13 May, 2008

Monday 12 May - a day of disappointment.

Monday (12 May) and I'm up bright and early ready and warmly dressed (extra pair of long johns today) for my border crossing.

Fuel up in case of fuel shortage in Mongolia and off I go to the border post. I get to the first check point and the soldier shouts his few words of English at me "NO!" pointing to the Haobon. I get out my trusty electronic translator and determine that he won't let me take the bike across. He then shouts "Wait!", so I do for an hour or so. He then points me in the direction fo the customs office, shouts "customs broker", tells me to leave the bike behind and lets me through the first checkpoint.

I go up to the customs broker office desperately searching for anyone who may speak a smidgin of English, find a friendly chinese-mongolian lady who seems like she has done this sort of thing many times before and who also speaks a little English. She takes me to a customs officer who phones a colleague and I am then driven a further 200 metres towards Mongolia to the incoming arrivals building.

View from the border post back into China.

We meet a helpful female customs officer by the name of Tong Hao who explains the only way I can take a bike bought in China, out of China, is by having a letter of guarantee from CITS (the Chinese government International Travel Service) that I will bring the bike back into China (and leave a $500 deposit as proof). I drive back to Erenhot to find the CITS office and explain to them what I need. The CITS lady has no idea what I'm on about so I ask for her card to take back to customs for them to call her. By this time it is almost noon. I get back to the border only to find a new soldier on the first checkpoint - let's just call him "little Hitler". He point blank refuses to let me go back to customs and threatens to set his alsatian guard dog on me. I watch a few of the Mongolians who are getting similar treatment. A big truck slowly drives through and they run beside it on the opposite side to the guard next to the wheels (yes, he's looking under waiting for just such a thing to happen) The next truck goes through - he spots a couple of them doing it and gives chase. Whilst he does, another group of Mongolians run through in a different direction. I take my chance and walk quickly, expecting to be screamed at and have a rifle pointed at me. I dodge behind a couple of more trucks and lo and behold I'm back in.

I head up to immigration - it is now 12.05, only to find the whole area has shut down for an hour for lunch. 1pm and I speak to Tong Hao who calls CITS and advises a letter of guarantee is not possible. She then spends another 3 hours running around doing her best to seek out alternatives for me - if nothing else, I can't say she wasn't extremely helpful and friendly, albeit not very successful.

Finally she comes back to me and says my only option is to go back to Beijing and seek special approval (which will take up to 2 weeks to obtain). Basically they have said that only bikes imported in to China can be exported (but they won't let you import in the first place - catch 22 ).

After 9 hours my patience is wearing thin, and frustration is mounting. I reluctantly decide it is isn't worth it. As much as I would love to ride to Ulan Bataar it looks like it will have to be the train. Only problem is I now can't get an train ticket until who knows when. I have spent all day running around exploring alternatives - no buses or planes on this route.

Once again, frustration is mounting.

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