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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.