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Date: 31st May 2007

Newsletter 6. Leaving Mongolia

Greeting’s from China!

Yes – the Velomads finally made it out of Mongolia – after only what?…. 8 months! We’re currently (31st May 2007) ensconced very comfortably thanks to the Peking to Paris 2007 Rally teams in Ereen / Erenhot (seems like there are 2 different names for every city in China according which map you look at – not counting the Chinese of course).

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up to date with our travels (tut tut – not looking at our website?) you are probably going

“Whaaaaat? China? They were in Slovenia last time we heard from them.”

Yes – we know – that’s what silence for a year does for you but most of you have realised by now that writing emails is not our hot spot. So no apologies!

To bring you up to date.. in brief – we went to Croatia and Bosnia – turned around went back to France (yes by bicycle), spent Christmas in London and headed off back through Europe, the Baltics, Russia and arrived in Mongolia September 2006. We got jobs in Ulaanbaatar teaching English so that we wouldn’t have to cycle through the snows of winter at - 40 degrees centigrade (ok – I realise many of you think we are complete nutters but even we are not that mad). A little over 2 weeks ago we left UB and cycled through the Gobi desert and arrived in China yesterday.

So those of you who’d like to hear a bit more read on…

Those of you who are too busy just take a peek at the photos.

Leaving Mongolia

Monday morning I went to the Chinese embassy to collect our visas – breathing a sigh of relief – not only at the lack of the two hour queue which had been the previous scenario a week earlier, but also at the fact that we’d been given 90 day visas. Several sources advise that in summer often only 30 day visas are issued to control the tourist influx – and this was confirmed by the experience of one of the Hc’ers we’d had staying with us.

Tuesday morning we pedalled off – 200kms to Choyr – easy peasy with paved road and a strong tailwind – UB was clearly as happy to see us go as we were to make our departure. In Choyr we were hosted by the dad of one of Richard’s students. Poor guy didn’t speak a word of English (and despite our Mongolian lessons we still didn’t speak a word of Mongolian). But he made such an effort to look after us. His wife was away so he dragged 2 secretaries from work back home to cook for us and tried to give us liver poisoning with the copious amounts of vodka he insisted we drink. The next morning there was no relief - more vodka had to be imbibed – though to be honest we needed the hair of the dog (or full coat of the werewolf might be more apt). Off we wobbled - 6kms out of Choyr we hit the dirt road and the Gobi proper – that soon sobered us up.

We’d heard that the wind was normally from the North West – which would have been ideal for us – but the truth was that the wind changed direction daily. Most days it was a cross wind and we had 3 days of sandstorms – luckily only one was in the tent – but we spent that day with our legs in the air – pressed against the sides of the tent to prevent the tent being flattened by the howling winds.  The other days we were fortunately indoors – once in a school in Shiveegovi and the other in the home of an English teacher in Erdene. Erdene is a place we’ll never forget. Firstly we communicated with Tuya (the English teacher) by means of written notes – she could read English but not understand or speak it! Secondly – Richard offered to repair the puncture on one of the kids bikes – well it turned out to be 3 punctures actually – but when he went to get some water afterwards someone kindly stole our bike pump. There had been several kids playing there and we offered a USD 12 reward (we wanted to offer more but were told it would be too much) but to no avail. The local police man was called and he bashed on a few doors and then told us to come to the police station the next morning at 9am.

Admittedly we were late – we got to the police station at 9:30 but the policeman didn’t get there until 10:30. Then we waited until 11:30 for the kids to be rounded up. It seemed to be great fun for the kids – they were running around screaming, kicking and laughing – driving us mad with the constant “My name is …..What is your name?” shouts. At 2:30 the policeman came out and shrugged and wandered off.

It was a major problem for us as we didn’t have a bike pump (we’d sent our spare one ahead to Beijing to reduce weight) and we were advised that there was nowhere to buy one in the village. So we bashed on a few doors ourselves until we found someone who’d sell us one – though it hardly deserves the name pump and gives you the equivalent workout of running a marathon to pump one tyre.

The last excitement in Mongolia was at the border. We crossed the Peking Paris 2007 rally – the 100 year anniversary of when the race was first run. That time there were only 5 cars in the race (4 made it) this time there were over a 100. I feel guilty as one English driver wanted to buy the half kilo of porridge we had in our panniers but I refused. I figured they would be in Ulaanbaatar long before we made it to Beijing, but in Erenhot – the first Chinese border town it was easy to find – and cheap! The English driver figured he couldn’t do anything with the 50 Yuan he’d offered and gave it to us anyway. This gave the other drivers the same idea and they all came over to offload the spare Yuan they had in their pockets – which we gratefully accepted and said we’d drink a toast to them with a G&T when we got to Beijing. Later that evening we found they’d given us in total over 4000 Yuan (about  400 Euros) – it would buy an awful lot of G&T’s!

We’ll send an update about China sooner or later but to be honest internet access is much harder to come by here in China than we thought it would be so don’t hold your breath!

IF ANYWAY HAS AN HOUR A WEEK OR SO TO SPARE WE COULD DO WITH SOME HELP!

Bad as we are at keeping our website updated it’s going to be even more problematic now – in Russia and Mongolia we never found an single internet café that would allow us to attach our laptop to their internet connection – luckily we met many people though the Hospitality Club (www.hospitalityclub.org) who allowed us to use their home connections. Seems like it’s a similar situation here in China only not so many members of the HC. So if anyone feels like they could spare an hour a week or so to help us keep our website updated we’d love to hear from you. You’d need only need basic website skills (hard to find anyone with more rudimentary skills than me!) and ability to use a software package like dreamweaver /frontpage or ftp to upload. But even if you don’t think you can commit to that time over a the next few months by keeping it updated we also need help to sort out our website as  we changed servers in UB and it seems to be a real mess right now – with most pages and files simply not loading. If you think you can help PLEASE let us know!

 Take care – wishing you all peace and happiness

Our departure from Ulaanbaatar

Of course we had to go to Sukhbaatar (that's pronounced Squatter BTW) Square for a photo. When we had originally arrived in UB the parliament building was covered in scaffolding and the pollution caused it to be immersed  in a foul grey fog. Clearly someone had tipped them off as to our departure as they'd cleaned it up nicely!

The Wonderful Sandy Roads of the Gobi Dessert

Bike pushing - that's the latest craze in the Gobi. 

 
Paved Road at Zamyn Uud

Bet the locals think this is a weird foreigners' custom - kissing the start of the paved road - although there's only 2 kms of it before you hit the border!

The Peking to Beijing Rally 2007.

The 100th anniversary of the race and only the 3rd time it's been run. We think it's thanks to the excitement (chaos probably) they generated at the border that we got away with cycling the Mongolian side of the border to China - normally strictly forbidden.

   

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Stani & Richard

Next Newsletter:  Newsletter 7: Chinese Propaganda - 20th Feb 2009

Previous Newsletter:  Newsletter 5: Slovenia photos - 26th October 2006

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