Ulaanbaatar - July 26, 2015
"This guy is STILL in UB? Get on with it!" I hear you say. Yeah, yeah....
Yes, still in UB although I have moved out to the Oasis, on the east edge of town. Interesting area. People here have somewhat western style houses, but there is usually a yurt or ger in the back yard. In a way, it looks like they are trying to embrace the new, without losing touch with their roots. All very nice. Still in health mode, but that is coming along. Back is OK, strep is under control and bruise is resolving. The lump is not shrinking , however, but that may take several months I would imagine. Also, the bike is taking a health day. I really pranged the front rim on a pothole in Russia and so it is sitting outside without a front wheel. I took it off and took it to a bike shop here to get it straightened. It should be good.
Ken and Carol are now in Chiggis Khot, about 4 hours east. They went yesterday and will be back tomorrow. Then we will join up for a few days here again. Ken still wants to travel west to Russia, Carol less so, but I think that I will not be going with them if they do. While everything can be managed (mostly by going slowly) my main practical concern is the river crossings. The bike will need to be walked through boulder-strewn water perhaps up to 60 cm. It has numerous vents through which water can get into the oil systems... crankcase, transmission and final drive. All would have to be bundled up water-tight. Also, the air system would need to be opened and the air paper filter removed, carbs sealed, and all done in reverse on the other bank. It's not clear how many times this would need to be done... but even once done badly could be problems. It really needs to be in reasonable shape for all the miles yet to do.
All of these difficulties could be overcome, however, mostly by carrying enough lube for changes or using the cook pot for boiling oil, but actually, when it comes down to it, getting across was not really in my plans. It looks like one hell of a lot of exhausting work, and given my track record, numerous tips and spills. The 5 km of washboard I did into Magdagachi shook the crap out of the cases and me as well. There are a few hundred kilometers of washboard by all accounts. Ugh. If it really was a dream of mine to travel across, it would be worth it. But I will not feel bad at all after getting home, that I did not seize the chance to rattle my fillings loose. I'd much rather see a bit more.
And that is possible. There are several paved roads that even two years ago did not exist. One south to the Gobi, one north and west to Khovsgul Lake. I think I'd rather visit those places.
It's quite clear that Mongolia is changing rapidly. In 5 years it won't be recognizable and by that time, I bet you will be able to travel east-west on new tarmac. You can already go from Russia to China, north-south. So this is probably one of the last chances to see Mongolia as it was years ago - or at least as it was for Charlie and Ewan. But there are many ways to see Mongolia. And I need to start traveling on my own again. I miss the freedom it provides. And going across, realistically for me, requires traveling in a group.
So one thing here that I have found very cool, is that every car is a taxi. It is the original Uber. If you want someone to stop, you just stand along the curb with your arm extended out and down, with your palm down. In seconds a car will stop. Sometimes they don't want to take you to where you want to go, or sometimes you can't get across where you want to go, but eventually you'll find someone. It is amazing how consistent the fares ares. No hassle, all quite fair. It is a great system. I don't know if they're guys just out cruising to make money as an unofficial taxi, or whether they're folks on their way to the grocery and see an opportunity for a few extra bucks. But whichever it is, it works very well.
So my plan now is to head out Thurday morning for the Gobi by taking the road south. Three or four days after that, I should be back in UB, then north and west to the lake, then out. Unfortunately, it's a long way out-and-back. Halfway across Mongolia really.
I have to start watching the time. It is already almost August and I have a long way to go. Quite a long way.