Monday, September 14, 2009

September 6-15 - Darkhan to UB and around UB

Mike here, writing this post using our brand new laptop which we bought here in UB (UB=Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia with a population of about 1.3M which is roughly half of Mongolia's population and an even higher percentage of its wealth).

We are very excited about this purchase as we have been seriously roughing it since our computer broke down a month ago in Russia. We can't say that we enjoyed the experience of living without a computer at all. There are many things that we had to endure to bike across Mongolia, but having our computer taken away was absolutely the worst. Biking 10 hours a day in sand and heat is one thing; being forced to do that without new podcasts, audio books and music is quite another! But enough complaining, so getting back to to our ride....

After leaving Darkhan we had two days of riding on pavement to get into Darkhan. It was a relaxing (albeit long) 2 day ride into UB and a great way to finish off biking before our 10 day rest before China.

Below is a picture of a truck moving a ger that we spotted while having lunch one day. You see these on the road very often and generally half the family is sitting on top of the load (the whole family cannot fit in the cab I guess) with a big smile on their faces. Although I have never asked whether the nomadic families enjoy moving their home every few months, the do seem to be very happy and I can imagine that it would be exciting to move your home so often.

...our camp spot in between Darkhan and UB. Although there is a lot more traffic, finding a nice enough camp spot is still no problem.

On the left below is yet another pic yet another meal of tsuivan. Now that we are in UB I have no intention of eating any more for quite some time!
On the right is a group of kids that surrounded us as we entered a small village. Even as we got close to the capital we still caused a stir as we entered each village.

Jen cycling along the rolling hills into UB.

Happy to be in UB finally! Although we were excited to be into the big city, with big cities comes smog. After 2 months in amazingly clean and fresh air, returning to the smog of a big city (which you can see in the background) was no fun.

After arriving in UB on Wednesday, we set ourselves to the task of repairing bikes, and arranging the Chinese portion of the trip (visa, train, etc). After a few days of sorting through paperwork we were able to get a 90 day Chinese visa by the following Monday (for those of you that are interested, we have posted more details in a post which you can read by clicking HERE), but were not able to get a train ticket to Beijing until the Saturday after that, so for the rest of this week we are just relaxing in UB.

Me smiling with our hard earned 3 month visa...China here we come!

To replace our broken luggage racks, we had new ones mailed to us in Ulaanbaatar so we can continue our trip with no delay (thanks to "Old Man Mountain" who immediately sent them to us free of charge when we phoned them to say that our rack had broken )

While in UB we have spent some time looking at local museums. The below photos is from the "Mongolia Natural History Museum". The museum itself was pretty awful, but we entertained ourselves by reading the English signs explaining the exhibits. I am not sure who did the translating but our guess is it was someone who lied on their CV and put "fluent in English" to get the job, and then were in a bit of a bind when the time actually came to deliver! (see picture below for a sample)

For some unknown reason all of the sewer holes are exposed in UB. The covers are always sitting beside the hole, but for some reason they are rarely actually used to cover the hole itself. During the day we have usually been OK, but in evening while walking home from the pub or restaurant there have been a number of very close calls due to the combination of darkness and beer!

In UB we have enjoyed mingling with other travellers. On the left below is a group who are also doing a year in Asia: Francois & Nathalie and Edmond & Elisa (see Francois' blog at Edmond is a aerodynamics design engineer for the F1 Ferrari team so when we all went to a pub to watch the F1 on Sunday night he added interesting commentary to the race (ie: the Ferrari F1 team has their own private wind tunnel and they run a new test every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day!).

The photo on the right is of us with Shin Bai, a Korean cyclist (of the 9 cyclist we have met so far, he is the only one who is not French) whom we enjoyed a great supper at a Korean restaurant the night after a fantastic dinner with our French friends at a French restaurant! Shin Bai has cycled many parts of our planned route through China and hooked us up with amazing GPS maps for all of China. Now that we have turn by turn directions from our GPS for all of China now, maybe we should change our website name?

Below are two photos of cyclists (all from France of course) we have met in UB. On the left is Robert as Jen helps him with his Chinese visa application. The photo on the right is from a lunch we had with a group of travellers, three of whom are cyclists as well. The 6 of us (three from the lunch table, Robert, Jen and I) are all taking the same train to Datong (about 300km west of Beijing) on Saturday, and we are going to cycle together for the week or so ride into Beijing. It should be interesting cycling with such a large group for a while.

The rest of the week here in UB should be quiet for us. We are just killing some time in UB reading, eating ice cream, and preparing for our Chinese leg. For tonight though our download of the movie "I Love You Man" just finished after 2 days (the internet where we are staying is still not so fast!), so we are off to the movies on our new laptop with a huge 10" screen!. Cheers.


(PS: I started posting some of the photos a little smaller, but you can get a larger size for any photo by clicking on it)

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