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.

Inner Mongolia (China) to the Outer Mongolian (Mongolia) border - 12th May.

Sunday (11 May) - Huai'an to Erenhot (450km).

It is very obvious that I am now in what is effectively a different country even though it is officiially still China.

The people are a lot swarthier,
the dwellings are mud brick,
........and the roads are also a lot muddier than in China proper.

Given Saturday's cool weather I decided to get all my cold weather gear on, and luckily I did. Once again I allowed the GPS to misdirect me before finding the way back on to the G110 by instinct after around 50kms of riding. There were more massive lines of trucks but these ones were on the expressway instead of the G110 (at this point the two roads run side by side).

I was heading North west to Jining and the Haobon was running slowly because of the massive head wind I was riding in to. I noticed the temperature was dropping as the wet weather gear was not enough to keep the wind completely out, and then it happened. At first I thought it was just sand blowing across the road combined with wind, and then it started to pile up on my body - snow flurries. Oh well, it looks quite pretty - bit cold maybe but quite pretty.... and then it turned into corn snow - hard little pellets of the stuff. Now don't forget, I'm running with an open face helmet and NO visor and NO eye protection. This was extremely painful and I had to put my left hand over my face to provide some protection. Fortunately it didn't last long and by Jining I thought it may be clearing - little did I know.

From Jining it's pretty much straight North to Erenhot - 320 km of good road, the last 100km or so an expressway (yes, bikes allowed). There were no problems getting past police check points to ride the road but the weather was only getting worse. Most of the time I was riding North so I had the full brunt of the wind in my face (with only a balaclava to protect it) and at times riding west with the bike leaning around 10 degrees to the right to stay upright in the wind, but still getting blown from one side of the road to the other - you can see from the picture of the bent trees just how strong it was.

In the middle of this stretch was around 150km where it was no longer flurries - it was snowing heavily and the snow was staying on the ground.
I would have loved to take photos but I was just so cold I couldn't. I pulled into Erenhot, crossing under the giant dinosaurs which are the gateway to the town, just before dark, found a good 80 yuan hotel and hopped under two doonas to thaw for the night. My fingers and toes were frozen but by morning I was all well apart from my throttle thumb which is frost bitten and will probably take another month or so for the feeling to return and the tingling to disappear.

Beijing to Inner Mongolia - 10th May

Beijing to near Datong.
Time to move on afer 2 days in Beijing running around obtaining a Mongolian visa and seeing a few of the Peking sites and sounds. This first photo is a picture of the inside of the courtyard of my Beijing lodging - they were most gracious to allow me to park the Haobon inside.

I left Beijing on Saturday (10 May) and rode to Huai'an (400km). I rode out of Beijing at 8am making sure I kept well outside of the 2nd ring road, found the expressway and had a great 70km run to Badaling (bikes are allowed on the expressway) and then did a 2 hour Great Wall walk before heading out to North West. The Great Wall truly is a stunning work of architecture and pictures do not do it justice, especially the first sightings from the expressway after you round a bend. Riding a bike meant I was also able to park it right close up next the wall itself.

Of course, being a non-local, you are besieged by many local girls to have their photos taken with you - twice I even had men ask me for a photo of myself and their wife/girlfriend together.

Once I got close to Badaling the weather changed dramatically (altitude was 1,000+ metres) and it was a VERY cool ride for the rest of the day (little did I know what was to come). It was a good run on decent roads, until after around 150km I came upon this massive 15-20km long roadblock where police were stopping all Beijing bound trucks for checks.

As a result, all the inbound trucks just parked themselves in both lanes blocking all traffic in either direction (of course they managed to turn a two lane road into 3+ lanes of stuck trucks so it was absolute chaos). I managed to thread the bike through this mess by riding along either the edge of the road, through lanes of trucks no more than 80cm wide or by taking short cuts through fields as the need arose). This happened at least 3 more time that day.

During one major logjam I pulled offroad and found a Jialing dealer who replaced and installed the rubber cush drive hub for the Haobon, oiled the chain, tightened a couple of loose boats and sold me two new bungy straps all for 20 yuan ($2.50). The Haobon rides much more nicely again now.

The dealer also sold many "3 wheeled motorcycle trucks", which are a very common form of transportation locally.
Interestingly, as one expects, the architecture of the buildings change as you move around China but I didn't expect to see this massive christian church in China, which has echoes of Russian orthodox churches about it.

Apart for the weather, and the trucks, the other challenge for the day was navigation. Basically I was supposed to be taking the G110 North but signposting was almost non-existent. I tried to use the GPS (which showed the G110 as the right route but the road didn't exist where the GPS said it was) and this only served to confuse me more. I managed to get myself on the wrong road three times by following the GPS instead of my instinct. After almost ending up in Datong for the night I pulled in around 8pm to the only hotel I could find and paid my highest sum yet for a night's accommodation (160 yuan or a little over $20) right on the border of Heibe and Inner Mongolia.