Friday, 27 June 2014

Taking a shortcut in northern Mongolia

25th of June 2014 - Olgii - zero miles

We had a day rest in Olgii to do some chores, like laundry, bike maintenance, catching up on the blog, buy food etc....

We had pretty much made our mind that we wanted to ride the northern route, which is supposed to be the hardest, but also the most beautiful. 

We stayed at a Gers camp in town. We met with few travellers and exchanged information with them. Apparently the main road north was blocked by two rivers that are currently too deep for even trucks to pass. Two cyclists, father and son from california, on a round the world trip, told us about a combination of short cuts. A dutch couple , driving on a big landcruiser from China to Holland gave us also some valuable info on the northern route. 

Thursday 26th June - somewhere by a lake - about 100 miles

For various reasons we left rather late. 

Our plan was to take the shortcut below, from Olgii to Ulaangom, as the main road north was impassable. 

To start with, it was an obvious gravel road, that turned into various tracks. Navigation became difficult as there were tracks on the ground going all over and no idea which one to take. Eventually, it did not matter, we trusted our compass and the GPS, at least we knew we were going roughly north - East....

Which way? 

The tracks got from bad to worse, these are probably the worse tracks we ever rode. Lucky we had the perfect bikes for that, they were amazing through rocks, sand, rivers, anything! 

Let's just pick a track.... Any track! 

We went up into high deserted plateaux, across mountain passes, down green valleys and lakes and up again. The scenery was incredibly changing! 

And up again and down into a valley with a big lake, where the tracks changed from rocky to sandy! 

A storm was behind us, so we only stopped to eat an apple for lunch before pressing on! 

Then the terrain changed to some dry river bed with big stones.

Up a mountain we met with some canadian cyclists and spent some time talking to them.

Then our first river crossing. 

We then came across this scene below. A bike down, a man on the ground, face full of blood and bruises, a kid standing along....

We stopped. The man was still alive, the kid did not say a word.
We did not know what to do. We decided to take a picture of the man and the kid, and alistair rode back up the hills to a small settlement, using the photo to explain what happened and get help, while I waited with the kid. I did not get a word from him, maybe he was in shock? He did not speak russian i guess...

Meanwhile Alistair found some people, but when he showed then the picture they just laughed at it like complete morons! 

Eventually he came back. We were considering to get Alistair to take the kid pillion and ride to his home and get help there. We could not leave the man there, it was getting late and he would surely die of hypothermia overnight!
Then, a young lad turned up in a motorbike, he conversed with the kid, they seemed to know each other. The lad gave the kid his backpack and rode across toward a lake, to a ger, to get help. 

So we left them to it. There  was not much more we could do. 

By then it was very late. Too late to make it to Ulaangom in such dizfficult tracks, and we were tired.

We rode for a while a took a track towar a lake, but the shore was very far. Sowe  just set camp. We could see some gers far away.

We got the stove and prepared what is now our staple diet: pot noodles! 

As soon as we got eating, a couple of motorbikes turned up and two mongol came to stare at us. Wgave  them some bread... Then they left! 

Friday 27th June - about 65 miles - Ulaangom

We had a   good night sleep, it was a peaceful place and no mosquitoes! Such a relief! 
Then as we were getting ready to pack up, two guys om two motorbikes turned up and inspected all our  stuff, our bikes, and were more than willing to help packing, but not with the best results! To pack all small enough it fit in our roll bag is an art! 

We got back

on the road, the scenery across a mountain and valley was sublime.

We then got into the good road to Ulaangom, it was even paved! The place is a dump but we need to buy supplies for several days and have a last shower! Beyond Ulaangom, we will go into the wilderness for several days, until we reach the town of Moron! Honest, that's the name! 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Into Mongolia

Our hotel, or room in someone's house to be more precise, was in the main square. We went to buy some pot  noodles for dinner as we had a kettle in the room, and did not want to chance the local eateries! 

By 8pm all was very quite, the fountain turned off and the cattle marched through the town. I was intringued.... Although we did not have internet, i checked in my iPad, changing the manual time zone, from Astana to Novosibirsk. Bingo, we had changed time zone once again and did not realise for two days! Not that it mattered that much! We were now 7 hours ahead of the UK! 

monday 23rd June - campsite in Altai - 234 miles

The house had a little cafe on the ground floor, where we had put our bikes for the night. It was closed to the public but the cook was there, preparing the food for the day. We  chanced it and managed to get fried eggs for breakfast! 

After that we got the bikes out and left. We were now joining the main highway, the M52 that runs from Novosibirsk down to the Mongol border. 

 The ride there was spectacular, the Altai is definitely the most beautiful place we have been so far in this trip! 

We stopped at midday, near to top of a mountain pass, for a bit of lunch, the end of our bread and the last tin of pate! That Russian dark brown bread was still fresh, i bet it would last till the next ice age! 

We wanted to get as close as possible to the border, and cross the next morning. Our map showed various towns along the way, all of the same size. If fact, as we went along, those villages were smaller and smaller. 

By 5 pm, as the weather was turning stormy, we decided to turn back few miles. We had seen a sign for a campsite, and it was obvious we would not find any place to stay in the villages. We followed the sign as it took us off the road into a farm track up and down hills for a couple of miles, across a small river and into the camp! 

Inside our gers:

The site was a handful of gers, some small wood comstructions for the staffliving  quarters and kitchen, kennels, a banya, and the usual wodden hut on a wood platform with hole on the ground that constitutes a toilet in russia! 

The yurts were almost fully booked, but Iga, the lad running the place, got us two beds in a gers of 6 beds. We would have to share! 

The campsite was full of interesting people. Iga had two passions, Capoeira, and racing in dog sleds. For this purpose, he had lots of dogs. Running free we had two white Siberian Samoyeds, a couple of huskies, and in the kennels he had two Alaskan Malamutes and two more huskies.


We went to see one of the Malamute, it was enormous at only 9 months old. Next to it the 
Husky looked like a miniature dog! The Malamute had also incredible strength ! 

Iga's dream is to race his dogs in Alaska and visit Rio! I hope he get to do both! 

Iga told us that three bikers had booked a gers for the night. We wondered if it would be our moldovian friends on their way back from Mongolia..... In fact it was three russians bikers.
As we finished our dinner, they came in the gers that was used as dinning room, and invited us  to join them to drink some (excellent!) russian Cognac! 

That is how we met Pawel, who was very quiet, Anton, an IT programmer and Vladimir, a giant motocross racer. Anton spoke very good english and did the translation. 
They were from the Altai and were travelling few days on their bikes. 

We spent a long time talking. Vladimir wanted to start a business organising motocross tours around the Altai. We thought it was a brilliant idea and he could make a good business and good money by doing tours. We told him about Patrick in Osh and how much he charges to rent bikes ( expensive!)... But the reaction of Vladimir was interesting and humbling. His goal was not to make big profit but promote and bring more motocross events into the Altai and getting more people interested in his  passion.  


Anton rleft and Vladimir right:

It is good to see that not everyone is interested in material success, and outside of the west, the cultures can be very differents! I hope Vladimir gets his business going, i told him he had to get some low bikes for the occasional short riders (me!).... It would be cool to come back and explore the Altai with Vladimir and his inside knowledge of the region! Definitely something to keep in mind! And I could improve a lot om my offroad skills too with such a master! 

Incidentally, they did not look down on us, travelling on our little 125 cc bikes, as they themselves were on 250s! Vladimir did not see the point of anything bigger or heavier than 250 for travelling. Anything bigger would be too fragile and heavy! 

Tuesday 24th of June - 126 miles - Mongolia, Olgii

We left before our new friend woke up. We got to the border by late morning and it took 2 1/2 hours to get out of Russia! 
We had to get through four peoples who in turn, each i n their desk would enter all our details intoa  computer! The height of inefficiency! 

We then rode the 20 kms to the Mongol side. 

The proof! The sign says Mongolia in cyrillic! 

It took only 20 minutes to get through. On arrival before the Mongol borde compound, we had to get through decontamination! W paid 50 rouble each to geta lady vaguely spray a bit of water on one side of our wheels! What's the point of that? 

We then rode all the way to Olgii, througha  mixt or tarmac, gravel and deviations across cross country! 

We avoided many marmots set on commiting suicide by getting caught on our wheels! 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

From Kazakhstan to Russia's Altai

UWednesday 18th of June - 174 miles - Taldikorgan

We left Almaty after breakfast. Then we got on the road, straight north. 

Now you must be wondering, we ride south, to Kyrgyz, then east to the border, then west again to Almaty, then North again! Why all those up and down, zigzags? 

Well, first, if you visit Kazakhstan, you must register with the police within 5 days or risk huge fines and big problems. If you arrive by plane, it is done at the airport, if you arrive by land, like us.... You have to get to a big town to do it, unless you are totally sure you can get out of Kazakhstan within 5 days! 

Also, Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakh or Kyrgyz, only Russia or China. Granted, via China would be a tremendous shortcut.... But it is sadly impossible to get into china with a motor vehicle. You need a guide, and the cost goes into the thousands of dollars. Only large groups can do so! For lone travellers like us, the only option is get via Russia... So north it is again! 

The road north was just a masssive constant roadworks, so it was slow going. By the end of the day ,we  stopped ata  surprisingly pleasant town for the night. As we had a look around, we saw many girls  wearing long dresses and guys in suits, getting their pictures taken ....We thought first that it was a wedding, but on second inspection it looked more like a highschool graduation event!

Thursday 19th of June - 331 miles - Ayazov

We left early as we had a long day ahead. Between Taldikorgan and Ayazov, there was no town, only desert. At least the roadworks were over and we managed to get to ayazov by daylight. 

The town was some sort of military camp, maybe big prison, and an ugly town. 

We stopped near a shop to ask for a hotel. A guy told us about a place near the train station, another guy, in his car, told us to follow him. He took us to a hotel. However, the owner of the hotel wanted 10,000 tenge, about 55 dollars, very expensive for such a dump town. Id on't like to be takenf or an idiot and I made it clear! The hotel owner dropped his price to 7,000 but we moved pn. We found the hotel near the station. From the outside it looked like a soviet style dump! I went in and a nice lady showed me a huge room, with a private bathroom, andit even had hot water. Ok the place was outdated, the pumbing beyond dodgy and the flooring and all workmanship like done by 5 year old... But it was ok. For 5,000 tenge it was more reasonable! 

After dining in our room with some pasties and peanuts, we went out to buy some ice cream. 
The shopkeepers asked about us, and when i went to pay, with my change, they gave us a chocolate bar! 

Friday 20th of June - 205 miles - Oskemen

We had decided to avoid the main border crossing between Kazakhstan and Russia, on that side, and aim instead for a little border further east. The reason for that was to avoid the long ride through busy highways, and take a shortcut across Russian Altai region, using little roads and lanes, cutting off a good 500 kms detour! Sounded like a good idea! 

So we left Ayazov early, as we had no breakfast, and made it to Oskemen, which was only 80km from the border. The town was big and people there looked decidedly russian rather than ethnic Kazakh... We were close to russia. 
We found a supermarket and bought some food as we would need to camp in The Altai. We picked some pot noodles and bread and pate, as well as some dried fruits. 

Saturday 21st of June - 220 miles - Altai region

The breakfast at the hotel was beyond vile and i only managed to drink my coffee and eat some bread! We then got to the border late morning. The crossing was fairly fast. Afterthat we   rode few miles and stopped at a bus shelter. There we had some lunch of bread and pate. We then got on the road. 

The region was agricultural and we crossed many small villages, along big valleys and gentle hills. 

The roads at first were alsphated, but the  it turned into gravel and tracks.

As the day went on, we started looking for a spot away from the road, to set camp. We wanted to gets ome shade but the only trees were in the villages.
Eventually we took a farm track and rode up a couple of hills. We set our camp there. 

As soon as we got off the bikes, the mosquitoes came out! They were the size of a jumbo jet, million of them, and very hungry! 

We managed to get a dinner of poot noodles and biscuits before taking refuge in our tent. By 8:30 we were inside, with the mosquitoes trying to find a way in! 

Sunday 22d June - 155 miles - Ust Kan

By 4 am it was already light. My mattress was in some sort of lateral slope and I could not sleep well.
 Soon before 6am i had enough and got up. 

Mosquitoes were still around. We had a quick breakfast, packed everything, and were on the road by 6:45! 
For a sunday morning, there were quite few cars around, so early! 
We continued in our shortcut, with the road turning occasionally into a river bed! lucky our bikes are designed for that sort of terrain! 

The ride was stunning, but we got rattled and shaken to death on those bad trails! 

Bymid afternoon, very tired, we arrived at the little town of Ust Kan, we even found a hotel of sort! 
It had a feel of far west on it, with the cattle being marched through town at dusk!