Monday, August 25, 2008

The Gobi Desert, Chinese Officials and a Dwarf!

This is the story how I ended up in a Ger with a Dwarf!

Ok we left for the Chinese border late in the afternoon, there were three of us, we gave Anna from Poland a lift to the border, we set off and it was absolutely freezing, after covering 250 k's on perfect tarmac it was time to find a place to camp all chilled to the bone we headed for a Ger tucked in behind a wooden fence hoping to pitch the tents out of the wind. Luck has it the family invited us in to thaw by there fire and and even better sleep on their floor.

Day two saw us into the Gobi Desert following the arrow on the GPS opposed to trying to pick one of the many tracks snaking in every direction across the desert. The temperature improved dramatically the further south to China we rode. After a long day we managed just over 400k's and found a camp under the stars of what we imagined to be our last night on Mongolian soil.

The next morning it was a short 50 k's into ZammUd, the border town with China. Immediately Anna found the truck driver that she had hitchhiked with a few weeks earlier, everything was falling into place, he was half Kazak/Mongol so therefor spoke Russian and was able to converse with Anna who spoke some Russian also. Between us we spoke, French, German, Polish, Russian, Flemish and all I had to offer was English and of course the Aussie version, quite useless really!! Anyway luck had it he was heading across the border in his truck in 30 minutes, with not a minute to think about it we loaded the bikes onto the truck. This was an effort, building a makeshift ramp I walked the bikes up with men each side, as I took the second one up the plank snapped, here I was about 6 foot of the ground holding 250 k'gs hoping like hell the plank did not give all the way and squash me, after some yelling and pulling it was in, both bikes strapped down we all bordered the truck for the border. At this point I was shitting myself, what would happen, I did not want to loose another bike, I did not want to head back to Ulaan Bataar, I did not want to be cold again. Out of Mongolia we went, no problems, next China. Unable to go any further in the truck we had to leave the bikes and our driver behind, we had to trust him! We entered into China via a lift in an old Russian jeep, which had a man hiding low in the bike trying to sneak in, all a bit bizarre, China officials went well for me but not so for Dirk, they found his little motorbike camera and questioned him over it, took the SD card from it to view what was on it, eventually they returned it and let him in, we were in China, I could not believe it, now just the bikes to come, I was passing like a tiger in a cage. So here we were, Dirk, Anna and I all sitting by the road side in China waiting for our truck who had all our gear, bags, helmets everything, again I was concerned would we pull it off??

A friend of the truck driver came through the gate in another truck, he gestured to us that our truck was coming shortly, all of a sudden we started to talk about which road to take, how far to go, then a phone call it was our truck driver, he wanted me to go to him at customs! Oh shit what was this, I walked the 500 meters to the customs terminal, into the building I went and gave my best friendly Nihow I could do. One guy spoke English and immediately said, your bikes can not come in. I tried everything, made up stories how one was broken and we could not fly it from Mongolia as the plane was not big enough and we had to transport it to Xian to fly it to Bangkok, they understood but every time the reply was At the moment China is special time, Olympic time, these are the rules! Shit this was it we would go no further, reality set in, I always expected it but to get so close. I tried gesturing a bribe, money for a blind eye, again a No, that was it, at this point I felt I tried everything I could and was finished. I walked back to Dirk and Anna and told them the news. At this point another problem was born, this time when I went to the gate where Dirk and Anna were there was a young policeman wanting to see my passport. I showed him then tried explaining that the customs officials wanted to see the other two people I was with, he simply shook his head, we were not allowed back to the customs building where I had just walked from. So here we were in China, our bikes and bags stuck back at the customs point and a stand off with a policeman, everything we tried he would not let us in. We stood there for half an hour, this whole time the Mongol truck driver needed to get to his job in China but he had our two motorbikes in the back off his truck which were not allowed into China, Jesus what a bloody predicament.

Eventually he saw the light and we gave our passports up to him and went back to customs, not ideal but it was the only way. Now it was Dirks turn to try his negotiation skills, again all efforts met with the same answer, even Anna had a shot but nothing, that was it, we tried but had to go back to Mongolia, the question was could we, we had been stamped out!!

Now it was getting late, our Mongol truck drivers boss was ringing him asking where the hell he was. He had to go, but after talking with the Chinese customs they said we could not ride back to Mongolia, we would have to leave our bikes there and maybe tomorrow or the day after we MIGHT get them back, shit this was not what I had in mind. We talked fast I said no we need the bikes today we take them to Mongolia now! After some thought he agreed and now we had to go with him into China to collect our passports, we all climbed into a Toyota drove to the gate, Anna jumped out, we got our passports, said a quick farewell and left her just standing by the road side in China, for Dirk and I we were taken to Immigration for our visa stamp, they at least only cancelled our entry stamp so our Chinese visa was still valid, then escorted us out the door we entered earlier and pointed us to Mongolia. All this was going on while the Mongol drove his truck with our bikes back to Mongolia, the Chinese customs told him he had 30 minutes to return otherwise he would not enter China today. We stopped a jeep full of Mongols and clammed in, squashed we drove to the Mongol side where we found our truck waiting. With no where to unload our bikes we found two men standing about interested in the commotion, right you two lift I said, we hauled the bikes straight out the back of the truck no ramps no nothing, 250 kg's hitting the ground with a thud, our truck driver bid us farewell but not before we slipped him a considerable amount for the trouble we caused him and then he drove back to China! Holy shit what had just happened, it was all so quick and rushed, so here we were loading our panniers back on wondering will Mongolia let us in? both exhausted and tired of worrying we began to laugh about the whole days events. So into Mongol immigration, we simply said, "China No", the man laughed as if to say yeah you two ain't the first! We were taken up to the big boss's office he quickly took out a stamp, stamped our passport handed them back and that was it, we rode back into Mongolia without our helmets on, looked at each other and burst out laughing, my thought was is this all real, can you believe what just happened. We had enough time to fuel up and get out the road back into the Gobi and find a camp before sunset, pot noodle for dinner, what a day!

I guess it was expected, everyone said I would not make it and I suppose all those people are right, but many people gave encouragement and I thank you all, the thing is I tried and I tried my best nothing more I could do, if I had never given it a shot I would never know, now I do. Been there done that.

As I went to sleep little did I know things would only get even more interesting in the next 24 hours beyond anything I have experienced in the 1 year 11 months and 2 weeks I have been on the road! Remember the Dwarf has not even entered the picture yet!

During the night I woke thinking a car was approaching with its lights on but then I realised that it was a lighten show going on in the sky, hmm it was raining somewhere but as long as not on my tent I was happy. I drifted back to sleep until morning. Day break saw a few clouds in the sky but the ground was still dry, no rain, at least where we were. We set off and for the first 30 k's the going was good across the dusty Gobi tracks. Then it began, a light drizzle in the beginning which was good as it made the sand firmer and stopped the dust. But the rain got heavier and the ground wetter, at times the mother ship began skating across the surface making for a few ring tightening moments, we made it to a small town of Saynshand for some food wet and cold swapping stories with each other of near mishaps of the morning but both managed to keep the bikes upright. It was from this point that it all went wrong, it would be the last time I would see Dirk for the next 24 hours. We set off out of town and decided to take the right side of the train line to follow north, on the way down we had been on the left side, I move a little faster than Dirk and he always tells me just keep going he will get there in the end. After going about 5 k's the conditions were horrible, the ground slippery as ice so I decided to head back toward the train line and swap sides getting back on the side we had come down a few days earlier, I turned my head and through the rain I thought I saw Dirk following in the distance, I found a huge storm drain under the train line and road through it to put me now on the opposite side, away I went the ground was a little higher and the water was soaking in alot better, at times I hit 70 to 80 followed by a huge sideways slide spitting me what ever way the bike wanted to go, making me slow down a little, at times I felt I had no control what so ever, the rain persisted, I was soaked through, freezing cold but it was no place to stop, only I could get myself out of this.

After about an hour and a half I arrived in the next town, 100 k's from the last, I found a small building and walked in, the man in there saw I was frozen to the bone. Without saying a word a Mongol lady got a fire going in the stove and placed a chair in front of it for me to sit, as I shook a huge pool of water formed on the floor beneath me. I thought I would just wait for Dirk who should come along shortly and then push on, the tar road was only 100 more k's to the north, once on that I did not care how cold or late it would be I would just ride all the way to Ulaan Bataar where I new a hot shower would be and a warm be. An hour passed and the fire had almost died out, I was a little warmer but Dirk had still not shown up, I began to worry, I was not keen to stay were I was I wanted to go on, I waited another our and the whole time my fears grew and I really began to worry, it was tough out there in the Gobi but it was only 100 k's from where we left he should have arrived long ago, what had happened, was he OK, had he fallen off, was he out there injured, arrgh I was going mad, what do I do? It still continued to rain, it was about 6 pm by this stage, I had to make a decision for myself, but I could not just leave Dirk out there in hell! I went and filled my tank and started the daunting idea off looking for him but as I headed out, I realised I did not know what side of the train line he would be on and then even if I picked the correct side the tracks spanned a great width through the desert, I did not get far before turning back toward the town, again already soaked through and cold again. I decided I needed to press on, I wanted to go north to Ulaan Batar.

I road out of the town thinking to myself this is crazy leaving him behind like this but I had to look after myself as well, I had to get the hell out of this situation, we were on our own now completely. By now with all the rain the going was extremely tough, Mongolia may be land locked but the Gobi desert had turned into an ocean, so much water on the planes it came over my windscreen and hit me in the face, having to drive with my visor up since it was almost dark and my tinted lens did not enable me to see a thing, the rain whipped in on my cheeks and stung like needles, the wind grew stronger, I was telling myself I need to to keep going I cant stop, there was nowhere to stop, I did not want to be there, where was Dirk. I got with in 40 k's of the tarmac and I could not feel my hands anymore, they hardly functioned on the throttle and clutch, my feet would not work, one thing that did the mother ship it just kept on going through what ever I pointed it at, I asked it not to stop, not now, not out here please keep going but I could not go on, I saw from the corner of my eye a Ger of in the distance through the rain, it had smoke coming from its chimney, that's it I cant go any further, tomorrow is another day, it would have been about 2 or 3 degrees with a chill factor bringing it much much lower, I needed shelter, I rode over to the Ger and prized my fingers from the grips, the occupants of the Ger must have heard the bike and the door opened, there standing to great me was a Dwarf, nothing against Dwarfs what so ever but it made me smile even ion this situation, of all Gers to pick in Mongolia I picked one owned by a Dwarf. I entered dripping wet, frozen to the core again. Again I said nothing I could not cause of the cold and also the fact that I was here and where the hell was Dirk, the thought that he was out there somewhere in this inland sea go me down. Also in the Ger was an old lady and a young boy, they stoked the fire and I started to thore out bit by bit, drying my boots, gloves, jacket, every layer I had on, they cooked me dinner, rice and pieces of mutton served up with lots of hot tea, after dinner I hit the sack straight away completely spent, the wind howled outside and the rain pelted against the walls of the Ger.

One of the only photos I managed to take in this mad adventure but I think the most important!

Morning came and the Dwarf heated up last nights dinner for breakfast, the wind had reduced but best of all the rain had stopped and the sun was out, this gave me a better feeling but I still wounded where in the hell was Dirk. I bid farewell to my host family of the night and hit the Gobi for the last stretch to the tarmac, the rain had soaked away and the going was near perfect, I stretched the legs of the mother ship, ripping a fresh track across the desert. I made the tarmac in no time with great relief, still I frozen through so stopping for fuel the lady at the petrol station saw my state of shivering and invited me in to warm on her hot plate, why not I could wait for Dirk awhile, I figured if he made it to the previous town the night before he should be here any minute. I waited an hour and again nothing, I had come to far to turn around so decided top press on. I continued another 150 k's before the lack of fuel and money made me stop in a town 80 k's out from Ulaan Batar, I had about 100 ml of fuel left and a 50 US note, I set about trying to find somebody to change it for some Turgiks, Mongol money but none would even the bank I found refused so all I could do was wait now for Dirk to arrive, if he was still coming that was.

I waited about an hour and there over the horizon was a sight I was relieved to see, it was Dirk! When he pulled up I we gave each other a hug and I said I thought I would never say this but Fuck am I glad to see you!! We exchanged stories, I was more interested in his, he had fallen off for the second time and once he stopped sliding in the mud he looked back and his pannier was about 20 meters behind him, it had been ripped of in the crash, this took him time to repair it and get mobile again, he made the town I waited in about an hour after I left and he slept there, about 60 k's south of the Ger I was sharing with a Dwarf! Now with some funds from Dirk we filled our tanks and rode the last 80 k's into Ulaan Batar, we were back, I could not believe it, what an adventure it had been just to try the impossible of trying to get into China, its amazing what determination makes you do, I am glad I gave it a go.

Now there has been another plan hatched and all I will say is China has not seen the last of me yet, its not called The Hard Way Home for nothing now is it! Stay tuned.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mongolia and beyond

The departure of Russia was even more painful than the entry, made the border at 9am, as I rode up to the mongol side of the border I glanced at my clock on the dash, was after 4pm, all that time just to pass through the Russian side, the Mongolian side went smooth. Finally here I found myself in Mongolia, to me its always been in the back of my mind since leaving South Africa, the furthest country away before heading south again toward Oz. I was here, the last great remote wilderness. And that's exactly what it is, they call it the country with no fences, with its wild open treeless plains surrounded by mountains carpeted in green grass it sure gives a feeling of the last frontier and of course if the scenery doesn't the roads sure do, well there lack of, without GPS I think it would be tough, well a lot of driving in the wrong direction might happen. The country is just like one big paddock with tracks just going everywhere in all directions, as long as I pointed the mother ship in the right direction I'd get to where you needed to go. It would be 2500 k's of dirt track to the Capital.

Double hump Camels, called Bactrain camels

The roads payed the price on the Steed, the mount on my dash snapping in half, the same happened on the old bike in Angola. So we managed to find a welding machine in a small town, it was at the Mongolian Army post, with a few cows walking around the compound and the gates hanging of the hinges we cranked up the diesel motor and armed with a welding rode as think as my finger we tried welding it up, well more like throw bits of metal at it. Well it held for about three days until snapping again about 300 k's out of Ulaan Bataar, this time I just held it up with my left hand all the way to the capital.

A local checking out the mother ship.

Also my rectifier blew one evening toward sunset and therefor overcharged my battery resulting in a then blown battery. So going to a Ger near by I asked the locals if they could take my bike to the next town about 45 k's away, we negotiated a price and set off with the bike loaded in the back of a small truck. Stuff it, the first time in 75 000 k's that I have transported my bike, damn it, oh well might be a sign of whats to come with the problems of China. And beleive it or not but I found a new battery in the town, not exactley the right one but it will do the job, sometimes luck is on my side.

These mounds are everywhere, the blue ribbons are tired on praying for a safe journey.

A monestry on the flat plain.

Local man in local dress.

With yaks, the two humped Bactrain camel, sheep, horseman grazing their heards on the steppes of Mongolia, really gave a sense that these people still live how they did hundreds of years ago. Every afternoon it was not a matter of where to camp it was a matter of when to camp and when you did just simply turn off the track and pick the nicest grassy spot, one huge camp ground.

One morning I woke with Yaks walking through the camp.

Taking a break.

After 6 days and a Mongol thieving Dirks goggles we made it to Ulaan Bataar, more modern than expected and a vast contrast to rural Mongolia, but still pleasant. So on Monday it was off to the Chinese Embassy, for the third time since leaving Dubai, this time we went prepared with a fake booking for an airline ticket and a deposit put down for two weeks accommodation in a hotel, this is our last chance to get a visa, we cant fail. After lining up for an age we spoke with the man behind the window, it looked good, until I discovered I forgot my photo!!! But alas this was not all we did not have, they wanted copies of everything and proof of enough money, come back Wednesday, its only open Monday, Wednesday, Friday. So Two days later we rock up again, this time early to get in the front of the cue, an hour and a half early saw us 4th in line, then it started to rain, by time the embassy opened we where soaked from head to toe, not willing to loose our spot in the line, this time it went with great success, we ere told we can have visa and will be ready Friday, fantastic, if they only new we really want to ride our bikes into their country!

Arriving in the capital, Ulaan Bataar.

Now that is still a huge drama, it is the worst time in the past century to try and get a bike into China, and no body has a positive thing to say, but that is the way it is. We even have met some great expat chaps who have put us in touch with freight forwarders on both sides to try and at least get the bikes over the border but today I received news from a Chinese man called Roger that we will not be able to even do that, so its back to plan A of simply riding the 700 k's to the border, finding a local guy with a truck, taking our bikes over as transit goods, driving down the road and off loading them for us to ride into the huge country of China, my thoughts are maybe in the past was possible but now well I just am not sure. I can see us riding the 700 k's back here to UB and flying the bikes via Seoul to Bangkok. So today we picked up our passport with a Chinese visa in it, that's step one of four conquered. Steps two is getting the bikes into China, step three is riding across China and step four is exiting China to Laos. Anything is possible but this time I think its beyond me, completely out of my control, the feeling is not good. So the plan is to leave here in a few days for the border, if I have not updated my blog with in a week, it will mean one thing, we are in China, because if we get in it will be south 4500 k's to Laos as quick as we can, or it could mean we are stuck in no mans land trying to get back into Mongolia with out a visa because our bikes never got into China, actually it could mean a load of things if I have not updated my blog in a week or so, but I will make sure I keep you all posted, exciting but daunting!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vodka and Kalashnikov

Yep only can mean one place, Russia! Since it was only 5 days I will keep it short but I am amazed at what can happen in a short time.

Arrive at the Russian border-takes forever, in one room I stood waiting along with a mix of a dozen or so Russians and Kazakhs, this is a conversation I had with one man-
Man "Atkuta?" (which in Russian means where are you from?)
Me "Australia"
Man "argh Kangaroo" (which I have heard to many times)
Me "Atkuta?" pointing at the man
Man"Russia" with a proud look
Me "argh Kalashnikov!"
The whole room burst into laughter, I wasn't sure what way it would go down.

This corner of Russia still has infrastructure of the old soviet.

Anyway into Russia and what a beautiful place, it was like I was in Austria, alpine forest, high mountains, fresh air. We decided to take a short cut, never ever again, there is no such thing as a short cut, end up taking a trail that turned into something Sir Edmond Hilary would only tackle, at times we would have to stack small rocks around big rocks and make our own road, carry, lifting 300 kg's of motorbike, covering 400 meters in 2 hours, in the end it became impossible, one thing is for sure our determination was high. Both exhausted we returned over what we had just covered, one difficult part was an old wooden bridge, this time as we wheeled my bike over it a plank collapsed under Dirks foot, as he fell he pulled my bike on top of himself, I could not hold the weight, he screamed "get it off, get it off!" I had to run around his side and lift the whole 300 kg's of his leg, how I don't know. I knew he was OK when his first words were "I was always a bit of a screamer!" What a situation. As we crossed one final rocky creek bed, Dirk hit the deck only meters from some Russians camping by the river, both exhausted we decided to camp there with them.

Lots of rivers to drink the crystal clear water straight from.

This was the path we tried, there was hardly a place to walk!
Our new friends turned out to be great hosts even though my conclusion was Mafia when I asked there jobs, they gave us food, cooked us dinner, we went fishing later at night to their special spot on the river, for the hike there out came a 12 gauge semi auto shot gun and of course an AK-47, for what, not the fish but the bears, a lot of bears in this neck of the woods, anyway no fish and thankfully no bears back to the camp and out came the Vodka, watching the bottle disappear I was thankful but then out came the Cognac!!

Bear country!
Next morning before departing I was handed the Kalashnikov, loaded and the Russian suggested shot shot, what would going to Russia and not letting a few rounds fly through their most famous export, I let loose, when in Rome!

Our Russian buddies

Made in Russia

Near the border of Mongolia

Changing tires in the biggest workshop on the planet.

So then back around the way we should have taken in the first place, eventually reaching the Russian Mongol border on day 4, changed tires and check the bike over, one last night camped in Russia on a river, staring up at the stars I thought whats next, Mongolia!!

Monday, August 18, 2008


After a week in Bishkek waiting for Dirks Kazak visa I was bored senseless, then to top it off I fell ill with a horrific stomach bug, gut wrenching pain and of course the not so nice result from the bowls! But not wanting to spend another minute in the city Dirk and I loaded up the morning after the visa came through and headed for Almaty. Still not feeling the greatest we set off for the short 300 ks we had to do. The border crossing was the easiest I have encounter in a very very long time, through in no time at all, feeling chuffed with the day and flying across the wide flat plains in Kazakhstan \i let my concentration lapse what happen next you’d never guess, I tried a fart and shat myself, so here I am on a treeless plain cleaning my strides out whilst the Kazakhs drove past giving me a toot, lovely, welcome to Kazakhstan!

Yep there I am in Kazakhstan, fantastic.

The stay in Almaty was short, we hooked up with a local Biker, a real biker, for example I just ride a motor bike, by no means am I a biker, these guys were, they ode choppers, I was the only one without a tattoo, leathers, chains, the whole works, lovely people though giving us a bed for our stay in Almaty. For once the visa saga went without a hitch, with Mongol taking a day and and only a transit visa needed for Russia, we had that one in about an hour, then sporting clean underwear it was north toward Russia across a very boring uninteresting landscape of Kazakhstan. It only took us 2 and a bit days to cover the 1500 k’s to the border, so as for Kazakhstan, short sweet, hassle free and no I did not see Borat but I think I may have seen his sister!

Camping in Kazakhstan.
What lays ahead is still a question, well China is the question, I have attempted to get my Chinese visa twice thus far but both times with no success and that goes with many people I have spoke with, China is closed for the moment due to the Olympics, Tibet issues, of course if you have a ticket for the games then sure it is possible but for a smelly traveller like me forget it. Before that anyway it is into Russia and then onto Mongolia-kind of feel like I am headed into a corner, into a very remote corner of the world and then if I get the Chinese visa then I still have to find a way of getting the mother ship over the border and if that happens I then have to try riding it 4500 k's to Loas which is NOT allowed, hmm a challenge lays ahead, if it does not work the options are limited, maybe then I will have to fly from Ulaan Batar to Bangkok over China at of course a very hefty cost. So anyway what ever the case the coming weeks will be exciting and one thing I have learnt is sometimes the impossible is possible!