Monday, 2 July 2012

At Large in Mongolia

Raining this morning, albeit not very hard, but also grey and a bit flat looking. Found a bank in the nearby town but cards wouldn't work, so Nadine changed some dollars./ As usual, we were the morning's entertainment, so we tried a bit of phrase book Mongolian on unsuspecting locals, which made them laugh. A lot.

Rode towards Darkan where Geordie left us. We are en route to a monastery and there is a lot of off road riding, which he wont be able to manage after his recent fall. The sun came out and we basked in it for a while, drying out and just chilling. Saw two travellers pass while we were there but they didnt see us. Bumped into them a few hours later on the road to the monastery and they turned out to be a French father and son on rented bikes, also en route to the same place. So we rode together.

The track to the monastery was 35kms off road along rough dirt tracks. A real buzz to ride but hard work and it is still difficult with my dodgy arm, although Nadine straps it and does some physio on it every day. That and several handfuls of Tramadol usually does the trick.

Camped in the valley in front of the monastery. It is so spectacular it is almost indescribable; surrounded by hills, gers dotted around, herds of sheep and goats and horses, and then at one end is this white and gold building that looks almost CGI'd. There is nobody here although locals wander over on motorbikes to say hello and a local elder visited this morning on his horse. Also met a father and his two daughters last night and we gave the two girls some scarves with which they seemed delighted.
 Claude and Lionel

It is so quiet here – when the sheep and goats shut up – that you can here the air on the birds wings. It is very strange and not something that we are used to in our noise polluted world but I guess that is one of the true benefits of being in the middle of nowhere.

But I do wonder what these people make of us descending on them. 

We must be like aliens but then again, many of the ger have satellite so no doubt they will have seen western people and ways vis that. They are really friendly though and we are careful to be very polite and welcoming. 

Well, why wouldn’t you? But then again, in our world it is easy to become wary of strangers, but even so, and even out here, it is important to keep some semblance of guard because that' is when it can go wrong and then its is even worse to sort out than if you nip it in the bud before it starts. 

The people in the border town where we stopped last night were a bit more like that – not surprising as they live in a constant stream of itinerant strangers and realised there is money to be made from them. Not just westerners but passing Russians etc. We got stopped coming out of a petrol station yesterday and two police officers tried to sting us for some bogus fine. We spoke to them for a while just to make sure but then it became apparent that they were trying to stiff us so we rode off. They didn't even attempt to chase or shoot us so we must have got it right. Or maybe they didn't have an ammo.

Rode through two rivers to get here too, and the bikes rocked. Brilliant little machines, steady as anything and they pulled us through the water OK. Their exhausts steamed a bit but they kept going. A lot to ask for a 110cc town bike with road tyres.

Also met an Australian woman in the middle of nowhere. And she came from just up- the road from Nadine's parents in NSW – Avoca. Bonkers.

It was so cold last night. It must have been near freezing but we are at 1000m but this morning the sun is hot hot hot. Lovely.

The monastery was even more impressive close up. The dilapidation was made up for by the huge golden Buddha statues and the large prayer wheels and it is clearly well visited and used, despite being so remote. We were the only westerners there though , which interested the locals, who crowded around us and our bikes as usual.

 A group of men were really interested in what our little bikes were, and were astonished to learn that they had made it all the way from London, particularly as they are Chinese; even here, in one of the remotest countries on earth, China has a name for producing rubbish.

One man had his little son with him ( aged about 4). He was very sweet and very shy so I gave him a whistle. His dad was delighted too and kept shaking my hand. It was only a plastic whistle but I guess its the small things that count.

The same group were on a minibus as we rode back towards the road and they waited somewhat eagerly for us to cross the rivers. They were clearly hoping that at least one of us would fall in, but none of us did, and they all lent out of the windows and clapped and cheered us enthusiastically.

Rode back to Erdenet, a large industrial city ( by Mongol standards) to the west of UB. There is a huge open cast copper mine here and also a hydro thermal power plant. He rest of the place is really weird though; its almost like the city has closed down but nobody has told the population. There were loads of people milling about when we tried to find somewhere to eat, but all the caf├ęs were shut. We eventually found one by the bus station and ordered a rice and egg dish, which was good. However, while we were there, we were befriended by the city drunk who then got a bit boisterous and annoying. The manager tried to throw him out but he picked a fight with her, so a male customer threw him out and then kicked him up the bum. Unfortunately, he returned about 5 minutes later, armed with a large rock, which he moved to whack me over the head with. Luckily, Lionel saw it coming and disarmed him. And that was before I'd even had my dinner.