July 08, 2006 GMT
Going north

The trip is going slowly but surely. Iím making small steps, never more than forty to fifty kilometers a day after leaving Beijing, and a bit more north of Zhangjiakou. Iím trying to respect as much as I can the journey made by that woman in 1862 from Beijing to Moscow. Until Zhangjiakou the names of the places have remained basically the same and were easy to find, but after Zhangjiakou cities and villages had not yet been built at the time, and she, and her companions, had to camp every night in the middle of nowhere all the way to Urga, the former name of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

I didnít need to camp but Iíve had to stay in a few remote places during the past few days, like on July the 4th in the tiny village of Deng You Fang. In late afternoon, the police burst into my room. They wanted to know where I was coming from, where I was going and why stopping here instead of a city a bit further north or south. I had to explain my plan and told them that probably 150 years before me, a woman had camped in the vicinity. They checked my passport and left the room.

Two days later, I entered the Gobi desert north of Xianguang Qi where the asphalt road stops. I took a bus and we rode on a dirt, or rather a dust road heading northwest until we connected with the main road to Mongolia south of Xi Su Qi. The day was extremely hot, the road condition not too good and many people inside the bus got sick. A new highway is being built south of the Mongolian border to Beijing. Itíll probably be ready for the Mongolian delegation to use it for their participation at the 2008 Olympic Games.

A lot of motorbikes can be seen, small cylinder mostly, never more than 150cc, but sometimes with big frames that make them look like Harley. Motorbikes are mostly used by farmer but also by city folks who canít afford to buy cars, and by young guys who want to look cool.

Iím now in the border town of Erlian, on the Chinese side, and Iím planning to cross into Mongolia today or tomorrow. Some Mongolian guys I met yesterday have offered to sell me a motorbike and to help me cross the border with it. I said thanks but no thanks. I already have to go back to pick up a motorbike at a Chinese border somewhere east, I donít want to spend my time traveling around Asia to collect my bikes wherever theyíve been impounded.

Posted by Fabrice Blocteur at 03:30 AM GMT
July 22, 2006 GMT
Across Mongolia

Iíve got a new Chinese visa since yesterday and Iím going to be able to go back to China, as soon as I leave Mongolia, to pick up my motorbike at the border near Vladivostok. The plan, after I have my bike, is to cross Russia all the way to Europe.

After arriving in Mongolia from China on July 8th, I took a night train and went directly to Ulaanbaatar. I wanted to see the Naadam festival which was just starting three days later. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook: ďPart family reunion, par fair and part Olympics, Naadam (meaning Ďholidayí or Ďfestivalí) has its roots in the normal assemblies and hunting extravaganzas of the Mongol armiesĒ. Itís like also like a Chinese New Year, meaning that almost everything is closed.

Itís the biggest event of the Mongolian year for foreigners and locals alike. Small Naadams are held throughout the country but the one that competitors as well as spectators want to attend is the one held in Ulaanbaatar for three days starting July 11th.

After the festival was over I went back south into the Gobi desert to restart my itinerary where I had left it. I started in the small village or Irdin and slowly headed north by train from one station to the next. On July 16th I arrived at around 10:30 pm in the small town of Sainshand which is supposed to be one of Mongoliaís most dusty, dry and windblown aimag (provincial) capitals.

Outside the station, I met a businessman from Ulaanbaatar who helped me found a small hotel. As I was beginning to take a shower, I got electrocuted inside the bathroom and my journey almost ended there. I still donít understand how I managed to extract my body, which was violently shacking under the 220v electric current, from that bathroom.

I remained half unconscious on the bedroom floor for a while where the receptionist found me. She called that businessman who had brought me there and he arrived soon after with a doctor who gave me an injection to revive me. They had to carry me to my bed. I couldnít walk. They left at around two oíclock and at three oíclock the police woke me up to check my passport. The receptionist told them what had happened and that I couldnít get up. They managed to take my name and my nationality and left.

The next morning I was feeling a bit better although my entire body was still very painful. I needed to do something somehow intensive and positive in order to put that awful experience behind me. I decided to go into the middle of the Gobi desert to visit a confluence. The closest was less than 20km away from the city. I called that businessman again and asked him if heíd be interested to join me.

We rented a Russian jeep with a driver and we made it across the desert directly to the point with the help of my GPS. We found the confluence with the skeleton of a cow lying less than ten meters away. Except that carcass, there were just a few plants here and there which are made into a concoction by nomads to ease stomach pain.

The same day I left Sainshand late at night; again by train. Finally, on the 19th, I found a car in the village of Airag that took me directly to Ulaanbaatar where Iím going to stay for a couple of days.

Posted by Fabrice Blocteur at 04:51 AM GMT

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