sleep, Chris said it was the best sleep he’s had in weeks. It was very peaceful and dark. We were woken up by a man about 7am, he was saying ‘Benoo, benoo’, which kinda means ‘hello, are you there?’, Chris went out to see him and he was friendly and just wanted a cigarette and then went on his way, he was probably just curious to see who we were. We think we saw him later as he rounded up his horses and rode across the hills behind us.
There we an amazing number of grasshoppers and spiders where we were camped and when we packed up we had to be careful not to take half the wildlife with us too.
We were going to try and reach Hustai today, which is a national park with the rare Tahki horses. We reckon it should be about 60km away. The road was good, with lots of up and downs and we both enjoyed the cycling. Trucks and cars all beeped and waved at us as we cycled, and pretty much everyone gave us room or waited to pass us, so that was great and we felt safe, allowing us to relax and day dream a little. We stopped for lunch at a road side cafe and were surprised to find that the guy running it spoke brilliant English. We chatted to him for a while and with full mobile phone signal managed to check emails and internet before getting back on the road. We cycled another 20km and could see a long climb ahead of us, gradual, but maybe 3 or 4km long. We ploughed on, but it was hot and the sun was getting lower in the sky. Half way up we stopped, my bum was sore and I kept readjusting my position to get more comfortable, but really stopping was the only was to relieve the discomfort! We made some shade with the bikes and ate mars bar and pringles by the side of the road, with hot coffee. We didn’t think it was too much farther to Hustai, maybe 10-15km, so we would push on.
Not long after we sat down another cycle tourer came from the opposite direction and stopped. He came over and joined us, his name was Remo, from Switzerland and he’d been on the road for a year and 4 months. He has a very cool Swiss army bike…
After standing by the roadside chatting for over an hour, we realised it was getting late and so Chris suggested we camp together. Turns out we had matching Staika tents, although Remo’s looked a lot newer than ours – the sand storms in the Gobi took their toll on ours.
We cooked dinner and sat chatting together until late. This is probably one of our favourite things about cycle touring, meeting other tourers and sitting out under a sea of stars, swapping stories and finding out that they met or know the same people you do! Remo had also met and cycled with Marie and Nico, and met Emma and Justin. It really is a small world when you are on a bike!
The next morning we were woke up at 5am by a man on his horse. he was pretty determined to wake us and once again Chris went out to see what he wanted, Remo got up too. He just wanted water for himself and his horse. Chris was surprised that he would wake us up when there were gers not too far away, that he could have stopped at. But perhaps he just wanted to see who was camping here. Chris gave him half a litre of our water and he went on his way. Out here in the countryside it is acceptable to turn up at a ger at whatever time of the night or day and be given food and water. It isn’t so much an etiquette more a necessity for survival. With the remoteness and distances involved in travelling across Mongolia, people will give you what you need without a second thought and don’t expect payment. Chris was a bit cross that he had woken us up and that the guy was a little aggressive, but who knows he may have been riding for hours and was thirsty. We have been given so much hospitality by the Mongolian people, that I feel it’s only right that we should expect to share our food and water in return.
We all went back to sleep and then woke again around 8. By 9am it was baking hot. I wasn’t feeling too great and had stayed in bed a bit longer, but the heat made me move and get up. Chris rigged up the tarp to give us some shade and I cooked eggs and bacon for breakfast as a treat. Remo packed up and got on his way, he had 80km to do to get to UB, before getting on a train to China. We said our goodbyes and he left.
It was so hot I couldn’t quite grasp how we would cycle in this heat. Our thermometer said it was 41.8 degrees (celcius). Blimey, it’s only 10 o’clock in the morning. We procrastinated for a while and then the wind forced our hand. It began blowing hard and started pulling the tarp around, so we had no choice but pack up and go, without shade it was too hot to sit still.
We climbed the second half of the hill that we had left yesterday and it wasn’t too bad at all. The saddle sore had eased a bit and the wind made it cooler to cycle than to stand still. We didn’t have much water left and the water in our bladders was hot and didn’t quench the thirst very well. I was imagining glugging down ice cold water. At the top of the hill was a small settlement with a ger or two and some small huts. As we passed we saw that they were selling water and drink and sweets. Chris went in and brought out 5 litres of cold cold water and 2 oranges juices, also cold, heaven! We downed some of the water and juice, it was sooooo nice. Then we set off down a long downhill that last about 7km. This is when cycling come into it’s own. You are gliding down a hill, surrounded by glorious countryside and mountains, the wind rushing passed you and a long road unfolding before you. You can see for miles and right at that moment you are happy, feeling alive and free.
We continued on and then saw the signs for Hustai, hurray! We turned off the main road and the sign said 13km to Hustai park, 3 km to tourist ger camp. Cool. The road was a dirt road and fine to start with but then became very very sandy. It was too hard to cycle and I kept coming off. It was like the Gobi again. It was my idea to come here so I couldn’t complain. I pushed my bike for a kilometer or so, Chris managed to cycle some of it, in-between skids. The heat was intense and I could feel my head throbbing and I felt sick. I knew it wasn’t far to the ger camp but it felt like miles, I was just too hot.
In the end I stopped and had a rest, drinking as much water as I could. Above us the clouds were gathering and turning black. I wanted it to rain so badly, ‘please rain on me clouds’ I said silently in my head. We sat there for a few minutes and then I felt a splat of water on my arm, then another on the ground in front of me. It was raining!! Chris said, that’s the second time you’ve asked for water today and your wish has been granted. As we say ‘ask and the universe will provide’! I stood in the rain and big splodges fell on me and the ground. It cooled us off a bit before passing over. We continued on and eventually got to the ger camp, which was about 5km away not 3km. Chris helped me with my bike in the sand and my head continued to pound.
Maybe I should have stayed in UB a bit longer to fully get better. Over the last few days every time I exerted myself or tried to push hard, I found I had no strength to draw on and lacked the energy required. Combined with the heat today, it was all a bit too much.
We arrived at the camp and Chris organised a ger for us, while I sat on the ground wishing my head would stop hurting so much. It was $18 a night each, which is pretty expensive, $48 each with food! However i didn’t care about the cost right then and we went for the no food option and moved into our 4 sided ger, which was lovely. I was so relieved to stop and lie down. A storm rolled in and the temperature dropped which was a relief. After a shower, shade and some food I felt a bit better and had managed to cool down. I had been so excited about coming here to see the horses and to celebrate being together for 6 years, I was disappointed to be feeling so ill. So we took it easy for the rest of the day and agreed to take the next day off to rest more and go to see the horses. Hopefully by the time we were due to be on the road again I would be feeling well.
We did received some great news though once we connected to the internet (via our mobile). My brother Chris and his wife Sarah have had their baby girl, Ellie Rose, so we now have a beautiful little niece! Congratulations Chris and Sarah and welcome to the world Ellie.