Deja Vu, its the silent mental movie playing in our collective minds, as we ready both gear and bikes. Leaving what has become a bit of a second home for us, Bayan province, the city of Olgii or on some maps Ulgii, a dusty dirty little western frontier town in Mongolia.
Departure is slated for tomorrow morning, and I can fairly say that we are both ready to get back on the bikes and on the road as well. The road ahead, up thry Russia on what is called the Chukskia Trail is some of the most demanding road in Russia if you are on a bicycle. That would be the gneral consensus of all the folks we visited with to date. So, I guess that our/my biggest concern will again be entirely that of a physical nature. Pray,wait and see, pray some more.
These 11 days have not ben without fun, new friends or learning, quite the contrary actually. We are at the Blue Wolf Yurt Stay, and it is just fine for $10.00 a night for the 2 of us. I think it is the top listed stay in Olgi by Lonely Planet,, so it is fairly full most nights. In all our time here over 2 occassions, we are the only cyclists. Very few come thru we are told. The largest volume travellers are on adventure sport style motorcycles, and the balance are back packers.
So while sitting in the evenings, we get to talk about the movie “Long way Round” and its affect on riders bike choices etc. While cycling, we have met and visitied with many of these road travellers and I think there colective view could be expresed in this manner…..”Never again on bike of this size if I go back thru Mongolia or the stans for 2 simple reasons. The roads are just too rough, eventually you do tip over and righting the bike solo is a must. But quite apart from that, theese very rough roads raise hell with all the bells and whistles electronics on the bigger fancier bikes. We have met 2 now on the deluxe1200 type/size who had to shove into a van and limp into town due to some hidden problem plaguing the rider. A delux bike is just that a bike with alot of comfort features built in for the rider, all well and good, even welcome for a rider on good blacktop. But when the roads go to hell, and get as rough as these, then you want mechanical simplicity. Universal consensus of the avid…..yes, I will be doing this again type rider…….a 650 bike would be perfect, and nothing bigger than say 800cc max. I can say this since it has een a universal statement no matter what brand of bike the person has been on…..catagorically, every one said a BMW 650 would be thier first choice if they could afford it.
The other thing that got mentioned by all, was that of tires for theze motorcycles. I dont know anything about tires for these rigs, but a German brand was most often talked about…..it wasn’t Schwalbe like ae run on our bicycles, which are by the way phenominal tires.There is a 10 person contingency of Israeli back packers here, mostly all about Pines age….early 20,s. Good bunch of young people to visit with, all done military service, most have or are working on degrees. Last night I got to watch and learn how to make “Shaksuka”, which is a very traditional breakfast dish even though they were having it for supper. You should look it up, there are plenty of recipes on line, and its pretty tasty………beats the heck out of Mongolian Grey Soup.
There were 2 German fellows, writers and ethnographers, traveling in a huge Unimog. A very fancy rig, they had bee onthe road for over 2 years now, traveling into far flung corsrs of the world. Being writers, researchers and photographers they had managed to put together 4 books in that time, and working on a fifth dealing expressly with Mongolia’s indigenous peoples comprising 4 primary people groups.
We are having stove issues, and have some no BS advice for those off the grid world travellers……..leave you fancy lightwieght alchohol stoves at home. While yes, they are light, and yes they really do work……..finding real burnable fuel in asia is a seroius problem. Dont be fooled by the blogs as I, and a few others I have now met have been. I have a download page of the various and sundry fuel types and sources that can be used whie on the road traveling……..totally useless up to this point. In China for instance, it is recommended that you ask for “jiu jing”, all fine and good till you are there doing the asking. Blank faces, improper fuel is the most often offered, watered down, poor burning etc. Once you hit Mongolia forget it. This s an alchohol “no mans land”. The ONLY THING WE HAVE FOJND, is low purity, blue tinted, 71% alchohol. With that sort of fuel, 2.5cups of water brought to a boil at say 2400 feet altitude takes abot 26 minutes. VERY, VERY VERY, hard to light tisfuel on typically cold Monglian mornings……we have started now rolling news paper wicks and placing vertically into kur stove. Light that paper wick which in turn helps get the alchohol warmed up.
One of the Israeli fellows hasa multi fuel gas stove, he is flying to UB tomorrow where he can buy a new replaceent stove,so he has agreed to sell us his current stove. This makes 3 of travelng now, with alchohol stoves, and not one of us would do it agan. If I were in USA, hey totally different story, this is a really great stove system. But out in third or 4th world hinterlands………leave it at home and buy a good multi fuel stove of what ever brand you feel is best. With any luck, when we hit Russia, we will have a stove of this type in our gear kit.
DISCLAIMER-We have an Esbit brand alchohol stove, 2 man camp kit and it is superb product. I am confident that the very popular “Trangia” brand product is equally so. The problem or complaint is not about the product, its all about the very inacessible fuel type.
Yesterday brought us a chance to take in a typical Mongolian Naadam. This would the equivalent of say our local county fairs, this being complete with a ferris wheel and a few other trimings we would recognize, after that, not much else is the same. The primary events are, dance or rather interpretive dance, song and music, wrestling, archery and horse racing. When these things happen the whole town turns out as you can imagine. Costumes and personal finery come out of the closet, and are worn with a great degree of pride to the event. The Olgii Naadam is a 2 day affair, we took in day 1, so there was mostly wrestling. Its unusual the manner inwhich they do the wrestling since it appears there are no wieght divisions. So it ends up as huge guys against all comers till the last 4 undefeated and they have a go.
By 3pm, we were ready to get our buts off those bleachers, take a strol around and see what was offered for eats etc. We found what I would say is a version of Indian Frybread, here they roll the dough out with thin strips of mutton incorprated into it. It seems to methey fry at too low a temperature so thins are pretty oily when done, but the taste was just fine……yes, even with the mutton in it, it was retty good. On down the line, we seen the nwfamiliar Kazak style smoker bar bee ques, which are a long narrow metal trough witha fire pot and chimeny at oe end. Out of the wood burning firepotYou then drag fresh coals placing the under your kebabs sitting on skewers over the top. Beside the Kebab seller, there is a low table and 4 rickety litle wooden stoos, bu y a kebab and take a seat. On the table, there is a plate of cut up bread, very stale, this then gets torn up by an and all customers wh sit down. Aside from the bread, there is an open plastic bag wth a whole pile of cut up onion, again, each customer reaches i and takes what he wants…..or, throws back what isn,t wanted…….we seen all taking place. The Kebabs were great, as were the onion slices. We have both been here long enough now that it didn,t even register till later when we were walking home that we would have never sat and ate in such a communal fashion at home. To date, niether of us has ever felt any ill affects……other the occassion of a little excess mutton tallow in the system.
I was first up, for the whole yurt village. So I had a chance to say goodbye to Steve who left on his G 800 BMW headed for the Russian border town of Tashanta, the same road we will do tomorrow. I made some oatmeal and raisins while Pine showered. Not much else to say nor confess too, so I wil close here till we are up in Russia somewhere. ADIOS, good night and may God Bless as Red Skelton used to say.