A very strange departure this morning – we were chased out of the hotel by the staff. They came to our rooms, came in and shooed us out. It was only 0920 and we had intended to leave at 0930 anyway but it was very odd. Its not like they have other stuff to do for the rest of the day either – they just sit around and contemplate, or watch mongol tv. very loudly.
So we all rode to Bulgan where Lionel and Claude left us. we turned left towards UB, they went north towards a big lake and forest area.
The people in the town were quite chatty – This must be quite off the tourist trail – and although as usual we were the centre of attention, today people were quite openly coming up and chatting to us. we have no common language of course but the Mongolian phrase book comes in handy and they seem to find that quite amusing as we can obviously ' chat' more than usual and are able to tell them where we've been and where we are going.
We have also started to give out bits and pieces – we have some things like bars of soap ( still wrapped) hand cream , pens, a jar of straw berries. just mainly stuff we have picked up along the route or have had in our bags from London and they make nice little gifts to give to local people,things they don't see, at least in this form or with this wrapping and labelling, and they are quite intrigued.
Our route south east was difficult though. The tarmac ran out on the outskirts of Bulgan and 300kms of rough dirt road lies ahead. At least it is mostly hard packed dirt with just the occasional patch of gravel and sand, rather than the other way round as it was in Kazakhstan.
But this is the Mongolia we came to see. We are now literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by grassy plains and low level mountains. The valley floor is absolutely flat with a small river running through it and ger are scattered here and there. Gangs of wild horses, cattle and goats wander at will and just do their thing. there is nobody – and . occasionally, a motorbike two up will appear,usually a couple or a family, either on the road or more usually some way across the plain, they wave then disappear over the next hill.
We also see herdsmen, usually on the plains but quite often galloping along the track with several horses roped together, or herding animals not too far distant and they always wave too.
And do you know what? Even out here in the wilds of Mongolia, surrounded by nothing and no roads, people still lose one shoe or boot. How does that happen? How can anybody lose just one, and you never see a pair lying along the road. It happens the world over too, and Mongolia is no different.
But it is the wildlife that really impresses. Heron and storks abound along the river, as do other smaller birds and marmot things which appear, do the meerkat pose and then dive off down their burrow. Yesterday we saw some eagles close up. Huge great things the size of a Christmas turkey that wheel effortlessly on the thermal air streams rising off the terrain and just hang there, almost still. We see them daily, but today two of them landed not far from us and just sat there looking at us,, totally unconcerned at our presence. I suppose they have very little to worry about, predator wise and man is clearly not a big threat out here as the landscape remains about as wild as it always was.
Our camp tonight is on top of a hill overlooking this valley. In 360 degrees, all I can see is one ger and that must be several kms away. There is no sound apart from the birds and some peculiar flying cricket – they hop and then open a sail like wing and go several hundred metres on the wind before landing for another hop. and they rub their legs in that cricket way as they do.
The bikes seem none the worse for their trans Mongolian experience either. They are still trudging along and we're up to 9500 kms now, still on the original rubbish stock Chinese front tyres but replacement rears, both have replacement Chinese chains ( changed way back in Kaz) but original sprockets. Its not like these bikes have to pass MOTs or anything;they just have to keep going and pull us over rough terrain that they were never designed for, and so far, they have excelled. We should really have changed the sprockets when we did the chain but we had lost the socket handle and so had no way of getting the bolts off so we left them, and they seem to be doing fine.