Mongolia - Across the Gobi

Gobi campsite Bitumen stops at the Chinese border.The track into the heart of Mongolia is not even a graded one; just a series of wheel ruts through the sand.Mongolian roads are really something else!After crossing the border and leaving the sleepy border village of Dzamin Uud, almost all signs of civilisation were left behind.This was the Gobi Desert.Not a tree was visible in any direction.It would pass that we would see no trees before the outskirts of Ulaan Baatar 750 kilometres away.[see Mongolia Map 1]

All we had to navigate by were the Trans-Mongolian railway on the right and the unreliable truck tracks across the desert.For three days we were in the saddle.Three long days.

Riding from 7 a.m. till 7 p.m. across the nothingness of the Gobi desertwe would only average about 250 km per day.Consistent with our recent misfortune in China we arrived at the Gobi to find that it had been raining heavily for the last week.What would otherwise have been hard ground and relatively easy travelling had become 750 kms of mud and soft sand.We would frequently fall, and both of us would have to strain to get the 250 kgs of bike and luggage upright again or we would get stuck in foot-deep mud and have to push and drag the bikes out of the quagmire.At the end of each day we would be exhausted, barely able to make camp.

The ordeal of crossing the desert was worsened by the difficulty we had in choosing which series of truck tracks to follow.Frequently additional tracks diverged from or crossed the ones we were on.The challenge was then to guess in which direction we ought to be heading.It was impossible to be confident as the truck tracks would for some mysterious reason never follow the train line and for most of time the railway line was never in view.As the terrain was too soft elsewhere we had no choicebut to stick with the truck tracks.

The only signs of people in this area are the Mongol herders living in their yurts.Every few hours, about 40 kilometres apart, we would see a yurt on the horizon.It was with the help of these nomads that we were able, in broken Russian, to make our way to the next town.Invariably the yurt dwellers invited us in for tea.Usually salted.On the first evening we had the pleasure of camping by three yurts and sharing the fire and hospitality of the four generation family who lived in them.

It was 7:30pm at the end of Mongolia day #1 (22nd August) - a brutal day in which I dropped the bike 4 times in soft sand, and James once - the sun was getting low on the horizon and in the distance we saw their group of yurts (gers).The obvious thing to do was to ask them if we could camp by their yurts.

Grasslands near UBNothing seems to shock or impress these simple people.In China we were always greeted with wide-eyed stares and a thousand questions about the bikes.The yurt dwellers would greet us like a neighbour and ask us in for tea.

The night was still relatively warm and we elected to just roll the ground sheets down and sleep on top of those, discarding with the tent.At around 2 in the morning we awoke, questioning the wisdom of that decision.Cattle belonging to the family were walking around us and hooves were hitting the ground only a foot or two away from us.Did the cattle know we were there? Or would one of us get the weight of a cow through the skull? We began to talk and make sounds, so at the very least the cattle knew we were there.Slowly, the cattle began to give us a wider berth and we went back to sleep.

The following morning we took the opportunity to unload some of our surplus baggage.The bikes have a very limited carrying capacity, and with the season becoming cooler, it was time to unload some of our gear.After determining from the family that the next town of Saynshand was still about 35 kms away we gave the kids some toys.....a set of two way radios that never really worked on the bikes.If I could only describe the look on these two young boys faces when we gave them the radios....We might as well have come from outer space.The boys were rapt.Also some hard rock cafe T-Shirts and shorts - if you ever travel this way and see some nomads wearing old worn out Hard Rock Cafe gear, you'll have some idea where they came from.

It was also a chance for some damage assessment from yesterdays first taste of Mongolia.I had damaged the plastic fairings on both sides of my bike and some quick repairs with duct tape was required to keep the plastic in shape.James had broken only one side of his fairings, but far worse was one of the oil containers in one of James side bags had burst in the fall and 2 litres of oil now filled one of his side bags.

We didn't have breakfast but instead decided to get food in the town.We tracked North, heading diagonally across the direction of the North Westerly railway line in order to intercept it again for the first time since losing it only a kilometre or two outside Dzamin Uud.The nomads we camped by gave us rough directions to Saynshand, pointing pretty much due North, meaning we had strayed probably a good 15 to 20 klms from the railway line.

Student Monk and Proud MotherAfter little more than an hour heading due North, the buildings of Saynshand and the railway line came into view in the otherwise untouched wilderness that is the Gobi.It was our first town since the border village and we needed to refuel - the bikes and ourselves.The entrance to Saynshand was a trash strewn wasteland - like a left over rubbish dump from a Mad Max movie.Riding through Saynshand itself was like riding through a ghost town.It was dry and quiet, with the desert winds making the only noise we could hear, apart from the relatively quiet sound of the trusty TransAlp V-twin engine.Very few vehicles were moving about.We saw no shops or anywhere else to eat so we headed to the Railway Station ... always a safe bet.There was indeed a cafe of sorts there.We tried but couldn't contemplate eating the food.It was three day old rice and some brown goop.Even for hungry bikers, it was a big "no thanks".We rode around town, seeking out people to ask if there was anywhere in town where we could get some food, or a beer, or anything and the answer was quite simply "no - the only food for purchase is at the railway station".We decided to skip breakfast and instead headed to the big fuel dump on the hill.We soon learned that the Mongolians had no interest in our Chinese yuan, but after an hour we did find a guy in the queue who was prepared to sell us some fuel "coupons" for US dollars.

There are five towns (and very little else) between the border with China and the capital, Ulaan Baatar (UB).All of them have fuel, but only 76 octane.The difficulty is getting them to sell you some.Mongolia runs on a system where the fuel depot staff can only give petrol to those with fuel vouchers, but no-one seems to know where to get the vouchers.Fortunately, hard currency is sometimes accepted as a substitute by some of the more enterprising locals.

One curious feature of these few railway towns is the lack of shops.The only commercial premises in these towns are the railway station and the fuel depot.In a curious hangover from the communist days, all the townsfolk are sent, by rail, a monthly package from the government.These packages contain all the food, clothes, vodka and other necessities for the coming month and as a result these towns are almost cashless.The unemployment in the Gobi Desert railway towns is around 80%, the only jobs being at the station and fuel depot.Consequently, alcoholism is rife.

After Saynshand the road became less sandy, but increasingly corrugated.It went from tough going to rough going.In the early afternoon we caught up with and over took a convoy of trucks.The lead truck had stopped and was waiting for the other two trucks to catch him up, so we took the chance to stop and check directions with him, as well as distances and the availability of fuel (the best news we heard was that the road after UB is a maintained paved road !!!).The guys were really friendly, cracking open a bunch of beers and a watermelon.When the following trucks caught up, they gave us a sixpack of Beijing beer to take with us and a pack of apples.These commodities were pure gold in Mongolia as there seemed no way we could source stuff like that before making it to the shops and bright lights of UB.

We went through the village of Choyr near the end of our second day in the Gobi.The first task was to get petrol so we headed for the town fuel depot, but no-one there wanted our US dollars and we were still couponless.However one of the guys at the depot must have had dealings with China as he suddenly decided he would let us full up for 30 the Chinese Yuan we had left.So far all the fuel we have found in Mongolia has been 76 or 80 octane only, though we are assured UB has 93 octane fuel.The bikes however, were coping ok.There was no need to open the throttle riding at the speeds we were going at and on the tracks were going on, so with no pinging to be heard, we kept our limited supplies of octane booster safely packed away.

10 km out of town, we drove off the main track and camped behind a hill, out of sight from the road.It was a sensational location.We were looking down into a deep grassy valley and a kilometre away, at the bottom of the valley was the railway line.A couple of times during the evening we even saw trains go by, supplying the railway towns with their booze and fuel.As with the previous night, the treeless terrain meant we had to collect sheep dung and soak it in petrol in order to make a fire and cook up our instant noodle dinners.We sat up talking for much of the night, drinking beer under the stars and watching the odd train pass.The night though was beginning to feel cold.

The next morning we were woken by the sound of a dog barking.We both froze with shock when the silhouette of a man carrying a rifle was clear on the outside of our tent.We gingerly poked our heads outside, wondering what a man with a gun is doing standing outside our tent.The guy was about 40 and seemed tame enough.He wasn't pointing the gun at us, and that was a good sign.After some stuttering conversation I was able to make him out as a hunter, looking for rabbits with his dog and his son.That was good news.The bad news is that he didn't want to go away.They were soft rolling hills with nowhere to hide behind and I was keen for a number 2.But he just stayed there staring at us.We couldn't gesture to him to go away, after all we were in the middle of nowhere, in his country and he had a gun.So we just packed up our gear, with him, his dog and his kid watching from 10 yards away, and rode off.

The third day of crossing the Gobi found us in a landscape far grassier than the previous two days of sandy desert conditions.Rolling grassy hills was the predominant feature of the landscape.We began to venture off the wheel ruts and rode in the grass nearby.This was a revelation.Riding in the grass was smooth and effortless.Anyone who has crossed Mongolia on a motorcycle will vouch for me when I say the constant concentration and bumps, the variation between soft sand and mud, takes enormous amounts of energy out of a man.We spent quite a few stretches of this day riding across billiard table like grasslands at 60+ km/h, which felt like riding to the moon after the first 2 days of 20 - 30 km/h riding in which we rarely got out of 2nd gear.

We debated throughout the day whether we should try and do the full remaining 300 klms in one day or break it into two days and we kept flexible on that one ... we would see how we are placed at 5pm.

Either way, it would be wise to at least try and pick up some additional fuel during the day if we came across any, just to be on the safe side.

While riding through a village in the morning, we passed a couple of teenage kids on a motorcycle who happened to be carrying a 20 litre container of fuel they had obviously just purchased with togrogs, coupons or a combination of the two.The kids were drunk.We offered them US$10 for the fuel and they happily took the cash.That was enough to pretty much fill up the tanks.The kids thought we were interesting enough to follow out of town, and we had to really hit it to shake them off out tail in the end.They were very drunk and potentially trouble and that was the last thing we needed.

Traditional dress still common in MongoliaAn hour or two down the road James had fall, and managed to damage his knee in the process.He was paddling with his feet through a sandy patch when the bike fell while his leg was down and back.It was the first injury of the trip and hopefully it wouldn't bother James in the future.Sometimes even small injuries can cause the end of trips like this and that was something we wanted to avoid.A bit of rest & recreation in UB should be just what the doctor ordered.

By 5pm, we had decided we were too close to UB to stop and pressed on.It was almost 9 p.m. at end of our third long day when we sighted the bright lights of Ulaan Baatar.It was the 24th of August.We were determined to get there in three days in the end and put in a 300+ kilometre day.The last 20 kilometres, from Nalayh was by road; glorious concrete road.After three days on sand and dirt tracks, we had completely forgotten how smooth real roads are.But it was on this short stretch of bitumen, which in light of the 3 days through the desert felt like the smoothest stretch of bitumen I have ever ridden on, that we first felt the cold.The weather was cooling down fast and this was only at the end of August.We had been used to the heat and humidity of China and the seasons were changing on us - rapidly.

With the aid of a hand-drawn map drafted somewhere in the East China Sea, we made out way through UB to the home of Erkhembaatar, the Mongolian businessman we had met on the ferry from Japan.We had no contact with him since saying goodbye to him in Shanghai almost two month earlier.It was after 9:30 pm when we knocked on his door, and we were lucky, for he was home with his wife and newborn son, and he took to us like long lost brothers.

Ulaan Baatar has over 700,000 people and is a sweet oasis of relative civilisation in the middle of the Mongolian wilderness.The chance to relax with a Guinness or two at the weekly Friday evening British embassy bar session proved too tempting to pass up. The Friday evening drinks session is held in a caravan at the back of a British embassy christened "The Step Inn" and hosted the largest regular gathering of westerners in Mongolia.The embassy staff (of two) mentioned that (in 1994) there was rarely more than 20-30 westerners in Mongolia at any given time, and a quarter of those were embassy staff for the western embassies, with most of the rest being aid workers.Specials of the house at the Step Inn were Guinness and G&T.Everyone it seemed came to the Step Inn on Friday evenings and swapped tales.It made it very easy for the western missions to keep tabs on their citizens.This also gave us a chance to thank David Bloggs, Britain's man in U.B. for his efforts (for want of a better word) to get us into Mongolia.

We spent five days relaxing in U.B., staying with Erkhembaatar, and gave the bikes a thorough going over.Duct tape fairing attachments were reinforced with some custom fabricated wire attachments, made with the finest parts from Mongolian bazaars and a hand drill included in our 10 yuan Shanghai tool kits.We also needed to extend our Russian visa dates.The guy at the Russian embassy was very friendly.He looked like he had stepped right out of Texas.He was about 6'6" tall, had a checked shirt, bolo tie, huge belt buckle and ten gallon hat.After the 3 week holdup in Hohhot, we were all up nearly a month behind schedule, after less than 2 months since leaving Australia.We still hoped to make it into western China and Pakistan, but that meant we had 4 weeks at the most to get to Pakistan.It was going to be a race across Siberia and down through Kazakhstan to make that happen.

Incredibly friendly folk these Mongolians.They took fantastic care of us.I guess they don't get a lot of tourists through there, so you are quite a novelty.We took our time here for we needed some rest and it was the first home we had stayed in since leaving the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

Out of Gas ...

Everyone in UB seems to be somehow involved in trading.Erkhembaatar, who by now we has renamed "The Funkster", had a passport with no less than 80 Chinese border stamps in it and a similar amount of Russian stamps.The Funkster's best mate had two or three times as many as that.It turns out that Russian passport holders can not get into China without a visa - and the visas were slow and expensive to get, and similarly Chinese cant get into Russia without going through a nightmare visa process.In between them both, the little Mongolians required no visa for either.Everyone in UB made regular trips to China to buy cheap clothes and electronics, then loaded up with huge tarpaulin bags of this stuff boarded the trains through UB and on to Siberia and even Moscow.At each train stop, Russian traders - desperate for cheap fake Adidas and Nike track suits - would buy the goods.Once all unloaded, the Mongolians would stock up on Russian goods (like cigarettes, chocolates, oil and porn magazines and videos) before returning to UB (and even on to China) to sell those goods in the open air bazaars there.The Wu Jing trucks crossing the Chinese Mongolian border loaded up with goods were also part of this system.They took the goods to UB, where Mongolian buyers would buy them and load them onto Mongolian trucks before driving them on to Russia.The Mongolians had become trading middlemen in the wake of the Soviet Unions breakup.Eventually, as China and Russia begin to trade more directly themselves, this visa free gravy train will come to a shuddering halt, but for now, the Mongolian economy could not exist without this trading game.

Our man, the Funkster, was high up on the trading tree.He had moved well beyond cheap clothes and cigarettes. We had met him on the ferry from Japan, en route to Shanghai.The had with him 7 fax machines, purchased new in Japan for around $700 each.He knew he could sell them in UB for $2000 + each.Unfortunately for him, the whole investment of his business trip was held up by the customs guys in Shanghai (the very same customs guys who had held our motorcycles for 10 days in the same shed at the Waihongqiao ferry terminal) who had seized the fax machines until the Funkster could prove they were transiting goods, rather than imports to China. As we arrived in UB, Erkhembaatar was planning his return to Shanghai, as his faxes were still there, two months later and he needed the funds from that business trip to make his next trading trip to Korea.

It was from here that we DHL'd a few dozen rolls of what we felt were probably the best shots of the whole trip, covering the section from Beijing to U.B, ahead to Agfa in Germany.They would unfortunately never arrive.

After 5 days of rest and admin in UB, we loaded up the bikes, said farewell to the Funkster, and hit the road.The countryside north of the capital was considerably different from that to its south.We now found ourselves riding through grasslands, on signposted, bitumen roads.Towns were frequent and lively and were situated on the banks of creeks and rivers.Abandoned Soviet military bases littered the countryside.Animals were no longer the occasional camel or horses, but were plentiful cattle and sheep.In every scene there were three or four clusters of yurts spread out around the countryside.South of UB, the yurts were often 30-50 klms apart.

We even had the opportunity to stay in cheap hotels and eat at local restaurants again - not that Mongolian food is anything to write home about.Meals almost exclusively consisted of bread and a soup of cabbage, carrots, potatoes and chunks of boiled mutton.Shops though, stocked luxuries such as Coca-Cola, Mars bars and Belgian chocolate.Fuel became a little easier to obtain.The two grades available in the towns here were 76 and 93 octane.The prices fluctuate quite markedly in Mongolia, but we were paying around 160 Togrogs (40c) per litre for the 93.Our first day out of UB took us to Darhan on the 30th August. [see Mongolia Map 2]

Darhan was a bit of a disappointment. All through Mongolia everyone loves leathergoods.Leather clothes, boots, bags, neck wallets etc were everywhere.When we asked around the markets in UB, we were told it all comes from Darhan.Darhan is the leather capital of Mongolia.So here were were in Darhan, and all we could find anywhere was cheap Chinese clothes.We had been hoping to find some cool leather gear, maybe even some custom riding pants, but no.All we found was crappy t-shirts and the obligatory fake Adidas track suits.The great Darhan leather factory is closed until September, which means we would miss it by a day.

After spending the afternoon searching Darhan in vain for leathergoods, we were about to hit the road, ride out of town an set up camp when we walked past a new hotel.Out of curiousity we went into check the price.It was cheap, just 4000 togrogs for a double room, 5 US$ each, so we took it.It was the nicest hotel we had stayed in the whole trip so far.We met a French guy in Darhan who did a lot cross border business between Mongolia and Russia.He explained that getting vehicles across the border was not totally pain free.He advised us to get in touch with the border police up ahead in Sukhbaatar.Once we agreed, he offered to get his contacts to arrange it.

Travelling through Northern Mongolia and mixing with the tiny, friendly locals, it was hard to imagine that we were in the birthplace and the heartland of the greatest empire the world had ever known.Here near the Mongolian - Russian border, some 800 years earlier, Genghis Khan was subduing neighbouring tribes as a prelude to conquering 2/3 of the known world.

The last day of August was due to be our last day in Mongolia, but as we left Darhan I noticed that my front tyre was very low.Had it sprung a leak?Were we going to have to do our first puncture repair of the trip?I inspected the tyre in great detail but could find nothing.I was a bit confused and pumped the tyre up with our push bike pump.After waiting 10 minutes, the pressure was still good so I decided to ride on but would be staring at the tyre religiously for the remainder of the day.Surprisingly the tyre didn't go down.It must have been a kid overnight who let air out of the tyre.

Near the Russian border, the grasslands gave way to patches of forest.In crossing Mongolia from south to north we had seen the terrain move from desert to grasslands and now at the Russian border, forest.

In Sukhbaatar, we pulled in to the local police station.The boys had been briefed by contacts of the French guy from last night and a carload full of Mongolian border police escorted us to the road border village at Altanbulag.We were soon through the Mongolian border post and crossed the narrow no mans land to the Russian post.Border crossings are rarely easy on a motorbike and this one was no exception.The Russians refused us entry, on the grounds that they wanted us to cross on the railway, between Sukhbaatar and Naushki.He insisted that the road border was only for local crossings - only Mongolian and Russian citizens could use it.The only "international" border crossing between Russia and Mongolia for the whole 3485 km border was that train crossing. Again the Mongolians were sympathetic to our plight, letting us back into Mongolia.We rode back to Sukhbaatar and overnighted at the Sukhbaatar Hotel.The Mongolian police were going to pick us up at 6 in the morning to help us get on board the train to Naushki.It was a half day delay but hell, sometimes that happens.It would mean our Mongolian visa validity went down the wire (Sept 1 was the last day we could be in Mongolia) but again that was becoming par for the course.The cops allowed us to store the bikes at the station and drove us back to the Hotel.We found food (not very good) and beer (Tiger beer from Singapore) at the Sukhbaatar Hotel, and settled in for the night. We woke on the 1st of September after 6am.The police weren't there to pick us up so we walked down the the police station, packed up the bikes and rode to the train station to await the 08:30 train to Naushki.Alas when the train arrived it was a passenger train.There was no room and no way motorbikes were going to fit on there.We returned to the police station where the boss man had a shocked look on his face.He was stuck with these two foreign buggers.We spent the morning trying to find alternate methods.Hiring a truck to drive us over the border was tried and failed, as the Russians would have none of it.By 5pm the boss man lost patience and with our visas about to expire ordered us back to UB to get them extended.We we put on the overnight train back to UB, arrived at 6am and made our way to the Funkster's place where he had coffee and breakfast on the go for us. After coffee it was straight down to the Foreign Affairs office where were granted an extension to our visas.Initially they offered us only 3 days extension (to Sept 4), but we pleaded for more as we had found out that the next train that DEFINATELY had a baggage car was on Tuesday the 5th.Eventually they relented and gave us 8 days, until September 9th.Next stop was the Russian embassy.We wanted to meet up with out cowboy friend (why by now we had christened "Tex") there and see what could be done about getting into Russia by road.Maybe they could help.We hit the jackpot.Tex informed us of a brand new diplomatic agreement between Russian and Mongolia opening up the Kyakhta - Altanbulag road crossing to "international" border status, from its current "domestic" status for Russians and Mongolians only.This agreement was date August 10th 1994, and was only 3 weeks old.They were obviously unfamiliar with it at the border and so Tex even wrote us a letter, referring to the agreement and referring to our names and passports and that we should be allowed to cross on the road border.This was great news.Not only would it save us several days of time but it would save us a reported 300,000 ruble "fee" at the Russian end to take the bikes over the border by train.That evening, Friday 2nd of September saw us in for another evening at the Step Inn, before catching the overnight train at 23:00 back to Sukhbaatar.

We shared a 4 bunk premium class room on the train with a Mongolian couple - traders obviously, laden with several hundred kilos of clothes, bound for Russia.The 300 klm train journey from UB to the border town of Sukhbaatar takes 9 hours, as it stops at every village.After Sukhbaatar it continues onto Russia, daily.We felt confident that armed with this new border agreement we would be the first western bikers to cross the road border, rather than the train border between Russia and Mongolia.We recalled Bruno Blum, who we had met in Jining in China telling us he had been forced to take the train over the border.So here we were, all set for another first.Considering the time setbacks and frustration of the last couple of days, the satisfaction we would get from riding over that border would make it all worth while. Our train pulled into Sukhbaatar at 6am and made out way to our friends at the police station and Mr Batayev, the chief there for the road and rail borders out of Sukhbaatar.It was really cold this early in the morning and we had to bang quite a bit before someone woke up and we got let in to the station.After an hour or two's sleep we took the bikes out of the garage only to find James had a nail through his rear tyre.This was our first flat of the trip.We removed the tyre, replaced the tube and used the bicycles tyre repair kit to patch the inside of the tyre. Naturally enough it began to rain.While we are delayed, the weather tended to be fantastic - and as soon as we were about to hit the road, the heavens opened.By midday we were riding out the the road border at the village of Altanbulag in the pouring rain, freezing cold.We left the bikes at the Mongolian checkpoint with James while I went up ahead with one of the Mongolians to present the letter from the embassy to the Russian border captain.After an hour of standing in the rain, I was handed the documents back with a shrug of the shoulders and a comment that the Russian border captain has no knowledge of this agreement.He made it clear that he took his orders from Moscow, from the Interior Ministry, not from some bureaucrat for the Foreign Affairs ministry working in Ulaan Baatar.Until he hears otherwise from Moscow, then his border is good only for Mongolians and Russians.His final piece of advice - "take the train".One of the Mongolian customs guys saw us setting for the cold ride back to the hotel at Sukhbaatar and advised us to try again tomorrow as the border staff alternates daily.We did that the next day (Sunday 5th September)and were again duly rejected by the Russians. We had no choice but to go back to UB.There is no-one who can help us, and no-one who can make decisions where we were..It was impossible even to get a phone line in Sukhbaatar.By now the town had been rename Suck-Butt-er ... and we were sure sucking a lot of butt in Suck-Butt-er.By now we were practically the laughing stock of the town, the bane of the police guys who had to help us out all the time but at least we got sympathy from everyone ... that's what we were reduced to.Pathetic foreigners desperate for sympathy.We took the overnight train back to UB, aiming to hit the Russian Embassy first thing Monday morning to get Moscow to call the old cold war warrior at the border and bring him up to date with Russo-Mongolian border developments.

Highway Encounter, Northern Mongolian Grasslands

After more 6am breakfast coffees with Erkhembaatar and his wife Gherlee (luckily they lived less than 200 yards from UB's main train station) we were blessed with the assistance of a Mongolian translator from the Save the Children fund, who spoke English and Russian (among the 8 languages she was fluent in) and we sought an audience with the Consul General at the Russian embassy.He sympathised with us and made jokes about Russian bureaucracy, saying it was typical that this agreement now almost 4 weeks old had still not made its way to the people at the border whose job it was to enforce it.We weren't really interested in his humour, we just wanted him to fax Moscow and get Moscow to fax the border.It turned out that our old buddy Tex was charged with sending the fax to Moscow.That was Monday. Tuesday began by heading into the Russian embassy to see Tex.Tex was frustrated with his compatriot at the border, exclaiming "Crazy Russians!" onseveral occasions. Tex had indeed sent the fax to Moscow but warned that in all probability it would take "several days" at least before anything was heard at the border.We hit upon the idea of actually taking a physical copy of the border agreement with us, so we could show the guys at the border.Tex said it was a good idea and may help, but he cant give us a copy, as they had only the one copy.He said try the Mongolian Foreign Affairs department.James did just that and with our Save the Children translator (we think her name was Bella - but cant be sure) in tow, he headed down to the Mongolian Foreign Affairs Department.Bella seemed to be well know in town.Her organisation seemed to have to deal with the same people we were dealing with regularly.The Foreign Affairs guys knew her and swapped her passport for their copy of the agreement.As in they only had one copy of the agreement, and they gave it to us.We took it back to the Funkster's place where his photocopier was primed and waiting.He must have had the best office equipment in all of UB.... it seems no-one else had a copier.

Wednesday morning we ran around doing a little shopping before our 14:30 appointment with Tex.Tex was brimming with good news.His people in Moscow had received his fax AND had assured him that they had passed it on the Naushki border commandant, who was in charge of both the Sukhbaatar-Naushki rail crossing and the Altanbulag-Kyakhta road crossing.That was great news.So now Moscow had contacted the border chief, and we had only the third copy in existence of the new Russo-Mongolian border agreement.We were primed and ready to cross that road border.But not before taking in a little Dalai Lama.Mongolia is predominantly Tibetan Buddhist, but throughout all the communist years, the head honcho of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, was unable to visit.So here we were on September the 7th 1994, the date of the Dalai's first gig ever in UB.We had to pop along and have a look.The city's main sports stadium, normally used for Nadaam celebrations, goat polo, archery and wrestling tournaments, was given over to the great man.His presence charged us up for this challenging border crossing.That night we took the overnight train back to Suck-Butt-er.


It was the typical 05:30am arrival in Suck-Butt-er ... freezing cold, no one around ... but this time we made our way back to the Sukhbaatar hotel, where our bikes were stored.Someone let us in, and rustled up some snacks for us to eat before at about 7am we packed up the bikes and headed out to the border, via the town fuel depot.We charged through the Mongolian lines and went face to face with our Russian deniers.We plonked down the document... the 3rd copy of the new border agreement on the table and waited for them to finally give us the nod of approval.Phone calls were made (obviously back to the border chief in Naushki), and we were further able to ascertain that Naushki had indeed received the fax from Moscow confirming the new border agreement.However, with no reasons given, they still firmly denied our entry into Russia at that border.Well that was about our 5th strike.We were surely out now.It was already the 8th of September and we had no more time to stuff around.The brutal reality was the man in charge of the border lets through who he wants to let through and the embassy is powerless to get him to do otherwise.

Back in Suck-Butter-er we went straight to the train station and after much hassling and getting them to call UB to find out when there was going to be a freight train, we found that tomorrow, Friday the 9th, there would be a afternoon freight train coming through.We told them to make sure that rain doesn't leave Sukhbaatar without us, and that we would be at the hotel.We checked in to the dreary Sukhbaatar Hotel, unpacked the bikes and planned to wait it out for the next day and a half.That would turn into a day and a half of sleep and beer.

At 5pm on the 9th, our date with destiny finally arrived.Finally after 10 days of trying to cross this damned border it was about to happen.The bikes were all packed and ready to go and we rode down to the station to see our man, the freight chief."Ah not now, not now.8 o clock" he said in Russian.We went back to the hotel.Faced with a choice of unpacking the bikes so that valuable things could not be pinched or sitting outside in the cold with the bikes, we chose the latter.I went in to the buffet and grabbed a couple of hot "meals" (creative use of the word 'meals' there) and we both sat outside watching the bikes and eating our mutton and potatoes.Time passes slowly when you are out in the cold waiting for it to pass, but eventually 8pm came around and we rode back to the station.Now the message was "11 o'clock, 11 o'clock train comes".We ended up freezing our nuts off waiting on the platform for the train, which eventually arrived at 23:30.A box-car wagon for the bikes had to be shunted into position, and then we were faced with getting the bikes in there.There was no ramp at Sukhbaatar, and the train platform was only about 50cm above the tracks.Somehow we had to get the bikes up another metre.

In the end, with the help of five burly Mongolians, we lifted the two motorcycles onto our box-car for the 25 kilometre midnight journey from Sukhbaatar to Naushki.

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