Dated: 24 JUL 18
There are two main sectors in Mongolia, minerals and tourism. Mining pays its employees well so the tourism industry has to at least come close to these wages, guess who fits the bill….the tourists. This is not a cheap place to travel. From the lack of agriculture meaning everything in the markets are at an imported price, to the marked up park entry fees and hotel costs; not that I stay in hotels. Though what makes me smirk a touch, is the big signs dotted about the country side, “Trees are OUR future,” but there isn’t so much as a sapling insight; best stick to the tourism and mining.
You can tell that some people have cottoned on to the fact that there is money to be made from the change chinking around in tourist’s pockets. I’m a sucker for a decent coffee if I’ve not been in civilisation for a while. You cant beat sitting in a comfortable chair, listening to mellow music and sipping a nice strong coffee whilst making use of the free wifi of course. Well on a few occasions over the course of my race through Mongolia I’ve happened upon such oasis’s. It like walking through a teleport into a pretentious central London cafe. All its missing is avocados accompanying everything.
Though I made an unfortunate discovery over my last over price not locally sourced freshly ground coffee. After ten minutes of relaxation I happened to notice that I still had my bike helmet not only on but fastly secured with the chin strap. What has happened to me?! Have I morphed into an embarrassing middle aged parent? Except I don’t think I have any sprogs to embarrass, if I had been wearing trousers I probably would have had them tucked into my socks to complete the look of the dork cyclist.
Food was the source of much discussion as I approached Mongolia and it hasn’t disappointed, it is truly terrible. In the west of the country all they seem to eat is Khuushuur, their equivalent to the Cornish pasty; mutton or goat in a deep fried pasty shaped parcel of dough. Either dripping with grease straight out of the oil or looking slightly droopy with a grey tinge if left until the afternoon. And yet these seem to be the only thing in rural Mongolia that one can buy. It must be said that their are no over weight people in these here parts. Perhaps that’s the key to being a skinny sausage, stick to unappetising food so that you choose to eat bugger all.
As I move closer to the capital gastronomic options increase, normally noodles with goat or mutton or rice with mutton or goat. Though it must be said that with this increased variety comes an increased waist lines. At home people only seem to enjoy a good bit of fat singed to a crisp on bacon or pork belly; I’m the sort who cuts off the bacon fat pre-cook and only have pork belly as an occasional treat, mainly because it takes to long to cook if you want to do it right. Here the meat often has a good slither of fat and normally hidden in your rice are thin sheets of fat strips. I have just resided to shovelling it all in, fat and all without so much as a downward glance. I’d be there all day if I had to sieve through my rice like a fat prospector.
It seems that Mongolia is a Nation of campers, along the road side in the mornings families can be seen sat out side a tent or two putting on a brew. The nomadic gers ever present in the back ground with their flocks crowded around the camps first thing in the mornings. After the howls of a few nights ago its clear that you wouldnt want to be a goat to far from home at night. Though it might just be your night to get the chop at home if you are unlucky. I suppose the people all camp because travelling takes so long on the dubious roads with the unpredictable weather to boot. Plus why use a hotel when the scenery is so spectacular?
Apparently every Mongolian still has some nomadic tendencies or it could be explained by the state of Ulaanbaatar, I’ve never seen smog like it. Fumes from the power station, dirty industries and traffic linger over the city. On my approach through the hills it seems to be shrouded in a thick early morning fog, this turns out to be a semi permanent daily smog. Apparently in the cold depths of winter it is one of the worst cities on the planet for air quality. Camping an escape to fresh air and clear airways.
In Ulaanbaatar I take refuge from the smog ridden streets in a pretentious cafe and in a hostel. In the cafe I treat myself to a large cream, yogurt, fruity surprise, its massive and delicious. That is until I reach the fruit filled centre…..has it gone rotten? I’m close to taking it back but have one last look. At the centre amongst the cream and yogurt are red beans, the sort that you would refry or have in chilli con carne. Yet again the Mongolian flare in the catering department baffles me. After I’ve gotten my head round it, things aren’t so unpleasant. La Petite Marmot is the hostel that I’m held up in, it is the Little Paris of Ulaanbaatar and judging from the amount of Frenchmen it must be Bastille Day. Beer is flowing, the French are a gabbling and there is even saucisson.
I ducked out of the joviality of Little Paris fairy early as I had a big push along my final leg to Beijing to get cracking with. Turning southerly things begin to heat up and water becomes paramount. At the end and mid point of each day I have to tail children with large water butts on trolleys so that I can find a towns fresh water supply, normally a small shack with an old biddy held up inside grasping a tap. One other thing that I’ve noticed within even small towns or villages is that most of the have an out of place magisterial building dominating the otherwise single story buildings arching back to the pre Naadam days and soviet control.
As I’ve traversed this country of cattle herders and shepherds I’ve noted an unusual number of unfortunate beasties inflated by the road side and the heat certainly doesn’t help matters. Unfortunately for me, I’m normally gaping mouthed and panting so get a good taste before I spot them. And strangely enough the horses all seem to have their heads removed; I doubt there is an outbreak of equine exploding head syndrome, so why are just the horses decapitated? Missing heads aside if I would hazard a guess there must be some sort of foot and mouth out break or some such. I’ve seen the occasional ‘control point’ with a man idling beside a hand pump sprayer but there is little they can do in this fenceless, roadless rolling plane where animals are free and ready to mingle.
This last stretch through Mongolia and across the border to strangely the region of Inner Mongolia in China, is sole destroying. The featureless landscape which is a good 80% of the way to being full blown desert, there is a touch to mass grass to be full blown central Gobi, is accompanied by (yes you guessed it), a head wind. I make half the daily distance with double the exertion. To make matters worse at the half way point of the final few hundred kilometres to the border the town which was not only sign posted but I was assured was there is a mere shell of a building without a tap in sight. This lands me in a spot of bother I was relying on a full refill in order to make China, I can’t camp over night and make it the next day with what little water I have left nor can I reach the next town without a good few litres more, despite not being full blown ‘desert’ I wouldnt fancy my chances so up goes the thumb. I’m extremely frustrated as I sit on a lorry trundling along, if I had known of the ghost town I would have had a good gallon more fluids with me. Its a sad extradition out of Mongolia.