The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Siberia again

I came back from Ulaanbaatar and went for a last time from Mongolia into Russia through the customs gauntlet. I must be getting pretty good at doing this, because it keeps getting easier and easier. This time, not only did I know the steps to go through, but everyone was smiling and helpful. One thing that made it much easier than going from Mongolia into Russia over by Kazakhstan was that it was much less crowded. And a more important factor was that the agent I had to deal with in getting the forms filled out for my motorcycle was a very patient woman who spoke good English and who had just me to take care of. I wish I had a picture of her. She was quite lovely and reminded me of a favorite cousin.

I stayed the night back at a hotel I ha used in Ulan Ude when I was there before. The next day I started riding on east toward Vladivostok. By this time I was very anxious to get there. It seemed that there were several other riders on the road as well, either going to or coming from Vladivostok.

This young man from Korea was riding a tiny motor scooter toward Mongolia. He said top speed on the thing was 45 KPH (about 25 miles per hour), so he was going to have a lot of days ahead of him before he got there. I bet he has an easier time of the Mongolian gravel roads than I did.

There are enormous distances to cover going across this eastern part of Siberia, and there are very few places to eat, sleep or get gas. I was scared several times that I was going to run out of fuel. I carried a gallon can of extra gas with me, but even with that I wasn't sure I could make it to the next gas station. I soon got in the habit of stopping at every gas station I came to and topping up, even if I only needed a few liters. I was flagged down once by another rider who was going just the opposite way of me, from and not to Vladivostok. He had just ran out of gas and had put his extra fuel into his motorcycle, but he was worried about where the next station would be. He was relieved when I told him I had just topped up two kilometers ago.

Not only did I see a lot of cars out of gas, but also a lot of cars pulled off doing emergency repairs. Take a look at this sign. These "parks" were every 100 km or so. At first, I thought the car on the sign was going across a bridge.

But no, there is a much more basic reason for the car on the bridge.

I had to pull off into these "parks" a couple of times to work on Odysseus, but I never put him up on the ramp. Instead, I just laid down on the ground and adjusted his chain which kept on stretching out longer and longer and was starting to clatter and jump.

One evening, as it was getting late, I passed one of the rare roadside hotels. I looked at it, but it was not fit for a pig to live in. Keying in "lodging" into my GPS, I found that the next roadside hotel was 200 km onward. That was too far to go that night, but the GPS also said there were two other hotels in a small town not far away.  To get there, I would have to take a service road into the town. I thought that was a little strange, but my GPS often has me do crazy things.

The next thing I know I am surrounded by police officers and made to sit in the anti-room of a chair while a steady stream of officers, both male and female came by to ask me questions, all of them in Russian which I did not understand a word of. However, by this time I had it figured out that this small town was being turned into the newest Russian cosmodrome for their space program. Finally they located a girl in town who spoke perfect English. She came and acted as my interpreter. She is the one in blue closest to the camera. I never did catch her name, but she reminded me of my granddaughter Angela, although she is 27 and my granddaughter is still a teenager.

The girl behind me in the picture was named Elena. Notice her camera? From what I could figure out she is the editor of the local newspaper. I think maybe the story will make the front page. My interpreter girl told me that the police were sure I was not a spy, but they could not figure out what to do with me. It seems nothing like this had ever happened there before. I could not quite decide what there was there for a spy to see anyway. After about three hours of this, and after my interpreter signed an affidavit that she was convinced I was telling the truth, and after I signed my confession, we all went outside again. Whew! I thought for a while there that I was going to have to call the U.S. embassy. I still was not free to leave though, because an escort to take me out of town had to be arranged.

Meanwhile people kept coming up to get their pictures taken with me: grandmothers who gave me a hug, and kids to sit on my motorcycle. Elena has those pictures. I didn't dare to get out my own camera.

Finally, escort arranged, I was taken through the front checkpoint and we all went up to the hotel on the hill outside the town. The one that was not fit for a pig.

My room at the hotel smelled terrible. Looking out my window I could see why. Look at this wet insulation on the roof just by my room.

It was easy to see where the insulation came from. The ceiling was falling in. Notice that the smoke detector has fallen apart.

Maybe it was the falling smoke detector that broke the back of the TV. It didn't make much difference because the TV did not work anyway.

The shower was across the hall, but be careful not to fall through the hole in the floor.

I discovered the hole in the floor quite by accident. There wasn't much light out there.

The toilet was in a room next door to the shower.

I have to say that I have traveled all over the world, and this was by far the worst place I've ever stayed. I thought about camping, but it was raining. So, with the next hotel over two hours away in the dark, my choices were limited.

However, looky, after long days of riding I made it to my goal: Vladivostok. Cloudy, isn't it?

My original plan was to take the ferry from here to South Korea, but it turned out the next ferry that could take Odysseus was not for 10 days. It also tuned out the ferry was going to be $250 for me and an additional $750 or so for Odysseus. Plus, I would have 10 days of hotel bills while I waited. And, after all that, it would still cost me over a thousand dollars to fly the motorcycle to Canada. I decided that it might be better to ship it directly fro Vladivostok to Vancouver. Fortunately, the man at DBS ferry knew Yuri of Links, Ltd. Yuri had a container of three bikes, with room for mine also, heading by ship in two weeks. He came to my hotel to get me, and we took Odysseus to get him cleaned up for Canadian customs.

Showroom clean and smelling good, Odysseus was loaded into a van for transport to a warehouse.

Here is a picture of Yuri and me. Those are motorcycles crated up to go to Korea. Odysseus will not need a crate because he gets to sleep in a metal container with three other bikes on his own trip to Vancouver.

All of my extra gear gets to ride with Odysseus, so that just leaves me with a small carry on bag for my flight home tomorrow. Bye Odysseus. I'll miss you, but I will see you in Vancouver in about a month and then we will ride home across the U.S. together.

Here is one last Chinese beer to celebrate the end of this long trip across Russia. Now, lets just hope there are no last minute problems with customs for either the motorcycle or me as we leave for home.

Bye for now,

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mongolia from the north

I left Ulan Ubi early because I knew I was going to have to go through Russian/Mongolian customs on the way down to Ulaanbaatar, and that would require 6 hours. The road in Russia was mostly pretty good, interspersed with mile after dusty mile of sand and gravel. Once in Mongolia (surprise, surprise) the road got good again. Northern Mongolia is actually quite pretty, green and hilly. Gotta watch out for livestock though, so don't be admiring the scenery and not paying attention.

U.B. was not at all what I expected. I thought it would be a smallish big town with cows on the street. I guess it was that way 10 years ago, but now it is an enormous city with some of the worst traffic I've ever seen.  I decided to park the motorcycle in the hotel's shed and to take a tour instead.  That turned out to be a good decision. The first thing the tour went to was a giant statue of Gengis Kahn who is the country's hero and, I guess you could say, the country's father, sort of like how George Washington is the father of America.  The statue is way out in the country (I never was able to figure why) and the roads to it are mostly pretty bad.

To show you how big the statue is, I took a telephoto shot of people up on the horse's neck.

Our tour group eventually got there on that horse's neck ourselves. The people in the picture are from various parts of Canada, but they didn't know each other. The guy just to my left in the red shirt was our tour guide. Interestingly enough, he once lived in Illinois and worked in a program for kids ran by Jessie White, Illinois' Secretary of State.

Down in the belly of the statue you can dress up and sit in a Mongol throne.

You see eagles in the skies all over Mongolia, and they often get captured, tied down by a leather leash, and made to pose for pictures. I don't like to encourage such goings on because eagles should be free; still, I wanted to see one close up. They are huge.

There are also a lot of wolves in Mongolia, or so I am told. I never saw one alive and running after some of those many sheep, but I did get to see a lot of their skins hanging by front doors. Maybe the skins are good luck charms.  I don't know though, because the poor wolf wasn't too lucky to get himself shot.

I guess the two hump Bactrian camel once used to be all over Mongolia. Now,  I think they are mostly seen a couple of hundred miles south in the Gobi desert.

Mostly these days there are sheep, goats, cows and horses, but there are a lot of yak also.

I guess they are a little bit mean. I couldn't get any closer without the beast warning me away. Anyway, I don't have time to be yaking about things because our tour guide wants to take us up to the Buddhist shrine  down the road in the National Park.

One of the ladies in our 5 person group thinks she is going to be sore tomorrow.

It's a nice view from up there in the shrine.

The next day we went to the main shrine. It is in the heart of  U.B. It was a special day, but I never could get it straight just what the occasion was. The main monk gave a nice long speech.

I guess it was a good speech because nobody in the audience fell asleep.

Even the band seemed alert and ready to play.

Well, maybe some eyes were starting to sag a little. The instrument with two strings to bow that old droopy eyes is holding is a "horsehead" violin. Here is a big one. Look at the top of the instrument and maybe you can see why it is called horsehead.

Hoses, by the way, are very revered in Mongolia. Kids learn how to ride when they are five or younger. I wish I could be here next month when all around the country there are big fairs where 7  year old kids ride as hard as their horses can go on a cross country race. I don't remember the exact distance of the race, but it is something like 20 kilometers (12 miles). That is nothing by Mongol standards, because the longest horse race in the world is in Mongolia and it is 1,000 km.

Anyway, time to go get some pictures in the monastery; we can let the head monk drone on without us. What do you think of this huge Buddha?

That statue must be 20 feet tall. I think I like the smaller guys better.

There are several smaller shrines in the monastery, and church services were going on it some of them. I felt out of place walking around while people were praying, but our guide said it was okay.

After several days in U.B., I rode back to Russia and I am in the same Ulan Ude hotel I left from days ago. Tomorrow I head on east toward Vladivostok. Time to mark out my route. Here is one last picture of the monastery in U.B. Goodnight.