Archive | September, 2011

23rd September – Onwards to Tsetserleg

24 Sep

As we were washing up after the evening meal a couple of local herders came and visited to see if we had a cigarette or a tipple of vodka. We only had a little bit of wine and a few cream wafer biscuits. Not what they wanted but they were very friendly and grateful as they left. Before they went they made wolf noises and pointed behind into the pines by our camp spot. Great thanks, while I was dreaming of water crossings all night, Marjool dreamt of wolves!!

It was certainly a chilly night and although our spot had the last sun of the evening, it was a long time before the sun started the roof defrosting process … we had to move! It was our coldest night so far and had a layer of ice on our blankets as well as the inside of the roof. The weather has been fantastic with clear blue skies every day. A good thing as if there was rain while you were in the valleys, you’d have to wait for the rivers to drop again before you crossed.

It is really worth coming here though as the scenery is amazing … its as though you are camping and driving through the pages of a calendar!

 

Fairly early in the day we came to a bridge. The crossing was not deep or wide but decided to go over it as it was there. Some of the timbers were loose and so has to be adjusted and wedged with rocks, as if they had separated the wheels would have dropped through.

 

At the next coffee stop I had the chance to fish for half an hour, while Marjool took some pictures of the yaks. We think our local farmers at home (Helen and Tony) should get some … the milk is supposed to be great for cream.

Just around the corner was another nice view …. we’ll never get anywhere at this rate!

 

An hour or so later we got to a place where there were bridge supports either side of the river but nothing else. It must have been washed away at some point. We hesitated on the bank as it looked pretty deep. Graham went to ask in a nearby ger, and before the man would even look at the map, we were in for warm milk, bread and cream skimmed of the top of the yaks milk.  They were really nice people again, and they then told us that we did need to cross the river and that the man would lead us by horse. Great!

 

 

 

We took the peoples address so that we could post them some photos from Tsetserleg and went on our way and left some soap and a small bottle of vodka by way of thanks. The man poured some vodka into the lid and threw it up into the opening in the roof of the ger and then poured some into a beaker which was passed around. Before he passed it around he dipped the little finger into the vodka and flicked a few drops of vodka into the air as an offering to the sky gods. I only took a small sip, although the chances of getting the breathalyzer here were fairly small.  They had told us that it was around 70km from here to the town and that Bulgan was about half way.

The rest of the way was much drier, and although there was another couple of small water crossings, nothing to worry about. The scenery changed to grassy rolling hills for the rest of the way with an odd rocky outcrop.

 

In the afternoon we arrived at Tsetserleg and decided to try to park behind a guest house that was mentioned in the lonely planet called Fairfield. It was supposed to be run by English people and the food was recommended for people who fancied a change from local food. We wanted chips!

 

 

In the end we decided to stay in one of the rooms instead. There is tempting food, nice coffee and the staff are lovely. There is even an indirect link between Fairfield and our village at home!

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22nd September – Bayankhongor to Tsetserleg

23 Sep

We packed up the camper after another cold night and headed straight to the track that led eventually to Tsetserleg. We had no idea of what to expect of the road, but could see that it wound its way through the range of mountains that separates north from south. We were only a few km out of town and we came across the first river crossing. Another petrol 4×4 had got drowned on the way through and when it was pulled out by a truck the doors were opened and water gushed out! Troopy was fine.

It was only about 25km to a small village/town called Erdenetsogt where we saw our first Buddhist monastery. We leaned over the fence and asked a monk if it was OK to take a picture. He was in what looked like a little watch tower. He waved us in and went and opened the gate.

The detail on the woodwork was really beautiful.

Outside the Monastery there were shrines surrounded by the now familiar prayer flags.

 

We then carried on out of the village, asking a couple of times on the way to ensure that we were on the right track. Typically the tracks stayed close to the side of the valley.

 

 

As the river meandered along the valley the road had to switch sides many times. On this first day we must have been across rivers about 20 times. It was really hard to judge how deep they were and where exactly to drive. If there had been other cars going our way we would have felt much more comfortable. But around mid morning onwards, we did not see another vehicle in either direction.

 

 

Just as we were starting to feel more confident we tried a crossing in a place that looked narrow but had steep banks at either side. We got almost all the way across but the boulders in the stream were large and we stopped at an angle of about 30 degrees on the far bank with the back of the car in the water up to the bottom of the rear doors. We just couldn’t climb the slope over the boulders. I jumped out to try to clear them but still no luck. I tried going backwards and just ended up right in the middle of the river, wheels spinning and water half way up the doors. Again I jumped out again and rolled away all the big rocks. A bit of rocking backwards and forwards and all of a sudden we leapt back, only stopping with the back end out of the river and the front in over the wheels. By shifting more rocks we we able to get back up onto the rocks between the two parts of the river. We were so close to getting the car flooded and to be honest a bit scared, that we didn’t take ant photos until the drama was all over. It all happened down in a dip on a deserted road … we were lucky to get the car out on our own!

 

 

It turned out that we had followed the wrong track (for about 1 km) and had tried to cross at a bad place (learned from a Mongolian with steep, deep and big rocks in sign language!). There was obviously no physical danger to us but it still made us nervous as we are totally reliant on the car for the trip.  After that we decided that we could not get complacent with the crossings and would check each one out more carefully.

After all the excitement we stopped for lunch, just a few hundred meters onto the right track and, as often happens locals came up to sit near us to see what was going on. We ended up sharing our Duo Penotti!

 

 

 

 

After lunch we carried on, carefully assessing the rivers before crossing, eventually making it up to the high pass over the mountains.

 

 

 

As we stopped to take pictures, Marjool heard a hissing from one of the rear tyres. We dropped down the other side and looked for a flat place to either change the tyre or spray in a tyre seal, depending on how it looked.

Using a couple of rocks to spread the load we jacked the car up, let the tyre down and then used a tyre seal spray, as it seemed to be a fairly small hole. We had picked up a screw in Russia which we had taken out as soon as we noticed it, but think that the flexing caused by driving over rocks had opened it a bit and started the leak. In any case it did the trick for now and left us with the spare.

 

There are still lots of goats around but in this area most of the livestock are yaks or yak crosses (produce more milk).

 

 

 

Further down the track we started to look for a place to stop. This is the first place we tried, but it was too windy for cooking so we carried on around the corner.

 

 

The families in this valley were all using these wheels  for the carts that they use daily, and to move the gers when they change camp. They were beautifully made.

 

 

We ended up finding a nice spot by fir trees to camp, with a view over the valley. It really was the middle of no where!

 

 

We are now at around 2500m and so expect a cold night.

 

 

21 September – Bayankhongor

22 Sep

Had a photo holiday today and just fiddled with car, sat by the river and went to the market to buy a few odds and ends. The market seems to be where most of the locals buy everything. The stalls are all shipping containers, each selling different items. I needed a watch battery for Marjool and a pin to hold the strap …. I asked the way at a small clothing stall, the man opened a drawer and pulled out the exact battery … 25p! He asked a little girl to run to another stall to find the pin … and she came back with a tobacco tin full of pins. I chose my pin and the price was written down on a sheet of paper .. 5p. It is not normally this easy!

 

Today is Tom (our sons) graduation day. Well done Tom and sorry we are not there to see you today. Good Ben was there to help you celebrate!

 

 

 

Tomorrow we are heading into the mountains on the way to Tsetseleg. It is supposed to be a beautiful route between two peaks of about 3400m.

 

 

 

20th September – Bayankhongor City

20 Sep

We were keen to get here today so that we could have a chat with Ben and Tom on Skype to wish Tom good luck with his Graduation ceremony today. We are really sorry we missed it!

With no time for lunch Graham was getting pretty peckish (and silly) by the time we arrived at the outskirts of the city and so decided to stop for a bite! Not for the first time I asked myself how I ended up with him!

 

 

 

We had read about bath houses that they have in the Mongolian towns, for use by anyone who does not have facilities. For 40p you can have a hot shower, just what we needed! We have obviously washed in between using water heated in the fire, stove or solar shower, had banyas, but have only had two proper showers since entering Russia in Pskov!! When we got there they told us it was closed …. Oh no! Next stop hotel to ask if we could use theirs. They said no water until 6.00pm. The Gobi is obviously short of it.

We headed out to the river and got the pot out to heat the river water and got busy with the washing. Graham was too impatient and decided to get in the river. It was so cold it made his head hurt. Stupid boy!

 

 

Through the afternoon people came down to the river to wash their cars, bathe or drive their cars across (not sure why). Some got stuck, and so we had something to look at as we drank our tea and read the guidebooks, planning our next move.

Again this spot is only just outside the town.

 

Tomorrow we will stay in this valley, but head upstream where the river is not split. A days fishing and relaxing is planned ….. no driving.

19th september – Altay to Bayankhongor

20 Sep

Diesel price 1760 T / lt which is just under 1 Euro.

Left the ‘secure parking’ by the hotel in Altay. It never seems to work out for us staying in the Mongolian towns as there are hundreds of barking dogs all night. If you are in a camper just head out about 1km and you can camp almost anywhere. There is often a river and it is so much quieter! We were full of diesel again and as we set out on the road to Bayankhongor we could look over the ger district.

 

 

We then stopped just outside Altay and Graham checked over a few things on the car, tightened up a couple of connections, checked the fluids and greased the steering joints. All seemed OK. Marjool fancied fried potatoes for lunch later and so boiled some up ready … why not!

The scenery was similar as were the road conditions. We need to cover some ground to allow more time in the national parks, and temperatures are dropping, so we pushed on most of the day. As we got further into the Gobi the camels increase in number.

 

All of the long drives so far have been along massively long valleys, hundreds of km long. You never seem to leave the mountains either side of you or get any closer to them. When you stop, you realise that rather than being barren, the ground is covered with tiny, pretty plants.

 

 

We travelled on towards evening and came to a little ger village by a river. We looked for a way to continue, but there was a river in the way. It looked too deep to cross and Marjool was not keen to put on her swimming things to check the depth! We turned around thinking that there must be another way and in doing so noticed lots of tractors by the gers. It seemed that people were generally towed across.  Just then a couple of lorries turned up that we had passed earlier. They just grinned at us and waved us to follow them across!

 

 

It was actually not as bad as we thought, but without following the lorries we would have gone straight across and it would have been uncomfortably deep. It would be different if we were just away for a week or so but we really need the car to stay together for the whole trip and so tend to be more cautious.

 

If this is the driest time in Mongolia, I’d hate to be here in May! I think that earlier in the season some of the places that we have been would have been really muddy … and deep mud!

 

Travelling through Mongolia when it is wet would require more time and would ideally be done with at least two cars. It would be great fun though!

Our camping spot for the night was in the hills between two valleys and was fantastically quiet!

 

Tomorrow we only have to go about 90km to Bayankhongor.

 

 

18th September – On the way to Altay City

18 Sep

Instead of our standard porridge we think we are getting breakfast in the ger.

 

 

 

When we arrive  the mother and eldest daughter were busy as a goat had just been slaughtered. That left the next eldest daughter to serve hot milk with salt and some pastry like squares that taste a little of goat fat.

 

Once we had eaten we went outside to see how the ladies were doing with the goat. It appears that everything would be used. The legs and head were put to one side for some special dish while the other entrails were prepared. The daughter in the picture above was still making eat sign language which was slightly worrying when we looked in the metal dish.

 

 

Ladies preparing the food for the pot.

 

 

Eager as we were to tuck in to the stew (by now all the inside bits of the goat had been put into a pot with some water and potatoes) we thought it would be nice to take some family photos. They were enthusiastic and all got changed and posed in front of the mountain.

 

 

We had already packed the camper to go and as we prepared to leave the family kept pointing at the bubbling mass of food in the pot, making more frantic eat signs. Delicious as it looked we felt that 9.00 am was just a little too early for such a big meal and so we left. They looked disappointed that we were not going to join them, and as we drove away we felt guilty. However we were sure that it would not go to waste. They were lovely kind people. It seems that if you turn up at their ger they will offer you food and a bed, whoever you are.

 

The road from here was again really rough and lots of sandy areas with deep bull dust. Not nice for motorcycles I think. The roads were also really badly corrugated and although the little ridges look insignificant they shake you around really badly. The advice is normally drive a bit faster to fly over the top but the holes and sudden dips make that too dangerous in most places

 

It is really isolated here, 400km from Khovd and we have seen very few cars. A few lorries with people packing up the gers to move to their winter camps, but very little else. It would probably feel more comfortable travelling with two vehicles here. Again it is often difficult to know which track is the best one to take!!

 

 

After driving all day (9.00am until 6.30pm) with just two coffee breaks and a lunch stop and we have travelled 300km. As we arrived at the top of the last pass there is another cairn with prayer flags marking the spot.

 

We camped in a yard behind a hotel in Altay City tonight ( 150p/night)

Tomorrow we need more diesel and check a few noises on the car before heading to the next town …. another 400km of Gobi.

 

17th September – Leaving Khovd

17 Sep

This morning we spent a few hours camped out in the same place as yesterday, updating the website and cooking ham and cheese omelette. We then headed back into town to have another go at batteries etc. We soon decide that we would rather be on our way and gave up. We then headed to the water station to fill up only to find that they were all closed on Saturday. Time to head off anyway … we will try to find a spring on the way!

On the last fuel stop on the way out of town we asked about filling with water and were told to head into the ger camp. This is basically walled areas of land with just a ger and a pit toilet. This allows people to live in the traditional structure but with the convenience of town. Some children helped us fill up the tanks and jerry cans.

 

 

The road out of Khovd is pretty rough and potholed with sudden big dips that make you bounce into the air if you hit them too fast. We drove for an hour or so and stopped for a coffee by a really isolated little well. As we were driving there a lady with a water carrier on a trolley was on her way to fill up. We wondered why all the cows were following her. They wanted a drink from the tractor tyre troughs. Great use of waste!

 

 

Another couple of hours on rough and dusty roads and we came to another damaged bridge. Again everyone needed to ford the river. The water came half way up the doors on normal cars and someone asked us for a tow through in case their engine stopped.

 

 

 

We drove for another half an hour and looked for a friendly ger to stop by. We can’t say exactly what we look for in a house or ger, but some just feel right! We prefer to stop near someone rather than in a totally isolated spot on our own when near a road. This one had a good feel and when we went over and used the normal sign language for sleeping there, the family were really friendly.

 

As we were setting up, the little girl from the ger came over with fresh goats milk. We gave her some sweets and a ‘London’ soap for her mum … ten minutes later she came back with home made butter and an invitation to eat with them in the morning. I pointed at my wrist to ask what time and she drew a picture of the sun in the air and pointed up ….. sunrise! It sounded far too early for us as we have to lay in bed and wipe the water off the ceiling with a cloth as the ice melts! We are not actually cold with all the duvets, blankets etc etc. Half an hour after the sun first hits the camper we can get up.

Not sure what breakfast will be …. ?