Monday, 30 July 2012

Exploring Beijing

This place is hot hot hot. Walk outside and the heat hits you. Muggy and grey, a real steamy blanket that seems to radiate scorching air from the ground. But it is surprisingly clean here. The air is fresh and not smoggy as it used to be and there is no rubbish or graffiti. People seem very well disciplined and orderly and thankfully most of them seem to have given up spitting as a bad job.

The subway is cool too. Airport style security checks everywhere, and they x ray you bag. I got stopped and searched for having a knife yesterday – only I didn't, and they were most apologetic about accusing me. But no problem; that's their job.

The traffic is interesting too. Everybody seems to be riding small electric scooters, which are silent and make you jump as they sneak up on you. They are everywhere and it is noticeable how much quieter the streets are, and how little smog there is as a a result . And bicycles too. Not as many as old China but still a good number. And cyclists of London please note – they all stop at red lights and coexist perfectly well with cars, motorbikes and pedestrians. So why can't you do the same?

Spent yesterday morning doing jobs in the hotel, then went out for a poke about in the afternoon. Had a brief look outside the Forbidden City, and a local streets before wandering into Tienanmen Square where we stumbled across the  flag ceremony. It was quite impressive with a military  contingent goose stepping out of the Forbidden City and into the Square, the national flag being lowered ad then paraded back through the Mao Mausoleum gate. Apparently this happens at sunrise and sunset daily – a sort of Chinese changing of the guard.

Then we got lost on the way home. Walked miles before we finally found the hotel. And both of us ached – whilst we are bike fit from our ride, we haven't done much walking and we felt that last night.

Went on another foray today too. Took my camera to the Canon repair Centre as the mirror fell out at Naadam. I was expecting to pay quite a bit but they told me they'd fix it for free because it was a part that shouldn't have failed! Good old Canon! We also bumped into a Swiss couple there who recognised us from Mongolia – “ are you two the Gobi Girls?”  It is still surprising when that happens but also rather nice!

Visited the Silk market in the afternoon. Not a bit of silk in sight but rather a tourist market haunt where you can buy almost anything. It's the place to practice haggling skills too – if you can be bothered. We only wanted  a tee shirt each, and Nadine needed a pair of trainers, so arguing the toss was a bit annoying, but that's what they do as they wont let you pay the first price they demand, even if you agree to it.

Ate in a noodle bar at lunchtime. Neither of us knew what we were doing and so had to be shown by a bemused local, but the food was good . It is so much easier to eat well here than in Mongolia where everything seemed to be the most fatty and unappetising sawn off bits of animal. At least here you can get fresh fruit and veg and there is a huge variety. Mind you, that didn't stop us scoffing some chocolates from the mini bar in the room.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Arrived in Beijing

Got here this afternoon. Hot, smoggy and very busy but at least we're here! Seems weird to be without a bike though, and because of the problem with not being able to send stuff back to the UK by train, we're carrying far more luggage that we had planned – which is not great anyway, but particularly when it is so hot.

The train was ok but it cured us both of any thoughts of crossing Russia by the Trans Siberian Railway – it is too boring. We spent 36 hours traversing the flat sandy landscape of the Gobi desert, with the odd camel for interest, before passing into wet and humid China with some interesting hills, but that's all. Nope, motorbikes continue to be top choice for travel for both of us, despite the crashes, the dust and being chased by dogs. 

Stayed in room all afternoon – sleeping, eating and generally chilling before we go out tomorrow and do touristy stuff. Hotel is great and just of Tienaman Square, so we're very central. Will do a tour to the Great Wall, and lots of walking round the Forbidden City etc over the next few weeks. 

Apologies for the lack of illustrating pictures but that's down to the Chinese Government restricting access to social networking sites. Will try and send a few by hotmail though as and when its possible.

Further Updates from the Gobi Gals...

Hotmail worked!!  So here is a further update from Belle & Nadine...

UB update

Checked out of the hotel, in which we had had to stay after not being able to get our Chinese visas until later than expected on Wednesday. That meant that our plans to visit Khustain National Park were also scuppered because there was no time.  So we dumped the bags at the ger before going to the Oasis to borrow some tools to dismantle the scoots.

Unfortunately, I dumped myself too, on a steep gravelly hill. The roads are so rough that you have to really rev it to get up slopes  but it makes the bike bounce almost uncontrollably - and passing bitey dogs know this. Plus I had the bags on the back, so the front end was light. Consequently, one charged, I revved, almost made it but then hit a big bump and was catapaulted off. Had a softer landing that expected though – right onto the partial carcass of a dead animal – possibly a goat or another biker who'd not got as far as me - which was lovely and smelt great. Not. By the time Nads appeared, I was just picking the last of the matted decaying flesh off my arm and shoulder. Nasty.

We also picked up a parcel for Debz and Iain to send back to the UK. Scoffed a bit of lunch there with them too which was a bit pricey,e specially for a stale cheese sandwich , a small salad and a small cooked meal but it was food, so it had to do. Prices at that place are odd – some things that you expect to be expensive are dirt cheap whilst others – like coffee and toast are not. Not sure what that's all about but its a good place so it didn't matter too much.

By the time we left the Oasis, the sky was green and  the heavens were about to dump on us. Could we make it back before it hit? Nope, not a bit of it. The road was 10cms deep in  water in no time – mud , dust and debris flowing out of nearby streets and ditches and into the road. Not that it stopped UB's drivers though; they sped past as they always do, drenching us further. The only consolation was that the water was warm, if filthy.

We almost made it back to the ger, but then 100m short we both came off, and this time, it hurt as there was no soft landing. Again it was on a steep gravelly hill, but this time, no dog  was involved. The torrential rain had soaked the track so much that it became unstable and the surface started to slip down the hill. We were lucky though and were both flung off as we slipped with it. The bike stopped quite quickly but we didn't, somersaulting backwards back down the hill until getting hooked on some rocks.  It must have looked funny though – two whities, soaked through, covered in mud and now lying in a mud river. The bike was hard to pick up because it had landed with its wheels were higher than the engine, but after several goes, we managed it ok.

But we were so cold and sore by the time that we reached the ger that we both fell asleep, until being woken by various family members. We've got some good bruises though – the front of my right thigh is black, as is the top of my right arm and left knee, and  few bruised ribs. Nads has several scrapes and bruises on her elbows. But it was nothing serious and the bike was OK. And it was a slow speed dump.

Met the charity man to try and donate some money. He seemed nice and his project interesting – 900+ disadvantaged children  being looked after, clothed, fed and educated on very little funding. But unfortunately, we were unable to help him because our contact threw an absolute hissy fit and created a scene, although we're not quite sure why. She clearly had some personal agenda so we binned her; people who behave like that are an unnecessary embarrassment and deserve to be isolated.

So because of her, the following morning, we had more plan adjusting to do, but very little time in which to do it. Up and out early to try and sort various things, a very frustrating morning of going round in circles and getting nowhere. But then, just when we were both almost at the point of desperation, we had a stroke of luck.  Sybille at the Oasis put us in touch with Ruth, a German woman who runs a small charity for abandoned kids, so we went to see her. What a nice woman and what a great feel in the place.

She's lived there 20 years, looking after children with all sorts of difficulties – orphans, domestic abuse, physical or mental difficulties, or extreme poverty. Some of the kids were there too and they were very chatty, clearly well looked after and very well mannered, a real credit to the work that she does. So we ended up donating the money to them, and hope to help them more in the future. We also gave them the Chinese bike to sell, our contact having mucked the resale up too, but it all worked out well in the end. However, another note to self ; do not allow family obligations to influence arrangements again, particularly when those obligations are one sided.

The luck continued; just as we were about to leave to find a hotel, Ruth's neighbour offered us a place to sleep, which we took. Nice people again, and with just that one gesture ( plus breakfast) they wiped the frustration of the contact fiasco.

We're now on the train to Beijing, shunting about ( literally) in no man's land between Mongolia and China. We've been on the train since 0700 and its now 2100hrs, dark,  hot and noisy and we have another 18 hours to go. But then we get a hot shower and a comfortable bed so we're holding that thought very close.

We have had to leave the scoots in Mongolia for the time being ( contact let us down there too)  Iain and Debz helped us dismantle them ( thanks guys – real mates) and Ruth is kindly storing them for us until we can work out what to do. Hopefully we will be able to retrieve them, but until we can find a way, there remain stuck half a world away. Shame.

The Gobi Gals arrive in Beijing!!

Skype call received from Belle & Nadine on Saturday 28th July at about 1700 hours UK time (around Midnight in Beijing)... 

They had a gruelling train journey from UB, Mongolia, arriving after some 29 hours. They are settled in their hotel & getting to grip with a 37c daytime temperature with a very humid & smoggy environment... 

During their stay in China they will have trouble reaching the outside world through Facebook & the blog (blocked sites in China) but will attempt occasional updates through Hotmail, which they hope will work.  So, if there aren't many of the usual updates that's the reason... 

They are both in good health & looking forward to playing the tourists in & around Beijing... 

They are due to arrive back in the UK on Sunday 12th August, flying back from Beijing...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

UB round up

We finally managed to get our Chinese visas on Monday after much wrangling and pleading. We tried in the morning, but were told to come back in afternoon. So we had to waste the morning, and took Nadine's scoot up to the Ger where it is now allowed to rest. When we went back to the embassy, they gave us our visa's, but they took our train ticket vouchers and refused to get them back, so although we can now enter the place, we can't get there. Still if the worst comes to the worst, we will ride the new bike south to the border, dump it there and jump on the no 2 bus to Beijing Bugger, bugger, bugger. Then last night, all of our bike tools got nicked from the bike. It was our fault as we forgot to take the pannier in but it was parked on hotel property, in their staff car park, and out of public sight. So we now have to dismantle the two scoots with a hammer, a screwdriver and a fork. Think we might have to ask a favour of other bikers at the Oasis.
Met up with Lionel and Claude again Monday night and yesterday - two french bikers whom we met in the north a couple of weeks ago. They are going home tomorrow, so we all spent today sight seeing and doing stuff about town together. We took them up to Saizan, wondered through the State Department Store (GUM) and checked out the Winter Palace. Got stopped by the police Monday night,  and we had to produce driving and regos docs - the bike still has no plate so I tried to escape him but his mate jumped right in front of me so I had to stop. Played the blank foreigner look though and was let off. Got chased again yesterday but escaped through the traffic that time. Happy days. Still got no train tickets though!
We now have only 2 days left in UB, and so much to do. Of the most concern to us is donating this money that the motorbike community has given us. We have been trying since we first got here to make contact with the Mental Hospital, but no-one will tell us where it is. We were then informed of a school for the Deaf and Blind children, also a worthy cause. Problem is our contact is out of reach, and despite our asking several times over the last few weeks, help has not been forthcoming at this stage. We have made enquiries ourselves into VSO and other likely charity organisations, but as they are all British run, red-tape is quite the blockade. The other problem is how do you guarantee that they will use all the money for the children, and it won't get sucked into the organisation.

Aside from this major job, we have to take the bikes apart, and get them to the train. and then there is the train tickets for us! Don't know how that will go, but fingers crossed all will work out!!!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A day out at the giant Chinggis statue

Finally made it out to  Terelj National Park 50kms east of UB, and the Chinggis statue. Ride out was mostly on tarmac except when we got into the park, then there were random patches of off road, which was interesting, given that we were two up on the Chinese bike.

The statue is massive yet we kept expecting to see it but didn';t., till suddenly we went over a rise until this giant thing  blinded us with its sparkling silver mahousiveness. It was bright and sunny anyway, but there was this thing shining away like a giant disco ball in the sunlight, and in the middle of nowhere. It really is the maddest thing ever - 40 metres tall, with a Chinngis sitting astride a giant horse looking a bit cross. And all of this is on top of a big round three storey building, astride a man made hill.

There are museums housing a private collection of arrow heads , buckles and bits of armour etc, a small movie theatre, restaurant and a shop - for some reason selling bits of cake and packets of dried banana.  And a giant boot - 9m tall,, three tonnes and a world record,  made from the hides of 350 cows and loads of bits of string.

 Yes I know.... a pair of old boots.

We had to go up in the horses head - by elevator, the elevator being up the horses arse. A novel design.
Then stopped at a roadside stall with some vultures and eagles, and had our pictures taken holding them.

Very touristy but it had to be done.

Camping tonight at the Oasis in between the gers. Black market again tomorrow, and then final bits of touristy stuff before our final camping.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Met Debz and Iain!

No photos today simply because  I haven't taken any.

 Caught up with Iain and Debz at the Oasis and it was really nice to see them. Staying in their ger. Also met Norbert (Swiss bloke) whose riding partner (Alois) had a tumble in UB and has broken his collar bone. He flies home today and is staying in a hotel until his flight leaves. Apparently, it was a front tyre blow out at 100kmh, bike and rider went up in the air, and both hit the deck hard. Front of his Africa Twin is pretty smashed and the whole thing will be crated back to Zurich. Norbert will ride/train it home.

Going to the Chinggis statue tomorrow - the huge one. A bit of bike fettling is on the cards for tonight.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Back to UB

.Met three Slolvaks last night doing a tour of Mongolia and how fed up were they? They had been going for 17 days with a Mongol guide  and in a van and told us tales of the guides arguing and not translating stuff properly, being stranded in the middle of nowhere because of punctures and the driver not having spares
( although he is a local) and terrible accommodation and food. They seemed OK too, not precious or anything, so we're lucky to be doing our own thing and not dependent on anybody or anything. We are just fine as we are.

 Got away from this desolate town town early-ish morning and went all of 1km before we had to stop, then  twice more within the next two kms. 

Nadine's " I bloody hate this place and want to leave right now" face.

The front tyre needed inflating, then the front mudguard needed sawing off because it was catching on the front tyre, then just stuff. 

The blacktop ran out far too soon and it was corrugations all the way - real vicious ones that were tiring to ride. Throw in a bit of sand and gravel and you have an idea of how hard and how slow our day was. We camped back in the hills near to where we'd stayed on the way down but we still managed 180 kms. 

We picked up firewood en route, I crashed (for the seventh time - just a minor slow speed sand off) and Nads needed a sleep in the shade of  the bike because of her hang over, and was woken by a local family on Chinese bikes, wanting to check out the whities in their 'hood.

 They were cool though and we gave the small girl a bar of soap as a gift. Sounds pretty mundane but it's not something that they usually have. Nad's front wheel is atrocious, flopping about about like a dead fish, but there was no choice other than to ride both bikes and hour about to save both of us getting too tired.

This morning we carried on although we didn't get up till noon because it was raining. A shepherd came up and chatted after he had watched Nads pee through is telescope - although we didn't realise the last bit until he was chatting to us. Gave him my dagger/hammer mini tool and he seemed well chuffed, thanking us profusely although that might have been the sight of Nads doing her thing that pleased him more.

We eventually found a good road to UB although rather biazarrely, it was blocked every 400m or so with earth barricades so we just rode through and around them The little scooter surpassed itself and the Chinese bike did pretty well too. ( can't get the video to work - think its the poor connection here. Sorry!)

Reached UB late afternoon, still raining, and we were cold and hungry so went straight to a hotel UB traffic was gridlocked as usual but it seemed worse, probably because the police were in charge. Honestly, when they are directing traffic, its like cheer leaders waving those stick things about. Talk about camp and useless.

Will hopefully meet up with Iain and Debz tomorrow. We haven't seen them since Istanbul so it will be great to see them.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


This is not a nice place or even very interesting. It is a dusty town in the Gobi with not much going for it. The sort of place you would be pleased not to come from. So why then have we decided to stay another day? Well because we are tired and can't face the 280kms ride back to UB today, particularly as at least 240kms of it is off road.

It is also cold and it rained hard last night. The wind whipped up quite a storm, with windows banging, dogs howling, and sand blasting everything in its path. And there are now puddles and mud to add to the woes, so another day here won't hurt.

We ate again in the same restaurant and were entertained by the town drunk clapping and singing his way through several songs before falling asleep at the table. It was a different giggling teenage staff last night, but we had the same menu wrangle even though we ordered the same food. But the chef came out, saw it was us, and then sent out the same food as the night before, so it worked out well in the end.

Looked at the town sight today - there is just one. A manky collection of Soviet style statues on a hill overlooking the bleak desolation that sums this place up. Can't wait to leave early in the morning.

To the Gobi

Well, we got here, but what a tough two days it was. I think today is the anniversary of the first moon landing today way back in 1969, and having ridden the roads we have since leaving UB, I think we had the tougher time. And we did it without mission control.

We didn't leave UB until 12noon because it was tipping it down – really fat torrential rain that soaks you and floods the streets within seconds. And that is too dangerous – and unpleasant - on a motorcycle, particularly given the potholes there. So we had to wait, and lost half of the day as a consequence. But as soon as it cleared up, we were off.

The first bit was ok. Headed south towards Mandalgovi, 280kms distant. Initially, it was paved road and there was even a signpost to guide us, although this wasn't the M6 that we actually wanted, but then we hit sandy tracks which slowed us down.

 It had clearly been raining out in the middle of nowhere too as there was mud and puddles – huge ones, blocking tracks and which had to be circumvented.

Still this terrain is great for honing off road skills, even if we are on the most unsuitable of bikes. But I take back what I said about the new Chinese Mustang. It is much better off road than on and the wobbles and tinniness are hardly noticeable because of the rough ride, and it makes easy work of the corrugations, which are pretty extreme. However the suspension is appalling and magnifies every bump into spine crunching thuds, and the foot pegs are too high, making it impossible to stand. Its a bit like a very low sofa minus the comfortable bit – your legs are too high and you have to heave yourself up, which isn't easy when trying to manipulate a moving bike around constant obstacles. And although these bikes are common out here in the countryside, I am yet to see any local standing; we now know why.

Despite the difficulties, we made it to Mother Rock, albeit more by accident than design, having veered off the intended track. En route, we were befriended by three locals – husband and wife, and a friend, who through sign language told us they were on their way to pray. But not before they had inspected us and our bikes and ridden them. Then they rode with us for about 10kms. The husband and wife's bike wasn't too bad but the single bloke's had the most buckled rear wheel ever; maybe he was off to pray for a new one.

Mother rock is one of a series of rocky outcrops in the hills to the south, just beyond a monastery in the middle of nowhere.

 It is all sacred and we were really surprised to literally ride over the brow of a hill and see a collection of huts and people all sitting around doing nothing much. Apparently during the Communist era, it was a political crime to visit, but people still did, in secret. The Communists tried to destroy the site by blowing it up which didn't work, but the whole would-be demolition team suffered bad luck, illness and even death. Not a place to be mucked about with then, and Mongolians do believe in the Rocks mystical powers.

We carried on west after that but the tracks ran out so we were on rough grass. I was on Nadine's scoot because the clutch had finally got the better of my hand. It didn't fare well on the wet grass with no grip street tyres and dodgy brakes, particularly when descending gravel tracks; that became more of a barely controlled slide rather than a ride, and I did slip off a couple of times. But Nadine did OK on the Chinese bike with its knobbly tyres, though still without a number plate.

We stayed at about 1500 metres for most of the afternoon and saw hardly anybody, except for the odd herder rounding up huge herds of horses. But then we realised we were lost and had gone further than we needed to, but managed to find the road – unmade of course- that we should have been on. We camped way up on a hillside away from the road building gang down below. It was cold up there though; 1700 metres and windy. Had a bit of a mishap with the petrol though; whoops.

The following morning, we were up and out early, more because of the cold than anything else, and to our delight, the unmade still under construction road turned into a paved miracle very soon, and continued for 40kms of nice smooth road. But how mad is that? Why would you stick a section of good paved, smooth road in the middle of nowhere? It doesn't connect anything and doesn't run from anything to anywhere; it is literally in the middle of nowhere. Somebody has clearly just poked a finger on a map and said " here" and built a road.

But we were happy, although the gang of road sweepers we encountered after about 20kms were not pleased to see us on their pride and joy and tried to shoo us off with their brooms.

We slalomed round them and kept going because there was no reason not too. Even the diggers and graders parked across the carriageway were easy enough to get round on bikes, even though Nadine managed to strand the Chinese bike on its bash plate but a tug and a shove sorted that.

 But the machinery meant that we had the whole road to ourselves for almost its entire length.

Then we came across two locals on a bike, who waved us down. They had run out of petrol so we gave them some of ours; karma and payment for some of the help we've had along the way from assorted strangers.

Then it was back onto sand, and that continued for 200kms. The front suspension on Nads' bike then collapsed on the right, making it very difficult to ride. Its now more like a rudderless ship than a motorbike. But the only way was forwards as there was definitely nothing behind, so for hours, we banged and crashed and wallowed over very rough desert in full sun until the back end of Nads' bike fell off, forcing us to stop.
But after nearly three months on the road, we are now class bodgers and fixed it with a length of wire from B&Q in Wimbledon. Not pretty but job done, and it allowed us to continue.

 But somebody was clearly looking after us and thought we'd done enough hard riding, and after about an hour, struck some lovely black top in front of us. I didn't see it at first as it was way in the distance but when Nads screeched to a halt with her arm outstretched, I knew it had to be something impressive. And it was, and well worthy of a kiss. And it lasted all the way to Mandalgovi, petering out into dodgy cement slabbing on the city outskirts.

We found a hotel almost instantly; The Gobi Hotel, hardly palatial, but a clean but tatty big room, clean beds, secure parking and a nice owner, all for £15.00 between the two of us. The town is something else though; sand ,dust and broken glass everywhere, despite being the aimag capital, but that's ok. There is a small park just down the road with a statue of Sukhbataar plus some other bloke in a pointy hat, and weeds. Lots of them. We had planned to go further into the Gobi but the state of Nads' bike now makes that a bit unwise and we both know that two up on my bone shaker of a Chinese bike would not be good either, especially with luggage. So the plan is to stay here for a couple of days and have a poke around, two up on my unladen bike before heading back to UB. The ice canyons will have to wait until next time.

Dinner last night was an interesting experience though. There is a posher looking hotel just round the corner which we would probably have picked had we seen it first. But we didn't although they do have a restaurant, and we went there to eat. It was staffed by giggling 18 year old girls who had clearly never seen westerners before, and initially wouldn't come near us. But they eventually sorted themselves out and gave us menus, but then said ' no' to everything we ordered, even drinks that we could see behind the bar. We finally winkled a bottle of Merlot out of them and then ended up with the chef, the owner, the waitress and the barmaid all sitting at our table arguing about what food we could or couldn't have, while we sat there bemused but patiently awaiting their verdict. It was a bit bizarre, particularly when the very food we had asked for but had been refused then turned up as if nothing had happened But that is Mongolia for you; things happen without explanation.

We were woken up by the hotel owner this morning, who presented us with a torn bit of paper with some figures on it. It was the bill – but we are staying tonight too, so we need to pay tomorrow when we leave, not now when we are asleep. She eventually got the message and went away but they just don't get it here when it comes to service and stuff. They are not nasty or anything but just so set in their ways and seemingly unable to think beyond what they always do; you pay now because you have stayed one night, and you do so in exact money. Thank goodness we're not here on a two week holiday.

It is so obvious that experiences here are just repeated rather than developed or evolved. That is not supposed to be rude and perhaps results from being in such a remote part of the world but then they do have TV, radio and internet like the rest of us, so it is surprising that basic service industries have not yet mastered stuff that goes on in the rest of the world – especially stuff which people will happily pay for. It seems such an alien concept here, and maybe a left over from the old Soviet ways, and perhaps the way Mongol society works but it is particularly when the two cultures meet (western and Mongol) in places like UB. Whilst there are modern buildings, hotels and set ups that cater for non Mongols – far more so than when I was last here – something is still missing in many places.

For example, the Marco Polo restaurant on Seoul Street is a good Italian style restaurant. The food is good but the service is appalling, even when they are not busy, and that is down to staff just not communicating, Twice now our food has taken forever, and when questioned, it transpires that the front of house staff had forgotten to tell the kitchen people that there is an order. Or Pub 23 where you ask for the bill and it doesn't come because the waitress is busy chatting on her phone or to her mates. Or even the motorbike shop where staff break off dealing with you for a chat elsewhere. Its almost like vendors' attention deficit disorder.

Lateral thinking isn't done here either and everything is very literal. So for example unless you ask for something exactly and they have it, and want to sell it to you, they invariably say 'no'. It never seems to occur to offer something in its place or suggest an alternative. For example, if you ask for a bottle of Shiraz and they don't know or haven't got one, they will say no, rather than 'I don't think we have one, but we do have Merlot or Champagne or water or something', then look at you blankly. Or if you ask for directions and say 'is this the way to....' they will again say 'no' and just leave it rather than the more usual (to us) 'no turn right not left'. It is quite wearing and after a while it is very easy to get a bit fed up and overlook the good bits and experience the interesting bits that do happen right under your nose everyday.

This place is a odd combination of nomadic ways and what we would term development. But having been here a couple of times and also having had the opportunity to get behind its public face (family connections) the gaps become more obvious. The town's younger generations are already more settled and have possessions.

As for the bikes, well hopefully Nads' will make it back to UB and will join mine for a few days, before being taken apart and being sent back to London. We will use the Chinese one and travel two up but only on better roads, which is OK as there are several places that we want to see not far from UB which this bike will do. Then I will sell that one a few days before we leave.

But whatever the bike problems, we made it all the way to the Mongolia and the Gobi on a small and unsuitable scooters that we built in my dining room. Job done!

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Chinese Embassy

Spent most of the morning wrangling with the Chinese Embassy and trying to get a visa. They want a copy of every document possible, but of course no copy shop ( which are few and far between in UB anyway) is open because of Nadaam, which finishes today. So we were all over the place trying to get stuff that we needed. That took ages and required some creative thinking, but at the moment we are still visaless. But we will sort something. Hopefully. There is always the plane to Korea option if all else fails.

We are now on way south to the Gobi desert, and reckon it will take us about two days. Much of the journey is off road so that will test the new Chinese bike. It is absolutely tipping it down right now though – really going for it, so progress could be slow. There are some ice caverns down there that we want to see, plus the desert itself.

It has been good staying in UB but it is now time to move on. When travelling, it is easy to get stuck in  places just to regain some familiarity. But you have to learn to be on your own ( or with whomever you are travelling) because it is stressful constantly being on the move, not knowing anything about places, having to find a new place to sleep every night, looking for food and water or fuel, and being the odd one out everywhere you go. And we have met people along the way who have been really phased by that and have unfortunately allowed it get the better of them, and haven't come to terms with an itinerant lifestyle. 

They are the people who moan about everything, whether  it be about cost, being stared at or feeling unsafe, and then take it out on you, or worse still, try and latch on, ride with you and become part of your trip. That of course then threatens the dynamics of your own set up, so we both recognise this and are careful to avoid them and carry on doing our own thing.

We have been on the road for nearly three months now and are still getting along fine; no fights, no rows, no real differences, no money arguments. And that is quite an achievement because we have endured some very testing times, whether it be actual riding - the relentless heat and  very rough piste of Kazakhstan for example - being lost in the middle of nowhere, accidents, illness, bike problems, weather, or just general tiredness. But it is how you deal with those things and overcome the difficulties they present that make the journey, not the bits that go to plan.  But then again, it would have been quite nice if my bike hadn't broken down quite as much as it did.........  

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Horse Racing

It had to be done; a trip to the Nadaam horse racing about 30 kms from UB city centre. Left at 0700, for the wildest ride ever; a complete no rules death race of buses, vans, cars, trucks – and us. Officially one lane in each direction, but in reality five lanes each wayt one 'proper' carriageway but numerous tracks and the hard shoulder, all being used to overtake anything and everything and all at top speed. It was a bit scary on a bike though – vehicles change lanes without warning and just shove you out of the way if you let them, and the dust cloud is phenomenal; its like an old London pea souper of sand and gravel which chokes as well as blinds you. So you have to just keep going and hope for the best. ( Can't upload the video at the moment but its a good 'un) 

We were two up on the new bike and we survived both the traffic and the bike. It rattled and screeched, the wheels wobbled and the brakes needed lots of encouragement but it too kept going. It does have some good points though; the double horn is excellent and the paint job is cool – fire engine red with gold Cyrillic lettering ( which spells Mustang 5) The rest though is woeful and I will not be swapping my Hornet for it. But the scoots are another matter; they are the business, despite mine having died.

We spent the day watching the races. It was nothing like the race meets in the UK or Aus - no starting gates, and a field of about 100 horses who charge off from the line and run a course that takes about 2 hours, ridden by colourfully robed child jockeys who bash the horses with huge great poles.

Spectators crowd the finish line and when the horses arrive, it all comes together in a huge stampede – horses, jockies, spectators all pushing and shoving and kicking.

We got caught in the melee which was actually a bit scary because people really do just shove for all they are worth to get into a space- regardless of whether there is anybody already in it. And we had a line of horses behind us with their riders egging on their friends in the race. Unfortunately, they got a bit spooked by the noise and the the shoving and one trod on Nadine's foot and then kicked me. Good job we were wearing boots then and not soft shoes. Never had a dead leg from a horse before and probably wouldn't want another, given the choice.

There were also a couple of bactrian camels there – two hump jobs ( dromedaries have just the one) but I think these were for rides rather than racing. But a camel race would definitely be one to watch.

The skills of the horse jockies are very impressive. Men, women, small kids ( boys and girls) completely at ease aboard a moving mass of mane and muscle. And wooden saddles or just blankets and a rope around the horses' neck. And the rider rides standing up while the horse runs rather than gallops. 

It looks very odd at first – a bit like those old fashioned news films where people and animals move a bit too quickly, and look like they are trying to run while giving the appearance of walking in case somebody notices. But that's what Mongolian horses do – run as not gallop.

The animals get worked hard but they are looked after too – even getting a lift to and from the race on the back of a pick up truck or in the back of a car. How considerate is that?

But there are a few dud riders. Even I know that horses puff their guts out so the girth needs to be checked before getting on. Not this bloke though.

And the police clearly had ' super friendly, I'm your mate, you can trust me' orders today. Check out this officer giving local kids a ride on his police bike! That wouldn't happen at the Notting Hill Carnival.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


Managed to get to Sukhbaatar square in time for the collection of the 9 yak tail banners. It started a bit Benny Hill/ Black Adder but they soon settled down and it got quite interesting with lots of colour and lots of fanfares and strutting. Apparently, there were also three men dressed as Gestarpo officers, complete with black uniforms and swastikas  but fortunately we didn't see them. Weird though. We got quite close despite the police cordon.

Then off to the Naadam stadium. Got tickets and good seats easily. Definitely worth seeing, again lots of colour, noise, traditional dancing and costumes. A speech by the president. Then the presentation and parade of the Mongolian olympic team bound for London.

Then the opening rounds of the wrestling competition. Spent and interesting couple of hours watching men strip down to nothing and adjust themselves, but then got bored and heading off to lunch.

We're off to see the archery this afternoon. Then off to the horse-racing tomorrow followed by knuckle-bone shooting - knuckle-bone shooting is a bit like tiddlywinks for carnivores.

And on Friday we really must do our Chinese visa's or else we're done for. No amount of pleading or sob-stories ever works with Chinese officialdom. We know this from bitter experience.