Thursday, 16 October 2014

end of the road

Riding to Karakhorin we have a good tailwind to keep us motoring along.  In fact we've had pretty much tailwinds ever since we left Olgii.
"No we haven't" Gayle objects.
"We have - nearly every day" I retort.
"What about the day we reached the tarmac?"
"Hm, yes, but apart from that."
"Most of the time we've had headwinds." Amazing.  In the end we agree to disagree.

We find Gabor the next morning at the Erdene Zuu Monastery taking photos.  He's got up at dawn to catch sunrise but the morning has been overcast. The monastery comprises of a huge compound, the walls of which are studded with stupas.  It's believed to be the oldest surviving buddhist monastery in the country and was built on the site of the old capital of Karakorum built by Kublai Khan's father.  Kublai preferred the food in Beijing (who can blame him) and shifted the court southwards. The city is nothing more than a small town these days.   We mooch about the few buildings that survived communist rule.  There's not much open now it's low season - two monastery buildings with lots of novice monks reciting prayers and then tucking into dinner.   We take a bench in the sunshine and enjoy the warmth and watch local tourists stream in and out.  It's very relaxing.  

We have just enough time left to cycle to Ulaanbaatar in order to extend our stay in the country, but it means moving on after lunch.  However there's something about everyone's body language that is sending out a signal - and that signal is "enough".  We talk it through and the unanimous decision is stay here for the night and try and get a ride in the morning.  Now we've reached the asphalted road the excitement has somewhat diminished and so has the pretty scenery.  We're happy to have cycled what we did, but now we're all thinking of places other than Mongolia.  Gabor will be flying home - once he sorts out a flight - and we'll be going back to China, after a four year absence.  There's plenty for us all to think about.

somewhere else, mentally I mean, not physically

In the morning we head over to the bus yard to look out for a bus.  It's all rather quiet.  An old lady who has been sweeping litter into a small bonfire chats to us in English.  "Self-taught" she says proudly.  She helps translate for us when a couple in a big 4wd hear that we are looking for a ride.  We agree a price and then the driver hurries us to load everything into the car.  The three bikes get lashed to the roof.  It turns out the husband works here but his wife has a job in UB so they are heading that way.  The ride is uneventful and dull, apart from some exciting driving when we approach speed bumps - instead of slowing down and driving carefully our man swerves off the road and around the obstacle.  The car is a right-hand drive - there's lots of second-hand Japanese cars here - so he can't see to overtake anything big along the way - it doesn't matter though - I mean, who needs to look to see if anything is coming?

We unload on the edge of the city within easy reach of the airport.  Well, apart from the road that's been dug up and is now choked with traffic.  We weave our way through clouds of dust and find the immigration office to extend the visas.  It's a relatively quick and painless process - we all purchase an extra week.  As it's late afternoon we ponder whether to ride into the city to find a place to stay.  Gabor has noted that we haven't camped together for quite a while and we all opt for cycling off the road and onto some open land for one last night under the stars.

he's going to miss semolina in the mornings

Once in the city, comfortably established in an appartment hostel in the city centre, we set about sorting ourselves out.  The ride across Mongolia has been one of attrition.  My rack has snapped, our tent zips are all failing to close, and the scew holding Gayle's rack on has sheared off inside the brazeon.  Gabor has donated his spare tent zip sliders, which he brought along for such an occurrence.  He shows us how to unpick the end of the zips and swap the sliders.  It feels like we have a brand new tent - no more three-handed contortions to close the zips.  We find a bike shop run by the Belgian Consul where I pick up a cheap rack - to replace the cheap one that's bust.  They can't help us extract the broken screw in Gayle's bike but refer us to a catholic-run school and care centre which has workshops for training young boys as mechanics.  It's a priceless tip-off.  Brother Andrew takes us to the workshop where a tutor and his disciple set to work with all the right tools.  And bingo - out comes the screw.  Later on, back at the appartment, I start removing my broken rack.  One of the screws is a bit tight, it finally gives, but only half of it comes out.  The rest is left inside the brazeon.  Unbelievable.  Gabor is amused.  There's quite a bit sticking out on the inside of the frame and Gabor checks out possible solutions on the internet.  Gayle suggests we just go back to the catholic mission.  So practical.  I am too embarrassed.  Instead I head off to buy a file, file down two sides of the thread and then I'm able to unscrew the bloody thing out. 

the bus queues in the capital are horrendous

The morning that Gabor sets off for the airport it's trying to snow.  He has a flight at about 11am but he's got to ride there and then wrap his bike to check it in.  We are impressed to find he has risen early to get his breakfast and be ready.  It's odd to wave him off.  Usually we leave first.  

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