Another blue-sky-day that felt cold-ish to start. I wanted to start early to avoid heavy traffic, but obviously I didn’t manage to. Anyway.
Ulan Bator center is ok to cycle. Cars drive fast, but there’s just some light traffic. But as I cycled west through Peace Avenue, it got worse. Actually, it got bad. It’s not because of cars; holes in the ground seem to go on forever. They’re huge and they’re everywhere. They’re big enough to make you want to avoid them, so you don’t cycle confortably.
There’re some roadworks as you leave the city, so I guess the road will be way better sometime soon. For me, it was just a mess of sand, dust, smoke, cars and lorries. 15 kilometers. Been through worse.
Once you leave the crossroad towards Darkan (North), the real Mongolia starts to show up. Up and downs, fields, almost no traffic. Kilometers are signposted, but towns are not. At that point, leaving the city seemed easy. Actually, it was; never thought getting out of city with a 1 million population was going to be that easy.
I had lunch in the first town I saw, 25 kms west of Ulan Bator. I didn’t know it was going to be the last one of the day! Food was good, by the way, but the fact that the restaurant was at the end of a downhill and at the beginning of an uphill didn’t make me happy!
And from there onwards, Mongolia. The unending fields start, the horses, those mountains at the horizon… I had some head wind right after lunch, which was a pain in the ass and made me think about stopping very often, but it didn’t last long, and I managed to cycle quite a lot. I passed some 4 houses in the middle of the road once, and wondered whether that was a town. It didn’t look like one, and later on I discovered it wasn’t one.
I wanted to take the route to Bulgan, north. But I was unable to find the crossroad. So I just kept on cycling until I was too tired (I didn’t expect to cycle that much on the very first day!). When it started to get dark, I just camped somewhere in the middle of nowhere. There was a small town (small for Mongolian standards) two or three kilometers down the road, but I couldn’t see it from where I camped (even when I went up a little hill to camp, and the road was a straight line, couldn’t spot it).
That day I met a couple from Belgium who gave me couple of advices. I found out they were VERY useful advices:
1. Don’t try to cycle near the Gobi. Sand makes it impossible to ride.
2. Camp anywhere, but never near the road. Hide yourself a little bit, so people don’t come around just looking; main reason for that being that lots of Mongolians in the countryside are drunk very often (day or night, except early morning; consequences of unemployment and/or boredom).
3. Mongolians will enter your tent. They don’t know the concept of privacy, at least not ours. Always smile, and treat then nice. Even when they’re not. They can get aggressive.
4. Saying you’re a sport person and you can’t drink alcohol is a good excuse not to accept their drinks 🙂