The diaries - 4   

29 April

Khovd - Mongolia

Mick & Sue  

We thought the roads of Samara in Russia (between Penza & Ufa) were the worst we've ever experienced, but little did we know what was in store!  To re-cap a little, back into Russia, Sue and I found the people so friendly and helpful. We had spent a couple of days riding through the Altai Mountains, totally different to what we had seen before.  I can understand why Joe 'Dakar' of Wunderlich travels there as often as he can.  We rode into Kow-Aray looking for somewhere to stay or camp, and dived into a local cafe for something to eat.  Now you've heard of Sue and me making cluck-clucking or moo-mooing noises to get something to eat, but the best and easiest way is to go into a cafe where the locals are eating... if no-one in then we don't go in. A good rule eh!  Eat where the locals eat is fine by us. If we see something on a plate that we like the look of (and Sue is better than me at this) we ask the eater if it's nice, he nods, we say OK, he nods... we point it out to the waitress and stick two fingers up (?), we get it served... it works! Several locals directed us to a cafe run by Nina... she made us welcome, fed us good food, and wouldn't take a penny. Advising us that the local hotel left a lot to be desired, she directed us to where we might make camp safely, but asked us back later for an evening meal.  We found the place, made camp, and returned later.  Lovely evening, fantastic people.... and still wouldn't let us pay a penny.  We'd just eaten some super Russian food prepared especially for us, drunk a little vodka to be sociable (to everyone's good health), and a couple of biers too! I insisted on paying but when she said "NO" there was no doubt in our minds that she meant it. I wasn't about to argue with her.


Through the Russian border control and into Mongolia went without a problem... again, we have found all the border guards to date friendly and helpful, and interested in two eccentric geriatric motorcyclists who offer no threat to anyone, and their machines.  The lady border official at the Mongolian control was surprised that we had travelled through Russia alone and unscathed.  "Through Russia? Alone?" she uttered as she shook her head. But then each country has warned us of of the others....


Opening sentence... "We found the roads of Samara some of the worst...."


We knew the roads in Mongolia were going to be bad, because there are no roads, but deep sand, river crossings, mud, deeply rutted corrugated surfaces to be traversed in high winds wanting to blow you off course... blowing you off course... aaaagh!  Sue has had a couple of soft tumbles, and I've nearly come a cropper several times.  We just have to reduce our speed, often down to five or ten miles an hour... Five or ten miles an hour is still progress, but it's going to be 'a long way home'!  I've never seen telescopic forks 'blued' with heat before, but the stanchions are blued with heat from the constant battering they're getting on the hard rippled surfaces of these roads.  When I've had a chance to watch Sue's, when riding in an adjacent path, the forks and rear suspension are just a blurrr!


Trying to make Khovd after leaving Olgiy we found the going especially tough, and realising we weren't going to make it, we decided to make camp after doing only ninety miles, but then it was 8pm! The scenery was great, but we didn't bargain for the wind storm through the night... filling the bike radiater grills with sand, and generally sandblasting everything.  The MSR cooker failed to work properly... so we remained hungry.  We are losing weight on this trip, although there haven't been many evenings that I've not been able to have a statutory bier! 

The wind howled all night, and was still blowing  a gale when we broke camp.  We had twenty minutes respite though sheltering behind a boulder with two herdsmen... they were riding past on the ubiquitous Russian motorcycle, with a pedal cycle strapped to the rear, no helmets or goggles, riding headlong into a dust storm.  They stopped and bid us a good day and, sheltering behind the said boulder, they shared their vodka and biscuit with us.... lovely people!


Heading off to find Khovd the wind continued, the terrain continued, and progress was slow.  Sue took a tumble into soft sand, I nearly dropped my 'bike on a couple of occasions, but had to lay it down once when I stopped and the feet wouldn't touch the ground.  No damage though to either 'bike though.


In the afternoon we were within sight of Khovd when Sue went down again, at five miles an hour, in sand. We're now resting up for a couple of days in Khovd Hotel before heading, once again, eastwards.  It's going to be 'a long way home', but everything on line and all OK.  I don't think either of us thought the going would be this tough, and tough it is, but hey... lotsa folk would pay a fortune to be here doing this.  As my ol' mucker Birt Tomtwistle says.... "How Lucky?" 


Here in Mongolia we find, as in Russia and the other countries, as Sue puts it... there are "have's" and "have nots"!  Many people are so obviously very poor, living in shacks, but there are other people driving around in new 4x4's!  A good hotel is six pounds a night, but there is no hot water or breakfast with that. A good meal for two can be had for two pounds, and a bottle of bier is about 40pence.... hic!  People in the country are much friendlier than in the cities but then that, of course, is the same everywhere. The poorer the people the bigger their smile.  Having said that, on a couple of occasions we have approached a dwelling' to ask or confirm directions, and the people have run inside.  They probably think we have just landed from the moon... or are rent collectors!


At the moment I'm using internet access from a local college... people now queuing behind me, so will call it a day and go find some fresh fruit.  Catchya later folks.



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