Mongolian Trilogy Part 3 – Serendipity

Anne awakes with a start after midnight on the 9th of July, “We must be out of Mongolia tomorrow” she realises, the five day border closure for the Naadam holiday starting on the 11th runs until the 15th which is a Saturday and the border is always closed on a Sunday. It will not reopen until Monday 17th, one day before our Russian visa expiry. It is highly unlikely that Russian Immigration officials will allow us in with 1200km to cover in just over a day through mountainous terrain. If we cannot leave today we will be stuck in Western Mongolia and need to apply for a new Russian visa back in Ulan Baatar some 1600kms/1000miles away with a likely three week delay in getting the Russian visa issued. Are you awake now, I certainly was.

With the evening’s events still fresh in our minds, we knew that we could do nothing but wait till dawn…

My mind drifted back to the events as they had unfolded over the previous 18 hours. After a good night’s sleep at the Entym Hotel in Altai after the long crossing in the truck, we bid goodbye to Baltar our driver who now started the long return journey home. Anne felt sad we had not been able to communicate as there was much about his world we could have better understood.

We had 450kms/270miles of paved road ahead and being ahead of schedule, with our view of the unpaved roads we had crossed yesterday we felt that we should give the upcoming 180kms/110miles of dirt ahead a go. We could take three days if necessary, time was on our side. “Confidence is high” to use a movie/military quote.

A quick walk around Altai before we leave:

Mongolians love their sweets

Mongolians love their vodka too

Mongolians appear to love karakoe too


We settle into more undulating vastness, good road and little traffic, in a few short years the missing links will be filled in and a trip on paved road from London to Ulan Baatar will be possible opening up more opportunities for visitors. Many dirt road alternatives will exist, so options for all types of rider. A small wrinkle appears, don’t build your bridges on a sand base is all I can say.

The road from Altai to Khovd


Time for a stop

Very dry Govi-Altai province

Very gusty Altai to Khovd road with endless wind twirls

Onward and onward, strange to have 550kms/330 miles of paved road sandwiched between two dirt sections. While on one of our regular breaks, a lone motorcycle appears from the west. We meet out first ever Turkish adventure rider. Discussion as always quickly turns to road conditions. He informs us that the dirt section we have decided to attempt is “Hell”. Humm… not what we wanted to know, our riding barometer for dirt is swinging from fair to rain. Not a confidence booster. A truck is coming back into the equation.

Somewhat unsettled by what we have heard, we travel on, the landscape does vary and as the green is replaced by brown, the number of herds decline, but they still treat the road as part of their domain, goats and sheep the worst for movement, cows just stare and horses ignore you.

Nice to see some greenery again as we approach Khovd

Typical Mongolian bike and family

Big sky

Approaching Khovd province

Descending into Khovd

Khovd below

Sparsely populated, only two villages en-route to Khovd exist, neither appeals to us and the landscape does not entice us to camp although I know Anne desperately wants too. Khovd appears over a final rise and we roll into town past the old abandoned Soviet era coal fired power station, I cannot imagine this was either efficient or environmentally friendly. We are now seeking hotels, the usual end of day occupation when we meet two riders, Gilles and Lino, French and Italian respectively with the same agenda. I find an english speaking local who will guide us, Gilles and Lino chat to the nearest pretty girl, typical.

The black car stopped to help us and we picked up a Frenchman and Italian along the way

As we follow our guide’s car to a couple of hotels, trying to find one with running water, it becomes apparent Lino is in a lot of pain. We learn he crashed four times today on the unpaved section we plan to cross and thinks he has a broken leg, later confirmed at Khovd hospital. What comes after rain on the barometer, stormy?

While Lino is at the hospital, we have dinner with Gilles, visit the local square and hospital to check on Lino. He is discharged with a nice white plaster-cast and back at the hotel they assess the road with terms such “worst road conditions I have ever come across” and “nightmare” – crashing four times may influence one’s view, but you get the general direction. We leave Lino to sleep on the lobby couch while his plaster-cast sets, he has no crutches and declines a group offer to carry him upstairs, probably to avoid the fifth crash of the day.

Won those prizes on Khovd town square with Gilles

Lino with his fresh plastercast and Gilles

Anne had earlier in the evening spoken to Tsoogii, the English speaking sister of our hotel finding guide, asking if he could drive Lino to the hospital once he was checked into the hotel, and took the opportunity to ask her if they knew of any truck drivers in town who could take us to Ulgii. She would call us tomorrow morning.

After a fractured night’s sleep we are up early and packed, conscious of the impending holiday and our need to depart today. Tsoogii comes through with a truck, a friend of her husband’s. People are always willing to help, it’s natural and worldwide In a couple of hours, we have said goodbye to Gilles and Lino, Lino will be heading home his trip over, but he was almost to his destination Ulan Baatar having started in Italy. Well done.

Tsoogii, the black car driver’s sister, helped us find another truck

Loading is easier, just find a dirt bank to back the truck up to. No ramps with nasty foot traps as in our previous loading excursion.

Much easier loading of the bikes in Khovd

On board and tied down, we are off, over the river and choose your track. I have realised that the Mongolian dirt roads with multiple choice within multiple choice route selections are a little like the old dungeons and dragons games. Multiple doors and passageways. Some contain fair roads and others sand traps, vicious corrugations or just disappear in totally the wrong direction having started parallel to the correct route. Regular local drivers, such as ours, know which to take to avoid the harshest terrain. We start by staying off the main track for the first 10 kms/6 miles and then went over a different mountain pass to the main mapped route, all good local knowledge.

Outside Khovd, preparing for Naadam tomorrow

Which way?

Glad we are not riding this…

Multiple lanes sometimes merge into one narrow one

Sudden soft patches are the worst

More sand on our way to Ulgii

It was possible we could have ridden a fair part of this route, not in a day, but we would never have selected each junction correctly in the first place. I understand why so many have struggled with this section, given the impossible task of correctly choosing the best path at each junction.

Roadworks paralleled this route for most of the day, I think within two years it will be paved highway. Reminding me of bleached bones in the desert, twisted black tyre strips dot the landscape, a constant reminder of the harsh nature of the terrain we are crossing. We cross paths with a number of horse laden trucks heading for the Ulgii Naadam, our driver looks intently at the horses, possibly competition for his horses? They do love their horses here.

Horses being transported for a Naadam festival somewhere

At last, some green again

Somewhere between Khovd and Ulgii

The desert is always full of delicate surprises

More desert flowers

Holding a 10kg eagle

Mongolian eagle

Back on tar after 7 hours to cover the 180kms/110 miles of dirt and we want our driver to return home, it’s a long day’s round trip, so an embankment, truck tyres and the three of us unload Streak and Storm . Back on board our steeds and along side Lake Tolbo then down into Ulgii.

Time to unload Streak and Storm

Outside Ulgii – pity we don’t have time to stop here for a few days

Outside Ulgii

Outside Ulgii

Coming into Ulgii

That’s right, just pull out in front of us, you’re bigger!!

A fortuitous meeting in the centre of town leads us to stay in a gur overnight, something Anne has been looking forward to since we entered Mongolia. We are also able to confirm that the border does close tomorrow, the 10th of July for six days, the manager knows an official at the border she called and checked for us. In Ulgii, Tsoogii who was helping us had looked online and called the immigration info number to confirm the closure dates. Both options said call the border post, which did not answer. In this modern information age we still needed the mobile/cell number of someone working there to confirm the dates!

Our night in a ger

Our ger, with the door open

A couple of hours’ ride on the morning of the 10th brought us to the Mongolian immigration and customs post, (see Visas and Borders for details). Four and a half hours later we are back in Russia, ahead of the six day border closure.

On our way to the Mongolian border at Tsagaannuur

Our last hour in Mongolia

Watch the goats!

Watch the yaks!

Bye bye Mongolia – so raw, so beautiful

Russian border an hour later

So how does Serendipity fit into all this? If we had not made the decisions we did regarding the truck travel based on others’ assessment of road conditions, we would now be stuck in Mongolia, our plans setback by a minimum of three weeks, assuming all went well in getting a new Russian visa in Ulaan Baatar. We would have to shorten our route to London, probably just back through Russia to Europe, so Serendipity it is.

– Anthony

Mongolian Trilogy Part 2 – Trucking to Altai

It is a strange morning for us. We wake up in Bayangkhangor knowing we have made the right decision to order a truck to transport the bikes and ourselves across the 280kms of corrogation and sand. Walking from hotel to hotel last night, searching for a room, reminded me of how tough today would have been for me everytime we picked either Streak or Storm from napping along the way. Walking at over 1800 metres altitude after a day in the saddle has got me out of breath and today will get even higher.

The truck owner knocks on our hotel door at 6.40am, a little earlier than planned but we are ready. After a bit of confusion as to why a taxi also turned up, we set off following truck and taxi across town to an empty yard with a ramp to load the bikes. It is not the easiest of angles and after loading his bike, Anthony kindly offers to ride Streak for me if I’d like – yes please, especially as the second bike will have an even tighter turning space. But with the taxi driver, the truck owner and truck driver, they all lift the back of Streak to spin it around on its front wheel with Anthony precariously hanging on. By 8am, the bikes are loaded and securely strapped, payment is made, the owner proudly shows me that he swapped the completely bald and cracking front tyres for us, having noticed my concern the evening before when they brought the truck over and promised to change them, and we’re ready to go.

Loading our bikes in Bayankhongor for Altai

As we pile into the cosy truck cabin, I look back at Streak and Storm – it seems like they are asking mum and dad why they are not with us.

Streak and Storm looking perplexed

Our driver Baltar is a cautious driver, obviously aware of the truck’s limitations but it is soon apparent that he has no idea of the way!! He stops a few times asking other drivers for directions. So out comes my mobile with MapsMe. MapsMe is a fantastic tool: download the maps you may need and you can then use it without the need for internet/comms access. As you will see from the photos, there are often numerous route options, generally merging back to a couple before branching out again. But occasionally, one left hand track that seems to run parallel at first will eventually take you in the wrong direction. We understand how easy it is to get lost and completely off track.

Which way now? Any but the far left one

An hour out of Bayankhongor, Baltar suddenly starts whistling and singing. It is beautiful, soulful. It reminds me of Aboriginals singing for their country. Something is happening for Baltar, it feels to me like he is coming home. Then suddenly, over the rise, we see a camp being built. It is his family! He asks if we want to stop – of course! An opportunity for Anthony to lend a hand with building a ger. Baltar seems happy to have given us this experience.

Over the course of day, as we approached an obvious ‘junction’, Baltar would simply look at me to ask me which way, a quick left or right sign, and our course is adjusted or corrected. At times, I would point out to Baltar where the official route was but as we are travelling parallel, within 500 to a 1000 metres, we are ok.

As we encounter different surfaces, both Anthony and I would comment on how manageable we felt the road would have been for us. Occasionally, there were sandy patches but they were not too long – just treacherous as you can be zipping along a hard surface then suddenly hit a soft patch and your front wheel digs in and over you go. Being the slow speeds, we feel we could have ridden the road. That’s at the start of the journey. But after hours and hours of relentless corrugation, we are grateful we made the choice we made. It would have been a long, tedious, uncomfortable and even unpleasant slog. A totally miserable route. We are glad we made the decision to take truck.

Glad we are not riding this…

Traffic travels on any track it wants or makes

In the middle of nowhere – what is this?

Ger with all the modcons

Then when we get to the river that split into 3 branches, again, we are grateful.

We get a tow across the water as the truck’s air filter is too low

Knock the battery connection back into place every time we stop

Time to dig…

It is a bouncy and dusty ride. We get the inevitable puncture.

And now a flat

Good time to tighten the straps again

More camels!

Endless corrugation or washboard

It took us 10 hours to drive the 280km section. By the time we get to the pristine tar with just another 100kms to go, we are all exhausted, and especially Baltar. The concentration has been intense for him. At 50kms an hour, it takes us another couple of hours to get to Altai. We could have unloaded the bikes and riden the tar section but we didn’t want to leave Baltar out there, knowing he would probably drive straight back. We realise how tired he is so Anthony plays upbeet music from his phone which Baltar enjoys and I feed Baltar biscuits, chocolates and whatever snacks we have left. Baltar tells us each make of car going the other way or where they are from, Prius, Ulaanbaator, Toyota etc. We all know what is happening here: trying to keep Baltar awake.

It took us 12 hours to from Bayankhongor to Altai. We drive straight to a hotel I have simply picked on MapsMe, the Entym hotel, and book 2 rooms. Baltar wants to unload the bikes tonight and return straight to Bayankhongor. As luck would have it of course, someone comes up and chats to us in Russian not expecting us to speak Mongolian. I am struggling to understand everything and try to ask for his help in getting a ramp from the hotel staff so he calls out to his family already on the top floor of the hotel to come down!!

We now have a superb interpreter: Josh explains that he is 11 years old, lives in Chicago, has a Mongolian mother who decided it was time he spent his school holidays in Mongolia so that he can connect with his heritage. I ask Josh to explain to Baltar that we are worried for him and feel he should not be driving home when he is so tired and that we have booked a room for him. Baltar thanks us and tells us via Josh that to experience Mongolia fully, we should spend time with him and his family… oh how I would love that… The hotel staff find us a ramp and with the help of Josh’s uncles, Streak and Storm are unloaded by 10pm, and we are ready to have a shower before dinner. How amazing to get all this help!! I never thought we would have managed to get the bikes off so easily and quickly.

Thanks Josh – you are an awesome interpreter!

Baltar must have fallen asleep as soon as he got to his room as he didn’t join us for dinner. We are exhausted too yet we just sat all day – what would we have been like had we ridden this stretch?!…

The next morning, Baltar joins us for breakfast. I start using my google translate to communicate with him. It is the first time we have ‘spoken’. All day yesterday, he would simply gesture, realising that talking to us in Mongolian was useless – usually, people end up shouting to make themselves understood!! Baltar would occasionally whisper something ever so gently, but use his hands to converse. His eyes somehow communicated so much. Then suddenly, I am overcome with a terrible sadness. I find myself crying at the breakfast table. I explain to Anthony that I am so sad we were not able to communicate with him. Anthony wisely suggests I should tell Baltar how I feel (writing this is making me choke up again). Baltar looks at me and his eyes say so much. Yes, he says simply in English. We gesture towards our hearts and understand each other. It is hard to say goodbye to Baltar.

Our wonderful driver Baltar

Once again, had we not made the decision we made, that is to take the truck, we would have missed out on meeting Baltar, witnessed his connection to his land, heard his soulful singing, and experienced his warmth and gentleness or met Josh. We dreaded this day and now we have the most wonderful memories…

– Anne

Mongolian Trilogy Part 1 – The Horns of a Dilemma

Trying to come up with an appropriate title could be the dilemma we faced, but it is not. After reading this, the linguistic purists amongst you may disagree with the title being an accurate reflection of the content, but it will have to do coming from the language philistine that I is, no am!

We had been considering the possible routes from Ulaan Baator westwards: North, Central and South plus the alternative of returning to Russia via the paved highway, longer but easier and after the seeing the mini Naadam we almost felt that we seen the essence of Mongolia and anything else may be anti climactic.

Anne had diligently researched the alternatives, but with so many different opinions, affected by the reporting riders’ expertise and improving road conditions year on year, there is no definitive answer. We have also heard, that a number of experienced riders have had accidents in Mongolia this year.

Anne had excluded the northern route by virtue of the multitude of river crossings, late spring and the general opinion that this is the hardest route, way beyond our meagre off road skills. The central and southern showed more promise, although stories emerging regarding the central route in the last couple of weeks have focused our attention on the southern route.

That was until we read a blog posted a few days ago of a couple, in our age group, who found the Southern route’s reported ‘packed sand’ would not pass the trade descriptions act. After battling for 90 kilometres of the 280 kilometre gap of sand and heat between the tarred sections, they wisely opted to transport their motorcycles by truck between Bayankhongor and Altai. Their description of the sand tracks sounds similar to those in the Marienfluss we drove through in NW Namibia last October in a stable air conditioned 4×4 with all of Anne’s Australian bush driving experience!

Before we read this blog post, both Anne and I have been struggling with the thought of off road riding across Mongolia: we are paved road riders, smooth tar is my favourite, hard packed dirt is fine and gravel in small doses, it brought me undone in Argentina in 2015. Sand is for beaches in my view and has no place on or as part of roads unless mixed with cement. A short roadwork excursion into sand yesterday reconfirmed my inability to cope with the surface without much practice. Anne is also concerned that, in the heat and altitude (2000 metres), she may not have the strength to repeatedly pick up the bikes as we inevitably tumble in those road conditions. The number of recent accidents we have heard of weighs on our minds.

We do not have the experience and confidence in certain forms off-road riding that we would like to have and recognise that perhaps in our younger years, pushing the envelope is a good idea, the middle of Mongolia next week not the place to start. I am sure many fine riders would disagree with me, but its my opinion and I am sticking to it. We are here to enjoy ourselves.

The dilemma we felt was: do we push on and attempt to ride across the unpaved 280km section, remembering our Russian visa time constraint, organise a truck or return to Russia directly from Ulan Bator. Does using a truck lessen the adventure in some way as we would not have ridden all the way? That’s what I was wrestling with.

We return to the fundamentals of this adventure from our perspective:

– Achieve a second RTW trip safely
– Enjoy the journey we are undertaking
– Reconnect with old and new friends around the world

We realised we were actually undertaking risk management analysis as we had done in our working life. Anne has always said from the start of our motorcycle travels in 2014 ‘if it gets too hard, we can put the bikes on a truck’ sentiments that I wholeheartedly agree with after my short off road excursion. We decide to organise a small pick truck to take our steeds across the unpaved sections, much like the manner in which we see the Mongolians transport their horses over greater distances. This was done with the aid of contacts passed to us by previous travellers on this route, for the section from Bayankhongor to Altai. We make an initial call stating our requirement. Recent travellers can be a good source of up to date information. Streak and Storm will now have travelled by Plane, Ship, Train and Truck as well as under their own steam around the world.

The traffic heading west out of UB at 6.30 is light and we are are out of it in no time. It doesn’t take long before we ride through the gentle rolling hills that we have associated Mongolia with. We have no idea how far we will get today – all depends on the road condition, traffic, weather, where we feel like stopping…

The Southern Route so far is pretty good and appears to bave been patched up and repaired at various times: we go from smooth tar, to potholes in line with truck tyres to incredibly deep holes to others in various stages of repair, the trickiest being the ones they have started to repair, cut straight deep edges and left – miss one and you could easily dent your rim or shred your tyre.

Storm brewing, an hour out of Ulaanbaator

Colourful roadside villages

Potholes prepared for future fixing with very sharp edges

On our way today is Khakhorin, the ancient capital of Mongolia. We have heard it is quite touristy and in poor state, run down, with little to actually see but it has been on my list of places to visit, mainly because of a monk friend of mine with whom I did a number of meditation courses in Brisbane and who has spent many years in Mongolia, recommended we stop at Erdene Zuu Monastery there. I feel bad not making the 150km detour to visit Khakhorin and the monastery. As we approach the turn off, and as we have made good progress, we decide to go there after all. Suddenly, the traffic dies down, except for a couple of coaches.

We get to a huge ovoo. One of those road side shrines that we have seen so many of. They start with a branch or a rock and people make offerings, usually rocks or stones and wrap blue ribbons. Over time, they can grow pretty huge. Some are more complex and are used by shamans. We have to stop at this one. We make our offering, walk around it.

That’s an ovoo worth stopping for!

Ovos are sacred stone mounds used as shrines

Ovoos are made of rock and various offerings, including horse legs

The ovoo is in direct line with a small temple at the top of a hill which we spotted before stopping for the ovoo. Anthony suggests we ride up the hill to it. Let’s get those Heidenau tyres working for what they were made for! Engines off. The silence is deafening. The energy is powerful. The view breathtaking, so vast, so raw. It is peaceful. We want to stay a while and soak it all up. Anthony spots a couple of blue silk scarves which have blown away, he collects them and ties them back near one of the stupas. No photo will do this little unnamed spot justice. Maybe my monk friend can tell me more about it. We stay a little longer. I was the one who wanted to go to Khakhorin but I no longer feel the need to. This was too special and I don’t feel like going onto a touristy place. We both agree just to turn back and continue our ride westwards.

From the ovoo we decide to check the temple on top of the hill

Peaceful Tibetan temple

Enjoying the peacefulness of the area

All day, we skirted a massive storm and by lunchtime, we were finally well clear of its spreading clouds but by 2.30pm, we are heading straight into a massive black storm. Could we be in luck again and find the road turns away just in time? Then we both see this huge lightening strike ahead of us. We are heading straight for this storm. We have 90 miles/150kms before the next town with nowhere to shelter in between. We decide to turn back and stop at a group of gers by the side of the road and see if we can stay there the night.

We decide to turn back when we see a vertical streak of lightening straight ahead of us

A young man comes over to us, speaking a little English. It turns out all the gers are all private homes but we can stay across the road. It is a new, airy, restaurant. When we realise he is offering the young family’s own bedroom, we say we cannot accept. There is a single bed in the corner of the restaurant. If we can stay in that corner and sleep on the floor, we would be very happy. Then the young man comes back and tells us the ger at the back is free and we can sleep there. Once again, it is not free but this older couple is now straightening the beds and taking their shoes out – we would be throwing them out of their home. They are very insistent that we sleep there but we cannot do that. We go back to the restaurant.

These gers are all shops and restaurants, no accommodation

We were offered this ’empty’ ger for the night until Anne realised the couple were taking their clothing out

We have a few hours before we feel we can put our heads down as local health nurses come around to check the young couple’s 11 month old boy (we learn from the nurses that they are doing a survey on malnutrition), customers come and go, then family relatives from across the road in the gers turn up for a game of volley ball and the young nieces run in and out of the restaurant checking us out and giggling. We turn down the offer of meat but accept a plate of fresh potatoes and carrots. The young family is so attentive and helpful. I find it so frustrating not being able to converse with them…

The storm has passed and we are treated to a magnificient rainbow. We could have riden on but we have enjoyed our time in the restaurant. We are surprised how well we both slept.

After the storm, Mongolia

Our sleeping quarters in the corner of the restaurant

We leave the restaurant early the next morning (no photos of our hosts as they didn’t want to be photographed) to bright blue skies. The storm has passed. It is a glorious day for our 300kms ride today to Bayankhongor.

This restaurant was home for the night

It is not long before we realise the wisdom of our turning back the previous day. We encounter a long stretch of very deep potholes – some you can ride through no problem but others could have done some serious damage. But with rain and water in the potholes, we would have had no idea. We don’t always know why we are driven to make certain decisions sometimes, but we often realise later how perfect our decision was. The gut feeling is still working well.

Magnificient Mongolian steppes

Peaceful Övörkhangai scenery, Mongolia

Big country, big sky, big herds

Typical Övörkhangai Scenery, Mongolia

Mongolian herding his horses on a bike

Impressive province monument ahead

Entering the province of Övörkhangai, Mongolia

We decide to stop in Arvaikheer for a late breakfast. So much effort is put in this town to keep it looking beautiful. Pity they didn’t invest in better paint – the toxic smell of paint used to freshen up the metal work around the gardens linger in our nostrils for literally hours later. I pity those poor women painting.

Arvaikheer, Mongolia

Smelled the toxic paint for hours after leaving Arvaikheer, Mongolia

Arvaikheer, Mongolia

Arvaikheer, Mongolia

Then what a memorial we stumble across! A horse memorial. It amazed us to see the numbers of Mongolians who came to visit this temple. Not a single tourist, just locals, in the time we were there. Unfortunately, we haven’t managed to find out much about it.

Horse Memorial, outside Arvaikheer, Mongolia

Horse Memorial, outside Arvaikheer, Mongolia

Horse Memorial, outside Arvaikheer, Mongolia

Those hazard cones are a bit superfluous!

Time for a tuna and crackers lunch

Mongolian roadside villages have both gers and houses, with solar power

We used our compressor to inflate his 3 tubes – all punctured


Just a few kilometres short of Bayankhongor, we get a taste of what getting lost feels like – which way now, it seems cars are going in all directions – and what corrugation feels like – ahhh, memories of South America… not our favourite surface…

5kms out of Bayankhongor, which way now?!

This is when we are finally convinced our decision to organise a truck for the next infamous 280kms section between Bayankhongor to Altai is the right one for us. As soon as we find a hotel, we make the call to confirm our truck requirement and pick up address.

– the 2slowspeeds

We are in Mongolia!!

As is our new habit when we leave a biggish city, we leave Ulan-Ude early. We have read reports of ‘monstrous’ road works on the way to the border, so we have no idea how far we will get today. The lighting at 6.30am is gorgeous and we cannot resist a short detour through Klyuchi to see more colourful Russian houses.

Klyuchi, Russia

We did encounter the heaviest road works to date in Russia but they were not as bad as we had heard – road works move constantly so every traveller will have a different experience and once again, we were in luck. After an easy, ordered border crossing, total 3 hours for both sides, we are in Mongolia!!!!

We did not enjoy this stretch – how will we cope in Mongolia?!

We are in Mongolia!!

I am so excited to finally be here and buoyed by this renewed energy from being in Mongolia, we decide to push onto Darkhan for the night. It was a slow ride, the road being very narrow and streams of cars heading north for the week end. We find a nice looking hotel and after an 11 hour day, and 35 degree heat, we are ready for a cool shower.

We leave Darkhan after a late breakfast – the 35 degree heat at 10pm still and thumping music from a reception downstairs, celebrating the local hospital’s 20 years in operation (we did wonder what happened to the patients that evening?!) meant our night was not so restful. Luckily, being the 1st of the month the next day, alcohol stopped being served at midnight so the party finished not long after. As a drive to curb drinking, the Mongolian government bans the selling of alcohol on the first of the month, and around elections.

Again, the traffic heading north is constant, many slow trucks heading south like us, the road itself rather narrow and quite potholly making our journey pretty slow. As in Russia, it is left to the driver to pay attention and notice the stopped truck, road works etc. There is no warning. The 227kms took us 5 hours to get to our hotel in Ulaanbaatar (UB), by the main square.

Traffic in UB reminded us of Tehran: not aggressive but assertive driving. Hesitate or leave a gap, and you are left behind. You simply have to keep your wits about you.

Traffic in Ulaanbaatar

As luck would have it, a friend I met in Bahrain 10 years ago and spent 5 years in Ulaanbaatar after that, arrived in UB last night is and is going to a mini Naadam organised by some of her friends tomorrow and we are invited to join her. We decide it would be more comfortable for us if we can ride in a car with her as it will be a day long affair and we didn’t want to stay in our riding gear. So she quickly organises a van. This is our first example of how quickly and efficiently things get organised here in Mongolia.

During her time in Mongolia, Robyn and some of friends were actively involved in a number of charities. One in particular was to help the “Children of the Peak” – kids living off the town rubbish dump. The Julie Veloo (her friend) foundation, which built and runs a kindergarten for these kids and a summer camp is running today’s Mini Naadam. A pre-cursor to the Mongolian national Nadaam (festival) which takes place from 11-15 July. I have to mention we have arrived at an interesting time – elections on the 7th July (suddenly brought forward by a day a few days ago) and Naadam.

With Robyn

What a truly magical day and priviledge to be able to attend a mini Naadam. In addition to giving those kids a special day, the aim of today us to raise money for those kids, through raffle tickets, local food and drinks sales and donations. We start the day with horse racing. There will be several winners including the rider picked by the raffle ticket winner. One of the prizes is a young filly which has been donated.

Mini-Naadam preparation

Little girl waiting on her horse

The young racers chanting before the race

It is 10kms to the start of the race

The wonderful Baggi

An hour later, the winner arrives!!

The day continues with archery, musicians and wrestling. It was a day full of culture. The energy throughout the day was electric. We already love the Mongolians. They seem to be full of gentle, quiet, strength and, as one young student whom I chatted with for a while today said, full of pride for their country.

Archery competition

Musicians at the mini-Naadam

Musicians at the mini-Naadam

Little girl taking it all in


Proud wrestling winners waiting for the next round

Winners do the dance to the eagle gods

Horse race winners

Robyn is asked to present one of the medals

Airag is poured over the horse for thanks

Beautiful Mongolian saddle

We round off our day with a stop at Chengiss Khan’s massive 40 metre tall statue. Having spent all day out in the middle of nowhere (for us), we didn’t feel the need to climb into the horses’s head to admire the views.

Some of the 10,000 statues the government wants to build – you can have your face on one for US$10,000

In front of Chingiss Khan

We will have spent 4 nights in UB, done a bit of walking around, exploring, visiting the oldest monastery in UB, the only one that didn’t get destroyed by the Russians, some bike maintenance and cleaning, and met up with a Dutch couple who have just come the way we’re going. They were very helpful to get their insights and experiences and he gave Anthony his GPS tracker route so hopefully we should not get completely lost even if we veer off ‘track’ at times. It is always difficult to get other people’s views on the state and difficulty of a particular route as it depends on their level of experience, skill, attitude, age, weather conditions… The clock is ticking, remember, we need to cross Mongolia, back into Russia and out again by the 18th. We have agonised over the route to take but we decide to minimise the pressure and risk and pick the easiest route, the Southern Route which has the most tar.

Choijin Lama Temple museum

With fellow motorcyclists, Janny and Peet

Anyway, we set off very early tomorrow!!!!

– Anne