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Old 12-24-2013, 07:56 PM   #511
mrwwwhite OP
Gnarly Adventurer
 
Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Bucharest or RTW
Oddometer: 281
Into The World - 2Up around Africa, 2 bikes along the Silk Road





Mud, sweat & tears
… the kind of stuff adventure is made of. We are hyped to clock almost 3 years of that, and we are hungry for more. We hope you are also living your dreams. Merry xmas and a happy inspired 2014 everybody! Love you all

mrwwwhite screwed with this post 12-25-2013 at 01:40 AM
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Old 12-25-2013, 08:58 AM   #512
TwilightZone
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Joined: Dec 2008
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Oddometer: 2,618
As always great reports ! Have a nice christmas and new-years !
Look forward to your rides !

Let us know if you ever want to see the USA.
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Old 12-30-2013, 01:41 AM   #513
mrwwwhite OP
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Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Bucharest or RTW
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The Russians And The Romanians Are Brothers

Back To Kazakhstan

It’s a wonderful feeling to have your helmet drenched in riding sweat after almost a week off the bike. Rahmat! I say to the police officer who is raffling my passports. He directs us around the warehouse, to the customs control proper. I happen to park into some dog shit, so immediately I feel lucky. But the poo fails to work its magic: I am left hanging for dozens of minutes while plenty of cars (with the wheel on either side) are driven past. While I am dealing with this, Ana fetches a hose and starts washing my tyre. The Kazakhs are laughing their asses off. We are apologising for being unable to hold a dialogue in Russian and promise to learn, and soon we are off.

Just like a country ago, the downpours have stopped only as long as we did. Now that we are rolling again, I see them assembling shoulder to shoulder, dark, menacing. The clouds, damn it. We brace for the worst, as if we had a choice. Today it’s the 19th, and on the 30th we M.U.S.T. be over 2000 Ks from this place, or else niet Mongolia.





The marathon will last for four days, actually less than we have expected. This time we crash no wedding and no booze is shoved down our throats. Day in and day out we work hard to do our riding shifts. The landscape is an monotonous as they come. Except for Almaty, the former capital, where we briefly stop for lunch and to search for a moto dealer. I was told I could find here a pair of mirrors for my bike, something cheap, sturdy, Made in China. Indeed I do, but the fellow would not take my money for it.



By night we bump into a Moldovan trucker. Cheerful, in the mood for a chat, but also a bit to weary. He warns us that the roads ahead are rubbish and that we should never sleep alone. Well, we tell him we will pitch on that hill over there.





Everytime we take a tea break in some remote joint, the topic of conversation is what keeps these people tied to these places. Cause there seem to be little to justify a life: the land yields no crops, no industry has been developed, the public transport is sketchy at most, the climate pays no favours to anybody and the lanscape is nothing to write home about. Why stay? But we know, for those who do, it’s not a choice.





Kazakhstan rises many question marks. We pass few towns which are invariably just as many examples of a failed philosophy: the Bolshevik doctrine never managed to replace a millennia of nomadism. In these urban settlements a narrow strip of asphalt separates the last remaining individual houses from the muddy field where the luckier citizens were awarded 50 square meteres of collective habitat. The strip is populated with women carrying plastic bags of groceries. In their matchbox apartments their kitchens smell of cheap cooking oil and the most prized item is the satellite dish. For them, Astana is the city of gods. Between these provincial towns we pass the odd skeleton of a kolkhoz, rotten train rails and mind boggling governmental propaganda: posters showing the futuristic Astana and the many achievements of the president, a self-proclaimed leader for a new Kazakhstan. And here and there, a medieval-looking gas station. The only details reminding of a different country are the cyrillic alphabet and the slanted eyes of people. Otherwise I’d think that I’ve accidentally stumbled into a time machine that took me back to a desolate communist Romania of the late 70s.





Two days later we reclaim a green horizon. We roll into a forest and many signs warn about the presence of deer and bear. But the only wildlife we see are the bloody mosquitoes and some fungus.

It rains overnight and we wake up to a misty morning. Looking for a breakfast we notice that even if the map would suggest otherwise, this looks less and less like Kazakhstan. The villagers eyes aren’t slanted, the houses are made of wood and have the same intricately carved windows and doors like the in the Volga Delta, the lands are fenced and most cars are Ladas. We must be back into Russia. As we exit the forest we finally see a log cabin whe the windows are lit. Ins floral wallpaper with greasy stains,table with benches, a samovar, and above the TV a cuckoo clock. The door is covered in fur. Everything is so old-fashioned, as if we accidentally stepped into a time travel machine. In a corner there are two women fiddling with a kitchenette. Masha is the size of a fridge and her lips are frozen in a discouraging rictus. Do you have tea? asks Ana. чай есть, пирожки есть (we have tea and we have piroshki). Can we have a teapot? You can have a teapot, or a tea cup, comes the answer. A teapot, please. What about food? Can’t you read, says Masha, who seems to have lost her patience, and she points to a menu. 15 minutes later we have become better friends, as Masha’s colleague brings us eggs sunnyside-up and fried baloney. Ana pushes the baloney aside with a smirk and blends some oats into a cup of tea. It’s a risky move. “Bringing edible items from the outside will increase your bill by 20%” would be the approximate translation of a warning placed in the footer of the menu. But we stay un-fined. We joke about the entire scene – more like a theatre play than something real.

Back To Russia

If it wasn’t raining cats and dogs I’d say that crossing again into Russia was a breeze. We are feeling optimistic about our chances to make it to the border of Mongolia before our visas will expire. We can treat ourselves to a proper bed and a place to service the bikes.

Barnaul. We are relived to roll into it. A hefty, if little known Siberian city, with many bikers roaming its wide boulevards, lovely traditional wooden buildings and a nice beach along the river, where the locals are grilling meat and downing beers.





The Russians And The Romanians Are Brothers

In Russia they say: “If not me, then who?”, explains Tolea, and his eyes sparkle a metallic blue behind his thick glasses. It means that if a Russian happens to run into a situation where they could intervene, it is assumed that it’s their duty to do so. And there can be no better example than Tolea’s behaviour towards us. Tolea is the short for Anatoly, because the Russians also love to make their names more user friendly. We met Tolea at a red light: he was riding a white Goldwing sporting some damn fine subwoofers that blasted Russian rock. Tolea’s leather vest was adorned with metallic logos that look like they could weigh at least 5 kilos. A good sign, we thought. We said hi, then Tolea suggested we should pull over for a proper talk.

His English is superb, which is so rare for Russia. How can I help you? he asks. We tell Tolea that we are looking for a cheap accommodation and for a replacement chain a sprocket for my KTM. No problem, he says, I can show you some wooden cabins for 500 rubbles, and we’ll see about a moto garage later. Soon we arrive at the place: it’s a beach club managed in partnership by a few members of the local bikers’ club.



This is the beach, in the background there is a a proper concert stage. On weekends they party hard over here, but as we arrived on a weekday we will miss the striptease…



I, Tolea and our respective bikes.



I’m sorry, it’s not possible, says Tolea after he goes to take a look at the cabins. Why? I ask. Well, we talked, and we cannot let you pay. Bikers are brother, we must all help each other, so you will accept staying here for free. What can I say? The nest day Tolea took a day off to help us around. As the bar of the local bike club is in town, we also paid a visit. We can't help falling hard for this upbeat, generous people.







In our cozy cabin we've pitched the mosquito net. Because the beasts are hungry for blood.





We cannot find a replacement sprocket in town, but fear not, the Russians are here to find a way. The guy from the Yamaha dealership picks up the phone and calls the KTM shop in Novosibirsk. Hey mate, he says, I've got a Romanian here who biked from home to our place and who could really use a chain kit change. A few minutes later I am told that they have a sprocket for me in Novosibirsk. How can I get it here fast? Tolea has a solution for that too. A phone call away he fetches a distant friend who is willing to run the errand for me. This anonymous samaritan will pay in cash for the part, then scooter down here with the package. All I have to do is wait for 24 hours, next to a cold beer – isn’t this amazing? In the meantime the weather is gentle: it still rains everyday, but sun always returns in the afternoon, so we can enjoy the delicious icecreams from Tolea’s friends. We just feel at ease, at home. We are almost regretful to leave for Mongolia. Anyway, what are you people looking for in there? say the Russians. Our country is big and beautiful, there is nothing on the other side. Well, I guess we’ll have to go investigate for ourselves, and then perhaps we’ll have our answer.

After my impromptu courier arrives, I mount the new chain and sprocket:





We are ready to explore the lovely Altai krai, one of the many Russian republics. We discover its many shades of green.







We pitch in one of the most charming spots: by a gentle stream, in a field carpeted in alpine blossom.



Even if it rains a bit, the Altai is magical: a smooth road winds around the misty mountain.









A hundred Ks before Mongolia we switch back to knobblies. While I get to work with the help of the mechanic, a pack of police officers have parked an unmarked car in the bush and are waiting for the odd driver to make a faux-pas. Just like they do in our dear old Romania.





In the next town we restock on cans and dried foods. A huge shiny overlander truck drives past and parks next to the same shop. We wave, but passengers remain unfazed. Never mind.





Mongolia, here we come!

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Old 12-30-2013, 01:43 AM   #514
mrwwwhite OP
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Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Bucharest or RTW
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The Russians And The Romanians Are Brothers

Back To Kazakhstan

It’s a wonderful feeling to have your helmet drenched in riding sweat after almost a week off the bike. Rahmat! I say to the police officer who is shuffling our passports. He instructs us to drive around the warehouse, to the customs control proper. I happen to park into some dog shit, so immediately I feel lucky. But the poo fails to work its magic: I am left hanging for dozens of minutes while plenty of cars (with the wheel on either side) are driven past. While I am dealing with this, Ana fetches a hose and starts washing my tyre. The Kazakhs are laughing their asses off. We are apologising for being unable to hold a dialogue in Russian and promise to learn, and soon we are off.

Just like a country ago, the downpours have stopped only as long as we did. Now that we are rolling again, I see them assembling shoulder to shoulder, dark, menacing. The clouds, damn it. We brace for the worst, as if we had a choice. Today it’s the 19th, and on the 30th we M.U.S.T. be over 2000 Ks from this place, or else niet Mongolia.





The marathon will last for four days, actually less than we have expected. This time we crash no wedding and no booze is shoved down our throats. Day in and day out we work hard to do our riding shifts. The landscape is an monotonous as they come. Except for Almaty, the former capital, where we briefly stop for lunch and to search for a moto dealer. I was told I could find here a pair of mirrors for my bike, something cheap, sturdy, Made in China. Indeed I do, but the fellow would not take my money for it.



By night we bump into a Moldovan trucker. Cheerful, in the mood for a chat, but also a bit to weary. He warns us that the roads ahead are rubbish and that we should never sleep alone. Well, we tell him we will pitch on that hill over there.





Everytime we take a tea break in some remote joint, the topic of conversation is what keeps these people tied to these places. Cause there seem to be little to justify a life: the land yields no crops, no industry has been developed, the public transport is sketchy at most, the climate pays no favours to anybody and the lanscape is nothing to write home about. Why stay? But we know, for those who do, it’s not a choice.





Kazakhstan rises many question marks. We pass few towns which are invariably just as many examples of a failed philosophy: the Bolshevik doctrine never managed to replace a millennia of nomadism. In these urban settlements a narrow strip of asphalt separates the last remaining individual houses from the muddy field where the luckier citizens were awarded 50 square meteres of collective habitat. The strip is populated with women carrying plastic bags of groceries. In their matchbox apartments their kitchens smell of cheap cooking oil and the most prized item is the satellite dish. For them, Astana is the city of gods. Between these provincial towns we pass the odd skeleton of a kolkhoz, rotten train rails and mind boggling governmental propaganda: posters showing the futuristic Astana and the many achievements of the president, a self-proclaimed leader for a new Kazakhstan. And here and there, a medieval-looking gas station. The only details reminding of a different country are the cyrillic alphabet and the slanted eyes of people. Otherwise I’d think that I’ve accidentally stumbled into a time machine that took me back to a desolate communist Romania of the late 70s.





Two days later we reclaim a green horizon. We roll into a forest and many signs warn about the presence of deer and bear. But the only wildlife we see are the bloody mosquitoes and some fungus.

It rains overnight and we wake up to a misty morning. Looking for a breakfast we notice that even if the map would suggest otherwise, this looks less and less like Kazakhstan. The villagers eyes aren’t slanted, the houses are made of wood and have the same intricately carved windows and doors like the in the Volga Delta, the lands are fenced and most cars are Ladas. We must be back into Russia. As we exit the forest we finally see a log cabin whe the windows are lit. Ins floral wallpaper with greasy stains,table with benches, a samovar, and above the TV a cuckoo clock. The door is covered in fur. Everything is so old-fashioned, as if we accidentally stepped into a time travel machine. In a corner there are two women fiddling with a kitchenette. Masha is the size of a fridge and her lips are frozen in a discouraging rictus. Do you have tea? asks Ana. чай есть, пирожки есть (we have tea and we have piroshki). Can we have a teapot? You can have a teapot, or a tea cup, comes the answer. A teapot, please. What about food? Can’t you read, says Masha, who seems to have lost her patience, and she points to a menu. 15 minutes later we have become better friends, as Masha’s colleague brings us eggs sunnyside-up and fried baloney. Ana pushes the baloney aside with a smirk and blends some oats into a cup of tea. It’s a risky move. “Bringing edible items from the outside will increase your bill by 20%” would be the approximate translation of a warning placed in the footer of the menu. But we stay un-fined. We joke about the entire scene – more like a theatre play than something real.

Back To Russia

If it wasn’t raining cats and dogs I’d say that crossing again into Russia was a breeze. We are feeling optimistic about our chances to make it to the border of Mongolia before our visas will expire. We can treat ourselves to a proper bed and a place to service the bikes.

Barnaul. We are relived to roll into it. A hefty, if little known Siberian city, with many bikers roaming its wide boulevards, lovely traditional wooden buildings and a nice beach along the river, where the locals are grilling meat and downing beers.





The Russians And The Romanians Are Brothers

In Russia they say: “If not me, then who?”, explains Tolea, and his eyes sparkle a metallic blue behind his thick glasses. It means that if a Russian happens to run into a situation where they could intervene, it is assumed that it’s their duty to do so. And there can be no better example than Tolea’s behaviour towards us. Tolea is the short for Anatoly, because the Russians also love to make their names more user friendly. We met Tolea at a red light: he was riding a white Goldwing sporting some damn fine subwoofers that blasted Russian rock. Tolea’s leather vest was adorned with metallic logos that look like they could weigh at least 5 kilos. A good sign, we thought. We said hi, then Tolea suggested we should pull over for a proper talk.

His English is superb, which is so rare for Russia. How can I help you? he asks. We tell Tolea that we are looking for a cheap accommodation and for a replacement chain a sprocket for my KTM. No problem, he says, I can show you some wooden cabins for 500 rubbles, and we’ll see about a moto garage later. Soon we arrive at the place: it’s a beach club managed in partnership by a few members of the local bikers’ club.



This is the beach, in the background there is a a proper concert stage. On weekends they party hard over here, but as we arrived on a weekday we will miss the striptease…



I, Tolea and our respective bikes.



I’m sorry, it’s not possible, says Tolea after he goes to take a look at the cabins. Why? I ask. Well, we talked, and we cannot let you pay. Bikers are brother, we must all help each other, so you will accept staying here for free. What can I say? The nest day Tolea took a day off to help us around. As the bar of the local bike club is in town, we also paid a visit. We can't help falling hard for this upbeat, generous people.







In our cozy cabin we've pitched the mosquito net. Because the beasts are hungry for blood.





We cannot find a replacement sprocket in town, but fear not, the Russians are here to find a way. The guy from the Yamaha dealership picks up the phone and calls the KTM shop in Novosibirsk. Hey mate, he says, I've got a Romanian here who biked from home to our place and who could really use a chain kit change. A few minutes later I am told that they have a sprocket for me in Novosibirsk. How can I get it here fast? Tolea has a solution for that too. A phone call away he fetches a distant friend who is willing to run the errand for me. This anonymous samaritan will pay in cash for the part, then scooter down here with the package. All I have to do is wait for 24 hours, next to a cold beer – isn’t this amazing? In the meantime the weather is gentle: it still rains everyday, but sun always returns in the afternoon, so we can enjoy the delicious icecreams from Tolea’s friends. We just feel at ease, at home. We are almost regretful to leave for Mongolia. Anyway, what are you people looking for in there? say the Russians. Our country is big and beautiful, there is nothing on the other side. Well, I guess we’ll have to go investigate for ourselves, and then perhaps we’ll have our answer.

After my impromptu courier arrives, I mount the new chain and sprocket:





We are ready to explore the lovely Altai krai, one of the many Russian republics. We discover its many shades of green.







We pitch in one of the most charming spots: by a gentle stream, in a field carpeted in alpine blossom.



Even if it rains a bit, the Altai is magical: a smooth road winds around the misty mountain.









A hundred Ks before Mongolia we switch back to knobblies. While I get to work with the help of the mechanic, a pack of police officers have parked an unmarked car in the bush and are waiting for the odd driver to make a faux-pas. Just like they do in our dear old Romania.





In the next town we restock on cans and dried foods. A huge shiny overlander truck drives past and parks next to the same shop. We wave, but passengers remain unfazed. Never mind.





Mongolia, here we come!

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Old 12-30-2013, 05:11 AM   #515
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Outstanding as always!!!
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Old 01-01-2014, 05:44 AM   #516
mrwwwhite OP
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Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Bucharest or RTW
Oddometer: 281
Genghis Khan Has Just Left the Building

Can't really put my finger on it… nervousness, excitement, adrenaline rush, a bit of fear. We feel like we're about to pass an important exam. It's Mongolia. It opens up ahead like a huge mass of oblivion that can swallow you into its deceptively beautiful guts. It dares you to leave the Man's world behind, and step into a ruleless, wilder universe. It can make you feel this way. Small, under its impossibly wide sky. Big, 'cause you're the master of its empty land. Few souls - fewer than in Namibia even - roam this place. Showing us the way, a solitary fat rainbow shines through.



Mongolia meets Kazakhstan and Russia at a dead angle, so one must cross the border either from Russia, or China. At the Russian checkpoint the evergreen taiga mellows down into the verticalness of the steppe. Hoisting us forward, the all hell of rain and thunder breaks loose. Cold drops slice into skin, loud roar shatters the silence of the empty village we pass by. We rarely indulge in a brief stop to gaze at the eerie light piercing through a dense mass of cloud.



While I make a u-turn to search for my lost exhaust silencer (and I will return empty-handed), Ana parks next to the village latrine to chat some curious strangers.





The tar ends in front of a locked fence. There's a board that says that the checkpoint is open daily from 9 to 18, with a luck break between 1 and 2 p.m. It's already 19.05, which means we'll only be in Mongolia proper tomorrow. The village must have less than 40 homes scattered about, 2 coffee places and a couple of grocery shacks. After shopping for apples and a banana, we knock at the door at the only caffe that is still open. Two charming sisters are booing soup and tea. The younger one pours us a cuppa and solves our overnight dilemma. We need not pitch in the cold, as a few meters back, in the lovely compound of a Kazakh family, there's a cheap guesthouse. So it goes that less than a half an hour later the merry lights of a wood fire dance on the walls of our room.





I fill up a kettle for tea and I spare some of the hot water for washing. The rain is taking a breather, so Ana steps into her jogging shoes for a quick run uphill. It only takes 15 minutes for the rain to resume and for Ana to return. She resigns to the comfort of laundry, while I change a fuse. We end our evening browsing tracks on the Montana GPS under the warm blanket, with a cup of milk tea in hand. Plan is to wake up with the dawn and to cross early. Fingers crossed that the border officers will not ask about the visa registration, which we have none of (note: only a few weeks later in Ulaanbaatar we will learn that under the new rules most nationalities - Romanian citizens included - are no longer required to register in Russia).

Indeed, shortly after 6 a.m. the sun is so bright that we cannot linger in bed.





The light is thick, shadows cut with surgical precision. Ana makes a second attempt to jogging, but again, she resigns crippled by the morning frost. We fix our breakfast of oats and tea. The lady of the house comes by for hello. She is charmed by our strange origin, she says, and she wants to give a gift of cheese. Kurut, the slightly sour Kazakh dairy that we noticed maturing in the back of the yard.





The conversation revolves around the usual: family, route… we struggle with our ridiculously limited Russian to sustain a minimal dialogue. But one thing has changed since May: if we left with a few prejudices against Russian and the Russians, now the few words we master melt on our tongue like honey, making us smell back the Volga and the Altai, the hefty meatballs of an Ossetian mother or the vodka poured by an Afghani truck driver. Russia is so much more than the sum of its oh so diverse parts. There are surely the Bolsheviks, the Karamazovs and the Gagarins, as there are the unnamed who pepper the cultural soup. Well, it's been nice meeting you, but I gotta go to work, says Natalia. Ready my kids for school and stuff. Where is that? asks Ana. The elementary school is right here, in the village. For secondary courses and high school we send the kids to Novosibirsk. My eldest daughter is studying medicine there. How can she get there? Bus or taxi, says Natalia, leaving at 6.30 a.m. and arriving by 8 a.m. the next day. Far, I say, yeah, far, Natalia replies.

Boder formalities are easy, if a tad slow. After the barrier we are having a laugh when a stocky man proposes the purchase of road insurance against ten dollars. Mongolia quickly makes us think of Namibia. Devoid of people, roads uncovered in tar, uninterrupted freedom of sky and treeless fields unraveling in the wind a technicolor of green. This barren yet rich landscape pushes us forward. A ditch or a pile of boulders are no obstacles. One can simply ride around them, into the dozens of deviations, or carve their own path to whatever cardinal destination the heart desires. It's a rider's fantasy come true: limitless expanse of empty fields with even emptier hills looming beyond the horizon. Watch out for Mongolia, our friend Carmen had said in Dushanbe. They got no roads out there, people are driving across the steppe like Genghis Khan has just left the building. Truth is they do, and for god reason. They've only recently stepped off their horses directly into cars, and they continue to roam as they been doing for generations, guided by the stars and the ovoos, to their distant destinations.





In the first village we dare to ask about a tea house. Evidently, there is none of that in Tsagaannuur. A youngster happens to overhear our plea and comes forward. In broken English she invites us to her place, where we could drink tea together. Janka's home is charmingly agglomerated with memorabilia of an entire generation: silky carpets with shaman symbols, plastic medals from her school competitions of all sorts, ageing photos of grand grandparents adorned in heavy traditional garb and with a eerie smile on sunburnt visages. Janka lays the table with raisins and homemade cookies of lard and flour, and small bawls of a mysterious watery liquid the colour of chlorine. A fatty brew of milk and water, barely infused with a dash of leafy infusion and seasoned with a sprinkle of salt. If this was breakfast, a dollop of butter would have melted inside. This is the Mongolian tsai, and for a while we will have to do with it. We drink our tea and giggle. From our own food offering - pickled sardines from Russia, some bread and Natalia's kurut, Janka is only interested in the cheese. Later we'll learn that the Mongols have their own, not much dissimilar to the Kazakh version. We talk food. Janka pulls out a ridiculously large chunk of sheep from the freezer. My favourite food, she says. How do you cook it? we ask. I boil it, she says. What condiments? She hesitates. Err… maybe… salt.



Again, Ana's babble make people pull out photo albums from shelves. Janka proudly shows us her graduation pics, a glamorous selection of Mongolian students dressed and photoshopped into western characters with porcelain complexion and curls. Do you want me to take some photos of you? I ask her, but in the end Janka will only like the pic where her face is serious, frozen, unbroken by smile. As we chat, Janka sees Ana taking notes, so she starts tutoring us more words in Mongolian: bread, milk, an invitation for tea… Family members come and go: her mum, Aynuur, then Manka, a younger sister who has just turned 12, and finally the jokester of the clan, a brother. I'm Jupar-Rapuj, he says, and everybody brakes into laughter.







On the way to Olgii aimag we encounter massive road works. Giant deceptions manned by scarfed creatures scar the land, mix gravel and cement and pour asphalt. Seemingly oblivious of the mayhem, a group of herders are sorting nearby through fresh wool piled high. Perhaps sooner than one year from today Chinese tar will have covered the trail. Some will say it's for the best. Trucks loaded with western goods and fuel will roll from the border to the other side of the country. Isolated communities will be reached by Coca Cola, but also by medical care and the world wide web. On the other hand, some will say that Mongolia will inevitably have lost it s soul, tamed and consumed by the eventual appetite for development that has already levelled so many other cultures across the world. But not yet. The Kazakh enclave of Olgii with its abundant market, its ATMs and decent streets is still the last frontier of civilisation until Ulaanbaatar.





We leave it behind, bikes refuelled and north-east-bound





We put a good few hours trailing along a mosquito infested river. The water is clear, surging against a flat bank populated with shade. Trees, a rare site. It could make for a comfortable campsite, but not on the insatiable insects' watch. The mosquitos herd us up the hills. Our tent can barely stand in the wind, but still the damn insect don't let go. We indulge only in a brief Jaegermeister toast to a motorcyclist friend from back home, and we seek cover.







Bushcamp on mosquito kingdom



We wake up to a world of empty trails laying still under an assembly of restless clouds.







A few hours into the game, our wheels hit sand. Lots of it.









This is a typical Mongolian road junction.



I'd say the sign is redundant



On the edge of a lake where we have planned to take a shower and to do some laundry, we bump into a strange community. Five yurts pitched a fee steps from the stinky water. The Mongols call them her - which is actually the word for "home". The inhabitants pour out: red-eyed gawking adults and kids, many many kids, screaming and jumping right in front of our wheels. On soft sand, avoiding disaster take a bit of a sweat, but the kids are hysterical and neither revving the bikes, nor horning or shouting would deter them from jumping un us like flies on a corpse. I pass second, and a couple of children grab my spare tires and pull. I stay vertical, but now my blood has started to boil. Whats up with these people? The parents keep on staring wordless, and none bothers to reply to our hello. We are in no mood to linger to socialise, or to take a dip in this dirty lake. To our hearts content, the trails ahead are more peaceful and fun:







A dot on the horizon grows larger, until it metamorphosis into Yuri, a Russian biker from Yoshar-Ola. On his two week solo journey he has been exploring the dirt backroads of northern Mongolia, taking plenty of awesome pics. We discuss routes, we debate the future of Mongolian off-road and we part ways smiling.







As Yuri has warned, the desert lasts for another good stretch. Our water reserves have long dried out and the sun is criminal. When I spot what could be a well we are almost delirious with thirst, but in this heat our water consumption has risen to ridiculous levels. We drink up. Nothing beats water, it's the best. Bottles refilled, confidence restored, we pick up from where we have left. Bold sand suddenly allows brittle shrubs, then the land is conquered by grass and prickly plants. We are nearing another lake.



In stretches from one side of the valley to the other, a beautiful mirror for the eerie world above. Smoke comes out the chimneys of a handful of yurts installed by the water rim. A group of people gather someplace, their parked jeep embellished with the logo of a tour operator from Ulaanbaatar. Tourists. The yurts belong to a small Kazakh community who is organising off-season performances of bird-hunting for visitors who are willing to witness this age-old tradition. Our presence does not remain unnoticed. A shirtless and clearly inebriated man jumps on his moped and chases us for an up-close inspection. He's gesticulating that we should do a swap: one of our bikes for his. As tempting as the offer may be, we each keep our original wheels, and wheel off.









Not much further we meet a second overland, and American. Jacob has been cycling and ham mocking for over six months from Portugal, across Europe and Russia, and now Mongolia. AS our encounter develops into a lengthy conversation, more curious Mongols arrive. Our bikes draw all the attention. The men kick into our back and front tires, pull every identifiable bit and give us pats on the shoulder that almost knock Ana over. They try to push the dashboard buttons and to sit on the bikes. Their enthusiasm is so hard to contain that one of them bursts into a song. He takes rhythmic sips from the vodka bottle hidden under his silk deel and he tries to make us drink, but we all refuse vigorosly.







Beyond this scene, the valley is flooded in green and the sun lays soft shadows like in a computer wallpaper.



We descend into the valley, only to climb back where a shamanic altar lies. An ovoo. In this country of few verticals, sacred places where rock is piled or precious wood is tied in blue prayer scarves serve both for spiritual recollection and for orientation. On top of a largely featureless geography people have built another, at the same time symbolical and functional. No vehicle would be driven past without the passengers and driver stepping out to walk around the ovoo, to scatter food and sprinkle liquid for the gods and to murmur a prayer of some sort.





Tonight we ask some locals for a refill of water. Only a grandmother is home with kids of two families. They have two gets installed in the vicinity of a well, and soon we decide to spend the night together.





We are quickly involved in house chores. Ana is milking her first cow, under direct supervision of 16 years old Urt-Nasaan, draped in an impossibly elegant blue deel. My task is to entertain the boys, who are playing hard to get.





The brutality of this world is evident. Few words are spoken between the family, words that sound like they contain no vowels, and that end in something almost inaudible, a vibration of the lips. To our untrained ears this language resembles the harsh weather that stops trees from growing across the steppe. Greetings and polities are useless. What one needs, one takes. Even the way kids play is raw and physical. A teenager pulls a lasso and throws it at his youngest brother, who bites the dust with a bang, but can't stop laughing. It must hurt, but being hurt must also be so much part of these kids' life that they know how to take pleasure from it. They are reared to put up with extremes of weather and hard tempered parents, to carry heavy loads of dung, or wool, or water. To herd powerful beasts to jai loos and back without getting lost in a vast land.





Nenkh-Bayr who is 12 years old insists I should meet his horse. As I print out the photo of his favourite animal and companion the boy can hardly contain his happiness and pride. These people love their cattle tremendously. There is a word for each age of the maturing cow in the Mongolian language and many more for the yaks, the horses and the camels, and for such a spartan language it says a lot.



We pitch our home next to the home of the Mongolian nomads. Fierce wind makes the temperature drop to almost freezing levels. But under the dying sun the steppe is magical.



Jacob, the American cyclist from earlier, has rejoined us. We had discussed to try to meet and bivouac together, and we tempted him here as soon as we've spotted him pedalling past. next to our tent he unwraps a bivy, then we all disappear inside the guts of a yurt, for tea with our hosts.





Next to the usual Mongolian concoction of butter milk and salty water we are offered a tasty platter of the house cheese: hard, matured kurut cut in rectangular pieces that remind us of an unsalted parmesan, and soft cheese generously sweetened and cut in the shape of a star. Our favourite variety turns out to be Korkhoi Aaruul, some sort of confectionary made from sweet cheese poured in strings and left to dry into a crumbly, crunchy delight. Too bad for the disgusting tea.



For breakfast we repeat the ritual, plus a bawl of fatty yoghurt seasoned with a layer of sugar. The grandmother is watching us eat, while smoking and tending to the distillery of the house. In the middle of the ger a huge pot sealed with dough is bubbling on the fire. She makes us sample the product, and we try to keep face as we sip as little as humanly possible of the sour liquor that smells of milk and sheep. In the meantime the youngest toddler, my playmate from the day before, is sleeping under a sheep carcass.







The yurt of the Mongols are deceptively simple constructions. Very portable, it can be installed by a skilled man in a few hours. A latticed structure supports the weight of the roof and is wrapped in many layers of wool on the inside, and of white fabric on the outside. There is much exuberance in the Mongol home: everything is colour, furniture and door painted with shamanistic symbols place strategically in the way of malevolent spirits. Light pours into this world through a round skylight. A watchful eye open to the outside, a gesture of control of how much of what cannot be controlled will be allowed into the intimacy of the home.



For now we are still struggling to understand what these Mongols are about. We observe, we try not to jump any conclusions, not to buy into what others have said, and what many keep saying. The alcoholic binges, the garbage, the brutal social manners, the apparent lack of respect for someone else's propriety or level of comfort. Not unlike Kazakhstan, Mongolia is one of the new kids on the block of industrial revolution. Until recently there wasn't much need to communicate or to socialise, to congregate or to team up. Not outside strict family necessities in any case. Why wonder then that when Ana forgot her sunglasses in a grocery shop a man took them and that minutes later when she returned to recover them the man would not easily let them go? Why wonder that the shop owner or the village audience watched the entire scene without a sound? Let's keep quiet and keep rolling across the horse-bound nation, and surely we'll figure something out.

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Old 01-01-2014, 09:51 AM   #517
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Your posts are awesome...

The grandma in this photo... in the US... could be on a Navajo reservation.

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Old 01-02-2014, 02:03 AM   #518
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beautiful pics as always , happy new year !!

I'm buying a second hand drz and looking at your tyres, what do you recommend on 50% tarmac 50% gravel/hard-packed? the trailmax or another ? thanks !!
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Old 01-02-2014, 02:16 AM   #519
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Your posts are awesome...

The grandma in this photo... in the US... could be on a Navajo reservation.

Cheers TwilightZone! Indeed she had a Native American face. We met also some minorities in yunnan, China looking very Peruvian/ Bolivian.
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Old 01-02-2014, 02:52 AM   #520
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beautiful pics as always , happy new year !!

I'm buying a second hand drz and looking at your tyres, what do you recommend on 50% tarmac 50% gravel/hard-packed? the trailmax or another ? thanks !!

To be honest I prefer to be a bit more careful on Tarmac in order to have full traction off-road. So I suggest knobblies. I just love the rear 908RR and we used it for more than 7500km which is not that bad. For the front the pattern is nice but it wobbles quite bad over 120. Maybe it was the lack of centering. MT21 is a bit cheaper option than 908 but with almost the same mileage, traction.
Trailmax is a good compromise. Quiet on Tarmac and decent on gravel. I managed (with the immense help of the Ralemoto damper) to ride in sand also but not very deep or technical. You'll have to stay away from clay or any type of mud or very slippery stuff.
The Trailmax is also much decent priced in comparison with other 50/50 tires like anakee or tourances.
We managed to get more than 12-13k from the rear and probably could get way over 20k for the front.
Another good alternative as a rear comes from Heidenau. The k60 scout is aggressive enough (more I would say than the Trailmax) and also very durable (over 13-15k). We had some issues with it in Africa (severe delamination for some knobs) and unfortunately we're not the only people reporting this problem. The good news it's a weight related problem so will not occur on the DRZ.
The k60 front felt way to street biased on the Tenere but maybe it was again because of the weight as they look pretty similar (with the Trailmax)
For a long one I would carry an extra front (908 or mt21) and pair it with a k60 rear. Would be a good setup for over 15k.
Cheers, John
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Old 01-03-2014, 02:30 AM   #521
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Originally Posted by mrwwwhite View Post
To be honest I prefer to be a bit more careful on Tarmac in order to have full traction off-road. So I suggest knobblies. I just love the rear 908RR and we used it for more than 7500km which is not that bad. For the front the pattern is nice but it wobbles quite bad over 120. Maybe it was the lack of centering. MT21 is a bit cheaper option than 908 but with almost the same mileage, traction.
Trailmax is a good compromise. Quiet on Tarmac and decent on gravel. I managed (with the immense help of the Ralemoto damper) to ride in sand also but not very deep or technical. You'll have to stay away from clay or any type of mud or very slippery stuff.
The Trailmax is also much decent priced in comparison with other 50/50 tires like anakee or tourances.
We managed to get more than 12-13k from the rear and probably could get way over 20k for the front.
Another good alternative as a rear comes from Heidenau. The k60 scout is aggressive enough (more I would say than the Trailmax) and also very durable (over 13-15k). We had some issues with it in Africa (severe delamination for some knobs) and unfortunately we're not the only people reporting this problem. The good news it's a weight related problem so will not occur on the DRZ.
The k60 front felt way to street biased on the Tenere but maybe it was again because of the weight as they look pretty similar (with the Trailmax)
For a long one I would carry an extra front (908 or mt21) and pair it with a k60 rear. Would be a good setup for over 15k.
Cheers, John
thanks !!
Sadly in spain we don't have the D606
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Old 01-03-2014, 03:32 AM   #522
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thanks !!
Sadly in spain we don't have the D606

That's all over Europe. :(
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Old 01-03-2014, 03:49 AM   #523
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Loved the ride report and fabulous pictures!
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Old 01-03-2014, 06:45 AM   #524
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Loved the ride report and fabulous pictures!

Cheers!
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Old 01-03-2014, 11:21 AM   #525
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happy new year the friends

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