well things have been improving rapidly on all sides in Mongolia; Molly has learned how to jump on and off Grettle using my leg as a spring board...
And has also learned how to sit back and relax...
The sun has finally broken through the thick winter smog and snow encapsulating Ulan Bator, which is a pleasant change and one that brings with it a lighter mood.
You see, despite being ever so excited about my upcoming adventure, i am actually, in general, a little low...
I have reached a point in my life where it is now essential that i find my footing; find a full, active, outdoor, creative, sociable and exciting way to live and work. It's all very well when I travel, since travel encapsulates all of the latter, but when the adventure draws to end, i find myself lost, drunk, bored and usually a little fat! What i need, is a purpose to wake up for in the morning and something that i long to do every day. I have tried teaching, and have tried the somewhat lonely life of an artist that works from home, tried settling down to write, and although these things are relatively satisfactory and enjoyable for a short while, they are simply not enough.
I can't sustain, and wouldn't want to, a life of travel, for, excluding this upcoming trip, which is in fact essential, since I must get both Molly and Grettle back home in time for my brothers wedding this July, it lacks purpose.
I am starting to think about these things things and during a process of elimination, combined with two years of trial and error, have started to seriously consider Art Journalism. The idea being that I set out (with both Molly and Grettle of course) to illustrate world news with sensitive sketches. Who knows whether this will take off, but at least if it fails to grab the attention of the news, it will no doubt bring purpose, excitement, travel, creativity, and challenge into my life, and furthermore, will leave me, if with nothing else, a full portfolio of interesting and topical art work to exhibit.
So- who knows eh? But i think it's worth a try!
I am keen to spend some time in the EU when I return home this June and so perhaps, post wedding celebrations, I will start off this idea in Europe...we shall see!
Other than these thoughts, and Molly's training, not a huge amount else has been going on in UB but to give you an idea, here goes;
I am doing a commission for Trish Reed, which involves painting several Mongolian animals playing cricket... not the average commission nor an easy task, but rather fun, and filling my studio at long last, with a bit of color!
Works in progress...
I have started art classes with a middle aged Mongolian Lady who is keen to learn how to use paint. The classes have gone rather well and next week we will be driving in her car to paint yaks in the Mongolian steppe.
I was followed around the city a few days back by a toothless nomad which was a little unnerving. He caught up with me at a pedestrian crossing asking me where i was from. I said, rather shorty 'England' and wish i hadn't, for he then continued, as i hurriedly attempted to cross the road on a red light, 'Ah, you English girl, you are dangerous, you are not afraid of the road' i laughed nervously and said no, quickening my stride in an attempt to get rid of him. He quickened his in return and as i looked behind me, to witness a toothless grin and hear a rasping cackle, he said 'Why you try to get away so quick? It's OK, i live near you, I follow you home', this comment was followed by hysterical laughter at which point i decided to walk straight past my studio in order to divert his attention from where i lived. I continued towards some shops and he followed in hot pursuit, until finally i dived into a nail parlor and loitered near the window to wait until the coast was clear. The ladies that worked there weren't entirely sure if i wanted my nails painted or not and just as i thought i was going to have to sit down for a manicure, the coast cleared and i hurried home!
Other that that, recently there has been a Mongolian new year, during which all of the shops and cafes closed for 4 days. Now nobody had informed me of this, and despite being very surprised to see, quite literally, hundreds of people swarming around the local supermarket the Saturday before the new year was due to commence, it did not occur to me that this was the last chance to buy food, drink and more seriously, cigarettes, for 4 days!
The amount of people in the supermarket caused a queue that protruded onto the street outside and a monumental pile up of trolleys made it almost impossible move at all. I abandoned my trolley and muscled my way through to chicken section (I had actually only gone to the supermarket to buy Molly a roast chicken as a treat for her good behavior on Grettle) and left the shop as soon as possible with nothing else.
The following morning i went outside, to discover, absolutely nothing, not even the homeless chap that raids through the dustbin outside my studio every morning. I had no food (other than the roast chicken which molly had pretty much polished off) and a rapidly decreasing supply of cigarettes.
In a desperate attempt to contact the other expats on Facebook, I finally heard word that Good Price Supermarket was open on Souel street. Since the roads were practically empty,I took this opportunity to take molly for her first ever spin around the city on Grettle and drove to Good Price. It turned out, on the contrary, to be very bad price and we spent an awful lot on very little, but managed to get hold of a few essentials that would last us through the holiday.
When everybody returned from wherever they had been, it was rather a wonderful sight; all of the local rabble were still in their smartest, most flamboyant Mongolian traditional attire; crazy colorful hats of all shapes and sizes, amazingly intricate and embroidered boots with the toes turned up and wonderfully exotic robes and dresses.
Then there was rather an amusing spectacle where a policeman had stopped a car which was quite literally covered, boot to bonnet, in mud. I lingered for a minute on the street to watch as the driver of the vehicle attempted to rub off the thick layer of muck which had made the number plate of his car completely unreadable. It took some time until the officer was satisfied at which point the driver was allowed to continue on his way, and sped off in his mud covered car with a dazzlingly white plate.
On a different note, I have been putting on a big sale of all of my possessions in the studio, and have managed to sell almost everything, excluding the mattress, the tent and a bundle of clothes which i will carry on Grettle when I set off in 6 weeks time. Admittedly, this might have been a little ahead of schedule; i now have no tables or chairs and currently am writing this on top of two of Grettle's old tires and my only remaining drawing board!
Despite having no furniture, it's actually quite a relief to have got rid of the colossal amount of crap that cluttered this space and quite a relief to be a few hundred dollars richer! I also managed to sell the treadmill which had taken on a clothes rack role for the past year, got rid of the welding machine, helmets, drills and angle grinders as well as heaps of art equipment, so, all in all, a successful sale and one which brought many visitors to the studio!
Meanwhile, I have been quite busy trying to match the pistachio green color of my studio door in order to repaint the parts which Molly has nibbled, and despite the fact that the ceiling is falling down, the heating system is broken, the water pipe is leaking and the loo doesn't flush, i think the studio is generally in good shape and exactly how i found it, so fingers crossed there will be no fines and i will receive my full deposit back next month!
Molly has received much spoiling attention over the last few weeks (so much so, that i actually fear Grettle might be a little jealous) people seem ever so perplexed by the sight of all three of us driving to our local store and Molly has made many friends in the process.
I am off to China in a few weeks time simply in order to come back into Mongolia on the second entry of my visa- i know- it does indeed sound a bit peculiar but usually one is only permitted to stay in Mongolia as a tourist for 30 days. I am hoping i found the right loop hole which will have enabled me, by the time i leave, to have stayed for 3 months, but if i have not, then i suspect i shall be badly caught out when trying to re-enter on the train at the Chinese border- fingers crossed!
Dad is coming to visit just after this trip to China which will be lovely and we plan to head out of the city into the countryside for a night or two. I think i might take this opportunity to drive Molly on Grettle out of the city for the first time and see how she takes to the Ger camps and the Mongolian Steppe!
So there's the lowdown for you on UB and until there are further updates, i will say adios!
Well- superb news from Mongolia! I have decided that having molly on my lap is not exactly ideal; a little uncomfortable for her when I need to put my feet down and a little uncomfortable for the both of us, when I need to turn since her head is in the way! SO- back in with the bag! This time however, it will be on the passenger seat, not on my lap. I tested this out, have secured the bag to Grettle and it works a treat!
The problem of molly hopping out of the bag has been solved by the purchase of the harness (I hope), and we went for our first ever spin around the city today, with lots of traffic, lots of noise, big buses whizzing past us, and all three of us came out of it in one piece! HUZZAH!
It was very amusing actually….clearly the sight of a dog upon Vespa with English girl driver was not something the locals had seen a great deal of, and as we wound our way around the city, all the neighboring cars would wind down their windows in an attempt to get a snap shot before the traffic lights turned green.
So, the only problem now, is where on earth do I put my luggage? Molly is taking the place of a large yellow bag that I had strapped to the back of Grettle which contained a LOT of stuff.
I am busy strapping various hoops and clips onto the front of Grettle in the hope of securing things like the tent and other essentials, but basically plan to travel with very little, other than the dog!
Molly and I have been practicing ‘hop in the tent’ commands which have so far have gone rather well…
I’m a little apprehensive about sharing the tent and the sleeping bag with her for two months but have my fingers firmly crossed that she will eat neither!
I have managed to sow a new zip onto the sleeping bag which molly nibbled a few months ago, managed also to fix the tent, the back rack, welded the bike stand back together after the crash in the Gobi desert, and generally feel ALMOST set to go!
My major concern is that I only have 30 days to get through Russia from Mongolia to Latvia. This is 7000 Km which more or less means about 270 km per day. Now this would be just over an average day of driving for me and Grettle on a good tarmac road, but, doesn’t leave any room for error…breakdowns and dog escapes mainly….both of which, I feel, are most probably inevitable over such a distance…what can one do but keep ones fingers tightly crossed eh?
Preparations for a 10,000 km journey home from Mongolia to UK (with a deteriorating Vespa and an adopted dog!)
Well, fantastic news all round! I picked up the adapted harness from my local pet shop and it fits like a glove :-) the new inside out, upside down, and added D-ring design has worked a treat and Molly and I have been for a few spins on Grettle around the studio... do take a peek :-)
My only worry for little Mol now is the wind in her eyes but I'm not sure what to do about this problem. I mean...of course there are goggles, but i fear this might just be going to far!?
Whilst pondering over this question, i searched 'dog on motorbike' on google and it appears some have certainly gone further...
But this has to be my favorite by far :-)
well- food for thought ey?
On a different note, the news on Molly's adventure has reached the Lucky Paws NGO team whom i adopted Molly though so click on the button below to read more on her lucky rescue from the street...
Will update you as plans progress and so until then, adios!
Well the past few days have been filled with both failures and successes concerning my two girls….
I mentioned to you that I was a little apprehensive about the dog travel bag, and have since come to the conclusion, after attempting to zip it up whilst Molly was inside it, that the bag, sadly, is not going to work. I tried a few expeditions around the studio carrying molly in the bag, which worked out alright, but the problem is she can jump out whenever she pleases, which, I dread to even imagine, could be on a busy road amidst a crusade of cars belonging to crazy Mongolian drivers and inevitably end in disaster!
The only way therefore, to safely start our training on Grettle, would be to zip the bag up. Not only has Molly made it crystal clear that the latter is not an option, but also, having experimented carrying nothing other than the bag on Grettle, I realized that I couldn’t reach the ignition, couldn’t see my dash board, and couldn’t steer! So, sad as it is, Molly and I have both reached the same conclusion regarding the bag- it’s simply not to be!
In search of plan B, I made a visit to my local pet shop. I was looking for a strong and comfortable harness that could attach both to molly and to myself, so that she could simply sit on my lap without anything as constricting as a bag getting in the way, yet still with the security required for the drive….
Aware that I would be setting off in April when temperatures on average would be just over zero, and that Molly would no longer have the shelter or warmth of a bag, my heart leapt as I noticed jackets for puppies! I picked out one roughly molly’s size, blue with white stars, fleece-lined, hooded, and absolutely adorable!
Now having seen this, how could i possibly resist the additional waterproof layer?
Molly tried both jackets on (not altogether willingly, it has to be said) but not only did both fit, they also, I thought, with their arm and leg holes, would act as a pretty good harness if I could find a way of attaching them to myself as well as to Molly.
Eventually the shop keepers, after much confusion, acting, gesturing, and pictures sketched onto receipt paper, got the gist of what I was planning to do, and despite appearing rather alarmed at first, swung into action, fishing out all the sturdiest harnesses they had in the shop. We found one that fit nicely over the travel jacket and even had a couple of D-rings attached that I could use to help secure it to myself.
Now by this point, the shopkeepers had become quite excited about the whole idea, and tried to insist that i brought Molly a decent pair of travel shoes as well. I explained to them that back in the depths of December, when the ground was so freezing that poor Mol would try to lift all four of her little feet off it at the same time , I had in fact already tried shoes but sadly molly didn't quite grasp the concept and there followed much shoe confusion in any attempt at movement...
And so I forgot about the shoes, but settled for the travel jackets and the harness, and headed home excitedly to test them out...
To digress for a moment, I forgot to mention, despite having installed a new battery into Grettle, she remained, most frustratingly but most determinedly, dormant! With little idea how to solve the problem, I managed to track down an English speaking mechanic yesterday who came to the rescue and within 4 hours, had changed the oil, the filter, the tires, replaced the spark plug lead, de-clogged the fuel valve and sure enough, brought Grettle back to life.
Thrilled with this new turn of events, Molly and I woke early this morning, put on our travel suits and harness, hopped on Grettle, and had our first ever test drive around the little courtyard outside my studio!
Now the good news is, Molly seemed OK on Grettle and made no nervous attempts to jump off, but the harness needed to be adapted and added to in several places to make it both more secure and more comfortable, and so I have left it with a nice lady in the very handy sowing section of the pet shop, who is going to amend it as instructed, and with any luck, have it ready for testing tonight!
Until then…adios and fingers crossed!
Well! It has certainly been a while, and 6 months later, I struggle to know where to start, but I shall begin i think, with the most important thing...
It is with great pleasure, that I introduce you to Molly, the miniature Mongolian Border Collie :-)
I adopted Molly shortly after reaching Ulan Bator during a somewhat impulsive puppy hunt last September. She is about 2 years old (I think), very lovable, totally bonkers, and eats absolutely everything, except, most frustratingly, dog food!
She adores roast chicken, duck liver pate and popcorn, whilst also taking huge pleasure in devouring books, tampons, paintings, loo role, maps, socks, shoes and underwear, all of which I now have very little left of!
Despite all of this however, she has been a wonderful companion and an absolute joy to have around! Roman came to visit a day or two before the puppy hunt commenced, so as you could imagine, what with Grettle, Molly, myself and Roman, I had rather a full house and lots of fun and games!
Moving on from Molly, Roman and Grettle, and into the months leading up to Christmas, I found myself a part time job teaching art at the English school of Mongolia, and for a while, had rather a lot of fun making long-mained lions with the boys and floppy eared rabbits with the girls. I was known as the artist in residence and three days a week, would put on drawing and sculpture courses for the kids...
Despite the new job however, my new furry friend, and two visits from Roman, it must be mentioned that I did in fact hit a bit of a low during these winter months, and a sudden run in with the black dog, made life, to put it lightly, a misery.
I suppose the transition from such a colorful adventure, to everyday life, routine, and work, coupled with temperatures which plummeted to -30, a dreary smog which suffocated the city, and days which shortened into darkness, brought on the blues badly, and left me feeling awfully glum.
At a point where I considered things could not get much worse, what happened next may well sound like a joke, but I can assure you, it is not!
Having built up great excitement about my upcoming trip to Zanzibar for a family Christmas and a much-needed break from the gloomy smog of UB, bikinis were packed, flights were booked, and studio was tidied, when I realized with horror, two days prior to departure, that I had forgotten to get an exit/entry visa from the immigration office of Mongolia.
I know, it does indeed sound crazy, but mad as it is, I could neither leave nor re-enter the country without one. Not only do they usually take 10 working days to process, but in order to get one, I also needed a signed and stamped letter from school.
I spent a hectic day trying to contact the secretary, who had, alongside the rest of school, broken up for the Christmas holidays, and was altogether far from happy to help with anything at all.
Having finally persuaded her to write me the letter and after much desperate research into obtaining a ‘rush’ exit/entry visa from immigration, I eventually ascertained that with one full day remaining before my flight, all was still possible and I would make it to Zanzibar after all.
Or so i thought...
I breathed a sigh of relief, arose from the pool of papers and passport bumph surrounding me, and hopped in a hot, relaxing shower.
And relaxing it was, until, I stepped out of it, to find molly, looking awfully smug, with my passport between her paws and a scattering of chewed up pages beneath her...
Not only did I not yet have the exit/entry visa, and the letter from school, I now had no passport either!
Ideas of a hot Christmas on the beach eating lobster and drinking cold beer sank slowly out of mind as I inspected the slobbered over and nibbled remains of my passport photo page...
As I rather hopefully typed into google ‘my dog just ate my passport, can I still travel?’ and researching quite how damaged a passport needed to be, in order to actually be considered damaged, it transpired that several poor souls had also had their passports devoured by their dogs, and that sadly, any damage considered more than every day wear and tear constituted the passport useless.
Panic struck but plans formed rapidly. I contacted the British embassy and within two days, had acquired an emergency travel document (ETD) which allows one to transit through certain countries on route home. Unfortunately it was too late to catch my original flight but thankfully, for a small fee, the airline persponed the booking until 4 days later. I got the 'rush' exit/entry visa put into my ETD and at long last, albeit a little late, made my way to Chenggis khan airport.
I left Molly with a friend, equipped with basket, toys, a bucket of KFC chicken and two new books to eat for Christmas, before boarding my flight, at long last, to Tanzania!
I arrived in Dar es salaam on Christmas day where I was transferred onto a tiny plane with 6 others, to Zanzibar island. Getting off the plane into 30 degree heat, motorbikes whizzing about the dusty tracks, coconuts being cut on every street corner and blue sky overhead, was so wonderful that I had a constant grin on my face all the way to Bengaloo beach bungalows. Here, the dirt track narrowed and a clearing in the trees revealed a white sand beach, upon which a little bar played music, and I spotted my brother with his fiancé, sitting on a bench under an arch of flowers.
What bliss! At last- I relaxed, cracked open a cold beer and changed into my bikini to soak in the sun and feel the heat on my skin after what seemed like a life time. We made our way to the pool next door for a dip since the tide was out, and having just told my brother how smug and happy I felt to be in this perfect place, I made my way to the bar in search of an ash tray. I was half way through asking the barman for one, when, without warning, I fell down an 8 foot hole!
It was really quite a shock, I had not expected an open hatch and hole in the smart patio layout of the pool area, and so naturally was not looking out for one. I just seemed to keep falling! I bumped into a few sharp edges on the way down and finally hit a metal dome of some kind at the bottom. After a loud reel of swearing, I looked up to find the no doubt startled bar man making his way down a wooden ladder to help me out of the hole.
My leg was covered in blood and an unnerving shade of purple was spreading rapidly over an already huge bump on my thigh. Since nobody but the barman and a small child had actually witnessed me falling down the hole, Tommy and Aureli were still chatting happily in the pool, and as you could imagine, were rather alarmed to see me only moments later, covered in blood and bruises!
The bar man had told me he was off to find help and reappeared rather uselessly with a small towel. Tommy rushed off to a chemist to get bandages and Aureli fished out a tube of germalene from her bungalow. Ideas of an even tan were thwarted badly, as we wrapped the bandage around my leg and fastened it together tightly with thick tape just below my bottom...
Despite the last two months of hell in UB, my passport being eaten by my dog, and falling down an 8 foot hole, my mood, miraculously, was not dampened, and the holiday was fabulous, filled with swimming, snorkeling, boggle, beers and so much fish, I swear we were all growing gills and fins by the time it came, all too quickly, to head home again….
Now as wonderful as the holiday was, I had not fully thought through the consequences of acquiring my exit/entry visa inside an emergency travel document. An ETD gets disposed of as soon as one reaches the UK and so I found myself, once again, without a Mongolian work visa, which, unlike a tourist visa, takes at least a month to process.
Having planned to stay in the UK for a short week, it soon became clear that by the time I would have not only a new passport, but also a new work visa, at least 6 weeks would have gone by and I would be extremely late for my job.
When I finally got in touch with the school who had not been in contact at all over the Christmas break, they appeared most unsympathetic and extremely unimpressed with ‘the dog ate my passport' excuse, and it soon transpired that I had no job to go back to at all!
Not returning to UB was not an option, I had a good few months left of rent in my studio, all my stuff, including Grettle, inside it, and of course, Molly to get back to!
The plan had been, to fly home at the end of the school term with molly in June, ship grettle back, and return to the UK in time for my brothers wedding on 1st July.
With no reason now to stay in UB until June, having discovered the colossal cost of flying molly home, coupled with shipping Grettle back, and having regained a more positive frame of mind, a plan as quick as a flash was formed...
I decided I would scrap the flight, and the shipping, and drive Grettle home instead, with Molly on board, for a fraction of the cost, and one hell of an adventure!
I calculated that if I were to leave at the start of may as the weather in Mongolia would just be beginning to warm above freezing, I should be back home by mid June, in plenty of time for Tommy's wedding.
I have slowly been preparing Molly for travel since I adopted her, and she has now had all of the necessary vaccinations, microchips and tests required to avoid quarantine when she leaves Mongolia...I hope! I also took the liberty of buying her a travel bag, which I do hope she likes, as i plan to have it, and her, perched on my lap during the long drive home...
Now as wonderful as it sounds having the companionship of Molly during the 9,000 km journey home through Mongolia, Siberia, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France, the reality of traveling with a dog on top of a rapidly deteriorating Vespa, along with myself and all my luggage, began to dawn on me…this was going to be, to say the least, a BIG challenge!
With bank account pretty much at rock bottom, and no job to get back to, I set about working for my wonderful parents, who offered me a job rubbing down and repainting the house...
I spent 3 weeks working at home to gather together enough money for the time left in UB and for the trip home, managed to get both a Mongolian and a Russian tourist visa, and arrived back in UB a couple of days ago.
I am reunited with Molly which is very exciting and we have been practicing ‘hop in the bag’ commands which so far have gone very well!
She did however, look a little nervous when I actually tried lifting up the bag and walking around the studio with it, so I am a little apprehensive about how she will feel when on top of Grettle, with ignition switched on and traffic is whizzing by...EEK!!
Grettle has been hibernating over the winter but I plan to buy her a new battery and hope she will swing into life soon, so that Molly can begin her driving lessons and the training can commence!
Until then, adios...
Before I get you all up to date, I forgot to show you this...Grettle's first article was published last August!
WELL- The good news is that Grettle and I have made it to ULAANBAATAR!!!!!!!
Its been 16 months, 15,000 miles and 21 countries since I left the UK last April. I can’t quite believe it, but here I am, in the capital of Mongolia (never the original plan by the by) with Grettle and the two mad Slovaks in my new home- so as you could imagine, its celebrations all round!
Mongolia was fantastic, challenging, grueling, cold, windy, wet, wild, colorful, mad, hot, chaotic, uncomfortable, beautiful, exciting and so many more conflicting and contrasting and wonderful things, its almost impossible to put into comprehensible words!
But here goes an attempt to...
First, I must take you back to Barnaul in Russia, through Siberia and over the Altai mountains....
THE CHALLENGES AT THE BORDER....
The first border gate was a little tricky; you might remember me mentioning the small issue of not having the correct importation papers for Grettle. Well, the latter came to light as soon as we reached customs control...
I find women are always the worst when put in control, especially at borders, and we were stuck with a particularly tiresome set of them- big-bottomed, heavy-bellied, boisterous, grumpy and authoritative ladies, demanding papers angrily, spectacles perched at the end of their squashy noses, and faces that looked as if they could quite possibly crack if a smile - god-forbid- was attempted!
The boys had all the right bumph (they had not been mugged of all their documents the year previously) but I sat and waited nervously as Milos was escorted to a locked room with one of the big-bottoms, and an old man was turned back to Russia due to some problem with his car papers.
Thankfully Milos could speak a little Russian and when he reappeared from the room 45 minutes later, he told me that after some persuasion, Grettle had been allowed to pass through as a glorified bicycle, and so amazingly and surprisingly, no bribery was needed and no fines were issued!
Having crossed the first gate, there was a 20 km drive through no-mans-land before reaching the second.
This border was a little more tricky still...
It became apparent that since Grettle and I would be living in Mongolia for a year or so, she needed to be temporarily imported into the country. The man in charge of importation asked me how much she was worth. I replied truthfully 700 squid. He then told me he would need proof of this in order to grant us the importation form, without which, we would be stuck in no-mans-land for the foreseeable future! He lent me his computer so that I could browse e-bay or other bike sites, and find him an image of a Grettle look-a-like worth 700 pounds.
This was obviously a big problem because dear Grettle was an extraordinarily lucky find, and all her make and model of Vespa these days are worth over 2 grand. The calculation and cost of the importation tax would be based on the value of the vehicle, and so on these grounds, if I could only find a Vespa worth 2-3 grand, i would be paying a colossal amount of tax; more so even, that G cost me in the first place, and certainly more than I had on me in no-mans-land!
I searched rather cunningly i thought for Vespas being sold in India, and managed to find one for 500 squid. I confidently showed the ad to the officer who shook his head and furrowed his brow as he noticed the indian site I had found the image from. Unfortunately, since Grettle had been purchased in the UK, he was adamant that there must be proof from an English website.
Roman came to rescue at this point in a truly inspired way, deciding that the only solution to this problem, would be to create our own Vespa advertisement on e-bay! When the officer left his office, under the impression we were still searching for proof, we took the opportunity to create one...
As you could imagine, there was an immediate flurry of interest from Vespa lovers all over the UK, who clearly thought they had come across a the deal of their dreams!
The add worked a treat! I showed it to the officer who swallowed it up without hesitation, and at the end of the day, my $350 Vespa only cost me $60 tax, which I am assured I will get back when I leave Mongolia with Grettle...all very satisfying despite taking all day at the border!
We even had time to make a brew...
By 7pm, we set off from no-mans-land, through the final set of gates, and into Mongolia!
During the first hour in the country, Roman got stuck in a river...
This was in fact highly amusing because the previous evening, he had been a little rude and ridiculing about what he thought to be, my most unorganized approach to traveling by Vespa, asking me what I would do if we came across a deep river. He rather smugly told me "you see, Milos and I are prepared for everything. This bike will get through any river up to here" he pointed at his hip. I couldn't help but remind him of this conversation as a Mongolian local ran from the road and to the rescue....
Despite the slight hold up at the river, the first few hours driving in Mongolia were spectacular, and I found myself feeling the same sensation as when I was driving over that high pass through the Pamirs last year- I felt high on the landscape, the freedom, the vast open space and the fabulous light, as the sun went down and we found a spot to camp. Sitting on the edge of a lake, I felt nothing less than joyful- it was stunning and exhilarating.
The trip through the country took 10 days- much shorter than I had expected, and there were, as you could imagine, many challenges to face along the way!
The roads turned to rubble pretty much as soon as we passed through the gates from Russia into Mongolia, and with a few odd stretches of tarmac at the beginning, it was pretty much just a series of dirt, rubble, mud and sand tracks that got us to Ulaanbaatar. Grettle faced on average one river crossing per day and performed adamantly...with of course, a bit of pushing, pulling and shoving from the boys when needed!
There were often roads being constructed tiresomely and typically right next to the horrible sand tracks we were attempting to drive on, so a lot of time was spent trying to clamber over the dunes that separated the dirt track from the lovely smooth tarmac. On one occasion, we even built a sand bridge in an attempt to get to flat ground. Take a look ...
Other than the roads, I faced a few technical issues with little Grettle along the way...Having tackled rivers, rubble, sand dunes, washboard and mud, my back tyre lost all its air over something as silly as a speed bump!
Thankfully, due to a last minute pick up in Bishkek, I was carrying two spare tubes in case of irreparable punctures. Roman, as he so often did, came to the rescue and fitted one of the spares into the back tyre, which worked a treat and all was well once again...
one particularly hot day, on a wonderful piece of tarmac, when I heard a strange flapping noise. I looked down with horror, to see a large bulge in the rubber of Grettle's front tyre- it was a sort of inside-out puncture!
Roman looked at it amazed for a second and then in his heavy Slovak accent, told me- "wow, my father had this in the wheel of his car once- it exploded!" This highly unreassuring comment was followed by hysterical laughter; he seemed to find the thought of me flying like superwoman through the air as the tyre exploded, most amusing!
Oh hell- I thought, as we did the only thing we could, and fitted my final tube into the back tyre. Roman told me it would certainly not make it to Ulaanbaatar (still 700 km away) but shouldn't explode for another couple of hundred km!
Luckily, we must have rescued it in the nick of time; after half an hour of driving and some severe smells of burning rubber, miraculously the tyre returned to its original shape and got me all the way to UB!
The final 700 Km of driving were a little nerve-racking none-the-less; I knew I had no more chances with my tyres, no more spare tubes, and potential explosions to take place, so I found myself constantly peering over Grettle's head lamp to check my front tyre was still intact and held a normal round shape- she was positively on her last legs....
well, not quite...
The next challenge took place a couple of hundred km later, after which, she had virtually no legs at all!
Let me explain....
Milos had decided to spend a few days traveling alone and so Roman and I stuck together. There became vast open spaces with so many dirt tracks to chose from that sometimes, traveling at different speeds, the two of us would find each other on different roads, which more often than not, would lead in totally opposite directions.
It was on one of these occasions, that I noticed the small speck of Roman on his track heading further and further away from mine, and so I decided to try and cross the long grass that separated the two of us.
It was all going to plan, until a huge BANG sent Grettle and I flying through the air and into the mud. A little dizzy, Grettle lying hopelessly on her side, I got up to see what we had collided with; it was a huge boulder hidden in the long grass...
In an attempt to retrieve and re-fix the top box, petrol canister, and several items of luggage that had rocketed off as we crashed into the rock, I picked Grettle up and tried to put her on her stand.
With horror, I looked down to find it wasn't there! Well, that's not entirely accurate, It was certainly there, but it was no longer attached to Grettle; the metal had snapped clean in two!
Now this is where it got challenging...Roman was god-knows how much further ahead by now, and probably thought i was ahead of him, so would not think to come back and help.
With one hand holding Grettle upright, i attempted to strap my luggage back onto her with the other. I manged to get the top box back on its clip, loosely tie the yellow bag onto it, and repaired the plastic hook in the front of my seat, in order to balance the 10 Liter petrol can back in its place, before setting off again through the long grass.
The next bump sent everything flying once again, and i realized that the plastic clip which holds my top box and in turn my large yellow bag in place, had broken; it was completely bent out of shape and had a large crack in it. With only one hand free, it was impossible to fix!
So once again, I strapped everything, as best I could onto Grettle, but with no alternative way of transporting it, I placed the large and heavy yellow box on top of my legs. This was a little tricky since the box was very big and lent heavily on my steering column, making steering, as your could imagine, virtually impossible.
I drove slowly through the field and eventually made it to a small town with a gas station. I knew Roman would be needing fuel and so I hoped that I would find him there and we could fix the problem together.
To my relief, I spotted him at the gas station in the distance. It turned out he was having as many difficulties as me; Grettle was quite literally in pieces and Trevor had a totally flat battery!
The two of us soon saw the funny side in this and sat to have a brew or two at the gas station, before settling on a camping spot close by, working out a plan, and fixing the many broken bits and pieces.
The pic below is taken at the gas station- a wonderful set of wheels don't you think?
We used a screw and some superglue mixed with sand, to temporarily fix the plastic top box clip. It worked well for the next few hundred km, until I hit a huge pothole, going a little too fast on tarmac not far from UB, which sent it flying off into the distance once again. For the remainder of the journey it was strapped into place by several bungy cords.
The problem of Grettle's broken stand was not fixable until we came across a welding machine- basically until we reached my studio in Ulaanbaatar! So for the remainder of the trip, if i needed to stop and find something in my luggage, eat some food, or buy anything at a shop, I had to find something to lean Grettle up against. In the middle of the Mongolian steppes, this was virtually impossible, and so Romans bike became Grettle's stand. Basically i couldn't stop until he did!
But all in all, the challenges made the adventure what it was, and the whole thing was really quite fantastic; the country was spectacular, the views were stunning, the people were wonderful, the company was terrific, the light and the weather were unique, and despite the roads being absolutely catastrophic, the adventure was unforgettable!
AND THEN AT LONG LAST...GLORIOUS TARMAC AND ULAANBAATAR CITY!!!!!!
I drove the final leg of the journey to Ulaanbaatar alone, in an attempt to reach my sports teaching job on time, and so the boys arrived at my studio the following day.
As it turned out, a slight miscommunication whilst I was in the Gobi Desert meant that I in fact had no job when I arrived, which was a bit of a shock, since it then meant I was on the wrong visa, and so once again, the search has begun to find another...
We all had a super time in Ulaanbaatar, despite being mugged on night 1...
A chap barged past Roman and I on the street, grabbed both our bags and legged it! Roman ran after the mugger and I sat on the street a little confused (we were heading back home after a nights clubbing and I must admit, I was a far fling from being sober). Half an hour later, a car drove past me and flung both bags out of the window! If there is such a thing as a nice mugger, this chap was certainly it; he returned passport and cards, and took off with camera and cash. The only sadness, was the loss of roman's photos from the trip, but other than that, things could have been worse!
Milos stayed in a guest house near by and Roman stayed in the studio. We had a super time exploring the city, haggling at the black market, playing pool, exercising our extraordinarily bad singing voices in dim-lit karaoke parlous, feasting on sumptuous cuisine and scooting merrily around the city, introducing Grettle to a few of her fans at the local haunts...
Finally, I could repay Roman for all his help during the journey when it came to the great day of fixing...
I welded the metal frame of his broken bike seat back together and tended to Grettle's broken stand at the same time, so all in all, a very successful day....
I suppose its about time to digress for a moment, and fill you in on the romance side of this story...
Going back a little and to set the scene... you might remember me explaining that one of the main reasons i decided to remain in Ulaanbaatar for another year and make this trip, instead of my original plan to drive to India, was due to a certain English accountant - Chris.
Well, in a nut shell, Chris and I broke up when I was back in Bishkek, mainly due to the fact that our very different stages of life, meant a relationship was not quite working for either of us. Although sad, I must admit, it was quite possibly the most amicable breakup that I have ever encountered, and we remain very good friends which is wonderful.
So this is where Roman comes into the equation...we met in Bishkek at the old haunt- nomads home, and it was not long before spark turned romance, and the two of us became more than friends....
As you could imagine, undertaking a trip through Mongolia with ANYONE is testing, but being lucky enough to take it on with somebody you care about and bounce off and connect with, was really something quite special. We went though an awful lot, shared some unforgettable experiences and came out of it all, closer than ever. I suppose the nice thing about traveling with anyone, is that you see the worst and the best in their nature- Roman- it has to be said- turned up trumps!
So as you could imagine, after the adventure, and 10 wonderful days in Ulaanbaatar together, goodbyes were very sad, and I am missing him a lot.
We had a lovely last day together and prepared an indoor picnic in my studio, before he set off to meet Milos for their drive to Vladivostok.
Now- perhaps something else to fill you in on briefly, is a looming idea, that has been loitering in the back of my mind for some time- the next leg of the trip- from Mongolia to the Eastern corner of Russia, to Alaska and on the bottom of south America!
As it turned out, this is also a trip that Roman had been planning to do in 5 years time. I don't know how long I will be in Ulaanbaatar, what will happen whilst I am here, and it depends very much on how the art takes off, but the exciting news is, Roman is keen to pushh his plan forward if need be, and so we might possibly undertake the next leg of this adventure together, whenever that may be....
So picnic soon turned to planning, and although sad to say goodbye- it appears to be just the beginning of something perhaps spectacularly exciting!
And so there you have it; Adventure, Romance, and another Mugging! There will be more to come on shenanigans in Ulaanbaatar, alongside a Video which i plan to create from the trip...but until then....Adios!
Just a quick post as i have to hop foot in half an hour, but i thought you would all be pleased to hear Grettle and I have made it to Mongolia!!!!
A very cold and windy first nights camping....
Much more to come on Siberia, the Altay Mountains and the start of the Mongol adventures in my next post...but for now, adios!
Hello All and greetings from Russia!
Grettle is on splendid form and its wonderful to be back on the road at last! Roman, Milash and I have made it to Barnaul in Russia, and have covered about 1600km since setting off from Amigo Hostel last week!
Egor was a star, and put Grettle back together as fast as he could. It turned out that the new engine parts were in fact from a different model of Vespa, but luckily they all fit in and should work fine and dandy which is super! I am told that the parts are all in great shape and good condition and so with any luck, will get me to Mongolia and beyond!
A complete Vespa!!
We have had a super time camping through Kazakhstan, and spent our nights in a mix-match of weird and wonderful places. The first was a nice hill top about 300km from Almaty...
The next day was not QUITE such a good view it has to be said. We aimed to reach a splash of blue on the map, but dreams of camping on the shores of an idyllic lake were thwarted as we arrived at destination, to find no lake, a hell of a lot of mosquitoes, and marsh land that seemed to go on forever. We wound up in a not so pleasant parking lot with an interesting new friend....
Night 3 was really super...as things tend to do when one is not looking for them, the idyllic lake of our dreams on day 2, appeared out of the blue as we drove into the north eastern part of Kazakhstan. We found a dirt track and wound our way through mud and long grass until finally reaching a stunning opening to the shore of the lake, where green grass parted to reveal clear blue water, a wonderful view of the mountains, a family fishing, and a pastel pink sunset that melted into the lush greens and yellows of the surrounding hills.
Milash had his doubts somewhere along the dirt track that we would ever find an opening to the lake, and so he sped off in search of another place, leaving Roman and I on our mission to find the perfect camping spot.
Grettle and I had our first topple into a muddy bog in the process, and arrived at the lake in desperate need of a wash. As soon as we reached the opening, I dived into the water, Roman lit a fire, and we cooked up some eggplant and onion for supper- well- we tried, but just as the vegetables were beginning to sizzle nicely, a black cloud swallowed up the surrounding landscape, and a horrific storm sent the pots and pans clanging off into the distance. We took shelter in the tent and woke to clear skies and wonderful weather. Roman did some writing and I sketched a fishermen the in themorning, before reuniting with Milash and hitting the road once again.
Grettle with Pillion at a gas station in Kazakhstan...
Night four was spent just before the Russian border in a field filled with marijuana! We had aimed to cross into Russia that evening but Roman had a problem that needed fixing on his bike, and so the three of us found a camping spot in a pretty forest, and set up the tents for the night....
Roman set to work fixing various bits and pieces of his bike - now referred to as Trevor, Milash wondered off for an hour or so and appeared later holding a ginormous mushroom that he chopped up and made some slightly ominous looking soup with, I cracked open a brew or two and polished off some sketches from the morning at the lake, and once Roman was finished with his work, we ended the evening eating pot noodle soup with a healthy sprinkling of fresh marijuana for supper!
Day 5 was awfully exciting and we crossed the border into Russia!
Excited at the prospect of a shower and some good food free from old mushroom and marijuana, we stepped on it, and drove the 400km to Barnaul. Poor Grettle was rather exhausted after the long drive at top speed, and so yesterday she was rewarded with a day of rest.
We arrived in the city early evening the day before yesterday, and spent the night celebrating my first experience of Russia. We found 'bikers bar';a large underground pub, the entrance to which is marked by a huge sculpture of a motorbike intact with a shining head lamp. We drank a few too many shots of something blue lit on fire, and played pool until the night drew to a close, and we stumbled off to bed.
Yesterday was great fun, Roman and I feasted on french cuisine at a small cafe near our hostel. We had roast beef salad with blue cheese, and chicken cordon-blue, lovely garlic bread, and my first taste of white wine for several months- sublime!
We wondered down to the river port after that to do some sketching, and soon found ourselves in the midst of a huge celebration. Hundreds of Russian special forces officers were dressed in hats and stripes, waving large flags around, cooking barbecues, drinking vodka, singing loudly and listening to music playing from a port building nearby.
They all got wildly overexcited when we approached to ask them what the celebrations were about and before we could quite get to the bottom of the answer, they planted plastic plates of barbecued shashlyk, shots of Russian vodka, and mugs of beer into our hands, so I'm afraid to say I can't tell you exactly what it was all about, apart from that it was an annual celebration and one not fit for the faint-hearted! We were introduced to the chief, who proudly showed us the medals hung from his chest, whilst another man, looking a little worse for wear, wearing nothing but an apron and brandishing a sharp carving knife above his head, crashed to the floor as he toppled off his chair; the whole lot of them were completely trolleyed!
The celebrations soon turned violent when a discussion about god knows what turned sour, chairs started being hurled around, brawls broke out, police officers arrived, and finally the appearance of an ambulance marked the end of the chaos- at least for us anyway- we took our queue to leave whist limbs were still intact, and took refuge in a beer station were we sat and talked late into the evening, munching on fresh olives and feta picked up from the local supermarket.
So all in all, its been a splendid and strange time in Russia so far! I write in haste because we are hitting the road in half an hour and I have yet to pack up!
I'm not sure where or when I will next get the internet, but I will update you when possible. We will be in the midst of the Altay Mountains for the next few days, and hopefully will cross into Mongolia by the end of the week! HURRAY!
Until next time- Adios.