Mother Russia was calling again, so we left Ulaanbaatar in the morning to go back to Russia. The traffic in the streets of Ulaanbaatar was already dreadful! The Mongols only look after themselves and do not take any other drivers into consideration. Numerous times I had to swerve left or right to avoid the car that was driving behind me. They come so close with their car and start honking their horn because they think that you are driving in their way. The traffic jam was enormous and on a street where they would drive with two next to each other in Belgium, they tried to drive with four next to each other here, leaving no place whatsoever for us to drive in between two lanes!
It took us 1 hour to drive the 18km’s out of the city centre. What spooked us the most here in Mongolia is the road workers… They have no signalisation and they do everything by hand. We saw a guy that was repainting the white stripes in the middle of the road and he had just one small brush and a pot of paint with him. Not only that, but he just stood there, in the middle of the road, painting and meanwhile looking at the cars coming towards him. He got very lucky at one point, because a car had to swerve to the middle of the road to avoid some cows and by that time the driver just saw the guy painting the lines and could just swerve back to the right side of the road in time to avoid hitting the worker! It is the same with the people that clean the streets, they just stand in the middle of the street sweeping up the sand and dirt and they don’t even look at the cars that are coming towards them. They just assume that you will see them in time and don’t hit them… Well, when we were driving out of the city, I saw a big smear of dried blood on the ground, and you could see that a car had hit something(-one) and had dragged it along for a couple of metres. I wouldn’t be so confident as the cleaners though, you never know what might happen!!!
After our horrible hour, we were set for the rest of Mongolia and this time we had paved roads all the way (well sometimes it looked more like Swiss cheese than road but hey, after the Western part of Mongolia I am not complaining!)
The border crossings (yes both of them) were spectacular this time. In Mongolia and in Russia they waved at us to let us know that we could come to the front of the line and on both the borders they were extremely helpful and friendly. In Russia they even filled in the papers for us and spoke some English. No check of the luggage this time, which made that we were very fast in and out of the border area!
We are rushing a bit towards Lake Baikal because there is a biker meeting on the 26th of July and we do not want to miss it. Seb has already had contact with the man organizing the event and he said that he was looking forward to meet us. It is a great opportunity for Seb to see some scarcely dressed females and some nice bikes, so it is the best of both worlds for him. What is there to see for me…ugly, hairy Russian bikers, extremely loud music and smelly beer!? Oh well, you can not win them all I guess!
On the way we saw our first English signs again after having only Mongol ones for a while. Ok, it had a little spelling mistake in it, but hey, at least we could read it…
There were some nice curvy roads from the Russian border towards Ulan Ude but most of them had real bad asphalt and here and there was a lot of sand that was halfway over the road so that made it difficult to drive fast. In the end we made it to a motel at 21 o’clock (we had to add one hour extra to the Ulaanbaatar time, so that was still ok!).
We are now actually a little more East than Ulaanbaatar, and in a few days we will have reached the real Eastern most point of our trip, which will be on the island in the Lake Baikal!
In Ulan Ude we went to see the famous huge Lenin head. We heard afterwards that there was a homeless guy that lived in it for a while until the local government kicked him out…
We drove through some small river to get to the lake because it was such a nice view.
The Biker Meeting…
We had found some information on a Russian website that there would be a biker meeting on the 26th and 27th of July at the Lake Baikal. Seb wrote to the guy that organized the meeting and he told us that it would be no problem finding it. There would be signs all the way there and there would be bikers on the road who would point us into the right direction.
On the 25th we were already in the neighbourhood, so we decided to search for the place and set up our tent there if we could. Seb knew the name of the town, but that was it. Of course there were no signs, no bikers on or near the road and so we had to guess where they might organise the meeting. Ok, we were one day early, but still, there were no signs whatsoever. In the end we were at some type of lake resort when we saw two other bikers. They told us that we were in the right place and that they would find someone who could point us to the camping ground.
The head of one of the local biker clubs pointed us to a grassy place where they had carcasses of old playground swings and slides and where there was a huge puddle in the middle. He told us we could set up the tent there and that there would be 1500 people at the event on Friday and Saturday… Well, we could hardly believe it since the whole ‘camping’ was empty, but still we found ourselves a dry spot to pitch up the tent and went for a walk to the lake. The facilities were crappy to say the least. The pier into the water was broken down in several places, the buildings all looked like they dated from the war and had holes in the roofs and cracked windows, but the lake just made all the rest fade! It was so beautiful and big and it had real clear water. The lake is 636 km’s long and at its widest it is 79 km wide! It has a surface of 32.000 square km’s and holds 20% of the world’s unfrozen fresh water! At some points you would think that you are looking at the ocean and not just at a lake.
The lake was too cold for us to swim in, but there were a lot of Russians that thought otherwise and just jumped in!
When we went to sleep that night, we had gotten company of 4 other tents and in the morning we even had a neighbour with a cool airbrushed Gold Wing. It was not until later that day that the majority of the people came and the camping started to get super crowded with tents and motorcycles. We were not the only foreigners though, there was also one French guy, a Japanese one, an Australian one and then the 2 Michaels from Austria.
For the rest is was like a normal biker meeting because you had : penguins that were driving motorcycles and drinking a lot of beer, you had an arm wrestling contest were you had to hold and drink a beer while wrestling, they had a rope pulling contest where you could only hold the rope with one arm and have a beer in the other…beer was the main factor in all the games!
In the evening they had the commentators dress up like a huge guitar and like the members of Kiss and they also had a live fire act with a lovely half dressed lady and some fireworks….
We met a lot of real friendly bikers and one of the groups that was super friendly were the Black Bears from Irkutsk. They all thought that is was cool that I rode the bike all the way from Belgium and they said that I was crazy for doing it off road! One of the guys, Vasili, was so impressed by me that he gave me his hat, which I thought was the highest sign of respect that I could get! We even got some t-shirts from them with their logo on! At one point one of them asked if it was not hard for me to drive the bike and when I told them that the only thing that really hurt was my butt, I apparently had their full attention…
There was a contest to see who did the furthest trip to get to the meeting and they mentioned us on the podium and said that we came all the way from Belgium, but unfortunately we did not drive the longest way because there were some guys from Belorussia that rode all the way to Vladivostok and back to get to the meeting, so they won. Maybe next year we will win…
There were even some Polish bikers with disabilities (both of them missed their left leg) who were going all the way to Vladivostok. They had a physiotherapist with them to help them on the road and he was also driving his motorcycle. They had custom build bikes to be able to shift gears, but for the rest it were normal bikes and they were also driving off road, so they deserve every respect they could get! Of course they were still normal men, so they got drunk like the rest of them and had to be helped to get in their tent in the evening…
After the first night, the camping was always a place of big ambiance and music, but with some ear plugs we were able to get a few hours of sleep anyway…
The sunset on the lake was really spectacular and almost took your breath away!
We are in Irkutsk now with one of the Austrian Michaels and we are trying to figure out if we can take the train to Novosibirsk. The road to Novosibirsk is about 2000 km’s of boring paved big road and it would be much nicer to get on the train instead of driving the whole way there.
In the evening we saw on Facebook that Felix (one of the English guys who we drove with in the Altay) was also in Irkutsk, so we met up and he told us that the other guy, Phil, wanted to stop his trip because he met this Russian girl that he was in love with, so Felix was trying to find some other guys to do the BAM road with him. We all went for a bite to eat in this amazing place in the centre of Irkutsk where everything looked as though you were in Europe. They had real nice buildings and great food and the atmosphere was incredible, you would almost forget that you were in Russia!
Seb managed to arrange everything so that Michael could take the train to Novosibirsk. It all had to be done in a big hurry because they had given Michael the wrong time that the train would leave. Seb helped build the crate for the bike and found out the necessary locations where we would have to be when we were ready to take the train ourselves.
We had one thing that we desperately wanted to see before taking the train and that was the Olkhon island (Lake Baikal) in eastern Siberia. They said it was the only place at the lake where there were no mosquitoes and where you could wild camp without any problem. The island itself was only reachable by ferry and there are no paved roads on the island, but the gravel roads are nice and you have a spectacular view almost all the way.
The ferry to the island was free and it looked as though the two ferries that were there were both broken…the cars had to drive on forward but they had to drive off backwards. We saw one woman driving so fast on to the ferry that the rear bumper of her car broke off! Haha and her husband turned very white when he saw this!
On the island we had to register and they told us that we had to pay if we wanted to stay for the night, even if it was in our own tent. We didn’t have to pay straight away, but we had to drive to the main town on the island and pay there…yeah right! We drove past the main town, searched for an idyllic spot to pitch the tent and stayed there for 2 days, doing nothing but reading our book and enjoying our time in the sun.
It was one of the most relaxing times we had since we started our trip! On the way back to the ferry they didn’t ask us anything, so we managed to stay for free on the island!
We are now back in Irkutsk and Seb will go to the train station tomorrow to see if we can take the train on Friday. That way we still have time to see the sights in Irkutsk before we leave to Novosibirsk!