After a one month’s stay in the Netherlands, I am dropped off at Schiphol by friends and meet my fellow traveler, Sjoukje, who will travel with me for a few weeks through Mongolia and some Stan countries.
The flight to Moscow has a delay, which means that the arrival time is very limited to make the connection with Ulaanbaatar. Sprinting no longer helps. The plane is already busy with its ride to the runway. Three hectic hours follow to arrange a replacement flight. We are not the only victims. Again after a strong sprint we are just able to board the plane to Seoul. This detour to go to UB means that our travel time will be more than twice as long as the original travel time of 16 hours. Upon arrival in Ulaanbaatar, it appears that my bicycle has come with us, but our luggage has remained in Seoul. An additional problem is that our luggage labels in Moscow have remained behind on the Aeroflot counter due to the hectic pace of rebooking the flight. That makes it difficult to find our luggage. We are picked up by Enkhtur and a colleague. After seven months it is a happy reunion. Enkhtur immediately proves his good help again by talking to the officer of the “Lost Luggage Department” in Mongolian. Fortunately, we can also hire a family member who can trace the numbers of our checked baggage. After two days our luggage finally arrives.
Unfortunately, the work on Piggy is not yet ready. It results in a week of waiting until all repairs have been done, including my wish to create a folding bed in the back of the cabin. Very annoying because we only have one month to explore Mongolia, starting with the Gobi in the south. On the way to the south, the road turns out to be worse than last year. The cold has considerably damaged the asphalt so that the holes already present have become even larger and deeper. Sometimes you can no longer avoid these holes and with a 60 km / hr ride we thunder over such a hole that the spring of the gear lever breaks off. Yakmobil had restored this old problem by welding this spring. They could not find a new part. So again the spring is broken, resulting in a gear lever that moves in a vacuum and therefore cannot be brought into gear. After prolonged stirring in vacuum, I manage to put the gear lever back into position. We return to Ulaanbaatar. The problem occurs twice more. The last time it takes about 20 minutes before I find a gear again. Back at Yakmobil the spring is repaired again and adjusted by a better welding. I find the address in Austria where they have parts of old Steyrs are in stock. Fortunately they still have this spring in stock and at my request it is sent to a garage in Kazakhstan, where we expect to arrive within a month.
With a second attempt we reach our first sight in the Gobi: The Yolyn Am, a glacier in a deep gorge. The road there is of the sturdy off-road type. A high-pitched sound suddenly appears. We drive slowly back to the barriers of the protected area. The cabin is jacked up, some men come to give their opinion and advice. I also make a few phone calls with Yakmobil. Something must be wrong with the generator. In my attempt to disconnect the V belts I am unable to unscrew the nuts. I hit the wrench a few times, but this also doesn’t help. Again I start the engine to hear where the sound is coming from. The blows have made the sound disappear. The reason remains a mystery, but we can continue for the time being. Now we no longer continue the journey through the Gobi, but back for safety reasons back on the main road towards UB, halfway near the village of Khuld we head for an unpaved road to Arvaikheer. We are shocked to hear the sharp sound again. Again I jack the cabin up and try to cancel the sound with a few taps on the generator. But now I notice that an air cable presses against the rotating V-belt of the generator. With a tie wrap I prevent this from happening again. How easy can it be.
We visit the Ongi monastery. Formerly one of the largest monasteries in Mongolia with more than a thousand monks, but destroyed during the communist purges in 1937. It is beautifully situated on the wide Ongi river. The weather is nice and warm and we visit the ruins extensively. The plan is to travel to the former capital of the Mongolian Empire under Djenghis Khan, Karakhorum. We are confronted with the extreme weather changes in Mongolia. On the way to the north the clouds increase and we end up in an ice cold snowstorm. At the end of the day we find a sort of stopping place with a number of Yurts where we spend the night in the shelter of a shed. The next day Piggy changed into a “snowpig”. We are advised against driving on today. This day delay shortens our journey through Mongolia to the western border with Russia to just 2 weeks. We now skip Karakhorum and the next day we head south to drive over the bad roads (or rather tracks over the steppe) to the western border. The world around us is now completely white. It is nice to see the herds of horses moving in the snow in a long line following their leader. The first 2 hours we come across some tilted trucks that have slid off the sloping slope. (or perhaps blown over) So caution is required when driving. A small pick-up truck landed with its nose down in the earth when he wanted to ride off the slope. Piggy can use his power again to pull the cart out of the slurry. It is customary to help each other. Thanks are therefore never really exuberant. By the way, I realize that the Mongols, but also the people in Siberia, hardly greet when they enter or leave. Something that is experienced as unfriendly to Westerners, but here it is just a habit without nasty intentions.
The temperature changes abruptly and during the drive to the west the snow disappears, yes, like snow in the sun. The sky is steel blue and the thick clothing makes way for T-shirts.
The southern main road to the west is asphalted in various places. In between, vehicles are regularly sent into the country, often along the road to be built. Piggy moans and sighs. The heating in the cabin fails and the ventilation valves cannot be closed completely. We have ice cold knees and lower legs and feet. But at lower speeds the solar heat has its beneficial effect. Just like in Tibet, you can so to speak with your head in the sun and your feet in the shade with a sunstroke and frozen feet at the same time. We find beautiful camping spots in the middle of the steppe, hidden behind a hill or out of sight of the main road. Mongolia is one big free camping place. What a freedom. Occasionally a shepherd cannot control his curiosity and climbs up the back platform, peers through the window and knocks on the door to come and see the rolling house. In Mongolia it is customary to walk into a yurt without knocking, so this is already special. I would like to let the man in, but first of all he stinks in the wind for an hour. A cloud of milk, lard, greasiness, horse-front and other indefinable smells surround him. Communicating is also a hindrance because neither speaks each other’s language. So I invite him to the door to take a look at my cozy, warm home.
As the journey to the west progresses, Piggy shows more and more symptoms of malaise. The cabin starts swinging violently again when crossing holes and bumps, after a tinkling noise the stabilizing bar on the side of the cabin appears to have finally broken down. I disassemble the part and place it under the seat. The scissor movement between cabin and box is disastrous. I have to drive very carefully. With every tilting movement of the cabin I feel the brake pedal move by itself. Eventually the accelerator pedal is also clamped with every sideways tilting movement and when we arrive at a pile of stones with prayer flags, a so-called Ovoo, my brake pedal is completely blocked. Driving further proves impossible. All options are considered. There is no telephone or internet signal. The closest stopping place is 3 km back down. The cabin, like half a year ago, sagged again and presses the foot- and brake pedal. After some struggling with the brake pedal, I manage to let Piggy roll again and drive at walking pace and occasionally use the handbrake (which, incidentally, also regularly works poorly) we descend to the stopping place. Finally, a steep slope has to be taken while a giant trailer with heavy luggage is approaching from the other side. I have to give way and notice that the cabin leans to the right. The result is that the gas and brake pedals are once again blocked. I also hear a tap from under the hood. Up the slope on your own is no longer possible. With the help of the large trailer, I pull myself upwards by using my winch on the front side of Piggy. Handy thing like that.
There we are. 60 meters from a row of buildings and yurts. No cell phone connection, but luckily there is a satellite phone at one of them. I contact Enkhtur from Yakmobil and ask for advice and help. With difficulty and through people who pass towards Altaj (200 km away) I can have photos sent from Altaj to have a correct diagnosis made. Conclusion: broken support bolts. After two days with a strong cold wind, a rescue operation follows from Ulaanbaatar, which is 850 km away. The next day, Zuula, the irreplaceable chief of technology, arrives with two engineers and required equipment and works for a day and a half. The first day they work until 11 in the evening.
Sjoukje has since traveled further by bus to the west. She is tired of waiting and has had enough of all that waiting from the start of the journey. I don’t blame her. We will meet again later in Ulaanbaatar. In the meantime, the end of our one month visa is approaching.
After about 5 days Piggy is ready to travel again to UB. The second day an electricity outage occurs so that I cannot start the engine. Again no telephone range. In a screeching snowstorm and dressed in pure polar clothing I leave Piggy on the side of the road and luckily get a lift to Arvaiskheer pretty quickly. Where I can have a nice chat with Enkhtur again. Haha. He arranges an electrician for me and the next day we go with his car to Piggy which we see standing 120 km away in the snow. What a beautiful area with the snow. The sun is shining again. The road is still difficult to pass because of the frozen road surface, but we get there.
The man unscrews the dashboard and finds a broken fuse. 5 minutes work !!!! I am ashamed of shame.
Now I am in the Yakmobil garage for a few days for remaining repairs. Meanwhile, Sjoukje and I were able to apply for a one-month visa extension just in time. Sjoukje decides not to continue traveling with me. She is going to buy a train ticket from UB to Moscow and from there fly back to the Netherlands.
We both have a problem with a Russian visa. Since a few months it is no longer possible to apply for a tourist visa for 30 days. A transit visa of max 5 days is the only one for her. For car travelers, like me, a maximum of 10 days is given. It is impossible for me to cover the 7000 km to the European border in 10 days with Piggy. I am therefore obliged to first drive to Kazakhstan and, if necessary, apply again for a transit visa to take the last part through Russia. I have to go to Kazakhstan anyway, because a new gear lever spring is waiting for me, sent from Austria.
The plans for the coming weeks:
First of all I have to go to Öskemen in Kazakhstan for the replacement of the gear lever spring. Depending on the condition of Piggy, I have to decide whether I will return to the Netherlands or continue the journey to the other Stan countries and Iran.
We shall see!!
TAKE A LOOK AT PHOTO’S AND VIDEO’S OF MONGOLIA 2
MY TRAVELPHOTO’S FROM 1987 CAN BE SEEN AND/OR BOUGHT HERE AT STOCK PHOTO AGENCY