Tarant to Ulangom.The long rough roads of Mongolia finally struck. An apology is in order here for those rarified few who mistakinly thought that JW was a man of steel. Frayed knot, Iam mostly dough, and these roads finally proved that too me. In the planning of this trip, of course I read every blog and every account that I could find about Mongolia and every other area that we intend to ride. Found out that in Romania and Hungary, that apart from steep roads we have serious dog concerns for instance. And with regard to Mongolia it was the serious road conditions that are a problem.
Pine, lookin pretty rough
All that said, the description of “serious”, lacked much context other than really bad. So it got to be a running joke between Pine and I as we rode along on bad road by USA standards, that if this is BAD then we can handle it. Ever heard that saying, carefull what you Pray for, well, we learned that lesson in spades.Our road dillema all began as we headed out of Tetserleg and our first stiff moutain pass climb on sand and gravel. In 25 years of riding in USA, I had not met a hill I could not crank up. Boy howdy, this hill showed me just how old and frail I am. Pretty stiff climb, it beat me 3 times. Lowest gear, soft sand, and I just could not get enough forward motion to stay upright. Happy to say that my stud son managed to ride in 3×4 and cranked right to the top. I was dually impressed. Down the other side, still on soft sand and thru huge ruts. We had to stop and tighten our brakes more so we would not have to use the non-existant run away ramps. Long ride down, and by the time we bottomed out, both of us had tired hands from riding the brakes as we went. Soon enough the road went back to blacktop of pretty fair quality.
A typical Yurt or Gur in the Uvs region.
Looking for pattern and color within a fairly modest but engraciating Mongolian home, welcome is not a color nor pattern.
Those are the mountains we tackle tomorrow. Two passes on dirt roads, and plus 10% at plus 10k tall. It will be a certified grunt&fart couple days
Traffic grew sparcer and sparcer, allowing us to ride side by side and visit a little. Half way thru the day, with the Archangai mountains growing around us in ever more ominous fashion with heavy rain laden clouds cloaking every peak, we knew it was time to set up camp. No sooner did we have camp up, than the rain came. Cooked supper under the tent gear fly, drank a cup of sugary tea, read for a bit, and hit the sack to the constant thrumming of rain on our nylon abodes.We woke to the sound of heavy rain at about 5.30am. Decided to maybe wait it out, and by about 9am we felt like we could escape our confines. Things were real wet, we rolled up and rode.Plenty of climbs as we made our way north by northwest thru the Archangai provincial hills. Pretty safe to say that this region of Mongolia is for sure our favorite within the route we traversed this the 17th largest country in the world. The heavy clouds finally lost thier threatening grip over the blue sky it had been choking out. We met our stiffest long climb, for sure plus 10 percent, all ruts and sand from a combination of heavy rain and grossly overloaded freight hauling vehichles. Pine managed to crank to the top once again, while old Pops was relegated to pushing to the top.
A view from south of Ulangom, as we drive north.
The Uvs desert, which houses the largest camel population in the world, brought here by Fungus Khan, Ghengis,s older less known brother.so quickly did they populate that they choked out the native Panda population, darned nusance.
Oh well, I made it, just not in the manner I am accustomed too is all! We met 4 Swiss adventure motorcyclists at the top, had a visit, but they mentioned not a word about the roads that lay just ahead of. They did however all wish us goodluck with huge Swiss Banker like smiles…….?
Not the best selfie sweetie, getting a little wooly, gunna have to do soething about that.
Off we ride in a content fog of ignorance.. Content to know the roades are pretty good going forward, right……I mean they are, aren’t they?. We stop in a tiny 5 shack “town”, unmarked on the map,nothing new about that. Its raining again, and we are sweating in our rain gear so we head for an open door and enter. That seems to be the way it works here in Mongolia, as most shacks or Gers along the road have a few items to sell, or they will make you a meal. This tiny building consisted of main room as you walk in, maybe 10 x 15 long with several cobbled together tables built onto the walls, and dining chairs from the same period. At the back of the room, was about the same amount of space with a huge low flat stove burning along and to the right of the stove a makeshift table. To our left was another room, known here as a “motel”, which consists of a low flat pellet built onto one wall. It will usually run the length of the room, and stands knee high and covered in some sort of drab carpet. Its a place where travelers can just pull in when tired, and sleep in a very communal fashion for as long as they wish. “We’ll leave the light on for you”, comes to mind. Working away at the back table was a lady with a broken length of mop handle which she was rolling dough with. Large, maybe 30 inch diameter circles were being rolled out then passed over to a rotund lady who was caretaker of the stove. She would take the dough with a constant toothy smile, and flop it onto the stove to begin the cooking process. Once both sides had been lightly browned, each huge pancake shaped disc is set on a shelf too cool. The shelf contained dozens, all stacked up. There was an elderly women and a much younger women who greeted us as we walked in “Sien bine,nu”. They poured us Mongolian tea without even asking……..and said “Good morning honey, and whaterya guuna have fer breakfast”. Oh crap, sorry, I had flash back, thought I was back in USA for a moment. They didnt say squat, nor smile. Nope, they both turned as if choreographed, sat at a low bench, took up shiny sharp clevers and each grabbed a dough wheel and set it before them. The dough is cut in strips, maybe 6inch wide. Then folded end over end till it was a parcel maybe 6×6. At that point, they commenced slicing thin shavings off maybe 1/8th wide. We found our selves amazed watching these noodle makers creating a mountain of noodles inno time at all. As it turns out, the older lady was the mother and had run this little shop all her life, a very meager existance at best. Her daughter however had by the hardwork of her parents, went off to Ulanbaataar to become a Doctor of general medicine. We were impressed. We ordered a bowl of mutton and noodles and ate as it rained.
Great lookin mountain yurt camp high up in Archabgai
Very common on gates and fences too see this geometric pattern.
The rain abates and we take to the road once again. It is rainy,sunny,cloudy,rainy, all that day. We camp, exhausted, but 58 miles further down the road when its all said and done. Up the next morning, determined to make it to Tarait, which is a tiny town beside a moutain lake and a few tourist ger stays. Pine was wanting to try a ger stay, and to some extent the thought of a shower seemed to obscure his focus on just where we were within the context of traveling thru Mongia. Good God Gerty, where the Sam Heck did these roads come from Pine as we rolled off black top onto pure-dee bone-racking, testical jarring nasty roads. Clackety clack went our teeth, bits of enamel flying out everytime we took in a breath. The bike played its own symphony of high pitched twangs and creaks, backed up by thuds and boings from the fender and rack percussin section. What was once a single lane bitumen(a little Aussie speak thrown in for cultural interest) road snaking it’s way across the hinter lands of Mongolia was now a free for all of road making. No lie, there were at times, better than 20 roads created all heading someplace, but you know not where to be sure. Naturally, we both felt this was temporary and would come to pass as we headed to the west. How wrong could we be.
The roads deteriorated much further, further than I have the abilty to actually descibe without resorting to words my Pastor would not approve of. Truth is folks, sometime after Tarait, the road just ends into a driving skills and navigation adventure park. Simple words leave me without the ability to aptly tell you how bad, nor how rough they really are. Some 1127km later we did finally hit black top again.2 flats, a busted radiator mount, and a snapped front spring and spring shackle later we all roll into Ulangom, a quaint little town that you would beg to be from, not at. Let me digress and explain our change of conveyance.
We head south of Tarat, some 35 miles. The roads had gone thru a surface menu of deep sand over multiple tracks, too, lava rock riddled rim breaking single track that made moving forward with our bike weight almost impossible. Racks are straining, bags are bouncing loose, and our helmets are wearing the hair right off our scalp as they rattled around on our heads. We rode along working hard to make 4mph and not tear the bikes apart. We come onto a tiny 7 shack town without a shopping mall, nor Walmart, can you imagine. We were dogged, but it was only 10am. Our arms and shoulders ached from the constant thrashing of the track we rode. We stop at the first open door, and find a few or a smattering of everything. From a single bag of potatoe chips to a handfull of chocolate bars, a small box of soap, a pack of feminine products…….got a mental picture. We opt for a bar each and a warm ice tea as a snack. We sit outside, watching a Buckskinny horse tied to a power pole, and 3 kids playing soccer with a dead flat ball. Citizens of this tiny enclave seemed to come and sit at thier own doors to watch us “Strangers in town”, rather than watch the non-existant mid day soap operas. We were a spectacle to be sure, a 6 foot plus blond kid and a whitehaired guy with a Walrus mustache. WOW, better than world cup playoffs. We talked, we compared our hurts and frustrations. We tightened up bolts, we tightened up steering tube star nuts, and rubbed our own in sympathy.
Dust boiled up north of town, green grass and the burnt brown color of lava rock framed the approaching wheeled cyclone. Out of the shroud of dust emerged 3 very loaded trucks, they gear down rolling threw town,mindful of children/dogs/sheep/goats/old women carrying water, and the like in the street. They made a sharp turn to the north,then promptly corrected thier path, all to avoid an old man who sat on an overly low stool as he consumed his noodles in the middle of the main street. The vehicles empty, men stretch and yawn, women of course never stretch they just fart and look at thier husbands with disgust( I have come too conclude its the only international event known to man).
12 people in total roll out, all ages and sexes. They look at us with a jaundiced eye, wary of men dressed in rubber pants and smelling of sweat instead of goat or sheep. They walk past us as we sat, even though we made our best attempt at a cordial greeting…….to no effect. (NEWS FLASH, we just went down to the hotel restaurant and had dinner. Omg- I would sooner walk a toilet paper tight rope than eat another ×$#€@@*Mongolian meal, a ration of Doctor Kevorkians Power Bars would be a blessing. My sheep fat laden dumplings had an orgasm right there on the plate as I tried to cut into the little bugger, shot sheep fat from Vanderhof to Buenos Aires. I know some of my Mongol friends may be offended at my descriptions, but bad food is just that-bad food. I had about a dozen thin slices of Cumcuber sitting on the plate, by meals end they picked up in one congealed stalagtite of encrusted sheep fat. This ain’t like the deliciuos duck fat eaten in France folks, this mutton fat and serious teeth scraping afterwards. I have eaten so much sheep fat, that even my farts are fluffy.
(From now on, I am dining on pure junk food or Ramen.), sorry honey, but I dont how much you insist onme improving my diet. Back to the truckers who are now leaving the store, thier curiosity getting the better of them. They make gestures towards the bikes, and one brave soul siddles over and makes a vain attempt to pick one of the bikes up…..niether wheel leaves the ground….we did notice a considerable swelling for in the rear of his pants……they all made the gesture that seemed too say that the bike was heavy. Let me start another paragraph since its bad form to run on.We talk/grunt away, have maps out, express our frustration with the raods etc. We try to find out when we hit blacktop again? They seem to all point to Ulangom when we ask that question. They also seem to express that the current roads are good as compared to what is coming, we are puzzled and ask the same question several ways and times, always with the same rather brusk reply indicating the bad part is coming.
They are content that they know enough about us, and move off to eat thier own junk food as a group. Some time transpires, while Pine and i talk over our own game plan. One fellow, who seems to be the ring leader comes over to us and motions for the map. So we comply. Unfolding it, he sticks his finger in his chest then puts his finger down on Ulangom on the map, waves his hand at all the trucks, then makes that simple gesture that means money. We know we are being offered something, but dont know exactly what. I have to leave the translations and negotiations to Pine because he had more time to study the Rosetta Grunting and Finger Jesticulation home study guide than I have had. The conclusion, so Dad, they want $200,000.00 to take us to Ulan, and it takes 3 days by truck(this amounts to $108.00 US dollars for the 2 of us, and we cover some 900km). I jump, Pine farts, and we are in, just about that quick.
We dismantle the bikes, placing all the panniers on the bottom to act as a cushion. Then the bikes on top and separated, all of which is tied tight within the folded tarp. Half hour later, we are loading into trucks, ready to roll. I want to stop here and say, that within this screed on Mongolian travel, I came to really appreciate this family crew of truckers. Really nice guys every one. They were not lying, about 50 miles further, and higher up into the Archangai the roads just went to hell…..sorry Mike. Niether Pine nor I had seen anything like it. In my youth, I spent about 4 years logging and working in bush camps. Those are the closest roads that I can think too compare to, they may be equal, but not worse. We, nor our bikes would have made it. Of that I am convinced. In retrospect, niether of us regret hopping the truck caravan.
Our truck consisted of Balt, the driver an affable fellow of 28 years. Balt’s travel companion known as Kushger is just 20. Here in Mongolia it seems the driver drives and he hires 1 maybe 2 others to do everything else. Such as tune the radio, control volume, light his cigarettes, and swing a wrench or change a tire if needed. 3 across the front seats, and one rolled up behind the seat……..we worried our way thru bog,sand,creeks,swollen streams and tire slashing lava rock formations. Sometime around 12am, we pull into a truck stop in Tosontsengel and have what Pine and I call “Grey Soup”. Its mutton and noodles with plenty of fat chunks thrown in, chased down with hot Mongal tea. Roll out of there, over hills and sand flats on multi track byways. Not sure yet, how they judged which was the correct way. Sometime about 2am, the caravan stops in huge grassy expanse. Some climb under the trucks wrapped in the traditional Mongol herders robe, some slept in the cab, P&I, set up our tent. 5.30 am, we are woke up the traditional Mongol sound of someone hacking up a flem ball, before long it was a chorus. On the rode, all smiles and good cheer. By noon or a little later, the good spirits have given way to some truck frame problems, cracks on the frame where the shackles attach. We roll thru a tiny hamlet, and somehow they find a guy with a little buzz box welder run off a gas generator. With badly tore up electrical leads, and few sticks of deteriorated welding rod, repars are made using Oakley sunglasses. If i took the time to describe the condition of his box, or worse yet the lack of cover on his leads…..you would think me a liar or taking literary leave of the truth. UNBELIEVABLE, that simple.
We are rolling again, and sometime mid-day we roll up to some random Yurt(very common to just stop, and the women just feeds you what ever she has)…….yup, surprise….grey soup again. Roll out after drivers had 45 minute knap on a comunal yurt type “WASH BOARD INSPIRED BED”. Rolling, and on deep sand tracks that threaten to devour each vehichle as it pushes on. The sand is broken up by rutted rock beds and soft water seeps. We are met with boiling dust clouds as we meet all sizes of trucks carrying all that can be imagined, from backhoes to tar paper. Each truck in turn taking its best chosen line for the natural obstackle in front of it, each waiting its turn with constant engine reving as one brave sole after another attempts a random stream crossing. Tiny vehichles from Prius,s to land rovers and motor cycles fly by on the next sand track as if running the Baja 500. Dust wraps its chocking maw around the inside of the cab, and the compliant drivers aid once again beguns the task off wiping down the inside of the cab and dash with a reverance we reserve for such things as religious artifacts. Yes, I did say Prius’s, as common as a sheep out here, go figger.
We wind our way along a river system for miles. Potholes large enough to hide 3 cars, ruts up to our shoulders, grass hummocks you can hang glide off, and we roll on, one excruciating mile after another. Break out of the river to a flatter sandy plain and stop at some random middle of no where shack(wood frame building with rough mud plaster), stop right in front and commence changing out a mangled front spring on one of the trucks. Now they do carry extra parts, like here for instance we had an extra spring but it did not go with nor on this truck. So, all springs were disassembled and reassembled to form 1 new spring that agreed would work. We are rolling again. Driving into the nite, its about 1am, and everyone is tired as crap. As if by magic, all trucks roll up on random middle nowhere again Yurt #38. Everyone heads in without a word. The battery powered light is turned on by us. I can make out a surprised but not perturbed women sleeping in single bed. There is a grown man and child in another, then to the left there is that long bench bed. This one happened to be made up of wood slabs, with the curve side up, making for easier nailing but much less comfort. Everyone lays down, us included. Maybe half hour goes by, and I am awoke and handed another bowl of noodles….as was everyone. The noodles had been cooked in the cab of one of the trucks by one guys wife, each in turn got a small bowl full of food that was hot-thanks. I and Pine are freezing, i make that gesture to a truck helper and he shrugs. We roll into the smallest ball possible for warmth. A little time goes by, and another helper comes and offers a blanket that I think he got from the sleeping women? We roll up, grateful. Half hour goes by and I feel a human form cuddling closer and closer too my fetal sleeping position……much closer buddy, and we will be spooning here dude. I look close to find Kushger sneaking in under our blanket…….hes pretty tiny, and 4 good threads would have covered him well, but he turned into the proverbial blanket winch once he got under. By morning Pine and I were frozen, and he was 6 feet in diameter with all the danged blankets wrapped around him.
Back in the trucks, thanking God, there was not another bowl of grey soup. We are now in that huge plain above Chjargas Nuur. Where grassy plains give way to pure desert,gravel and camels……yes, hundreds of Bactrian camels. A place where you want to carry a full Dromdery by the way. We stop in a tiny dirt street town that had snow covered peaks as back drop. We head for the home of Kushger to meet his family. Nice folks to be sure, we were treated royally, with every extravagance that they had. They gave us tea, then many different cookies, followes by Mongolian fried noodles and mutton. The best dish we have had yet in Mongolia. Pine took a nap on the floor, while I sat and watched the Grandmother make fresh yogurt. She offered me a bowl full which I took…….wholly crap Louise, it was like liking a battery post. My eyes slammed shut causing momentary blindness, my mouth refused to open, I was stuck in that momentary no-mans-land dictated by the obligations of politness instilled since my youth. My brain, at the very core of my Cerebrial Cortex(thats the intuitive part, but not overly compassionate area of the brain) is asking me…….so, how ya gunna choke the rest down buddy . Obviously the Granmother could read my death mask expression…….she smiled, leaned over into a cupboard a took out a galvanized pail full of sugar…..smiled, and she gestured for me to take some. I took an obligatory spoon full and threw it ontop…….she smiled and motioned for me to take more.
Now I got it, they dont eat it plain iether.
We are rolling. Next stop that little Mongolian town that has most often described as a crap hole. Gott’a hand it to these Mongols, at least they are not liars. We roll into a motorcycle sales yard, since that is what our trucker was hauling. We load the bikes, which seemed to survive the washing machine’esk ride just fine. Headed out onto the very filthy streets of Ulangom in search of a place to stay, maybe wash some clothes, and take a shower. We are at the Achait Nuur Hotel. Not even so bad really. We have done all the intended things we had been hoping for. Our biggest frustration thus far has been our AT&T service. Totally useless, totally unpredictable. A little bit more than frustrating, since my wife spent alot of time with att setting up and asking as well as describing our route and intent tp blog this thing. Bought hugr data packages on 3 systems, thought we were prepareds, only to find that 2 tin cans and a length of string may have been better. We decided to take our chances eating what we could find at a grocery store, rather than temp dining. A loaf of desert bread(meaning as dry as one), a gob of butter out of a carboard box on the floor, some cheese slices, chinese nutella knock off, and a pack of cookies. Made some lemon tea, worked on the blog till 11.45pm, read a little of the book -Dragon with a girl tattoed on it, and went to bed.
So, good night to all, hope your as blessed by Jesus as we have been. If you are dissappointed in our hopping a truck, well, get over it. I came here to see and expierience it, not die of old age while doing it.
SORRY FOLKS, BUT I AM SO DANGED TIRED OF MESSING WITH BLOODY WORDPRESS, I AM JUST QUITING RIGHT HERE. HOPE YOU CAN FORGIVE THE POOR LAYOUT AND LACK OF IMAGE DESCRIPTIONS.