Archives for September 2014

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Mongolia Part Three

10th September 2014 Drove up to Terelj National park about 50k’s north east of Ulaan Baatar. It could be another country as both the countryside and village houses look very European complete with golf courses. On the way visited the huge Genghis Kahn riding a horse monument which was very impressive and as an added bonus were able to climb to the top of the horses head.

11th September 2014 Headed back up to the village of Terelj to take a different road through the National park. Just as we left the village we encountered our first river crossing and as we were assessing it a couple of villagers asked us if we could help them with their car which was stopped on the other side. This we did by towing it back across the river. Half way across their tow rope broke and their car was stranded mid stream. Plan B, was to use my winch to pull it the rest of the way. The bolt holding my cable to the axle snapped but some good bush mechanics on their part (they had every size bolt in their kit) soon had the winch fixed and them on dry land again.

At times this road was very bad and at one point two town sedans overtook us. We caught up with them at the next river crossing just in time to see the first sedan get stuck in the middle of the flow. It was able to be pushed out but the second car just drove straight in and began to float before going down with all hands. Time for Mr Winch again but with the added hindrance of the drunk driver, trying to help whilst taking a leak every five minutes.

We stopped to talk to a lone and tired looking hiker, a fairly senior Dutchman, wearing no hat, to make sure he was OK. We gave him some water and talking to him found out that he was only able to walk five kilometres per day, as he was not as fit as he used to be. Somehow the conversation got around to the benefits of electronic cigarettes, which he proceeded to demonstrate.

We nearly made it to the monastery at the end of this road but were stopped by some serious looking mud flats. We will camp here tonight and scout around for a bypass tomorrow we won’t push our luck though.

As we unwound some people on horseback, a guide and three tourists, rode past and shortly after a young European girl, possibly German, came over to us suggesting we should give her a lift back to her camp, which she did not know the location of, as she was seriously saddle sore. At this stage we were fully in camp mode and weren’t really prepared to repack and give her a lift unless it was an emergency. Luckily we were able to suggest she walk around the next corner to the Princess Ger Camp. Appropriate?

They had attempted to get to the monastery on horseback but were unable to traverse the last five K’s so I don’t like our chances of getting there in a car.

12th September 2014 Checked at the Princess Ger Camp and were told that the only way to get to the monastery was by ox and cart.

We stopped for lunch on a side road and on resuming noticed a huge rut about a metre wide and a metre deep running right across the road. As I negotiated around to the side of it the road shoulder gave way to thick black mud and the car went in, sitting at, and I’m not exaggerating, a 45-degree angle, almost at tipping point. I could not get out of my door and we only scrambled out of Judy’s door with great difficulty.

I started getting the winch ready but the trees that I was going to use as an anchor were not at a very good angle to the car. Right then three Mongolian men, in a Troopy, arrived and we were able to use their car as the anchor point at the optimal angle. Even so it was a great struggle to extricate the car as it was at such an acute angle. Two of the Mongolians stood on the high side footboard, just like sailing, as we dragged it out of the slime. We could not even get to the camera, so no pictures.

Thank you Three Mongolian Men in a Troopy.

We have decided that we will attack the Gobi desert proper so tomorrow we will fuel and water up, get supplies and head south.

13th September 2014 Covered about 450K’s today on excellent bitumen road and as we head to the desert, it’s getting more and more arid as we drive. We aim to reach Dalanzadgad tomorrow and from here we start our Gobi crossing toward the east to the town of Sainshand with quite possibly no road to follow, a distance of over 500k.

14th September 2014 Temperature was four degrees at 7am but low twenties by mid afternoon.We reached Dalanzadgad by lunchtime but headed northwest (instead of east) for about 60k to see The Flaming Cliffs and some huge sand dunes.

The entire length of road from Ulaan Baatar to Dalanzadgad (some 650K’s) was excellent bitumen with occasional road works. From Dalanzadgad to Flaming cliffs the road was excellent dirt and when we had to improvise and use no road the terrain was excellent and we just navigated by GPS.

We had planned to stay the night at the Three Camels Lodge, thinking it was overlanders friendly but it was too expensive (see Travel Notes).

Now camped at the Flaming Cliffs overlooking what could be a central Australian scene at sunset.

15th September 2014 Sand dunes in the morning and the Gurvan Saikhan National Park in the afternoon where we walked through a narrow chasm. On the way back we drove through a narrow chasm, just wide enough for the car. This drive was hair raising with many steep lateral angles and inclines as well as having to driving along a river, all be it a shallow one. At the end of the road there was no road and rather than return we went forward on no road. This was a little trickier than on the flat plains of the previous few days. We had some really steep inclines, declines and ravines to test us but we got through to the main road heading back to town.

Tomorrow is a big day, Judy’s 60th Birthday.

16th September 2014 Happy Birthday Judy.

Zero over night but a beautiful sunny morning soon heated things up.

I cooked Judy a special breakfast of crumbled eggs with onion, chapatti and lentils on the side, left over from the night before, almost breakfast in bed, but we didn’t get going until about 12 midday. We headed into town and took a room at the Dalanzadgad Hotel as it has the best restaurant in town (We have eaten here before). This is a hotel very much in the African style i.e. a dodgy construction with slow internet and bad plumbing. The meal was a bit average and did not look like the picture in the menu. Judy ordered the Button soup which turned out to be Mutton soup. We continued to the Karaoke/disco room next door where some fairly uninspiring entertainment ensued.

Hey, take a step back. This is in the middle of the Gobi Desert.

Tomorrow we will start our real adventure through the Gobi. Over 500K’s through the desert with some lengthy patches of no track on any map that I can find.

We had a nice Skype connection with our daughters who were having a Birthday dinner, in Judy’s honour, at our house.

Thank you Daughters.

17th September 2014 We are now camped in the real middle of the Gobi desert. We have had a beautiful sunny day 25c and the evening is mild. Getting here was not as bad as we thought as the areas on the map that showed no road did in fact have a track that we could follow. The tracks were not disastrous either, rough but by no means the worst we have been on. Thank God for GPS as there are often numerous tracks to choose from and it is easy to chose a slightly wrong one and before you know it you are headed off in a completely wrong direction.

It is known that if you walk in a desert you will eventually walk in a circle. We did this the other day, driving and not paying attention to the GPS and sure enough we were making a circle before too long.

We are carrying three GPS devices, two that give a different aspect and the third as backup as well as a paper map.

Just had visit from a local couple again with the usual language difficulties although this time a smattering of Russian words but still not enough to make a meaningful conversation.

18th September 2014 Either we have parked in the middle of a local thoroughfare (although there is no way of telling) or we are the latest novelty here. At 2am a couple on a motorcycle stopped behind us for a few minutes before taking off and then at about 8am a family in a truck pulled up next to us looking. I waved and they waved back pointing to our oddly shaped roof in sleep mode. I don’t think a lot happens around here so we are the entertainment. As I write I hear another motorcycle approaching. He is here now and freely admits that he was part of the 2am crew.

Here comes another one.

19th September 2014 Yet another motorcyclist arrived this morning. They all just want to have a bit of a chat and don’t hang around.

Today reached the town of Sainshand, which we thought ended our Gobi adventure, but no. As we headed south in search of monasteries we find ourselves camped again in the Gobi. Days still 25c with night’s cool, perfect weather. All in all we have travelled over 700k’s through the Gobi.

Quite a few times now, when we have been unsure of a particular direction to take, someone has popped up from nowhere to help us. Today we were in such a predicament and asked a villager for directions. He, unbelievably, spoke perfect English and showed us the way.

20th September 2014 Now at the Chinese border at Zamin Uud, we cross on the 24th so a few days to cool our heels, clean up and get ready for the next phase. It will be good to veg out for a while. Pulled up a bit of desert about 20k”s north of town rather than stay at another hotel room.

It was 33c in town today, not bad for a Mongolian autumn and a little bit sad as we say goodbye to this country, certainly a highlight of our trip.

 

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Mongolia Part Two and Lake Baikal, Siberia

2nd September 2014 We were able to get our Chinese visa yesterday (see Travel notes/Border entry) so we are now free to travel up to Lake Baikal in Siberia. We have heard that the road is good by Mongolian standards so we will spend a week or so up there before heading south to the Chinese border. In Ulaan Baatar we are staying at an overlanders checkpoint, The Oasis Guesthouse. It serves western fast food including Crumbled eggs for breakfast, good description I thought.

3rd September 2014 The road from Ulaan Baatar to Kyakhta, the border post, was all tar of varying quality but just so good compared to what we have been used to. Wild camped at a shallow lake with the usual horse, goat and sheep herds strolling past. We thought the isolated border post would be quiet, which it was, however it still took about four hours to get through. Why I don’t know but the delay was all up in the Russian entry control post. The Russians made a very thorough search of every car and were pleasant about it right up until the final official. I had been directed to park in a certain spot and the official, a harassed looking Mongolian female called me to the office. Curtly told me to sign the documents and gave me a pen. I signed. She said why did you use the red pen, I replied you gave it to me, She questioned why did you park there, I replied I was told to. She threw the documents onto the desk, finished? I asked. Humph was the reply. Nice As soon as we entered Russia we noticed the difference in the landscape back to fir and deciduous trees, just like the Russia we had left. We have noticed this about many countries, that is to say, as soon as you enter a new country it has it’s own characteristic almost straight away. The roads on the Russian side are very good and this is now Eastern Siberia so I expected worse. As we were looking for a suitable camp spot for the night we passed by an abandoned industrial complex just out of Ulan-Ude, spooky, so we drove on through the hilly fields to find a small river just out of Ulan-Ude 80 odd K’s from Lake Baikal. This is it for the night.

4th September 2014 Arrived at Lake Baikal and found a campsite by the water, already the climate is colder with a very strong wind blowing. The sea, I mean lake, is pounding, roaring, very loud, you could almost surf it. Lake Baikal looks and behaves like an ocean, it is huge. All night the wind howled with some rain but we were snug in our little penthouse boudoir.

5th September 2014 Slowly cruised along the east coast looking for potential camping spots and stopping for lunch for Salyonka, a savoury soup of carrots, potato’s, sausage and gherkin and then, a second course of palmeni, a meat filled dumpling. Entered Zabankaliski National Park at the northern end of the lake and found a spot right on a beach just as the weather cleared. Good Russian pine has been provided so we are having a fire as the sun sets. It is cool here anyway as it is now autumn but as soon as the sun goes down you feel a definite drop in temperature. This whole lake is has golden sand beaches, probably the best we have seen on the whole trip so far and there is a crescent of blue mountains surrounding us. Lake Baikal holds the largest volume of fresh water in the world. It is a narrow lake, about six hundred kilometres long and is 1.6 kilometres deep.

6th September 2014 Spent the morning exploring the National park including Svyatoy Nos or Holy Nose, a big pelican head shaped peninsula, put out a small grass fire we found along the way and later drove around some of the backcountry of Siberia getting as far north as the village of Bodon. Suddenly it’s autumn as the trees, overnight, have changed colour giving us an idea of what is yet to come. We did about 350k’s today and are again camped on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal looking at a beautiful sunset. (Half an hour later). This sunset is now like a psychedelic poster, an orange sky with magenta clouds, purple mountains on the other side and mauve waves with crimson crests, no I’m not smoking funny stuff. All of this time driving across Russia/Mongolia and we are still only a little over half way across this biggest country on Earth.

 

7th September 2014 Happy Fathers Day! Judy cooked a special breakfast of crumbled eggs with onions and sausage, fantastic. Drove slowly around the shore of Baikal not really wanting to leave, before stopping for lunch at Ulan Ude where we had a Subway (there are three Subway franchises in this town). A beautiful sunny day saw us say goodbye to Russia and hello again Mongolia. This time the border crossing was much quicker than before with forms and fee payments completely different from both previous entries to, and departures from, both countries. I received a salute from one Russian border soldier. I love that kind of treatment. We didn’t find a campsite until about 8.30pm but lucked in again with a spot on a hill in a wooded area looking down on what appears to be an English village, not your usual Gers.

8th September 2014 Back to Ulaan Baatar and booked the car in for a service at Toyota and camped just out of town on a hill overlooking Ulaan Baatar, the giant Budda statue and accompanying monastery.

Had the quickest haircut back at the Oasis Guesthouse $6.

Days are perfect here at the moment with clear blue sky and 25 to 28 degrees. Much warmer than I expected at his time of year.

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