Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Back in the USSR (well Russian Federation)

When you enter a strange town in the evening after a long day it never seems that nice. But after a nights sleep and a good breakfast you start to walk around and explore and these towns come to life. This has been the case with both Ulan Ude which while planning this trip was just a point at which to turn left or right and is in fact a lovely town.

The largest head of Soviet leader Lenin ever built is in Ulan-Ude

The Opera House

The Kings Gate Arch

Some fantastic period wooden buildings are around the city

The main shopping mall

After a days rest there I moved on and after looking and not being able to find anywhere marked on the map with a hotel decided to do the 650km to Chita in one hit. I figured either two normal days, or one big one followed by another rest day. The ride was rather wet with a few thunder storms around but I got there OK and lost another hour, so now I'm back on Melbourne time!! The second choice has turned out rather well. Again a wander round this morning revealed a city with a lot going on. It’s not something you think of when you say Siberia but today has been very hot here. People everywhere in there summer clothes and the parks and public places full of colorful plants which have obviously been planted out by the city, and everyone takes pride in it and enjoys it for however short a time until the winter returns.

The main square in Chita

Vladimir again but in Granite

The Cathedral

Public places full of colour

I also managed to buy a Russian SIM card for the phone today which should improve communications somewhat. 3 Euros to buy and a call cost 1.5 euro cents a minute. Oh it was that cheap at home!!

The next few days are going to be big as well 900km to the turn off from the Federal Highway. Then 250km to Tynda and 1000km to Yakutsk, all on gravel roads. I’ll catch up when I can.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


We spent the next four days at the Oasis. A Gher camp and hotel which seems to be very, very popular with German tourists for some reason. It might have something to do with the previous owners being Austrian. The food was good, but by the time the other lads caught up with us and Uwe’s new travelling partner for the BAM road flying in from Switzerland there were 6 blokes sleeping in one gher! I’ll leave what it was like to your imagination.

Six men in a Gher. Hmmm

Tom has some relatives who live in Ullaan Bator so I was lucky enough to tag along when they came to show him around on Wednesday. I think we saw some of the best sights that no one tour could have taken us to. And as a finish to the day we went 40km south to see the statue of Genghis Khan. So to Batzul and his wife Jargal a big thank you.

The last monastery left. The Russians destroyed all the others

The main temple

Prayer wheels

The summer palace of the last king of Mongolia

Some of it was built in the European style

The main gate is very impressive

The Parliament building in the main square

There is a lot of new money in Mongolia

Modern Ulaanbaatar

Genghis Khan Statue

They like their Eagles and This Vulture

Batzul and his wife Jargal

The road north to the border is all paved. It doesn’t help that it was pouring with rain for the first hour as we left but we made good time up to the largest town just before the border and once again managed to find a good hotel. An early start the next day meant that we got to the border at 10.30. Two of us got through fairly quickly, but then for some reason they stopped processing people. We waited for the next two hours for them to do the paperwork for Uwe and David. They knew we were all together but that made no difference. But as other travellers will know you can’t complain you just have to smile and wait. By 14.30 we were rolling again and on our way to Ulan Ude. 

The metal man statue just before Darkhan 

Western Mongolia - The Northern Route

After stocking up on money and other items we left on the camp and started to head north. While not too bad the roads started to degenerate and after 50km unfortunately Fritz came through a small dip and on the uphill rise the track was heavily cambered and his front wheel slid away from him. He face planted quite heavily and although not knocked out he was pined under the bike. We got that off him and he got up thinking he was OK but after he got his jacket of it was obvious he wasn’t. His collar bone was sticking up at a weird angle and although not sure I had seen the same thing on my mate Errol. We persuaded him to settle down for a but and two of the lads road over to a camp in the distance. They returned after half an hour with a Landcriuser from what was a mining camp. They had a Doctor with them and he took one look and said that was it for Fritz, he wasn’t going to be riding anywhere. They arranged for him to be taken back to town and his bike stored safely at the camp. The last we heard was that it was a complete separation of the shoulder blade and collar bone and that he flew out of Ulan Bator to the United States Just before we arrived. A speedy recovery mate.

Just after this Fritz came off

The mining camp in the distance

The Doctor arrives and transport back to town

We made it to Ullangom, and after a night in a nice hotel with a late meal as we had lost another hour in the time zone change we set off the next morning across the northern route of Mongolia. The first couple of hours were wasted as we got lost and ended up on some goat track that some of the others were enjoying but were just annoying me. The beef and egg that Thomas and I had had the night before started to take its effect on him and by lunch time we were waiting in a small village in the middle of the mountains to see if he would get any better. At 14.00 we decided that we would stay and we were offered some beds in what I think was a school. The up side was that they were holding there Nadam festivities that day so we unloaded the bikes and rode back over the hill to see the horse racing. The stocky little horses they have are ridden bareback by what look like kids of about 10 years old for about 12km from what I could understand and they look ready to drop when they finish. Later on that evening we went up to the arena to see the prizes being given out.

The main road!

The school house accomodation

The winner is brought home

The next day was Friday and although we got away early the tracks started to get worse and progress was slow. After riding for twelve hours we got some supplies in a town and headed just far enough outside and up onto the hillside where we might no be disturbed for our first “wild camp” As we parked up and got off the bikes it was my turn. I was sick and then later that night running out of the tent to try to find somewhere to use as a toilet by the moonlight!! Some again in the morning before anyone else was awake, but the scenery across the valley with the wild horses kind of made up for it.

The road continues

Camp for the night

The horses paid us a visit

Time for bed

The Saturday wasn’t much better, and I can’t remember the name of the place we stayed, but it was a typical Mongolian country hotel, two sort of clean beds in a room with no wash facilities and a squat outhouse round the back. Not great when you still aren’t feeling well.

We were on the final leg now and on the Sunday we decided to try to make it to the white lake where there were supposed to be some fairly up spec Gher Camps. We would have made it too, but as we went through the last water crossing which was pretty shallow, Tom hit a large rock in the middle with his front wheel and then came down on it hard on the sump. The result was oil leaking quite badly. So we laid the bike on it’s side and then spent the next three hours repairing the cracked sump with some metal putty. When we got going at 19.00 we still had another 150km to go, and as the sun was already setting we were soon in the dark with hundreds of cars coming towards us on the return journey from the Nadam festival in Ullaan Bator. With the dust, lights and what can only be described as a track that has then been carpet bombed! We had to call it a day and once again try to get off the road as far as possible to prevent getting run over and set up the tents.

Take your pick of road. None are better than the rest

A herd of Yaks

An easy water crossing

Turns into a big problem

We made it to the white lake the next morning by morning break and Thomas decided he wanted to stay for the night there. Three of us pressed on to Tsetserleg that night, the end of the dirt tracks and back onto tarmac. I was soooo glad to see that. Back into civilization with a hotel, a shower, proper toilets and at the Fairfield café (run by an expat aussie) some very good food.

Mongolia's Grand Canyon

I was very happy to see tarmac again

So back to just Uwe and I on the Tuesday, to cover the last few hundred KM into Ullaan Bator. Uwe had said that the traffic there was a nightmare as had some other reports that I had read. We sailed through the city!! Apparently in the last two years they have not only repaved the main road through they had introduced traffic management systems that now keep it all pretty much under control.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Down to Mongolia

Wow what a long time ago it seems that I had the chance to sit down and write anything. Where to begin?

One of the old Soviet tanks in the park in Barnaul

Tyres and oil changed

I got the tyres fitted and the oil changed on the bike and everything was fine. We headed south towards the Alti region and the border, through some stunning countryside.

The Russian people have discovered this area as a holiday destination and there are all sorts of cabin resorts being built, although none of them seem to be open for business at the moment. Apparently their president has built a very nice new dacha there and while you can’t see it, but the new road and gates look very nice. We found a room in a small guesthouse for the night and although there was only a shared toilet and washbasin on the landing, the lady persuaded us that a banya would be good later on.

Our accomodation at the highest point in the Alti

The ladies went first at around 20.30 and then at 21.30 she knocked on the room and took us round to the banya. For want of another name it’s a sauna, but boy was it hot. I only managed about 5 minutes the first time and one the second. I couldn’t breath!! But at least the pours were opened up and I sweated out a bucket load and felt clean after.

more beautiful scenery 

A monument to the truck drivers 

The next day we headed down to the small town just before the border and along the way picked up a third person “Tom” from Germany on an Africa twin. We found a nice hotel to stay in and prepared ourselves for the crossing in the morning. We set off early and after only 50km we arrived, only to find that it was closed!! Who forgot it was Sunday? All of us! So we rode the 50 km back and ended up with another room, although we needed to wait until 14.00 before we could check in again.

Finally on the Monday morning we made it back to the border, along with everyone else that had been waiting to cross for the weekend. What a mess. There is no queuing system and the Kazakh person in front of you might have had 12 passports in his pocket. Seven and a half hours it took us to get out of Russia and then on the way through to the Mongolian border which is about 20km away it started to rain, then hail, then snow!!

The que at the border

We pulled up at the border looking like a cross between an ice pop and a snowman, much to the amusement of the border guards and after another hour we got a big smile and “welcome to Mongolia” The tarmac then ended, and we rode our first track to the town of Olgii. Along the way we had picked up another two. Thomas from Belgium on a BMW F800 GS and Fritz an American on a G650 GS, they had been travelling together for a while through the “Stans”  

The tarmac ends and the gravel begins, and it was cold

Once we got nto town we easily found the Blue Wolf Gher camp and checked in for two nights.

Our accomodation

Inside the gher. comfortable.