Mongolia Part one - where we learn a lot about Mongolian hospitality


The first impression we get at the border is that everyone on it seems much more relaxed. Jokes are made at passport control and I am advised immediately that Germans will no longer need visa for Mongolia as of 1st of September – so I could have saved a lot of money here by coming a bit later.
The landscape changes quite quickly and we feel  reminded of Wales with the grassy hills and lots of sheep . All the cattle is running around freely and the few fields with potatoes or cabbage are fenced  so they are not eaten by the animals.
There is cattle everywhere ( in some areas yaks) but also sheep , horses and camels. You can pitch your tent anywhere you like and  sometimes you get visited by shepherds on horseback or small Chinese motorcycles. People are more shy and unobtrusive but very interested in us strangers too.
First we drive to Ulaan Baatar to apply for our visas for China there. For a capital UB is not particularly large  but the traffic chaos is worse than anything we have ever experienced . Mongolia has about 3 , 2 million inhabitants (which is less than there are cars in Beijing ) and 40 % of the population live in the capital  which still is not a really big number, and then only vehicles with specified number plates are allowed on the road every day in UB but still there is no mastering the chaos. At every second intersection is a traffic cop but they only worsen the situation. Despite the traffic tumult this city has somehow a  rural feel to it. There are very few high-rise buildings and they are located only in the center, otherwise there are Ghers and the here so popular one-story houses with brightly colored roofs. On the outskirts livestock market is held here  and even in the center we see cows grazing in a dry river bed.
We stay at the Oasis - a hostel for travelers from all over the world , where you can hire a traditional Gher or just a bed in a shared room You can exchange travel stories and receive or give tips  for the journey, and many a traveler stays a lot longer than he has planned thanks to the good atmosphere, well-functioning showers and toilets , restaurant , the laundry and the hair-dresser.

We only want to apply for  our China visa here  bring our bike back in order and then make a round trip , until we can collect our visa. So we order a taxi for the next morning to go to the Chinese Embassy - but it is closed today. We learn that you can only come Mon Wed and Friday at appointed times. So we have to go back  and on the way I make the mistake of asking the taxi driver if he knows where you can get tobacco here , he nods and then takes us on a wild goose chase through half the city he runs in front of us through the Black Market which is the name of the Grand Bazaar here and does not mean it is a black marked (even though I am sure you can get everything illegal here too if you try to) . However, we find only pipe tobacco and when we finally arrive back at the Oasis the enterprising taxi driver asks for 80000 Turic which he quickly drops to 60,000 when I give a loud whistle. As I know don’t how many km we drove I can’t prove it but I do realize that I am being ripped off. I pay and the cut-throat quickly gives us his card as he knows we will have to go again the next morning. We tell the story in the Oasis , where they are quite disgusted by the taxi driver and thanks to the card the greedy man gave us they find the associated company. The boss threatens to cease using this company if the man does not make us a fair price and return some money which he actually really does - a very apologetic taxi driver arrives the next evening  and returns 35ooo Turic to us. On the next day we are taken to the embassy by the husband of one of the employees, where we have a  relatively easy time applying  for our visas ,  then he takes us to various auto parts dealers to find wheel bearings and a new spring for the throttle- return on the carburetor of our motorcycle - as far as the spring is concerned  we are lucky – we find a few in a big drum full of bits but we do not find suitable bearings . So we fit the new spring which has to be shortened and re- bent firstly  but then it works fine . Later we make our own way to the Black Market on foot to try our luck on the car part of the bazaar . We were warned about pickpockets by everybody so we only take the bare necessities here with us but we do take the camera  as we have to take a few pictures of this bustle. Here you really find everything you just have to look hard enough – so in the end we find 2 matching wheel bearings.
The next morning we set off for a week in the mountains, where we will visit an old monastery. We have been advised not to drive further north because this summer was unusually wet for this part of the world and quite a few of the tracks really are not rideable for our heavy outfit there are only pistes and they are too wet and washed out.

We are quite late leaving because we still have to assemble our bike and pack everything back on it –also in the  Oasis you will always someone with whom you just absolutely have to have a chat to. We fuel up and do our  jamming all the way across the city , buy some food and when we want to give gas , the bike goes out and will not start again . It takes quite a while until we find the problem: we have swapped the fuel caps after refueling and the main tank has no ventilation so we have made a hole in the cap which the cap of the reserve tank does not need. So, a vacuum formed in the tank and then no fuel could flow - small cause big effect.

 Now nothing is holding us back anymore but  it's really gone late and soon we have to see that we find a a camp for the night. We follow a sign to a historic, hidden tourist camp and are just looking for a suitable campsite when we meet Christian  he has lived here for many years and has a construction company in UB . Together with some of his partners , other friends and business partners and their Mongolian families they have just met here for a barbecue weekend and so we are invited to join them. Peter a Swiss guy  who has started pig farming here in Mongolia provides the meat for the BBQ and there is something for every other need.  We are made very welcome and deliciously catered for .

The next morning the sun is shining from a blue sky without a cloud in sight and we can’t quite get ourselves to pack everything so we keep chatting instead, exchange email addresses and Kevin ferries the kids around  in the sidecar. At noon we finally decide it’s time for leaving again we take  our tent down and stow everything and after a lot of shaking hands and waving  we are on the road again . We come across a hill and we can hardly believe our eyes - sitting and flying in front of us are at least six golden eagles - of course I 'm getting the camera out much too slowly, but I take a picture of one or two at least. Later we learn that this is not uncommon often someone has slaughtered and disposed of the waste somewhere in the fields and  then they get the birds of prey  the eagles and other things gathering and feasting there.
The majority of our planned route is paved , which is a rarity here in this country  and also the tarred roads often have very long stretches of road works that have to be bypassed on dirt tracks running along the sides.. When we reach to the turn off for the monastery, which we want to visit there are only sand tracks and usually more than just one. The slopes fan out again and again but somehow all go in the same direction and so one tries to find the track with the fewest potholes. It goes over pretty hairy steep paths and through rivers and we are glad that we have such a nice weather and the tracks are dry and even if I hang in the sidecar from time to time in a quite precarious angle and get wet feet in the rivers we are progressing quite well. However, there are no more signs and the roads divide so often and go into all kinds of directions  that at some point we ask ourselves whether we really still go in the right direction . We come to a river, which is quite steep and deep and go back and forth until we finally take a heart and try it. we need to take a run at it several times until we finally climb up on the other side – weget there though.
It’s sunset when we finally see the monastery appear before us. It lies in a valley you can see several Gher villages - everywhere are sheep and herds of cattle and horses and  across the whole winds once again a wide river . Besides us, everyone is either on horseback or in a  jeep and we watch as the four-wheel drive vehicles sink rather deep into the river before they climb out again on the other side of the river. We need quite a while to gather up our courage and try it as well. We start up and race through the water, it  rises higher and higher and hisses on the engine. Just before we reach the shore our bike stalls and I do think that's it now, but she starts up again and I can hardly believe it, but we have actually done it again .
It's too late to drive to the monastery now so we schedule that for the next day and look for a place to camp . We choose a spot next a tour group that is half Russian and partly Mongolian and ask if they mind if we put our tent up next to them.

We are kindly received and just want to start with the nightly routine of building our house when we get an invitation for a cup of tea and a bowl of soup. Both are delicious and some in the group speak a little English. We learn that the Mongols of the group are painters and sculptors  the Russians are scientists who are making a study of Mongolian architecture and painting .It 's almost pitch dark when we finally built our tent and after the tiring journey we are also really worn out – we take  a few photos from the nearly full moon and then fall into bed .
The next day we visit the monastery and because it started to drizzle we turn the prayer wheels , donate 500 Turik (25 cents) and burn an incense stick for a safe trip back.  The monastery and the temple are very old and beautiful but because skies darken more and more  and the drizzle slowly turns into rain.  So we just do a quick tour around.

Soon we get back on our bike and make tracks towards civilization but even if we get through the first river before it starts to rain hard the track soon starts to get muddy and difficult.. We have followed a local vehicle to the second river crossing and watch him getting stuck so we do not even attempt it . Together, we look for another place to cross and eventually we both get through it. It’s getting more and more slippery and eventually we are proper bogged down the first time. I climb out of the sidecar and try to push but we are in a deep trough with both wheels and the engine is sat on the ground . It is so slippery that I find no support for pushing and finally lie face down in the mud. This is not to be the last time for this day . Again and again we dig ourselves in with the heavy outfit and we're just glad that everyone here is the same boat and everyone helps the other get out again . We need 5 hours for 35 km, but we finally do it. If it did not pour so hard and I was not so completely soaked , cold and caked in mud  I would now climb out of the sidecar and kiss the tarmac.. We drive about 65 km to Erdenet and eventually find a hotel - of course again without wifi. But still - after we have the water running for a quarter of an hour we can take a lukewarm shower, We spread our motorcycle clothing in the bathroom where it can drip and now we can even get a hot dinner in this place . It is not easy to find out what to order though so we just close our eyes  let our finger circle over the menu and then drop it anywhere and what comes out of that tastes really good and we are warmed up and feel better than James Brown soon.

The next day the sun is shining and we stay on the paved road as far as possible even if there are sandy tracks  leading to the most beautiful places in all directions. We go to the end of the tarmac and then turn around to go back because we have seen a place about halfway back - a nice quiet spot by the river where we want to build our tent . Kevin brings the fishing bag out and I my ebook  so we both spend a lovely evening.
After a week in the mountains with lots of nature we look forward to the Oasis and a hot shower. We pick up our Chinese visas - everything has run like a clockwork.
 We meet Tom and Abby - two Australians who also want to travel in the direction of White Lake and Karakoram next and because we get on so well , we decide do this trip together. Tom has rented one of the small Chinese motorcycles for a week because his Triumph Boneville is not well suited for the terrain and we head out of UB together.