Crossing the border from Russia into Mongolia was quite the frustrating experience. It took 5 hours to cut through all the red tape, going from one window to another and from one checkpoint to the next. One of the problems was that the Mongolian and Kazach bus drivers, who all seem to know one another, kept jumping the line while holding a fist full of passports belonging to the passengers in their vehicles. At one point, as the border guards were going through my luggage, they started asking for my "Emergency Book" for the ambulance. I had no idea what they wanted from me and tried showing them my insurance certificates and my emergency transport cards, none of which they wanted. Finally they located my first aid kit: "Ah", they said, "Emergency book." What they seemed to want was to make sure I didn't have any syringes with morphine in them.
Once through, I was instantly set upon by people wanting to sell me insurance, change my money, act as a guide, rent me a place to sleep, sell me a meal. One guy on a motorcycle was especially persistent and tailed me for miles trying to get me to stop and buy stuff.
The Mongolian roads were nice in spots, wash board rough in other spots, and a true mess much of the time.
I was trying to follow a main highway across Mongolia to Ulan Bator, the capital. You gotta be careful because there are cows, sheep, goats and horses all over the place.
Mongolia is the land of the yerts or yurts. They are a pretty good place to spend the night.
The yurts that the family live in are often carpeted and ornate inside. The ones rented out, though, were often shared by six or so men and women. That was okay by me, but I needed to blow up my sleeping pad and my pillow for the hard beds. I am such a spoiled old man.
The road I was trying to follow is supposed to be a major one, but about 80 miles of it is not paved. Sometimes I followed big trucks who threw up huge clouds of dust. At other times I went up thick sand berms. It was a struggle. Once, while going through a town, some kids were blocking the road, and one of them, a boy of about 12, shoved my bike from the side. I felt it, but didn't go over, thank goodness. Later, I encountered that same boy and he picked up a big rock and acted like he was going to throw it at me. I don't know if he did throw it or not. At any rate, it didn't hit me. No picture of him, but here is a picture of the road at one of the many water crossings.
The road kept getting smaller, and I was really worried that I could not do the full 80 miles of it before I was due to hit asphalt again. Suddenly I ran into a narrow stretch of fist sized rocks, and, bam, just like that I was down.
Th crash sheared off my center stand, and that is something I will really miss having. Fortunately I merely bruised my ankle on a big rock and didn't break it. That was good because I needed my entire body to function as I picked up the bike. And, as it turned out, I had to unload everything to get it up. To make matters worse, after I got it up, and as I tried to get it going straight again, it flipped over on its other side.
As you can see from the pictures, there were no vehicles coming from either direction. There was a herd of yaks passing by however.
With no other vehicles on this "major road" and with miles and miles to go before I got to the "good road" I decided to turn back and go around the north side of Mongolia to Lake Baikal where my map shows a tarmac road down to Ulan Bator. Unfortunately that meant going through customs again; five hours again.
So, now I am back in the Altai region of Siberia. I went west, back through the big, snow covered mountains that had so impressed me as I rode east days ago.
As soon as I cleared the mountains, he turned north and east. I was still in the Altai region of Siberia, but the hills were much smaller. I liked them a lot. They reminded me of the Ozarks in Arkansas.
Mostly, the roads here are the nicest I've found in Russia. Maybe that is because there is not a great deal of heavy traffic to tear them up. The people are nice too, and seem to want to help me. I try to talk to them with Google Translate, and I wonder if the translations they see of mine look as funny as those I see of theirs. I mean, what is "fur coat soup"? The cities are nice too. One I stayed in, Biysk, had a big party going on -- I think it was "Signing of the Russian Constitution" day or something. Unfortunately for them it was raining. I tried walking around on the river walk, but the rain kind of made most people stay inside except during the rare moments of clearing.
It turns out that Siberia is far from the bleak area I had pictured from my reading of the days when Stalin exiled his political prisoners here. The cities and countryside are absolutely lovely. I mean, who but happy people would put up this whimsical elephant on their walking paths?
I loved this bench. Notice that it slants to the center so that lovers have no choice but to cuddle together. Also, notice the locks lovers have put on it.
Several of the streets were blocked off when I arrived in town, and I could not get through to my hotel. A policeman noticed that I was having trouble, and he flagged down a passing cop car to lead me through the bottlenecks. How nice is that? Don't be confused by the blue skies in this picture. I took it the following morning. Still, you can see how wet the streets still were.
I spent way too much over budget for both my hotel and my evening meal, but both were worth every penny. Around 10 pm, after the rain had stopped, they set off the most dynamic aerial fireworks display I've ever seen.
Something I did not tell you was that, as I was coming around a curve while leaving Mongolia, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a herd of cows. I almost hit one in its right rear quarter, and would have too had it not suddenly jumped out of the way, spraying cow diarrhea all over the right side of both Odysseus and me. Yuck. What an embarrassing predicament that was. This morning, while buying gas, I asked the girls in the station, by Google Translate, where I could wash my motorcycle. Laughing, they showed me that there was a car wash attached to the station and manned by two teenage boys. They did a marvelous job washing Odysseus, and now he purrs like a kitten and runs like a cheetah.
My 5 star hotel last night, the only hotel I could find, cost me a budget busting $114.00. Tonight I am in one that I like just as well and it only cost me $14.00. I guess things average out.
I think I will be to Lake Baikal is another two days -- distances are so vast here in Russia. I guess my next post might be from there, but don't hold your breath waiting.