First Two Days in Mongolia Week 17 17th - 18th August 2011
We camped in the backyard of a hotel in Erlian.

Convenient to city center.

Quite a few Mongolian and Chinese restaurants.

We chose Chinese.

Susanna translated a joke that one of the waitresses had told to the others ... the one about the skeleton that went into a bar then ordered a beer and a mop.

Meat and two veggies "again".

The meat is chicken, with those delicious peppery things that make one's tongue tingle.

Bok choi with mushrooms, snow peas with garlic.

We expect to cook more for ouselves in Mongolia and also believe the restaurant food is very different to China, simply because the agriculture is different.

This is our last meal in China.

Erlian railway station International Waiting Room.

The China Railways security guard wouldn't let us inside so standing on the platform wasn't going to happen.

The trans Mongolian trains come through here.

We opted for the road border.

And the queue of Russian built Mongolian jeeps.

We had an agent with lots of paperwork and drove around the queue.

The process was started the day before and required someone somewhere to marry the vehicle entry to its exit. 

After an hour or so we said goodbye to Susanna. After 9 weeks we were both sad to leave her and happy to be two again.

We couldn't have wished for a better guide.

Entering Mongolia was a saga.

I missed the first Customs check so had to do a bit of backwards and forwards.

I was finally helped by the person at the end of the chain (about the 6th check we had to go through) who took me back to the beginning.

Turned out he had a Masters Degree in Agriculture from Bangkok and spoke reasonable English.

The most obvious change so far is that the Mongolians don't smile as readily as the people further South. Its not that they aren't friendly, just that they don't smile as much.

Money changing was at a bank upstairs in the Immigration building and gave a reasonable exchange rate from RMB to Togrogs. We are Togrog millionaires.

The whole process took an hour and a half. This is the queue going the other way to leave Mongolia.

Our first sight of Gers in Zamyn Uud, the Mongolian border town.

They are round felt semi permanent living accommodation!

We went to the bank in Zamyn Uud. There are several, and the ATM accepted our debit card.

We are now Togrog multi-millionaires. But a tank of diesel will cost about 200,000 Togrogs.

Heading North out of Zamyn Uud (there is really no other direction for us to drive in) we followed this truck for a while.

Easier on the navigator.

A few km North of Zamyn Uud we stopped at this Oovo.

We walked around it three times and added some stones to the cairn.

Hopefully it will give us good luck.

The Oovo has its origins in Shamanism. Another religion to get our heads around.

Had a chat to the locals.

We turned our attention to the road(s) North.

Not as bad as it looks, they all lead to the same place. Just like a braided river.

We don't have gps maps for Mongolia. We do have a digital map for Oziexplorer and a paper map from the same source - which don't quite agree. And of course neither agree with reality.

We don't have a gps hooked up to Oziexplorer. Bother. A trick for next time - the gps mouse is sitting in storage in Brisbane as it isn't compatible with our netbooks. Our brand X gps doesn't communicate gps info with computers. 

Navigation is thus by sun, compass and read lat/long from gps to periodically check position in digital or paper map.

We soon spotted a few animals.

Mostly sheep, goats, horses and camels

We made a loo stop.

In China Ali would announce "I need to stop for the loo in the next 20 minutes" and we'd struggle to find a place.

This was instant!

Scant vegetation. We are in the Eastern Gobi Desert.

Probably around the outskirts.

The road(s) just disappeared into the distance.

Occasional hills and outcrops.

A few Gers.
The horseman was herding a few camels and this one got away.
We did see some sand dunes in the distance.
Our first camp in Mongolia.
With a bit of traffic noise.

One Russian built jeep passed after a couple of hours.

Next morning, very suddenly, there were some camels.

Despite being able to see for miles they snuck up on us.

We couldn't help noticing that they had two humps. And the humps were rather floppy.

They were an inquisitive lot.

Not sure who is inspecting who.

But the boss (camel) wasn't satisfied with just looking and decided to play hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo.
Then the rest of the family turned up for a closer look.
They seem to have smaller mouths than our one humped camels.

They were also less keen to show their teeth.

Another ger camp. All sorts of animals.

Goats, sheep, and horses at this one.

A rear wheel was having a puncture repaired.

We stopped.

The young lady was keen for a lift to Sainshand, which she abbreviated to Shand. We gave her a lift in the hope they were the same place!.

We've read a bit about how the Mongolians simply seem to know the way.

Either the Mongolians don't know the way or our young lady wasn't Mongolian.

Not sure where she was from, or going to, just that she was very tired and sounded like she'd been traveling for a couple of days.

We stopped for her to ask the way a few times. She seemed to get a more serious response than the laughs that we had received when asking "which way to Ulaan Baatar?".

Navigation so far isn't really a problem, we assume that the roads lead to where we want to be.

Couldn't resist another photo of a family horse outing.

Our hitchiker had soon latched on to photo opportunities and helped spot them.

At Sainshand we finally drove on a bit of the new road.

We'd seen the construction of it further South. The section North of Sainshand is due for completion in September 2013.

There are a few vehicles using the new bits but piles of soil across the road inhibit progress. The trucks all keep to the dirt. We joined the trucks.

Sainshand has a small museum.

These fossilised dinosaur eggs, from the Cretaceous period, are a prized exhibit.

Also some armour from the days of Genghis Khan - though it seems I'll have to get used to calling him Chinggis Khan.

His original capital was Karakoram but he moved it to Beijing.

The Mongol Empire that he created was the largest (in area) the world has known.

A bit more sturdy looking than Chinese wheels.

These must be off heavy carts!

The studs are metal. The iron tyres are not continuous.

No wonder the empire fizzled out!

About 32 years ago I was fortunate enough to play chess with an Afghani in the back streets of Mazar-i-Sharif (Northern Afghanistan). We'd stopped to watch and were enticed into playing.

A very different style of play to my normal game. Much more a sort of lashing out at the world in all directions than my structured positional game.

Not sure of the protocol I won!

We observed the Chinese playing cards and mahjong. Local version of draughts further south. This chess set is in the Sainshand museum.

There are local games played in most countries. Looks like we are entering Chess playing countries. Turkey, Greece and the Balkans seem to be Tavli (Backgammon).

Always interesting to discover what people think should be in their local museums.

Pity its in the museum and we haven't heard it played.

This is a Mongolian Horse Headed Fiddle.

Two strings. The horse head brings good luck. We couldn't see the bow.

The local park in Sainshand.

A park we didn't have to pay to use.

Day time temperature is just above 30 deg C, night time down to 16. Humidity has been as low as 11%, which is dry. A big contrast to the above 90% humidity through most parts of SE Asia and China.

Pleasant. Though the bits of shade were welcome.

Just to the North of the town is the Tank Monument.

We have absolutely no idea of the significance or why something so "soviet era" is there.

A bit of research required.

We felt safe as the main gun doesn't have a rotating turret so couldn't be pointed at us.

Never noticed that in tanks before, I thought they were all built with turrets. Must make them much simpler to design and build, but slower to aim.

Obviously an operator error if they miss. Not design.

But the view of the town from the monument was worthwhile.
To head towards Ulaan Baatar from Sainshand involves crossing the railway line then turning left to follow it a bit West then North-West.

After about 15 km we stopped to check with the gps lat/long readings on the map.

So far so good. More or less generally speaking in about the right place headed in roughly the right direction.

The passing trucks and occasional glimpses of railway line (keep it on the left) helped. There's also a power line on the right.

Its really very easy. Just that with only one day's experience in Mongolia we thought we'd better check.

Our second night's campsite.

Sadly, we don't expect a repeat of the visiting camels.

There is more vegetation here, but strangely fewer animals and camps.

Not sure if its less edible,  there's more of it because of fewer animals, or simply we are in a less deserted desert!

I'm stood on a mound of earth to take the photo. Just one of many that seems to be the product of road building or prospecting.

Towards sunset (sun behind us) we pondered the silence and vastness.

We always find it difficult to describe the attraction of "nothing", whether its here, the middle of the Nullarbor, or anywhere else where there is "nothing".

There is of course lots happening. Just very different.

And very different to the always present people in China.

We are not far from the railway line.

The line is wooden sleepers with fish-plate joins, not welded rail, so we hear the clickety-click of the trains.

A sound we haven't really heard for many years.

We can now distinguish between goods and passenger trains.

This is the early morning passenger train heading from Sainshand to Ulaan Baatar. Its Friday morning so it may be the Trans-Mongolian from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar.

We waved, but they were too far away!

Its quite a busy line with both goods and passenger.

Second Two Days in Mongolia Week 17 19th - 20th August 2011

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