Could we bring our bikes into China? That was the big question when we arrived the border between Mongolia and China. It was four nervous guys who woke up in the morning preparing for the challenging border crossing and chinese buraucracy.
Anyone willing to drive us to China?
The next task is for us to get from Samod into China. Although not completely sure, we are aware of the possibility that it might not be permitted to take bicyclse into China. So we figure that it will be a major challenge getting ourselves, 4 bikes and all our baggage (6 pieces each) into the country. We’ve been prepared for this from the outset, and our plan has always been to do one of two things: either take the train across the border or find someone who is willing to drive us over.
We discover quite soon that the train is not a realistic alternative, since the next one doesn’t leave for two days, and it’s most likely booked full. After wandering around town a little while, we find a house with a lot of delivery vans outside. Luck being with us once again, a man speaking good English comes out when we approach the house. We explain that we want to get ourselves and the 4 bikes into China. Nothing is mentioned about it maybe not being allowed to take in bikes. We agree on a price (700 Chinese yuan per vehicle, two vehicles needed) and make an appointment to meet the next day after 8 A.M. We’re very pleased with this arrangement, as we hadn’t thought that it would be so easy to find someone who was willing to drive us across.
Now or never
The next morning is Monday, April 25th. It turns out to be a completely different kind of day than what we expected. Our two drivers storm in at 7:55 A.M. and take our baggage down to the vans. They’re clearly in a hurry, although we don’t understand why. Mongolians are not exactly known for being early. The stress level gets excessive when we realize that our drivers want to cram all of the bikes into one vehicle and all of the baggage into another. We, on the other hand, are keen to squeeze two bikes into each van, and then cover them up with baggage in order to conceal them. After a little pressing, we manage to get our own way, although we can see for ourselves that the baggage doesn’t really cover the bikes completely. But it’s now or never!
We zoom off in the two vehicles for about a kilometre before coming to our first stop: a long queue to get out of Mongolia. Now we see why the two drivers were in such a hurry. We’re already late getting going, and we land at the end of the queue. Sigbjørn’s and my quick- thinking driver jumps out of the van and runs to the head of the line. After just a short while, he finds another van from the same company that’s nearly empty, i.e. only 4 other passengers. We throw all of the baggage into the new vehicle, trying once again to conceal the bikes under our bags. We’re even less successful this time, but by now Sigbjørn and I have begun to assume a “what will be, will be” attitude. We don’t dare to start thinking again that our whole trip might be in jeopardy. Instead, we pass the time filling out customs papers and chatting with the other passengers. It turns out that our drivers are employed full-time transporting workers from Mongolia to the Chinese border town, Erlian (Erenhot). So what we thought was going to be a unique trip for them, made especially for us, turns out to be something these guys do every single day.
And what a job it is. When the queue finally begins to move at 9 o’clock, our driver is quick to start sneaking ahead. It’s an “every man for himself” situation. People nearly run the border guards down in order to get to the blockade separating us from the Mongolian customs. But finally we’re through! When we arrive at the customs control, we’re shoved out of the vehicle and into a large hall full of screaming and hollering people who are trying to get first in line any way they can, so that they can get out of Mongolia and into China. And this is something they do, if not every day of the week, a least every Monday; just to get to work.
Sigbjørn and I decide to cling to our fellow passengers. This turns out to be a wise move, since our van is not allowed to proceed until all seven passengers have gone through customs. Hence, it’s also in their interest to help us get into the right queue and receive the right papers.
After getting through Mongolian customs, we go to our vehicles again, where the customs officials in the meantime have gone through our baggage. Now we drive up to the Chinese border crossing. On the way, we discover that in rummaging through our things, the customs officials have left the bikes are even more visible. Some of the bags have even been opened. What will the Chinese customs officials say to this?
Once again we’re pushed out of the truck and led into a building that reminds us of an airport passport control, with scanners for looking through baggage. Sigbjørn and I have now become separated from Jardar and Lyngve, but luckily we’ve split our money so that we all have both Chinese yuan and US dollars. It seems that we have to pay 5 yuan each to get a stamped Entry Form, which has to be filled out with our name, passport number etc. Without this, we can forget about getting into China. Once again we are helped by our fellow passengers, since we have to write down the number of the vehicle we came in. Who would have foreseen that? Just getting a hold of the right form is an operation in itself, a fight with 30 other people trying to shove yuan bills into the hands of the poor officials who are trying to answer incoming calls on their cell phones at the same time.
We get our Entry Forms in the end, go through passport control and get a stamp in our passport showing that we have entered China. But what about the baggage? So far we haven’t seen any traces of angry customs officials wanting us to explain one thing or another. Can this really be true? Have we actually arrived in China with our bikes and equipment in tact?
Yes, it is really true. The customs officials have made a mess of our belongings and opened the bags. But they haven’t said anything about what we have with us. It seems all of our worries were unnecessary.
And so we don’t think anything more about it, now that all four of us are in. It took three hours, but by 11:30 A.M. we’re standing in the market place in Erlian and assembling our bikes, surrounded by twenty or so curious Chinese onlookers. We’re here!