Sunday, August 23, 2009

August 14-24 - Moron to Lake Khovsgol and back...

So normally Jen has been doing most of the blog posts because my posts would generally read something like "we biked, ate, saw a dog, there are a lot of sheep here, and then it was dark". But this time I decided to write the post, so bear with me....

We had decided to take a van from Ulaangom to Moron as we wanted to see the northern part of Mongolia and that was the only way we could manage to get to that area in the time we had left in Mongolia (about a month). We made this decision with no idea how hard this trip would be!. To travel the 700km between the two cities, it took 40 hours (30 hours driving and 10 hours trying to find transport), two different vehicles and an incredible amount of discomfort (in the first 11 passenger van they put 20 people and all their luggage). The amazing thing is that taking two days to cover 700km is the norm here, it is no wonder that fresh vegetables are impossible to find, they would rot before getting anywhere near their destination!

This is first van that we took on the way to Moron. We set out in the 11 passenger van filled with 20 people, and two of the four tires had slow leaks which had to be filled periodically. As well every once and a while they would have to stop, and make some adjustments to the shocks. This all seemed very odd to us that they would set out with so many people and so many mechanical problems, but all the locals said it was business as usual!

Below is a photo of our second ride we took to get to Moron. The driver was nice but not the smartest guy. He tried to drive through this river around sunset and we had to get pulled out by a local truck owner.

After arriving in Moron we took a day to get prepared and then set off on the two day bike north to Lake Khovsgol, a huge freshwater lake and possibly Mongolia's most popular tourist attraction. The 2 day bike up to the lake was great, and once there we checked into a ger camp and arranged a horse tour of the lake which we thought would be a fun way to see the lake.

You can just barely see Jen in the lower right, and a herder with her herd in the foreground. I talked briefly with her as I passed. She was wearing high heels on the horse which I found entertaining. Then again, I think she found the fact that we were biking across Mongolia for no apparent reason equally entertaining.

One of the many dried lake beds we cross. It would be amazing to try to cross this country in a time when all these rivers were running as there are rarely bridges.

Mike at the top of one of the passes. Every pass has a pile of stones/logs and some (not all) Mongolians will stop at them, toss on some rocks, walk around the pile three times and then throw some food onto it. I may have this a little wrong, and do not know the origin of the practise as I have only seen it done, never had it explained.

Our campsite on the way to the lake. The camping is great now that the weather is cooler and the bugs seem to have disappeared.

The river just as it is leaving Lake Khovsgol. You can also see a couple gers in the distance on the river shore. Not a bad place to spend the summer!

Jen just as we are about to enter the national park which surrounds the lake. The entrance fee was about $2.50 per person, a nice change from the fee's they charge at Canadian national parks.

Us in our ger at one of the many tourist camps. The people all said that this summer has been very slow for tourists which seemed to be about 70% Mongolian tourists and 30% foreign tourists. We also stayed in a similar ger the second night, they were very nice with a small wood stove which kept the place nice and warm.

Setting out the next morning on horse back, the horse tour went downhill immediately. From the moment the ride started it was evident that they gave us the most obstinate horses in Mongolia. If those horses end up in the soup at the local guanz (cafe in Mongolian), I have no intention of sending flowers to the funeral. They refused to go more than 200m before stopping to eat and after about 2km we decided we could go faster by getting off and pulling the horses along. The "guide" we had along was no help as he was generally off in the distance doing...well I have no idea what he did as he was off in the distance.

A picture of my horse on the lakeside. He may look pretty but he was a real asshole...then again maybe I would be too if I had to transport tourists on my back all day!

After covering only 15km in the first day we said that was enough of horses and wanted our bikes back! We spent the night at a local tourist camp and hitchhiked back to where we left our bikes happy to have our Independence back!

A happy group of Mongolian tourists drove us back to our original camp but not before running into some local road construction. Road construction is very rare in Mongolia (as proven by the nearly complete lack of roads) so when it does occur is is a rather "kludge" affair. They had blocked the road with boulders, but rather than making a detour they would simply tow the cars over the boulders with the front end loader as the cars appeared.

The front end loader towing our car over the construction.The cable is there but just can't be seen in the photo.

We ran into a group of Russians on quad's at the camp. The moment they found out we were from Canada they were very happy to talk about how great Canada was because we produced their Bombardier quad's (which all five of them had). After they found out Jen worked for Bombardier they all fell in love with her and started feeding her vodka shots as they discussed how great the company was.

After spending the night at the camp, we set out the next morning to get back to Moron to resume our ride to Ulaanbataar. We assumed the ride would take us 2 days, but feeling energetic half way through the day, we opted to push forward and bike the whole way in one day covering the 101km over dirt track in about 12 hours. A new record for us on dirt track!

Below is a sample of the scenery as we ride back to Moron. It is hard to describe how cool it is to ride through these areas as photos really don't do it justice. The rugged terrain with the numerous yurts and livestock dotting the landscape combined with a complete lack of roads, buildings or fences really give it a unique feel.

Another snapshot of the scenery with Jen cycling on the road in front of me in the distance.

Jen descending into Moron.

A young boy who came out to see us as we passed. His mad skills bareback on the horse really made us feel inadequate as we were escaping from our failed attempt at a horse tour.

Jen riding as the sunset. The little dot in the background on the road was a lady who we passed walking along the road with only a large pot (no idea why, although I am sure she had her reasons). She talked to us for a while, but as we don't know any Mongolian all we could do was shake our heads and mention we didn't know Mongolian. None the less she just kept on talking hoping that we would catch on to the language at some point (which we unfortunately did not).

Sunset as we are just about to pull into town. We only had to use our head lights for the last 15-30 minutes of the ride.

We are now back in Moron for the day, and will set off back towards Ulaanbataar tomorrow. It will take us 20 or so days to reach the Mongolian capital where we will then take a train to China. We will get to Bulgan City (the next city with Internet) in 5-7 days (or more, you never know when on dirt tracks how long it may take), and we will likely post again when we get there. For now though we are excited to be back on our bikes and happy not to have any more horses in our future!!


(P.S. - In case any of you were wondering, our satellite tracker is not being updated because we are running low on lithium batteries for the unit (the only kind it accepts) and want to save the ones we have in case of an emergency. We will get it turned back on once we are able to find more AA lithium batteries, likely in China.

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