Thursday, 2 October 2014

and pause

While Gabor is retrieving his phone we continue on our route.  We are only 20km ahead but we don't meet up again for another five days. It turns out that Gabor has a broken spoke on his bike which he has to replace before he sets off from the police station. Meanwhile we are riding south from Jargalant village up through a very pretty valley and over a pass, down to the White Lake, which is, er, blueish.  Riding around the lake seems to take an eternity.  There are still plenty of gers here with their animals.  It's mostly cows and yaks and sheep and goats.  I am happy in Mongolia because the dogs are left at home to guard the ger - they are rarely out with the animals.  For the first time in Asia it seems that animals are sometimes left to look after themselves - the herder doesn't always stay with his animals all day.  I guess it's because this is open country and no-one is growing anything.  We see no cultivation on our ride, except for one place where they are growing hay to feed the animals in the winter.  The irrigated fields of grass are vivid green in the pale yellow landscape. 

Leaving the White Lake we circle a tiny extinct volcano.  The lava field spreads across the valley and is dotted with autumnal trees - a weird and wonderful sight.  We know we are about to reach the asphalt road but there's no sign of it just yet.  Under a rare grey sky we start to climb another very long low hill. The dirt tracks are thankfully quite firm - there are about fifteen to chose from.   The damage caused by vehicles without a road is impressive.
At the brow of the hill is a road construction crew.  Ahhhh, we can smell the warm tarmac being laid.  But the newly asphalted road is not yet open.  We can see it running away into the distance but all the trucks and minivans and 4-wheel drives are still following dirt tracks.  What to do?  Nothing for it but to push our bikes over the earthern barricade and up onto the brand new road, empty of traffic.  This road is ours, all ours.

The day ends with a terrible headwind which makes even the aphalt road hard work.  We turn out of the wind and into a canyon and find shelter in a lovely forest full of ovoos - the animist stone piles that are found at most passes.  These are covered in blue scarves.  It's peaceful and a little bit eerie but the woods are a great place to camp away from the road.   In the night we hear a strange noise - it's snow sliding off the tent.  At sunrise the snow is still falling and the landscape is quilted in white.  The brightness is cheery but the cloud remains low all morning so we stay in our sleeping bags.  By lunch the snow has stopped but we decide to take the day off and stay in our tent.  We're hoping that the weather will improve and the roads will be clear by the next day, which turns out to be so.  

Now we're on tarmac the riding is much easier, but the climbs to the passes seem longer and the passes seem higher.  It's a real pleasure to be able to look around at the scenery without thinking where your wheels are going anymore.  We wonder where Gabor is - did he pass us yesterday? After one more cold night camping we reach the town of Tsetserleg, which is a significant waymark for us.  There's a posh guesthouse in the town that does a full english breakfast - so of course we head straight for it.  Gabor is not to be found.  We settle in and bathe.  Hot water.  Clean clothes.  Luxury.

We go out to eat and wander through the town.  It's not a big place and the main street has a clutch of shops and eateries.  We go into one but the menu is all in Mongolian and the place is empty so we step quickly out again.  Just to our left we notice a man squatting down and pulling down his trousers.  Evidently he is about to lay some cable.  On the main street of the town?  Neither of us can believe what we've seen so Gayle turns round to check.  Seems you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy. 

On our way back to the guesthouse we meet Gabor coming the other way - he's just arrived.  He is weary too after the ride and the cold nights.  The next day we all just relax.  The next day we get up ready to continue to UB but can't muster the required united energy.  We defer till the next day.  The next morning it is snowing.  Oh dear, we'll have to stay another day.  Our motivation to get moving is really quite low.  We still have just enough days to cycle to UB in time to get our visas extended and finally set off for Kharkorin.

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