Thursday, August 17, 2006

In the dunes of Gobi

We finally leave Ulaanbataar (with our extra generator just in case..), and ride 2 days straight south to Gobi National Park, with a few drops of rain to welcome us in the desert (!), and we start by visiting the famous "ice gorge" at Yolym Am, riding in very pretty small roads up valleys in these 2000-m high mountains. We find a very nice spot up a steep valley to pitch our tent so we stop there and made a horse-shit campfire, to show it really burns well (and besides, there is no tree anywhere around, so no wood).

The first "electronic" casualty in this trip is my bullet cam, it just stopped working. So I somewhat fitted my HD cam on my helmet and kept filming like this. A bit heavy, and not very discreet, but then the quality should be much better.

The next day we exit the mountains through a very pretty (and narrow) gorge partly in a river bed, and head west for the big sand dunes of Khongorin Els. The road starts to be more and more sandy, so that's where the fun starts.. we each have our first crash as we learn the hard way how to fight the sand..!

We end up riding along the big sand dunes, on more or less hard dirt tracks, and when we arrived near the highest ones (Kongorin Els), we wee not one but at least 5 ger camps 15km around, and each with probably 30-50 gers.. so that's some touristic place! We try to bargain a place in a camp, but they didn't drop the price enough (I think it was around 18$), so we end up pitching our tent a few hundred meters away, next to a ger.

Of course the ger owner somes to look what's going on, and he's very firendly. He invites us for a drink, so we go there and try camel airaag, a bit thick but not bad. He has a wife and 3 kids, and he owns about 40 horses and 30 camels. That's about as many animals as you need to live with your family in Mongolia.

We decide to take a day off, so the next morning we leave with light bikes (no baggage) for a ride in the nearby dunes, that's a must of course! A bit difficult at first, but we quickly find the trick to ride in soft sand. You just have to believe in it, it's all on the mind.. Then I started a little contest, who would make it higher on that dune. My first attempt was a bit lame..

Then it was Anders turn. So he kick starts his bike.. and kicks, and kicks, and kicks.. (all this in the sun of midday). Eventually he stops sweating his jacket, there must be something wrong with the engine. Can't be the generator of course, we just changed mine.. but still.. we left without any tools of course (first time: we had to have a break down!) so I turn into the assistance vehicle, go back to our camp, pick up the tools and spare parts and come back, looking as the messiah to Anders stuck in his dune.

It took no more than 10 seconds to measure up the coil..: dead! yes, we better believe it, the part that may "very rarely" break in the Tenere just went down twice in a couple weeks. So now we're really happy to have gone through all this hassle to order a second spare part, and have the first one brought over from Russia to Ulaanbataar. Otherwise, that would have been quite a longer ride for me to go back to Ulaanbataar to order a new part, wait for it and ride back here!

So Anders gets his hands dirty again and changes the generator (3rd time? 4th time? he's OK with the procedure by now..). All this in this patch of grass in the middle of the dunes, couldn't be any better for an improvised workshop!

Of course it runs all right after that, so the next day we're OK to ride out of Gobi toward the western border. But to get there, the road crosses the sand dunes in a "pass", where they are shallow and only 1 km long. Yeah, but 1 km in soft sand on a fully loaded bike, that takes some time.. for the interest and amusement of a busload of tourists waiting at the pass exit.

But that was just the begining, we had a long day of sandy tracks in front of us, to arrive in a lost, depressed small town. Anders is always into camping, but I insist to sleep there as the wind is pretty strong and blowing sand. So we end up in.. the police station! The 2-3 policemen there (what could they spend their day on?) probably don't have use for all the communist-era building, so a woman set-up a room with a few beds, and another one with tables and chair for eating. How easy. We have a pretty good night sheltered from the sand storm.

The next day is a very nice day (it seems that we alternate good and bad days, so the morale keeps good), we just miss the main track and end up instead crossing some shallow round hills on very small tracks, where we have a blast! Very cool ride that nicely breaks up the tiresome, flat sandy tracks.

We cross a few towns, all pretty dull, dark and miserable, with abandoned buildings. We just hit for food (whatever they have, usually some water, pasta, cookies and instant noodle packages) and fuel, usually 80-octane on a run-down crank-operated russian pump. Once we could only get 76-octane, and the engine complained about it by refusing to rev up past 3'500 rpm. But it still runs, that's all we ask it for.


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