September 29, 2009 GMT
Street Children in UB
Yesterday I visited the Christina Noble Children's Foundation- a charity that I have been raising money for - it was a very sobering experience, meeting some of the children they help and hearing about what some of them have been through, there seems to be quite a bit of child abandonment here - one boy was put on a train and his Dad jumped off again leaving him on it alone heading to UB, a lot of the children have been abused in one form or another.
The charity runs a ger (yurt) village for kids who are abandoned or orphaned and they also work with the street kids who live underground in the pipework system during the winter when the temperature can be -40 degrees centigrade for days on end.They use the manholes to gain access and only come out for a few hours during the day to beg and try to get food.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 09:51 AM
September 28, 2009 GMT
Winter is Coming and I am still in Mongolia
The rotor has gone on the alternator- this had been recently repaired but has now gone again and so currently I am waiting for DHL's finest to deliver a replacement rotor to me as quickly as they can.
I have got good company, some backpagkers and also Colebatch is in town - from the Sibirsky Extreme Project. He is my current roommate and has turned out to be as messy as I am.
He has been regaling me with stories about how cold Siberia is now- in response I have gone out and stocked up on various items of cashmere clothing (it's very cheap here)ranging from socks and gloves to a jumper and hat- I'n going to need it.
I have got 6000kms of Siberia to get across to reach Vladivostock.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 07:16 AM
September 25, 2009 GMT
Lost in the Gobi
I am 24 hours later getting back to UB than I expected as...I got lost in the Gobi, not a huge drama (OK it is half a million square miles of nothing), but I realised I had gone too far East - I had not been concentrating on the track itself as I was having fun and challenging myself with riding a 280Kg bike on sand.Then when I looked up I thought "this doesn't look right", but kept going just thinking I was being paranoid as I'd had a couple of false "I'm lost" scares on the way down.
Finally when I realised there really were no kilometre posts - usually an irregular marker but an indicator that it IS the right route, I then headed for the nearest goatherders to ask - well, they appeared to be beating their animals so I didn't want to hang around for long. And anyway, as is usual in the Gobi, there is a limited concept of roads and routes as it is all open countryside so you are never "lost" and the only information is a finger pointing in which ever compass direction you need to go- regardless of any tracks or otherwise on the ground.
So I took a deep breath left the track I was on and headed cross country. I stopped the next locals I saw - a couple of blokes on a motorbike who also pointed vaguely and told me I had 120 kms to go, and in case you're thinking I have magically become fluent in Mongolian, they wrote doen for me how far to go - I gave them the opening gambit of "km" and also the name of the town I was attempting to find, as yes true to form, I can't even seem to pronounce the towns correctly with that guttural, saliva in the throat rasp that they use,the town was called Mandalgovi (google images of it if you want - anything that is not a dusty, windswept looking place is the wrong Mandalgovi!).
I rode north knowing that at some point I would see the power cables that run alongside the road and eventually I did find some, but there was no parallel track and as I hunted around for one, my fuel ran out and I was onto reserve- about 30 miles worth left in the bottom of the tank now - oh dear.
I went to a couple of gers to ask for the route but they were locked up. I finally walked up to the top of a hill with my trusty monocular in hand and managed to spot what looked like several rooftops glittering in the sunshine, I took a rough bearing on them (Charlie Coates style) and returned to Thelma. I don't know what it was I saw but I didn't manage to find it, however to cut a long story short I stumbled across quite a main looking track and suddenly around a corner it was Hallelujah as power poles appeared alonside it and further on it had kilometre markers- I had managed to find the right track.
I spotted a lone hordeman herding his cows and asked him about petrol (benzine) - but despite smiling nicely the answer was ugui (no in Mongolian), 500 metres further on and I completely ran out of fuel. Evening was fast approaching so I put up my tent and waited for someone to pass- nothing came. I wasn't too worried as I always carry a few days food and water with me and also the horseman's ger wasn't too far away if I did need something (as long as it wasn't petrol).
In the end it was 18 hours until a vehicle appeared - a slow, lumbering bus.
I ran out and flagged it down- it was already very over-crowded but the driver let me squeeze on - everyone moved along a bit for me and I was given the second step to sit on- sharing with a plump, middle-aged Mongolian woman who kept falling asleep on my shoulder - luckily I only had about 30 miles of this until we reached town.
At the petrol station the woman doing the pumps grasped my situation quite quickly - she found a container adn then pointed me inthe direction of the next bus to depart - there was a veritable multitude of buses revving up -not sure which route they were all taking but it certainly was not the main road past my tent.
I got on to find there was plenty of space - I even had a whole seat to myself, and there was a bit of a party atmosphere on board - a communal bottle of airag (fermented mares' milk) was doing the rounds - it seemed rude to refuse so I had a few swigs of it.
when we reached Thelma - standing on her own in the desert, the whole bus disembarked to have a look and comment on this strange foreigner and her mini ger.
Fuelled up once more, off I headed- determined not to lose the track again. Just as a cold north wind started to blow.
I froze coming over the mountain range out of the Gobi- with banks of snow reminiscent of the high mountain passes in Tajikistan.
I have limped back into Ulaanbaatar and will be here for a few days.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 07:11 AM
September 20, 2009 GMT
Sandstorms and Yaks
Two days of being chauffeured around in a trusty Russian jeep which was fine until I looked under the bonnet and noticed it was all held together with bits of wire (and I don't even know much about engines).
Reminder to self, don't go lifting bonnets of vehicles you are travelling in unless you want a shock.
I had the highly unusual experience of seeing yaks in the middle of a desert - not normally known for their love of sweltering temperatures, these ones live in an isolated ice-filled valley close to the centre of the Gobi, usually the valley is covered with several metres of ice all year round except for a couple of months in summer.
Our driver Timbe was excellent at handling the jeep inthe sand and assured me I would have got my bike through it.
We passed remote gers in the most bleakest landscapes imaginable with no visible sources of water and not a scrap of greenery anywhere.
We camped by the largest sand dunes in the Gobi - over 300 metres high- incredibly dramatic in appearance though not to be repeated in the photos as a sandstorm blew up and our view of them was not good. The next morning the sandstorm had worsened and there was no sun for over three hours -so our plan to get sunrise pictures was abandoned; instead we struggled to get our tents down in the storm.
Our final destination were the Flaming Cliffs- a mini- Grand Canyon of red coloured escarpments and bluffs famous for their dinosaur fossils, once more the sandstorm beat us there so although we could see the cliffs, it was at great personal risk of being blown over the edge of them
Posted by tiffanycoates at 07:09 AM
September 16, 2009 GMT
Going on Safari
have searched the town and haven't been able to find any other bike travellers- or even any tourists except two, I was hoping to get info about the potential routes and roads(sandy tracks if I'm honest) ahead and I got some limited words of advice that if I follow the electricity wires to the north west of the town I will eventually reach the next settlement after 100kms.
Which sounds fine to me, but the reality is that the sandy tracks don't follow the wires and so I will at times be out of sight of the main tracks - not a good idea if anything goes wrong and I need help. Though to be honest there is a scarcity of tarffic, in four hours I saw one car and two local bikes as I rode here the other day and that was on the main road from UB.
It's never a good idea to head into the desert alone- especially when you don't even have a GPS.
The two french tourists I met have invited me to join them in their jeep as they do a two to three day safari around the main canyons, sights and sand dunes of the area. Was I precious and saying "Oh no, I need to do this trip on my bike" - was I hell. I have jumped at the chance to be chauffeur-driven for a change.
A bientot as they say in France.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 07:07 AM
September 15, 2009 GMT
Destination: Gobi Desert
The mechanic has done a good job and Thelma is restored once more to the slightly battered condition she was in previously- with a bit of a cosmetic surgery job done on the windscreen.
With my route being led by dozens of gerbils all leaping out of the way I mademy way southwards across Central Mongolia.
I made the unfortunate discovery that my limited map of the country does not distinguish between paved roads and gravel tracks and I ended up on 400 miles of gravel and corrugations leading into the Gobi with just one town halfway along it. I have tried to make the bike lighter by sorting through all the stuff I carry- my luggage has been pruned and I only have the essentials with me, though I know others will raise their eyebrows at what I deem are essentials - as this includes a bag of apples, two beetroot and half a kilo of broccoli!
Vegetarians are not well catered for in Mongolia and I have nasty feeling that the Gobi Desert will prove even more so.
I was a bit cautious riding initially (my first journey since the fall) but then with the realisation that if I continued at that sort of pace it would take me five days to get to the Gobi I picked up speed a bit. Which was just as well as the sand started then - as I had been warned, there are quite a lot of sandy patches in the Gobi!
As I'm on my own, I am trying not to take too many risks, but also aware that I need the speed to get that gliding feel across the sand and not be wrestling with it, which isn't easy on a 280kg bike, and I have managed it so far.
Possibly due to this increased speed on rough tracks, the pannier racks on both sides have snapped big time - probably due to earlier damage from the accident two weeks ago and which was not obvious, so I ended up with a Heath Robinson-type arrangement at one point with both panniers piled on the seat behind me!
Luckily, as I have got less luggage now there is only me on the bike, I had left the topbox (AKA pizza delivery box due to its size) in UB so I had a fair bit of room to arrange stuff and made good use of that African standby - strips of inner tubes to secure them with.
I limped into the town of Mandalgovi and managed to find a welder who promptly got to work while a small crowd gathered to see this Englishwoman and her mangled pannier racks.
48 hours after leaving UB I arrived at Dalanzadgad, a one horse desert town (though it does have an Internet cafe). I am staying in a ger (yurt) while I work out which direction to go in next. The town has had no power for five days so even the beers are not chilled but they still taste good after the sandstorms and dust I have encountered to get here.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 07:05 AM
September 10, 2009 GMT
Retrieving Thelma and theArt of Marmot Smuggling
With Ian safely home in England, I could now turn my attention to Thelma who had been languishing in a shed in Eastern Mongolia for a week. Arrangements were made that I would go with the watchman from the Oasis hostel where I've been staying, and that we would go in a pick-up truck.
It turned out to be a very long day as my eight hour round trip to Ondorkhaan (which needs to be said in a Mongolian accent with a bit of saliva at the back of the throat) became a non-stop 14 hour slog in which I was squashed in the middle seat of the little pick-up truck cab wedged in between two Mongolian blokes who spoke no English, I had an exceedingly numb backside by the end of the journey and felt like I could barely walk. I was also feeling very nauseous- luckily I already had my travel sick wristbands on due to the nausea from my painkillers- I decided I'd better stay off the tablets for the rest of the day.
Our slow progress was partly due to the fact that the main road heading east out of the city was closed - as this is one of only two tarmac roads in the whole country it led to a long detour on dirt tracks and to my disappointment I found that after one and a half hours of hard driving we were still only 46 kms from Ulaanbaatar. I settled in for a lengthy journey, enjoying Baatar and Banyu's hatter about the various gers (yurts) and horse we passed. One of my main fears had been how well they would tie Thelma down for the return trip, but I needn't have worried as they did an excellent job using straps and various ropes.
We had an interrupted journey on the way back as the driver stopped at a couple of gers, making enquiries, we then shot into the nearest town and parked up in a quiet corner near the market. My curiosity was raised further by the sight of a woman scurrying down the street with a carrier bag, she furtively looked around and then handed the bag over in exchange for some banknotes. Baatar quickly wrapped the bag in his jacket and stuffed it onto the seat between us. Intrigued, I tried to find out what it was but they were not very forthcoming. Twenty minutes later we passed a police checkpoint and shortly after that they opened up the bag and showed me some meat and the roasted head of something that bore a distinct resemblance to the roasted guinea pigs of South America. It was a marmot and they seemed very pleased with themselves.
Later back at the hostel as all the staff gathered round to share in the feast I was given the full story- roasted marmots are considered a delicacy in Mongolia and the animals are now an endangered species, the government has taken action declaring it illegal to kill them and that anyone found with a dead marmot is heavily fined. I can just imagine that appearing on my criminal record.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 07:03 AM
September 07, 2009 GMT
Losing my Pillion
My guilt at feeling partially responsible for Ian's injury was eased a bit as I got up at the unearthly hour of 4.30am to accompany him to the airport this morning. He is coping well with his injury, although he has taken to the distressing habit of wearing his sandals a lot - even with socks so that he can do his shoes himself ( he is unable to tie shoelaces). He has some great bruises and one shoulder is at a funny angle and is much bigger than the other one giving him a hunched over appearance.
So if anyone is at Heathrow this afternoon, keep an eye out for Quasimodo.
Meantime, I have got a motorbike to retrieve from a shed in Ondorkhaan.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 07:01 AM
September 02, 2009 GMT
Accident in Mongolia
As some of you will have heard, Ian's trip to Mongolia has not gone well. Two days into our trip heading East, I was riding when we hit a patch of mud which for some reason spun us out of control and flipped the bike over. We both came off, as the ultimate sacrifice I provided a soft landing for Ian but he damaged his shoulder (I am more or less OK, just a bit battered and bruised).
It was evening, and a very quiet road so we set up the tent, had a cup of tea and went to bed. The next morning I hitch-hiked into the town (called Ondorkhaan), 20kms away and went to the hospital, truth is I was actually only trying to get a pick up truck to retrieve Thelma, but the message got a bit mixed. However the hospital were brilliant and I soon found myself in a jeep with a driver, a doctor and the driver's mate.
We arrived at the tent to find it empty and that actually Ian was sat in a truck nearby in the warmth of the cabin sharing a meal with the truck driver who was more than happy to meet a Westerner in this unlikely manner.
The doctor made a quick examination and put a sling on Ian (who's shoulder was pointing in two different directions). The men then all had a good look at Thelma - in fact the doc spent more time looking at the bike than examining his patient. They heaved the frame at the front back towards its original position. Thelma started first turn of the key and the driver's mate hopped on and rode Thelma back to town - grinning widely all the way- he had never had an opportunity to ride such a big bike before.
With my sore neck I was happy to take things easy in the jeep.
The hospital took x-rays and said his shoulder needs an operation and told us to go to Ulaanbaatar - the capital city (200 miles away). Or at least we think that is what they said as no-one spoke any English but the x-ray was clear enough.
We were quite happy to not hang around for further treatment as we had by now realised that they might have an x-ray machine but they had no running water at the hospital.
The transport side of things got a bit complicated and we ended up waiting 24 hours before we finally set off. Leaving Thelma locked up in the hotel's garage.
The hospital in UB took more x-rays and has confirmed the ligaments in Ian's shoulder are severely torn and that he needs an operation to pin them back together.
We are currently waiting to hear from his insurance company about flying him home as soon as possible.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 07:00 AM