Cycling away from the border across into Mongolia, with freshly stitched shorts so I wouldn't show the border police the section of my posterior which has been on display for the last couple of weeks after another stupid stationary fall, left me with a big smile on my face and a huge sense of relief.  Not only because I'd got through both Russian borders without any hassle at all despite all the stories I had heard, but because I was very much ready for a change of scenery and culture.  

I was soon richly rewarded and it was not long before I had concluded that I like Mongolia much better than Russia.  To start with the people in Mongolia are very friendly.  People constantly toot their horns and wave (although this is starting to wear on my patience just slightly), I've had people share their lunch with me and others provide me with cups of tea (which in Mongolia is rather unpleasant and bitter but as they say it's the thought that counts) and the sausages I've been given haven't provided me with an uncomfortable night sleeping with my shoes on ready to run into the bushes at regular intervals as was unfortunately the case the time I was given sausages in Russia.  The views are always beautiful and the hills are long and gradual with no more knee destroying 14% slopes.  Best of all there are no mosquitoes!  Within a couple of hundred kilometers of entering Mongolia I've had a random camel stroll past me as I was setting up my tent, had seen yaks and had to dodge many a cow casually strolling across or just standing on the road.  Exactly what Mongolia is famous for.  In Russia I went thousands of kilometers without seeing a single bear or wolf!

Saying that, Russia had saved her best until last.  The ride from Irkutsk to the border, although a little on the hilly side, was stunning.  The views no longer consisted simply of blocks of birch trees, instead they were dominated by beautiful hills, Lake Baikal and sections of the road ran alongside the Trans-Siberian Railway.  People did become friendlier as I moved further east through Russia and even the train drivers would beep and wave at the skinny, bum-showing Englishman riding past.

I met a cyclist riding the other way two days into Mongolia.  He told me all about the 'road' through the Gobi desert which awaits me over the next week or so.  Apparently I can expect long sections of sand which are simply unrideable and which have thorny plants dominating the land either side.  Other sections of track were so bumpy they caused damage to his bike and provided very sore hands and bottom.  Plus there is the added heat ingredient to add to that as for some reasoI think it's going to be one of those things which I'll be glad I've done but won't enjoy at the time.  Worst of all I heard that I am going to have to cheat to get across the border into China by hitching a lift for 2km as they don't allow folk to ride across.


Finally, the three main sports in Mongolia are wrestling, horse racing and archery.  Whilst not formally taking part in any I have had the opportunity to participate in an alternative form of all three to some extent:

Wrestling: As I pulled up to a shop to stock up on bread, noodles and swiss roll, I was approached by a drunk who demanded that I purchase him some alcohol.  Upon my refusal he threatened to punch me and began trying to rip parts of my bike off.  I passed up the opportunity to wrestle him and thankfully my pedaling was faster than his drunken stumbling.

Horse Racing: I cycled alongside a Mongolian nomad on his horse for a short stretch and he challenged me to a race.  Unfortunately the terrain didn't provide me with much hope as we were heading up a hill at the time and he thoroughly beat me.  The following day I met him again further along the road and this time it was on a long downhill section where I was able to have my revenge.

Archery:  In Ulaanbaatar there are a large number of companies offering tours around Mongolia where you can participate in a wide range of activities.  I walked past one which offered amongst the more standard options the opportunity to head to an army base and fire a live rocket propelled grenade!  Unfortunately due to cost and fear for my safety (and that of anyone else within range) I decided to give it a miss but where else in the world would you get to do something like that!
Simeon Ewing
12/8/2011 05:41:08 am

You the man Christopher, THE MAN.

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Desert Facts
12/8/2011 07:00:20 pm

Gobi means "Waterless Place"
- It is approximately 500,000 square miles
- Only 5% is sand dunes
- Contains 5 distinct eco regions
- Currently expanding due to desertification
- Lies in a rain shadow caused by the Himalayas
- Fifth largest desert in the world
- It is a cold desert
- Located on a Plateau around 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level
- Populated mostly Mongols, Han Chinese and one nutty Brit on a bike.

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