Subtle allusion in the title for those of you have read the ‘Why?’ section and they will also get the slight twist on the wording – and you thought this thing was just thrown together!
There was a slightly strange mood as we packed up this morning. We would be hitting UB today (unless the roads suddenly deteriorated – which was always possible), so there was some relief amongst those that had flights booked, a sense of achievement that we had ‘made it through the wilderness’, a sense of anticipation that we would soon be able to have a shower and a sense of sadness that it would soon all be over.
Maybe lurking in me somewhere was a small sense of relief as well – it had been physically hard. The riding itself hadn’t been particularly hard, but the long days combined with a few bruising falls and sleepless nights had definitely had a cumulative effect. Since Kazakhstan it seemed that there had always been a sense of needing to press on to keep up with ‘the schedule’. Anyway, now we were nearly done.
Before we set off on the final leg, we posed for a ‘team’ photo; perhaps the last opportunity to get everyone together in the same place at the same time.
The tarmac continued pretty much all the way to UB and it was a time to take in as much as possible of the changing scenery – much easier when you aren’t having to concentrate 100% on the riding. Still needed to be aware of wandering livestock though!
Around midday we actually hit some dual carriageway!
Finally we arrived at the gateway to Ulaanbataar.
So, after sweeping down the hill on superb dual carriageway, you hit the toll both at the entrance to UB. Pay the small fee, pass through the gate and the tarmac ends! Return to massive pot-holes and dirt and diversions.
It was a shock to the system having to deal with traffic again! UB was such a contrast to the surrounding countryside. Through the gate and into a city, much like any other; scruffy, dirty, busy, noisy. UB was obviously a growing city – much on-going building work and some hi-tech new buildings among low-rise shops and apartment blocks.
We were heading to the Oasis guest house which was on the other side of town. As we approached the edge of the centre of town, the road just ended; blocked by barriers. There was no sign or any indication for a diversion. We could see the road we wanted carried on, so we ignored the barricade, manoeuvered our way round it and carried on. We didn’t get too far before the road was completely blocked by excavations and building work so we had to turn round.
All the other traffic arriving at the barricade was following the road round to the left, so we thought maybe we could go that way (which was basically heading back out of town) and maybe cut through to join a road running parallel to the one we wanted. After half a mile or so with no suitable turn we gave up and returned to the barrier for much consultation of satnavs and maps.
There was a train track running parallel to the road, in the direction we wanted, with a dirt track running down the side of it. We saw a car emerging from this direction so thought we would give it a go. We set off down the track trying to avoid pedestrians and dogs – none of whom looked that surprised to see us. The problem was we could see quite a way in to the distance and there didn’t appear any way to cross over the tracks and through the buildings back to the road we wanted to be on. Then we came across Gavin.
There are times when you really wish you had a photograph. Unfortunately my camera had finally succumbed to the Mongolian dust and refused to work. Gavin had stopped at the base of some steep, narrow steps that led up to a pedestrian footbridge over the railway line. Having been through the same loop as us, he was now totally frustrated and was lining himself up to attack the bridge. It was about 10 steps up to the bridge and then there was a kind of metal door frame to get through on to the main part of the bridge, that looked very narrow – it wouldn’t fit two people through without them them turning sideways. The locals had worked out what Gavin was thinking and were shouting encouragement at him. He gunned the engine and set off. Up the steps, no problem – however, because of the steepness of the steps and the fact that he had to stop at the ‘door frame’ because it was just about too narrow for the bars, he grounded the bike on the bashplate as he reached the top. He was stuck in a fairly precarious position, balanced at the top of the steps and it took the assistance of several locals to manhandle the bike free and allow him to continue on his way, to the cheers of the locals and us!
Jason and Warwick were all for following, but Steph and I could see it all going horribly and painfully wrong and we voted to go back and try and find another way round. Back at the barrier, the only option appeared to be to follow the rest of the traffic. We carried on, past the point where we had precviously turned back, and on, and on. It just seemed that we were heading miles in the wrong direction. We tried a few dead end right turns to no avail until eventually there was a major right turn and we could see the road taking a huge loop up the hill and then right and hopefullyt back towards the city centre. We were now going through what looked like the ‘old’ part of town. All ramshackle, dity and noisy, with the streets not designed to cope with the traffic, pedestrians who obviously believed they had their God with them, horns, dust, frustrated drivers – I loved it! Despatch rider head on – weaving and bullying my way through the traffic – almost in some heightened plane of awareness – memories of riding in India. I always enjoy riding in the back streets of cities, there’s just far more ‘life’, far more to see. For the same reasons, I enjoy arriving by train in big cities, you get to see the bits that the architects and planners and city PR men don’t want you to see – to steal a phrase from Iggy Pop’s, The Passenger – the city’s ‘ripped backside‘. No real idea of where we were headed, just a vague notion that we needed to keep heading to the right and down the hill, back into the city.
I ‘parked’ the bike in a bush in the corner and we all hugged and shook hands – we’d made it! Gavin was there having battled through town and we were almost immediately followed in by Sean. I checked the speedo on the bike:
….And what a fantatic reception…a massive spread of food and cold beer!
The Oasis Cafe is a must-stop place for anyone travelling through Mongolia. It is a great meeting place for fellow travellers by bike or car. Rene and Sybille are amazingly friendly and helpful and a huge source of useful information – if they don’t know they will find out for you. There is accomodation in Gers or rooms and hot showers, laundry, barbers, cafe – everything a man or woman could want (well almost everything…) after many days crossing Mongolia. Check it out – Oasis Cafe and Guesthouse
We spent the afternoon drinking and eating, hugging and back-slapping as the rest of the Kudu Krew arrived in dribs and drabs. For most of us it was the end of the line but for some it was only just over half way…