I’ll start where I left off on the last blog entry-
I pulled into the cottage, set camp amid the stables, and sat down for chow with the family.
It all started off well as I got to know the folks and offered up some gifts out of my panniers. However,..things got very weird at night. I crashed out early into my tent. Its noisy enough in stables with all the livestock around, but the man’s wife was also drinking up a storm. (the husband had left for Borzya and I was now staying with his parents and wife) I got the impression that the parents had kicked the lady out of the house for being drunk. She was wandering around stumbling, wretching, and doing whatever. Things got even weirder when she found my tent as source of interest at 3am. Yelling in long streams of Russian broken by a few words of English, she was trying to open the zipper as I held the zipper shut. She was telling me to come inside the house because it was cold. I said no, trying to explain what a down sleeping bag was. Then she insisted I come out and have a drink with her. Trying to argue with a drunk Russian is like pedaling backwards,..its a lot of effort and you don’t get anywhere. Then the father opened the door and yelled at the daughter in law. She backed off and resumed interest in her bottle of vodka.
The drunk lady paid me another visit before the sun was up. Peering through the bug netting, she explained her brilliant plan for me to take her to Borzya in the morning (because she was sick of her husbands parents). I apologized and explained that I was heading south into Mongolia. At this point,…at 4am, she tells me that there is a quarantine in Mongolia and that I wont be able to cross the border. Thus, I had to return to Borzya and take her with me. I refused to acknowledge this, but was starting to get worried about the border crossing. What if it actually was closed? Either way, there’s no way I’m taking on a passenger in any direction.
Being farmer types, there was no slipping out before the parents got up. Fortunately the daughter in law was out cold after hitting the bottle hard all night long. It was an awkward morning as I packed up. The warm hospitality from the night before was replaced by cold looks and awkwardness. I got this feeling that maybe they thought I had fooled around with their daughter in law or incited the drinking session.(clearly I was involved in neither) I dropped a few bucks on the table and jetted off.
In retrospect the family was very kind to take me in for the night, and I feel a bit conflicted about writing negatively about it all. However, it seemed a story worth telling as I experienced it.
I zoomed out of town with no plan or direction other than putting miles between myself and the farm. I still didn’t know where the border crossing was located or if it was even open. If the vodka lady was right, I needed to return to Chita, then take two more days to reach the primary crossing point south of Ulaan Ude. I had put about 300km to get here from Chita, so I wasn’t ready to give up yet. From past lessons learned, I’d say most information that comes to me by word of mouth is wrong,..but based on some truth.
I positioned myself on an intersection, where I sat on my bike, munched on a snickers and waited for the first car to pass buy. After a good thirty minutes, my ears tuned in on the grumble of a soviet made engine rolling my way, I hopped of the bike, desperately flagged it down and asked for directions to the immigration office. Eyeballing my phrase book like a cheat sheet, I rumbled off in broken Russian. I got the point across and they pointed enthusiastically towards back towards the village.
Some folks are so eager to help they’ll just say yes and point anywhere,.. but Russians seem different. Either they’ll give you a disgusted look and zoom off as soon as you open your mouth, or nod approvingly and point in the correct direction. Its hit or miss!
Here she is,..the Ereentsav border crossing between Mongolia and Russia.
This is the loneliest border post I’d ever bumped into. I was the only non-government guy around and this provided an enourmas amount of entertainment. It was a full hour long inspection of everything I had. However, I was so pleased that they hadn’t turned me away, I happily opened every little container with enthusiasm. After a few hours, the guards sort of warmed up to me,..I finally got them ease up, smile and laugh a bit…no small feat in regards to Russian border guards. “Quarantine my ass” I thought, as I passed through the gates. I rolled out of Russia and greeted the Mongolian border officials with enormous relief.
I didn’t understand what anyone had to say at the Mongolian border post. I got the idea that things weren’t going well. It was back and forth between the bike and the paper work in the office. Price of entry was one leader of fuel from the bike and my map of Mongolia (I knew that thing would come in handy : ) Things seemed like they were now rolling along,..lots of smiles, and everyone got a cell phone picture of themselves with the bike.
I was ordered to follow a border official to the nearest town. I was thinking, “awesome, I’m through, he’ll just guide me out of the border zone and I’ll be free. Not so! In the Mongolian town I was ushered into the police headquarters where a grim and important looking dude told me to take a seat at his desk. Within half an hour a Mongolian school teacher arrived to translate.
Well, …..the Vodka Profit’s words were true. I had just landed myself in a full on quarantine zone. A nasty livestock plague, potentially threatening to humans had slammed eastern Mongolia. It was explained to me that for my safety I was forbidden to enter further into Mongolia(there were no routes around the plague regions). To my enormous disappointment I was ordered to return to Russia.
This is where it got complicated. The commander of the Russian border crossing post made it very clear to me that once I left the post I could not return through the same post. I was only authorized to reenter Russia through Tashaant(thousands of miles beyond the quarantine zone). I couldn’t move forward, and I couldn’t move back. I was trapped. It took a great deal of effort to convince the Mongolian police that Russian regulations prevented me from returning. Ultimately the police confiscated my passport and registration and instructed me to make camp in the town school yard.
I was not a happy camper. Pitching a tent in a school yard is akin to being the resident freak show in circus.
After hours of entertaining a constant stream of understandably curios children and villagers, I ultimately resorted to locking up the bike and walking out onto the open steppes for some relief. First it was the super weird night on the Russian side, then it was a long day in the hot sun dealing with the border crossing, and now I was stuck in a tiny town on the steppes, passport confiscated, and no idea of how I was going to get out of this mess. I killed time by reading Russian history….which is depressing in itself. The suck meter was off the charts.
It could always be worse and given the good luck I’d had over the entire tour, this was a mere glitch. I only hoped that it would sweeten the victory in the end and that I’d ultimately find a way into Mongolia or somewhere beyond the school yard.
By the second day, the novelty of an American biker in the school yard had wore off with the adult villagers, but not with the children. I learned that doing as little as possible was the best way not attract attention. So much as opening a pannier or pulling out some tools would instantly attract an audience. I was seriously worried about sticky fingers around my kit, but to be completely honest, the kids behaved themselves. At some point the teachers made a futile attempt to shoo the kids away, but the new game was to sneak up commando style on the token American. At any given time there’d be band of little warriors crawling my way through the grass…this was pretty funy actually. I’d sit there at night, wait for them to get close, then shine my headlamp on them and they’d run off giggling and laughing with delight.
I don’t know if it was my constant visits to the police, or the teachers pushing to have the “distraction” removed from the school yard, but I was suddenly told me that I should pack up and that I’d be leaving with an escort immediately. You’ve never seen biker pack his kit so fast! They continued to withhold my passport even as we set off. They were clearly taking no chances with me jetting off. I was also seriously pushed to stay on this guys tail, I recall feeling frustrated at not having even a second to properly buckle my helmet. I followed the police through several quarantine checkpoints where my motorcycle received a dousing of something(lets call it plague killing juice). This was fine, I was just happy to be on the move and rolling south. It all looked and felt like progress.
On the third quarantine point we pulled up behind a few other vehicles awaiting “the juice”. I got off the bike and retreated into the shade of truck,..but was quickly instructed by police to get back on the bike. After an hour I was told to dismount and was ushered forward. I thought, “no worries, paperwork..ect ect” Imagine my surprise when I’m told gargle mouth wash, rub alcohol over my hands, and then to remove my clothes. Not just my jacket and boots, but everything save my underwear.
Well….I got caught not wearing underwear. Ooops. That provided some entertainment.
One thing I immediately noticed about the Mongolians was that they are for the most part easy to smile and quick to laugh. (a pleasant transition from Russia) There were a number of us “in quarantine”. The joke was on us as we sat their half naked in tent. Fortunately non of us where above laughing at ourselves. I’m not a fluent smoker, but “when in Rome, or Mongolian quarantine”…
Open exciting the “exotic” quarantine camp, I received my much missed passport from the police. Armed with a passport and free of the police escort, I felt whole again! It was 250km of delicious dirt miles to Choibasan. The route was akin to a groomed motorcross track.
The track required attention and up on the pegs riding at times, but it was always in a gentle soothing manner. There would be 6 more quarantine camps along the route, but I knew the process, and did my best to participate with an over abundance of enthusiasm.
So far, Mongolia had been hard work. I hadn’t yet truly experienced the country but was looking forward to epic good times ahead. Close, but no cigar, not yet!