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Photo by Bettina Hoebenreich, At the foot of the Bear Glaciers, eternal ice, British Columbia, Canada

Adventure is what you make it

Photo by Bettina Hoebenreich, at the foot of the Bear Glaciers, British Columbia, Canada.

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Old 12 Dec 2013
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Mongolia: offroad adventure heaven

Hi folks - we are two of the many currently on their way aound the world.
I should actually use this time now to work on our China and SE Asia blog but stumbeled across Mongolia while sorting fotos and remembered the wonderful time we had there and thought I should do some advertising for this wonderful country - so here the short version of our blog:

Our first experience at the border of this country: these lot here are a lot more relaxed then those on all other borders of the eastern bloc countries. The officers are laughing and joking at passport control and I am told that I could have saved a lot of money had we come later as from 1st of September Germans won’t need visa for Mongolia anymore.
The landscape changes quite quickly and to us it looks and feels a little bit like Wales: the grassy hills and the amount of sheep which are everywhere. All livestock is running around freely and the few fields with potatoes or cabbage are fenced in so they are not being eaten by the animals. Everywhere are grazing herds of cattle (in some areas, yaks) sheep, horses and camels.
You can stop and pitch a tent wherever you like (only once we had a bit of explanation to do as we had camped just outside a gold mine without realizing it) - sometimes you get a visit from shepherds on horseback or on a small Chinese motorbike. People are quite shy and unobtrusive, but also very interested in us strangers. What was true in other countries so far is no different here: Our Liza is the icebreaker that gives us a chance to meet people despite of all the communication problems and no matter where we stop we are immediately surrounded by laughing locals and we owe her many wonderful experiences.
We first head for 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. There are about 1.4 million people living here , which for a capital really is not very much and there is also a ruling which allows only vehicles with certain license plates on the roads every day - yet this city is sinking in a perma-jam . At every 2nd Intersection is a traffic cop who only manages to make the situation even worse. On the outskirts cattle markets are held horses are grazing at the roadside and even in the midst of chaos we see cows grazing in a dry river bed. Despite a few modern skyscrapers in the city center most people live in Ghers or single-storey small houses with squeaky colorful roofs, which give the whole place the flair of a countryside small town.
On our Internet search for a workshop to provide some spares we came across a hostel that other travelers have touted as saving assistance in all aspects of life : the Oasis - a meeting point for long-distance travelers from all over the world where you can rent a traditional Gher or just a bed in hostel-style rooms. A venus-trap for travelers. It lures the well-traveled with functioning showers,sit-on toilets , a restaurant , free and functioning WiFi, a laundry service and hair salon in the house as well as multi-lingual staff ( one even speaks fluent German ! ) and when you are settled it snaps . Here you now sit with all the interesting types with which you are exchanging travel stories ,give and receive tips for the journey , repair your bike while others help or watch sit for hours on the computer and finally bring the website up to date while getting up now and then to fetch a from the fridge...... many planned to stay one or two nights and end up surprised to suddenly find out a whole month has passed.
We only want to stop here to apply for our China visas , organize a better spring for the throttle cable and new wheel bearings for the rear wheel . The streets and tracks from the Ukraine through Kazakhstan and Russia have taken their toll on our good girl. On the black market , a huge bazaar , where you can really find pretty much everything if you're looking hard enough we're lucky - in a bin we find a spring that we only need to shorten a bit and bend it slightly and patient search also rewards us with fitting bearings. The next morning everything is being put together and soon we are ready for a week in the mountains where we want to visit an old monastery .
Most of the road is even paved, which is a rarity here because in most cases, the tarmac roads are interspersed with mile-long road-works that need to be bypassed by sandy tracks . These tracks then divide again and again like a fan , but somehow they all go in the same direction and so one tries to find the one with the fewest potholes , corrugated iron ruts and / or soft sand in which our outfit tends to really dig in. 60 km before Erdenet one of these tracks branches of - it leads to the monastery, which we want to visit. We have to travel across a stream and a river the water rises up to the engine block , it sizzles and smokes , but we make it through. We have countless steep hills to climb with the sidecar in some quite precarious angles and we are extremely pleased that the tracks are dry. Since there is a complete lack of signs we ask ourselves every now and then , if we are still going in the right direction (maybe we should have taken one of the other tracks? ) and it is almost dark , as a valley opens up and the monastery complex appears in front of us .
We camp at a picturesque river near a Gher-village , watching the shepherds (10 year-old children with their smaller siblings sitting on the horses as if they were grown out of them ) , drive the goats, sheep and horses through the river and are invited by a Mongol for tea and sheep soup - both taste unexpectedly delicious.
The next day we visit the monastery and because it starts to drizzle , we turn the prayer wheels , donate 500 Turik (25 cents) and burn incense for a safe journey back have a quick sightseeing tour around the complex, which is a shame , because the monastery really is worth seeing, but we have a feeling that the return trip is not going to be a Sunday ride-out in the rain.
Although we have tried to bribe Buddha the drizzle soon turns into continuous rain and the sand turns into a slippery mud track - it is only thanks to the active help of many Mongols that we get through at all. Again and again the heavy outfit digs itself into ruts. I try to push her out but I find no grip for the mud is like wet soap. While I push with all my might my feet just slip away from under me and I land sometimes on the back sometimes on the face and always in the thickest mud. In the end, I am so caked in it and you could easily stick me in an oven burn me into a terracotta-soldier. Many Mongolians are in all-wheel driven vehicles or on the small agile Shineray Chinese bikes , but still , some have the same problem as us and so we all stick together. Anyone who has managed a section waits for the others and helps pushing when it is necessary. We need 5 hours for 35 km, but we make it , which is in most part due to the active help of the men and women who have formed a kind of community of fate. Despite the circumstances there is a lot of laughter ,which also keeps me from sinking into gloom , or just giving up . When we finally get back to solid tar under the wheels I have to stop myself from climbing out of the sidecar and kissing the asphalt. It is these experiences after all that are the icing on the cake of the traveler - what would you have to tell otherwise ?
After a week in the mountains with lots of nature we are looking forward to the Oasis and a shower. We pick up our China visa - everything runs like clockwork.
Then we meet Tom and Abby - two Australians who like we want to travel in the direction of Karakorum and White Lake next and because we get on so well, we decide to ride there together .
Tom has rented one of the small Chinese bikes for a week because his Triumph Boneville won’t be any good in that terrain and we head out . They both have our sense of humor and the same interests - and so we spend a week together in an incredibly beautiful setting and enjoy the freedom of being able to camp anywhere. We cook together and help each other out of trouble again and again - we have to fix a broken brake bracket in the sidecar and manage to get stuck in the odd river bed. Tom needs to change the wheel bearings on his Chinese bike. We take pictures of each other and so finally there are some pics on which we are both . Karakorum I find a bit overrated and the temple is not a patch on the one we have visited before , but the scenery is incredible especially from Tsertserleg to the White Lake. A river has cut a gorge in lava rock and provides dramatic views , we are completely captured by the wild mountain scenery – one could go all soppy over this.
Once we stop to take pictures of golden eagles , which jointly with buzzards feast on the remains of slaughtering which is sometimes just done in the fields - it must be around 20 (in words: twenty ! ) eagles or more. Unbelievable - I think of the many times where I saw one of the giant birds circling in the sky high above me and I almost peed my pants with excitement ( these are the pictures where you can see a brown dot in the sky and I quite excitedly declare that the little dot was a golden eagle honestly) - my idea of the lonely king of the skies has suffered some over the fact that these birds mingle here as ordinary scavengers with the inferiors rather than the majestically and lonely riding on thermals.
We are relatively slow because we have to keep stopping for photos and are then also usually quickly surrounded by people who admire us and our bikes , Tom and Abby are not left out here because to the locals it seems probably admirable that tourists are traveling on their horse substitutes. In addition, the road to a large extent only consist of sand tracks and here we are moving quite slow as the sidecar keeps digging in on a loose surface and it is difficult to find a good line for our two-track vehicle. Again and again I almost get catapulted out of the sidecar when Kevin slams through a hole. Abby is faring no better on the back seat of Tom's bike and I see her lift off again and again - we are probably all very mad to love this kind of traveling so much or just simply masochists.
After a week we are once again at the Oasis and here we meet Johan - the first from the troop with which we will ride through China and we decide to drive to the border together. On the way we want to make a detour to the Khan statue (a 250 t stainless steel Ghengis Kahn of 30 m hight glittering across the steppe) and spend a night in a nature reserve. At the statue we meet Anna and James – another 2 from the China Tripp and they also decide to ride towards the border with us.
The Nature Reserve is a new side of the Mongolian landscape and we are again very impressed .
The next 2 days we ride through the Gobi desert - very flat, a lot of nothing and of a minimalistic beauty that just adds another layer to this wonderful country . Again, we are captured by nature. Driving is sometimes difficult in the soft sand in true desert style – it proves quite demanding at times even more so than the sand and dust tracks before.
We truly loved all we got to see of Mongolia but 3 and a half weeks are definitely too short to see the second largest landlocked country in the world. The whole country has fewer inhabitants than there are cars in Beijing , making it the most sparsely populated country in the world , with 40 % of the inhabitants living in the capital . Therefore, there are so few paved roads - the nomads with their cattle are used to it - unfortunately , people are not accustomed to plastic waste and throw everything out the window (sometimes you really have to take care when overtaking , not to get an empty can , or worse on the head ) or leave their garbage simply behind. Once a Mongol watching me as I stowed a bag of rubbish in the sidecar and motioned me with gestures , that I could also throw it away - my indignant rejection he could not understand .
It is to be hoped that this will change but people just have too much space and the waste disposal system is still in its infancy - I could, however, imagine the growing tourism possibly could be a kind of educational crowbar here . This is actually the only negative aspect I can think of for this wonderful country - if you like comfort , however , are vegetarian (and possibly even have an aversion to carrots and cabbage) you will not feel comfortable here .
For campers , nature lovers and off-road enthusiasts , Mongolia is heaven on earth . You don’t necessarily have to drive all the way here - we met 2 Germans at the Oasis, who flew here and bought new Chinese motorcycles for 600, - € rode around the country on them for 4 weeks and then sold them again for 300,- € - it’s quite easy really.
In any case We will definitely come back sometime.

If you'd like to read the full blog it's on
Startseite - holfordsaufweltreise Webseite!
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Old 12 Dec 2013
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Thank you for sharing your experiences and pictures :-)

I try to memorize the venus-trap - for the time i will cross there

The offroad heaven is there where you go wheeling, don`t know if you can set that fix to mongolia ;-)

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