Day 77 Siberian Rain

8 Aug


I get up an hour later than planned because I’ve changed timezones without realising. Only came north so didn’t expect it. Breakfast is the usual Russian buffet of warm things that should be cold and cold things that should be hot, and that usually should be eaten at dinner time, not breakfast. Still, it fills me up, replenishes caffeine levels and provides a lunch of cereal bars that I stuff in my pocket on the way out. It rains hard all morning while I try to sort out my insurance problem. Eventually the lovely Maria on the the reception desk helps me track down an insurance place and before long that problem is solved. It costs a bit more than it would have at the border, but it’s still a lot cheaper than paying off a traffic cop in the middle of Siberian nowhere, so I can proceed without having to be too nervous about being stopped. None of the ATMs round here want to accept my card so I have to find a bank to get cash. Then I need batteries for the replacement satnav, which unlike the original doesn’t run off the power supply I hardwired to my bike. Eventually, all problems are solved, except for changing my leftover Mongol money which nobody here wants. Should have just taken the really bad rate from the money changers at the border, but too late. By lunchtime the rain stops but as you can see in the photo, standing water in Siberia is a big deal! The roads are like rivers, the pavements not much better. On foot in my waterproof biking boots it’s no problem, but on the bike it would be very tricky.

After making good use of my hard-won working laptop and internet access I’ll try popping over to Lake Baikal, so that after an extra, unplanned night in UU because of this rain, I’ll be ready to head east tomorrow, hoping it’s not going to be too badly waterlogged.

Day 76 On the road again!

8 Aug


Being back on the road actually feels great. Glad to put the recent disappointment behind me. The weather is ideal, and I quickly slip back into relaxed cruise mode, once I get out of the hectic city traffic. Not far outside of UB I see a couple of overland cyclists approaching. I’ve seen enough of them now to recognise from a distance that they are westerners. I raise my hand in greeting and as we pass I realise that they are the same two lads I met on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. It’s amazing that they have cycled to UB almost as fast as I got there with an engine. Two minutes later as I’m still processing that thought, there’s a sudden emission of smoke from the transit van in front, follwed by dozens of small pieces of metal and one very big one that looks a lot like an entire differential. The shrapnel bounces and scatters across the road like a defensive gadget on James Bond’s Aston, and I swerve into the dust across the other side of the road to avoid it. Good job there was nothing coming the other way!

Just before Darkhan I stop to take a photo of a big sculpture when an MPV pulls up and disgorges a load of Buddhist monks. It looks for all the world like they’ve stopped for a look at me, not the statue. One takes a photo for me with my camera, then asks if I would take one of him. I tell him to sit on the bike and he looks pleased as punch. With sign language and a few shared words they ask all about me an the trip and seem fascinated. As they’re preparing to leave, the older man who is wearing much more ornate robes and seems enthralled by my story, turns to me, puts his hands together as if in prayer, says something I don’t understand and then bows towards me. I find myself instinctively bowing in return. Whatever he said was delivered with such intensity and benificence that I can only assume it was a blessing, and if not that then a very strongly felt wish of good luck for my journey. It was amazing. The obvious wisdom and seniority of this man, the look of serenity and almost paternal interest in me made it quite humbling. Software engineer types may find it amusing that their Japanese people carrier was emblazoned with graphics boldly proclaiming “Lorem Ipsum”. LOL.


A few miles down the road when I see a giant Buddha head on top of a hill it seems only right that I stop to climb the steps for a photo. Some more locals who speak good english throw another barrage of questions about me and the trip and seem so enthusiastic and amazed that it makes me stop to remember just how amazing this actually is. They show me the correct way to pay my respects, throwing rice and so on, but it doesn’t grant me enough divine favour to prevent the rain starting. It does get me cordially invited to jump the queue at both the Mongolian and Russian border gates, saving me hours. It still takes a couple of hours, but then I’m back into Russia and as the weather isn’t great I make straight for Ulan Ude, capital of Siberia, check into the Baikal Plaza then wander into the square to have my photo taken next to the world’s biggest Lenin head. It feels great to9 be back on the road, the bike purring along faultlessly, and I’ve made great progress. Tomorrow will be a quick visit to Lake Baikal before heading east again for Chita and the Amur highway. I’ll also have to do something about my lack of insurance. There was nowhere to buy it at the border like there usually is. I should have got it when we first entered Russia from Kazakhstan, but we only got 15 days worth…. So I need to deal with that first thing otherwise I’ll be setting myself up for having to pay big bribes everytime I get stopped by the cops out on the Amur highway, but for now I will enjoy a few beers and some dinner in the hotel bar while I enjoy having a working laptop and Wi-Fi.

Day 75 Last day in Ulaanbaatar

6 Aug

I’m still in UB, partly because i’ve got the new laptop and can do a load of jobs i’ve been wanting to do for a while, but also because i’ve had a great time with the rally team and Dave A. It’s the people that make the difference on a trip like this, so while the going is good I’m going to enjoy it. Meeting up with these guys and having a really good laugh has given me the enthusiasm to go on, and rekindled the enjoyment of it. After a morning organising the bike and doing internet stuff we meet up for a walking tour of UB. Because of what happened when we first arrived I haven’t had chance to properly enjoy the city, been too busy deciding whether to carry on solo, so this was a good reason to stay another day. We visit the natural history museum and look at dinosaur bones, then the Buddhist temple, followed by a dodgy lunch in a ropey little cafe where we play russian roulette picking dishes at random from the unintelligible menu. Then we part company, and i feel a little sad and a little apprehensive, but slightly bouyed up by having copies of Dave A’s Russian road atlas pages showing the in progess Amur highway. It’s a shame Dave’s bike is broken and he’ll be stuck here waiting for parts, but there’s every chance we’ll meet on the road again sometime. I’m really grateful to new Dave for encouraging me to go on without original Dave. And tomorrow, I start phase 2 of my adventure.

Day 74 A New Adventure?

6 Aug

Moving on after spending time in a city always feels a bit like starting a new trip, but this time it really seems like starting something completely new. I’ve ridden my motorbike all the way to Ulaanbaatar. Now I have to get to Vlad. From there, Korea, maybe a quick visit as a regular tourist to Japan, then Canada, USA, and then we’ll see. First things first. Last day in UB so there are things to do. The laptop, which has been a major letdown for the whole trip, now seems completely dead. I manage to find the local computer shops and pick up a replacement. I really hope this one is more successful than the last two. It takes most of the day to do that, then in the evening I have dinner and drinks with Dave A, the 3 rally guys Steve, Thane and Kyle, and two backpacker girls. I have such a good laugh and a very late night that I will still have alot of things to do tomorrow, so I’m probably not going to leave until Friday, giving me about 14 days to make it to Vlad for the last Saturday ferry before my visa runs out.

Day 73 Decision Time in Ulaanbaatar

6 Aug

So here I am in UB on my own. I have a look round the main square, which is unexpectedly grand compared to the size of the city, and visit the suprisingly good national museum where amongst many interesting things I discover that the big pile of rocks we camped next to about a week ago was a bronze age burial dating back to something like 1500 BC. I think we buried our rubbish under it…. Then I do some souvenir shopping (quite hard when you can only buy things you’ll be able to carry for another several thousand miles on a motorbike), write a couple of postcards (first since Bukhara, I think), and make plans to meet Dave Allen, who has just arrived in town. I first hoped he might be a travel partner for the rest of the trip, but his bike is broken and I don’t think he’ll be ready in time. I have 21 days till my Russia visa runs out, so if i’m carrying on I have to go the day after tomorrow at the latest. I witness the very wierd sight of a dustbin lorry driving slowly down main street playing a tune like an ice cream van, presumably to tell people to bring out their rubbish. Beats leaving it out on the pavement all day, i suppose. Take cover under a bus shelter as a sudden hailstorm passes through, and then see a car that drove into a puddle that turned out to be a big hole, which is being slowly pulled out of it by a tow truck. Try the laptop again, still dead, which will make getting the satnav set up very difficult. Then I meet up with Dave A, and 3 guys, Steve, Thane and Kyle, who have driven here in an LDV van for charity. As one act of charity they picked up Dave in Mongolia when his bike broke and carried him and bike all the way to UB. We have drinks and dinner (cheeseburger, or in most cases, two cheeseburgers) and exchange travel stories. It really seems like these guys have had 3 weeks of brilliant fun, which shows how much of a difference your choice of travel partner makes. I have a great time and am greatly cheered up. In particular, Dave A offers a lot of encouragement and practical suggestions and convinces me that I really should carry on. It makes an enormous difference.