Problems at Moscow Airport, a forgotten bag at Ulan Bator Airport, cold weather, anti-China demonstrations and one day of snow. This was some of the things that happened when we kicked off the bike-expedition in Mongolia.
Trouble in Moscow
Just seconds before the airport bus was to transport us to the plane to Ulan Bator, a uniformed woman came running towards the bus with a piece of paper in her hand. She could barely get her head through the door, where we were standing packed like sardines in a can with our baggage between our legs. “Mortensen” was the only word we heard above the rumbling of the bus’s motor. After a few seconds we realized that she wanted Eric to get off the bus. But she wasn’t satisfied with just Eric. In the end it was all four of us who stood watching the bus pull away without us. Then we were ordered back to the departure hall. We didn’t understand anything, just stood there with our hearts in our throats. What have we done wrong? Is our whole trip in jeopardy? After a couple of minutes of confusion, we find out what’s wrong. We’re missing an important stamp on our ticket, which we should have gotten when we went through the transit area. A little too kind female guard in uniform had let us past the line of Asian travellers and sent us directly to the Tax Free Shop. We probably had gotten special treatment because of our Western appearance, but this time we didn’t gain anything by it.
Luckily, after waiting about 10 minutes, a uniformed woman with a stamp in hand came running over. The tickets were stamped, and we could board another bus to the airplane. Finally, we could relax.
Crisis in Ulan Bator
Twenty minutes before landing in Ulan Bator at 8 A.M. local time, the Captain informs us that it’s minus 9 degrees on the ground. Minus 9 C! We had hoped it would be a little warmer. We look out and see that all the mountains around are covered in snow. If there’s this much snow to the south, our departure might have to be postponed.
Luckily, there’s no snow in the actual city of Ulan Bator when we arrive, and with the dryer climate, minus 9 degrees doesn’t seem so bad.
We check in at a Ulan Bator guesthouse in the center of town. We get a small apartment with 6 beds, 2 rooms and a private bath. Here there’s enough space for all our equipment, including our bikes. $30 per night. The proprietor is a very nice, service-minded Korean man named Kim.
Not many minutes pass before we realize that one of our bike bags is missing. A very important bag. It contains our PC and satellite phone! We look everywhere, including both of the taxis we took, without luck.
Probably we’d forgotten the bag at the airport. The proprietor, Kim, is quick to assist. He wants to drive us back to the airport immediately to look for the bag. Eric and Jardar go along, as well as one of the hostel employees who used to work as a security guard at the airport. This turned out to be a big help, as we had to run through the hallways and halls of the airport terminal. We found the bag in a storage room. What a relief! Our trip can continue as planned. On the way back to town, everyone tells us how lucky we are that we got our bag back. According to Kim, forgotten articles at the airport are most often stolen.
Demonstration in Shubaatar Square
Thursday, April 7th is the day we get acquainted with the city center. We bike around and stop at Shubaator Square, a large open place in front of the Parliament in Ulan Bator. There we end up in the middle of a large demonstration. Apparently a group of Mongolians are demonstrating against the economic influence the Chinese have attained after Mongolia became free. We are surrounded by young and old wanting to look at our bikes and find out where we’re from. Eric is interviewed by Mongolian TV in the middle of the Square. They ask him if he knows why there is a demonstration. That’s when we find out what it’s all about.
A little later that day, we visit an old temple area called Gandantegchinlen. Among other things, there’s a 20 metres high gilded statue of Buddha inside a tall building. Very impressive! We’re surrounded by small children selling us small bags of birdseed for the pigeons. We buy a packet.
Towards the end of the day we bike over a river and up a little mountainside to a large monument honoring fallen Russian soldiers. From there we get a good view of Ulan Bator, which stretches across about 30 km through a valley with tall mountains on both sides. The city has about 1 million inhabitants.
On Wednesday, April 8th we wake up to snow. This was not expected. Nor is it usual, according to people we talked to. It’s colder now than normal for this time of year.
Since the weather is bad, we spend the day shopping. Lyngve discovers that he shouldn’t have bought his new mountain boots in Norway, as their equivalent is on sale here at a fraction of the price. Jardar, who only has his biking shoes with him, buys a pair. Jardar, Eric and Lyngve also buy what seems to be original, wind-resistant North Face fleece jackets costing only NOK 180. We doubt that they really can be originals at that price.
We also purchase some dried foods, which we will need for the 2 weeks we expect to spend biking to the Chinese border. Including the food we have brought with us from Norway, we now should have enough to last for 14 days.
The apartment where we’re staying is rundown, but clean. But there’s a disco in the same building, and we hear the noise until 2 A.M. It makes sleeping difficult.
Trial run towards the Gobi Desert
Saturday, April 9th was our planned date of departure for the Gobi Desert. But since it’s snowed, we decide to postpone leaving until Sunday. As the sun is shining now, most of the snow should have disappeared by tomorrow. We hope.
We spend most of Saturday on a trial run in the direction of the Desert, without baggage. The wind is with us as we race off on our bikes effortlessly. About 20 km from town, all signs of habitation have disappeared. But it is bitter cold compared to in the city – and blowing violently. We have on warm and wind-resistant clothing. But when Jardar takes his gloves off to adjust his camera, his hands get icy cold in just one minute. So we decide to turn around and head back to town.
The trip back was considerably more strenuous. We had the wind against us and were weakened by not having eaten. We’d taken no food with us. Sugar levels were very low when we finally got back to town and could buy something to eat.
On Sunday morning at about 11 o’clock we plan to head out on our bikes toward Kathmandu.
Author: Jardar Valand