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The Home of Chingiss Khaan

……..meandering in Mongolia

semi-overcast 16 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

We left Irkutsk to head off for the border crossing into Mongolia. I was pleasantly excited about this and also the ride to the border was supposed to great….again no disappointments. We travelled through dense pine and beech forests over mountains and through valleys where we stopped late morning for coffee at a superb lookout with stunning views of Lake Baikal. At 680kms long this is a massive piece of water holding a fifth of the world’s fresh water. Our ride had us travelling along the shoreline for the next two hours before we turned off south and headed to the border. It is along here somewhere that I lost my second camera off the bike………so annoyed, guess I’m just not meant to have a new camera! Russian exit, quite a breeze…..entry into Mongolia, well that one was a bit of a classic but once we understood the system or what was purported to be a system we all finally got through in a little under four hours! It was now mid-afternoon as we pushed on into the very different landscape, the vastness and emptiness that is Mongolia. By the time we came to our next fuel stop the sky had darkened considerably and we could smell the rain that was inevitable. We entered the first reasonably sized town of Mongolia, Darkhan where we all stopped to hit the ATM’s before heading off to the campsite. Whilst waiting the rain started and Mick mentioned that we would only be heading 5-10k’s down the road to set up camp. That was enough for Alpha, Oscar and me to decide that we would find a hotel and stay in the town. A wise decision as it was a miserable night and even worse in the morning. One must not forget that after all it is a holiday and no one wants to feel miserable on a holiday, do they :-)

We waited a while for the rain to clear a little and rode off to look for the group. The plan was for a ride to the Amarbaysgalant monastery before heading in the direction of the town of Bulgan. Given the ride to the monastery is a two hour off road detour we would definitely catch them. Arriving at the turnoff we could see the tyre marks and even though quite slippery we headed off. The ride is only 35kms and visually stunning landscapes at every turn……..who needs a camera? We stopped for a break after around 15kms and chatted to local visitors heading back who seemed to confirm there was indeed other motorcycles at the destination…………I was looking around and declared that I could no longer see any tracks?! Given where we were and thinking we had gotten thorough the worst of it we pushed on. It was an epic ride and challenging. Finally after entering the last yawning valley we spotted the monastery and associated ger camps surrounding it. With around 500m to travel we had one last river to cross…….on the exit Oscar lost traction and had one of those very slow falls but trapped his left leg under the bike which I could see had caused him some pain. We rode up to enjoy the splendour of this unique environment, participated in the obligatory 50 photos of kids and their parents on our bikes, with the bikes and with the bikers and then set search for a Ger that was doing lunch. We were invited to share a table with a local family from Ulan Bator who were holidaying in the area and a very talented family they were; the elder patriarch was one of Mongolia’s top composers, patron of the state opera and his music pieces are played internationally. From there other family members were engineers, interpreters, financiers and of course musicians, studied widely and all back home for a summer holiday, could have been anywhere really?? They helped us with ordering lunch of the local food “bozz” meat filled, deep fried pastry and milk tea which is exactly that………..milk without a hint of tea as we would know I,t hot with a slightly sour taste……..still haven’t got my tastebuds around that one.

We said our goodbyes and headed back out of the mountains, it seemed quicker on the way out but I did managed to put the bike down once or twice in the mud and the middle of a river, good thing I needed cooling down! We took off to our destination of Bulgan via Erdenet. It was only about 135kms but Oscar was in some pain and just wanted to get moving, understandably. We arrived there about 6pm and found the Hotel Bulgan, now this is a lesson in don’t judge a book by its cover; the hotel looked like a shocker from the outside but as we could not find anything else we ventured in. The restaurant was clean and tidy and the first hint that inside was something else was the highly polished tile reception and stairway, a view to an ultra-modern, well equipped kitchen and the friendly staff. We were shown the rooms, whilst basic very clean and neat, hot water and a balcony. We were in! The group were about 20 k’s down the road camping wild, certainly a nice area but with an overnight temperature of -1deg, certainly not necessary when you can get a room like ours for AUD20?

We showered and made our way down to the restaurant where Oscar advised he was going to have his leg checked out at the local hospital. He was in some pain and when asked if he needed help he said no and hobbled off……….we were all thinking perhaps a very bad sprain. The restaurant wasn’t doing food and neither was the one they recommended……..so it was into the market and two minute noodles all round. Back to the bar, boil the kettle and in walked Oscar on a crutch, not two but one, announcing his leg was broken. We were shocked!! I guess if you only have one leg broken you only need one crutch?? Walking in behind him was a local who we were introduced to as Tumur. Tumur had seen him hobbling up the road and insisted on assisting him. Assist he did, translated, transported and generally made the whole experience as easy as possible for a foreigner in western Mongolia. Tumur knows what it is like being a foreigner in another country having worked with his wife in the UK for two years to save money for his business adventures. He has always wanted to repay the many kindnesses he was shown and after we finally got Oscar back he insisted that we go to his restaurant and his wife would cook us dinner. When we finally sat you would not have wanted to get between the plate and anyone’s mouth, we were all so hungry that everything and anything would have been devoured.

The next morning Alpha and I headed out to the camp site to break the news to Mick and the others in the group. There was a stunned silence, this is the first major injury of the trip and it could happen to anyone; oh and by the way they didn’t go to the monastery because it was too slippery…………….. We all rode back into town to catch up with Oscar and for Mick to help him arrange the next step. First things first he had to get back to UB for further medical examination so after Mick gave him some details of the agent in UB, Tumur organised a taxi for the next morning for the 550km trip back to UB but that was after he had done the 170km round trip to Erdenet to collect plaster for Oscar’s leg as there was none in the village of Bulgan. Selfless assistance by Tumur and his wife was extraordinary and another of those moments that will never be forgotten in the travel tales. Roomie is looking after the bike so he has now got an on-going ride at least to UB :-)

We all set off in the direction of Murun and I am sure this incident was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Call it a motorcycling thing but we all know the dangers and it is just always that little bit more real when it is close to home. The group was only planning to travel around 200kms and we discussed with Mick whether it would be feasible for Alpha and I to head onto Murun in a day. Entirely feasible but a long day as the road network is always changing and it was anyone’s guess how much dirt was left. We made Murun that night 330km with 190km of dirt at around 5.30pm and checked into the Hotel Chingiss which held promise but delivered on none of it. It had two stars on the wall but they had nothing to do with the rating! Garage for the bikes, clean and with hot water it was ample.

Sleep in tomorrow and catching up with the group as we head to Khovsgol Lake and two nights in a Ger camp......that weather is still threatening; I hope they are waterproof.

Posted by ScottyJ 20:27 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Mayhem in the mountains

………..could this be the end of the trip?

semi-overcast 18 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

We had a bit of a sleep in this morning knowing we had time before the group caught up. It was sunny and clear with just a hint of coolness in the air. After checking the spot tracker and confirming that the group was underway Alpha and I headed off in the direction of the lake. We had the coordinates and as there were a couple of ways to get there so we headed off undecided which way we would take. Great riding on new bitumen confused the GPS and we did a little back tracking until we found one of the tracks. Agreeing to head off we started off down the track, stunning scenery at every turn and it wasn’t long before we were both in our grooves. Alpha is a much better dirt rider than me but always stops up ahead to wait and check that all is good. It was a perfect day about to turn into a nightmare…………

We were about 40k’s into a 100km dirt ride when I crested another rise and continued down the track ahead. Alpha disappeared around a bend some 500m ahead and I chugged down the track looking for the best route possible. Looking ahead the track did not seem too bad however as I dragged my vision back down the track I noticed two small wooden logs ahead. I backed off immediately sensing something was not right and sure enough it was the remains of a small washed out bridge. If it had been wider I could have ridden through but it was the shape of sharp drain; entering that would have put me over the handle bars! Under heavy braking with wheels starting to lock I had nowhere to go. Had I been more to the left there was an escape route but not here on the right…………….Planning to put the bike down I was more concerned about how I would land as I did not want to damage my right shoulder knowing that it was susceptible and all in all I thought the landing went well until I bounced and rolled onto the jutting rocks of the road fairly and squarely on my back. Instant pain and shortness of breath I jumped up, ok with the shoulder but knowing that I had just done some ribs………you don’t forget that feeling!

I couldn’t pick the bike up so I just waited knowing that Alpha would eventually make is way as he did. We picked the bike up, very little damage and discussed the next move, could I ride and where to…destination or back and have the injury checked out. Common sense prevailed and we headed back towards the town. It wasn’t long before I realised that I do not have much strength left in the upper body to really control the bike on this terrain hence my pace was slow. To make matter worse a few kms further on the skies darkened and a sudden thunderstorm hit. There was no way I could continue, the track turned to mud and one very slippery moment bought me undone. We pulled up on the track to discuss what to do when a white people mover pulled up with a husband and wife and adult son inside. With broken English we explained the situation and said we needed to get to a hospital. You can be lucky; the woman was a local doctor pulled up my jacket and bandaged my ribs, relief, reached into her handbag and gave me what I will assume were a type of painkiller. They were on the way to their summer “ger” and would be heading back this way in around two hours and would be happy to help. They left and I discussed with Alpha that whilst the offer of help was most generous what if they didn’t come back?? So we agreed that Alpha wold make his way back to the town of Murun grab a taxi and return to pick up my bike and transport me back to town. It always a difficult decision to leave a colleague in a hostile environment as any Australian would know but it was our only option. I pulled the little camp stool off the back of my bike and armed with a “snickers” bar (because they satisfy!!) and water I sat down for the wait.

A wait is was just me and the little prairie dogs. The wind was constant and cool and the pain ever present and real. I can see how people could perish out here and I have never felt a sense of such total isolation as I did at that time……………….it was a bit of a Zen moment! It was now approaching around three hours since Alpha had left and evening was starting to arrive. I sure as hell did not want to be out there in the dark. Without warning the white Toyota crested the hill and arrived. The son was keen to ride the bike and I climbed into the back of the car. Now this country is rough and if you thought that riding in the back of a car would be fun think again. Bouncing around for the next 40km was absolute agony! Some 10-15kms along the track we met Alpha in the taxi so we pulled over, paid the taxi driver off and he took over my bike. Finally arriving back in the town we went to the hospital but as the doctors were not on duty we had to go and pick them up!! The radiologist performed and x-ray and ultrasound and confirmed multiple fractures, no organ damage that he could detect but said my tourist days were over and that I needed to get to Ulaanbaatar (UB) as soon as possible…………..oh and no you can’t drive you should fly. Back to the hotel with the best painkillers we could find, suitable for most headaches, I slowly and painfully lowered myself onto the bed and slept……………it was so welcome!

Fly…………?? We made enquiries the next morning only to be advised that everything was booked out for the next seven days………….please this can’t be happening!! At 10am Bara, the young son who had helped me out of the mountains arrived with two local girls who were med students in UB and home for the summer break. Their English was a little better and they insisted that they take over the negotiations for a ticket out. So with multiple trips to the local airport we managed to secure the last ticket out of town; departing at 1.30pm it was late but at least it was going in the right direction! Could it be that easy…….no; on checking in I was advised that due to the bad weather they had to lose weight and along with one or two others we were offloaded! Still no painkillers, the pain was wearing me down. I was told that I would be transferred to another airline that was departing at 8pm and return to the airport at around six. Alpha and I headed back into town for lunch that would also serve as dinner and also one of the highlights of the trip! Just after ordering we were approached by and elderly lady and asked Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Alpha replied no but he does, pointing at me. She was a local lady who was home for a summer break and had lived in Berlin for the last 29years. She, along with her brother was also the 44th generational line of direct descendants of the infamous Chingiss Khaan. This was an epic conversation and another traveling moment. Her brother was indeed royalty and was actively involved globally in the promotion of Mongolia and many cultural and humanitarian projects. We were honoured, two Australians sitting in a restaurant in Mongolia conversing in German………….for a brief time my pain was forgotten as I thoroughly enjoyed the moment.

We departed again for the airport and the promise of sharing the bottle of Georgian Saparavi I had got Alpha carrying my bags. On arriving the plane was delayed yet again and would not leave until around 10pm. I convinced Alpha to leave me at the airport; I’m use to those places and I would just wait. He finally agreed and with assistance from a German/French I finally got checked in and that boarding pass felt like gold. The aircraft finally left around 10.30pm and as I climbed into 3D of the F50 I promptly fell asleep hoping for a positive diagnosis at my medical appointment tomorrow morning in UB.

Posted by ScottyJ 15:28 Archived in Mongolia Comments (1)

X-rays, MRI’s & painkillers

……..SOS Medica, a sanctuary in UB.

semi-overcast 21 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

The F50 finally landed at around 0015 in the morning and I made my way through to the arrivals where Oscar was waiting with a taxi. The weather had been terrible all day with multiple flight delays and Oscar had kept up with the updates on arrival times and just kept re-booking the driver to ensure I was picked up. He had arranged both the hotel room and an appointment the following morning at 9am with SOS Medica which is a worldwide medical organisation working in various countries and in UB apparently the only place to go. We made our way the Hotel Continental and as we two invalids, now retired hurt, made our way to the rooms Oscar threw me a pack of “Forte”, one of his spares and said you may be able to use these. What a relief and as I felt the effects of 1000mg of paracetamol washing over me I fell into a very deep sleep. On pushing through the painful exercise of getting out of bed I headed down to breakfast and the cab ride to the medical centre. You couldn’t ask for more, as soon as I entered I was greeted by the friendly and charming staff, assisted with the paperwork, vital signs recorded and then off to the doctor. From there to x-ray and on viewing the results he said it is not conclusive enough we require a CT scan to be performed. Within minutes I was seated in a SOS medical taxi with a nurse and on my way to the Korean/Mongolian hospital across town. Arriving at the hospital this most efficient of nurses was moving from window to window exchanging paperwork and organising what obviously needed to be done with the end result being I walked through corridors of people and past lines of seated people in radiology to be shown directly into the CT scan room with staff waiting. Now that was another painful exercise getting on and off that table! Back in the medical taxi and back to SOS……I was starting to get a little anxious by now at what the outcome was to be……….I certainly did not want to undergo any type of surgical procedure . Anyway this was the result; it’s always good to know what the issues are!

• Soft tissue sub muscular emphysema in right/lateral chest wall, trauma related
• Fractures in right 3rd rib posterior and lateral aspect; right 5th rib posterior and lateral aspect; right 6th rib lateral aspect
• S/O lung contusion in RLL, basal segments and RML
• Right moderate pleural effusion and pneumothorax, small

Guess I hit the ground harder than I thought………………During this whole process I had the pleasure of being introduced to Shirley Palmer the Clinic Practise manager, a South African who has been in the role for four years and in consultation with the treating doctor she left no stone unturned. Bloody amazing lady full of reassurance I really need to say a big thank you to her and her wonderful staff. Anyway the doctor said that there was not much point in keeping me in as it would only be observation until the next appointment on Monday morning. So armed with emergency contact numbers over the weekend I headed back to the hotel with the strict instruction to keep still and preferably do not leave the hotel until I returned on Monday. Given the pain it wasn’t hard to comply.

Now you are not allowed to fly with a pneumothorax so even if the recommendation on Monday is to go home then that will have to dissipate first before any flying can occur.

Monday finally came and after more x-rays they determined that the pneumothorax and retreated and the pleural effusion was improving so it was rest, rest and more rest, definitely no more riding of motorcycles and a big rethink on how I would proceed………………..??
So what is it or not about UB? Ulaanbaatar (UB) is the capital of Mongolia and with 45% of the country’s population of 2.9m living there it is no small city. Outside this city towns and services decline quickly and the people are still quite nomadic. The least densely populated country in the world with two people per sq. /km you can understand why. Infrastructure is slowly improving but both east and west many roads are still just tracks heading in a direction. With extremes of climate these people are a very hardy bunch and even though I have been shown the most amazing hospitality and kindness this country ranks as one of my least favourites………………….it’s just a feeling, not sure they are really ready for tourism or even that they really want it, you get the feeling or vibe that they are wondering why you are there in their country? However once I started to move around I visited some of the museums and palaces which were interesting as one thing is for sure, as in Central Asia this place is steeped in history.

And let’s not forget about the food………………or maybe we should  As warned in Russia there is lots of lamb (read mutton) in Mongolia along with beef and horse and a variety of other hooved creatures but often not done well, with flavours let’s say not suited to the western palate. Cooked with lots of fat in the stews, other dishes tend to be tough and vegetables are in short supply. Outside UB loads of dairy products in a variety of forms from both sheep and goats but all in all I would not describe it as a developed cuisine as you would find in other Asian countries nearby. I think it reflects the environment in which they live but it has sustained them for centuries hence it can’t be too bad however you wouldn’t put this place on your gastronomic tour map! Worthy of note is the local “buuz” a great snack food safe to eat just about anywhere but go careful on the “milk tea”

The group arrived Tuesday evening, tired and scared; Mongolia had taken its toll. Everyone in the group bar one had been down and the results were not great. Romeo had to bail the day after me and transported himself and his bike as well as mine on a 17 hour truck trip back to UB. He was badly bruised and needed rest to recover, another SOS patient. Whiskey had a severe laceration to his right leg, Tango had a deep gouge out of his left leg where the handle bar made on impression and Robin who was helping out had a rib injury that was later confirmed as severe bruising. I returned the favour from Oscar and using Shirley’s mobile number called her after hours and arranged appointments for all the next morning.

With the itinerary having us leaving on Friday 15th to head back to Russia it was now time for some serious discussion on what to do………………….Oscar with his broken leg was definitely a no go to continue and was making arrangements to head home to Perth but we both had the issue of getting the bikes out of Mongolia and back in to Russia which can be a very complicated process if you as the owner are not with the bike. As Rommie was riding Oscar’s bike now Mick suggested that I ship my bike home from UB to which I flatly refused as I have already paid for the return hence the bike needs to go back to Russia and be shipped back with the other bikes to Australia. After much discussion it was decided that Oscar and I would travel in the truck and accompany the bikes back into Russia. Robin would ride mine and expressed a desire to ride it the whole way to Magadan, what a great solution. However there was the issue of Mick……….Robin has been contracted to produce the documentary and Mick did not want to risk that Robin may injure himself and not be able to finish the filming. I can understand that, a valid commercial consideration for the company. But he also did not want to carry my bike to Magadan partly because of the trailer issues and also in case someone else became injured and needed their bike transported……………..there is only room for one bike……….What did I say earlier about the trailer design and its adequacy?? Anyway the compromise was that Oscar and I would bail in Ulan Ude and I would arrange to get my bike transported to Vladivostok by train to the Compass agent there (Yuri) and he would hold it until all the bikes came down from Magadan them ship them all back to Australia. Yuri through Mick gave me a contact in Ulan Ude to assist with the transport requirements. So once over the border Mick had a camping night planned and I thought well at least this will give me an indication of whether I could continue with the group or not as there is lots of camping coming up…..one night was enough to tell me it was way too early…………I struggled with the tent setup and getting in and out of the damn thing so some time out in Ulan Ude is sounding like a good idea :-)

Posted by ScottyJ 18:25 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

Ulan Ude and a lesson in Russian logistics

……………nothing ever really goes to plan or does it?

sunny 24 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

We arrived Saturday midday in Ulan Ude and had lunch in the main square with the entire group and said our goodbyes. Alpha had arrived the night before and had decided to stay another night to catch up with Oscar and me over dinner and say goodbye. Oscar and Alpha have been roomies since the beginning; I thought that a great gesture. If I had known earlier I would have made contact with the agent, Chingiz earlier or even the day before (should not that have been done by Mick) as by this time all the transport companies were closed for the weekend and it was now going to have to be Monday morning. Not knowing what, where or how the bike transport thing was going to unravel I could not yet book anything onward until I had the bike delivered. It was a very sunny and pleasant Saturday afternoon and much of it was spent people watching in the main city square that was obviously popular with the locals.

After a little nanna nap we met downstairs at the coffee shop to decide on our last supper and met a few more bikers who had rolled in during the afternoon. Shalom from Israel and Beth from California had been riding together for around eight months but were spending their last couple of days together in Ulan Ude before Shalom headed back to Greece and the boat to Israel and Beth to Vladivostok to ship her bike back home to the US. Later that evening we were also joined by Levant the solo rider from Turkey and a ride buddy of the blokes who had met us at the Turkish border, gotta love the way the world works sometimes. We had a great dinner with all sharing experiences and ride stories before saying our farewells and heading home……all except Alpha who quickly hooked up with some locals and went clubbing!! So much for his 650km day tomorrow.

Alpha rolled out about 11am while Oscar and I went for a lazy lunch at Churchill’s on the square. He had booed on the Trans-Siberian and was departing at 0418 the following morning to Vladivostok (VVO) then onto Pusan in Korea where his son is now working then back to Perth. So soon there was one, me and when I woke up Monday morning I pumped to get things happening…….get the bike delivered and book some travel. Chingiz arrived at 10am and I had sent him a text the day before and said that as I don’t have a helmet I could not ride and we may need a trailer. In Russia there is always a way. Chingiz arrived with a plastic bike helmet that just squeezed onto my head….the law is you need to cover your head, no specifications, we were good. What a look and surprisingly it didn’t turn too many heads……it was only around about 8km to the transport company depot and yes I was riding very cautiously!

Now the fun begins and I learn to play the game. Parked at the loading dock I was advised that the bike needed to be empty of fuel…………….what?? It only had about a litre in it and draining an 800 without tools is a challenge not to mention where……….so this is how you do it. Find one piece of rubber hose and insert into the fuel tank, pretend to suck on the hose as if siphoning whilst at the same time take an empty soft drink bottle with water and spray the nearby ground in order that it looks wet and represent drained fuel………….have the acceptance clerk acknowledge the damp patch and slip him 1000 roubles. Next you need at declaration form an auto service centre to say the tank is empty. Normally the machine would have to be there but for a small fee the paperwork is obtained, return to loading dock and present. I am then advised that the battery needs to be disconnected………now this on an 800 is a real pain. Solution; remove your seat and tank bag pull off an electrical connection or two (and quickly replace), job done; certainly looked like I was disconnecting something! Weigh bike (give him a number) and measure the dimension, now this was very accurate as they are going to build a crate for the bike. Take your paperwork to the office and within a very short time the very efficient girls in the office will be handing you your consignment note, which you can’t read anyway. Now jump in the car with your agent, pay him his fee of 2500 roubles for his half day’s work (best $75 I’ve spent in a while) return to the hotel all the time glancing at this piece of paper that represents the motorbike that you have just left in the middle of Russia…..the question arises will I see it again but everything else in the Russian system worked this morning so I’ve no doubt this will too :-) Did I say it’s great being back in Russia, it is!

Posted by ScottyJ 18:35 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Boyhood Dream No.2

………..Trans-Siberian Express

sunny 22 °C

Decisions, decisions…………..? I’m committed to being in Magadan for the end but do I go to Vladivostok (VVO) and fly or meet the group in Yakutsk (YKS) and spend the last 5 days travelling in the truck on the actual Road of Bones and finish with the group? You’re right if you picked the latter. This break should have me being up to the camping and if not I’ll just have to HTFU!!

Back in the hotel I was on the net researching, planes and trains and loving it! Banged out an email to a rail booking company in St Petersburg asking for a seat on Tuesday mornings train…………..Now if you are going to realise a boyhood dream and take a trip on the Trans-Siberian Express it has to be done well……one 1st class seat with a low bunk left for the 50 hour trip from Ulan Ude to Khabarovsk (KHV), I’ll take it! Next two nights’ accommodation in KHV, is this really happening the only 5* hotel offering a half price value deal on booking.com for my two nights, Parus Hotel…yes I’ll take it! Next flights to Yakutsk (YKS), great S7 has a direct flight Saturday night leaving me two days with the group before we head off on the final leg and did I say S7 is a oneworld member……………bonus points!

What did I say about things not going to plan….well I guess sometimes you’re just lucky and it does? So out of all the drama and trauma from the accident this cloud now has a silver lining. I can’t describe how positively excited I am about this train trip, something I have had on my bucket list for 40+ years!!

I was up before the alarm, taxi booked and like an eager schoolboy standing on the platform well before the train arrived…………..even though it was the wrong platform I did find the right one in the end………..platforma chitihri nye adin :-)

Posted by ScottyJ 18:42 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

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