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Update on Alan and Lynn

September 15, 2015 4 Comments


Friday, September 4 2015

Well, it’s seven-odd weeks since I last got through; wifi is hard to find, so we’ve been writing on file and when we can get through, sending everything in one lump.

We are all in shock.

Barry’s brother Grant is brain dead, from a surfing accident yesterday, at Old Bar, near Taree on the NSW mid-north coast.

Barry and Donna flew out today from a place called Moron (pronounced maroon). It’s in central north Mongolia, roughly 50° N, 100° E.

Lynn and I have gone up to Lake Housgol, near the border with Russia. We’re by the lake, no one in sight, a gorgeous afternoon, but thinking of Grant and the family.

I’ve known Grant for 10-15 years and to say he is a character is an understatement. Once you get your head around where he is coming from, he is a wicked trickster, generous without question, never, ever seeks adulation or recognition for his generosity, and will not stand fools. One of the good people on this planet, who may have been taken away from us prematurely. We had this little understanding, where, as you were about to trick, deceive, take the piss of, or in some other way, obstruct the other, “the other” would say “we can do this the easy way or the hard way!”. I loved it, and I think Grant loved it too.

Traffic Infringements

The past seven weeks have seen all sorts of goings on. Nothing too radical. Although I’ve been pulled over twice in Ulan Bator for traffic infringements (a u-turn in the main street against the lines, and driving while using a mobile phone). Both times I have used my fluent Mongolian, imitated a kangaroo, smiling, showing remorse and been sent on my way with a stern warning.

I was also breathalysed once. I’d just knocked down a pint and in Sydney may have had some explaining to do, but I think with the amount of vodka consumed here the limit may be set a little higher than Australia. Anyway, with my fluent Mongolian, I was again sent on my way with a warning.

Northern Mongolia

We’ve been in Northern Mongolia since we got back from Australia. (We had a death in the extended family and came home for some eight days).

The north is different to the south and east in a number of ways. There are more people! They are just as nice, just as friendly and helpful. There are railway lines and rivers. You might say, uhh big deal, but, a railway line is a big deal when you decide to overland to a point 70km away and after 20km you hit a railway! Yep, it’s on the map, but we got so blase about setting off in the general direction of our target and going overland, we forgot to look! But, now we do.

The rivers are bigger here, so you have to look for a bridge and there’s lots of them. There is more stock, both on the road and along the paddocks. There’s broadacre farming to a huge scale. You can drive along a paddock of wheat or canola for three km and the crop can stretch as far as the eye can see, which is not far for Donna, but that’s a different story!

There’s lots of cultivating machinery. It appears obvious to me that some big syndicates carry out the cropping. There are also fences – the first we’ve seen. The fencing appeared to be areas regularly cropped, to keep the stock out.

There are also passenger jets! A few nights we’ve camped under a flight path from maybe Beijing to Moscow or Paris and you can see three jets in a conga line, following each other, in the night sky. They’re at different altitudes, as some have a moonlit vapour trail and some don’t.

North Mongolian Terrain

The terrain here is mountainous and steep. With wild Forest Fir (Lynn’s opinion), or Baltic Pine (my opinion) trees stretching up the hillsides, out of the northern weather and in the southern sun. Shortish scrubby trees are also dotted around. The higher mountains have a tree line, with little or no vegetation above, making room for snow.

Some of it looks like the smaller farm valleys of Switzerland, especially with the log cabin construction.

The Weather

We’d planned to hit our northern extent of Russia (55° N) by now, or earlier, but one thing has led to another, and here we are, still in Mongolia, still, at 50° N, with a month or so of travel to get through Russia. The reason I say this, is that at home when Autumn starts, the ground is still warm and the days gorgeous. Here, we’re in the fourth day of Autumn and the ground is bloody cold, the wind can be described in one word, which I’ll let you imagine and we get a window of, say, two hours of wonderful  heat. I think the mercury will fall quickly over the next month, so we’re keen to head south.

Land Cruiser Tyres and Service

I’ve now had my predicted five tyre failures. Two are genuine – like a stick through the sidewall for one and a valve failure for the second. The other three have a story (stay with me here, I have a point to make, not necessarily vehicular).

The stick through the sidewall couldn’t be fixed with a plug, so the guy at Baruum Urt, (where Barry paid his three vodka’s to get the suspension fixed), put in an inner tube. Asked me first, I agreed, a great fix. Trouble is, my wheels are 15 inch and he put in a 16 inch tube! So it rolled around a bit.

After 1000km of gravel track I noticed the valve stem was bent, so I should have had it fixed, but, as Crosby Stills Nash and Young sing, I carried on.

Boom, eventually we had a blowout. Rear tyre, so not too dangerous. May have cooked the compound in the tyre, time will tell.

We took the tyre into another shop, in Moron this time and the guys put on a 15 inch tube, but they didn’t seat the valve of the new inner tube properly, so I couldn’t get air in or out of the tyre. With constant road surface changes, we’ve found it vital to be able to monitor the pressures. So, I had to take it back to re-fit the tube. Their boss was pissed off with them, big time. You can readily understand soft but sternly voiced Mongolian swearwords, because you only have to look at the sheepish look on the faces of the two being talked to!

Some weeks ago, we’d been eating a nice meal in a restaurant just north of the Gobi, when I came back to find a flat tyre. I took it to a tyre guy, who looked for the puncture, couldn’t find one, so we changed the valve and “carried on”. Anyway, that tyre leaked again, so at Moron, we put in another valve.

The moral here is, that while the tyre guys aim to please, there just is not the workmanship spread widely enough to keep up a reliable quality of service. Tyre failures are more common than needing fuel in this country.

A day or two ago along a very rough section of track, north of UB, we were overtaken by two different cars. Just cars, like a Hyundai Excel for example. About 50km down the track, at separate locations, they were getting back in their cars after replacing a puncture. One of the cars, when it re-passed us, had wobbling wheels on one side of the car. Goodness knows what it would have felt like on the road at 80kmh!

Ironman – UB

The mechanical work we had done at UB’s “Iron Man” franchise was exceptional. The owner received his automotive engineering experience from a Toyota factory workshop in Japan. And it shows. He carefully went through the old Cruiser, made a list, with mine, of things to do and wouldn’t start until he had an accurate quote ready. Then, when we got back, he put the car back on the hoist and went through everything his workshop had done. He rang and got a translator (brother), to act as middle man. And the work appears to be sound.

A lot of the smaller shops aim to please with that Asian “yes”, whereas a “no”, or “don’t know” would be more helpful. With the passage of time and plenty of face to face experiences I’m getting better at seeking out the real answer. But, with the little shops, and some towns have nothing else, I have to sit with them and watch everything being done. Usually in a shabby workshop, oil spills, holes, empty boxes and old parts scattered about, (like my shed!).

Lake Housgol

Today’s the sixth, and bloody freezing. Yesterday, the sun was out all day, no wind. An absolute bottler to be camped in this location at the lake. Today was cloudy and it rained this afternoon. I’ve taken my ski gloves off to type this for you lot, but still have on many layers of clothing.

If we get more rain it will be very interesting getting out of here. Coming in, with less than two km to go, it took us 45 minutes, mostly in first gear, low range, straddling a mixture of 300mm high dirt, lumps of river stones and grass, very close together (I don’t know what does this – I’ve never seen this combination in this form) and a type of bog with a hard crust. It’s the effect of the rain on the hard crust I’m concerned about. It’s the same stuff that trapped the Mongolians in a Toyota Prado that Barry pulled out a few weeks ago.

Anyway, tomorrow is Monday and we’ll be wishing Nev (Lynn’s dad), a happy 89th birthday, drive 90km to Moron to pick up Barry and Donna’s Ranger (which Lynn will drive) and head off to Russia. Barry and Donna will return straight to Russia, and all going well, we’ll get their car over the border, even if we don’t own it!

Tuesday, September 8 2015

Camp at N 40° 30.41′ , E 97° 53.81′.

We got out of the camp spot easily by going around the tree line. It was still first and second gear, but not as rough. We rang Nev for his 89th and got to Moron to pick up B&D’s car, to find it had two flat batteries. Put two marks on his mudguard where we have a running tally of car mishaps, jump-started it and off we went.

We’re going west, towards Russia. We thought it was bitumen road, but so far we have travelled 180km in one day and an afternoon, and it’s still gravel, clay, rock and creek crossings! Very slow. We only did 150km today, in seven hours, including half an hour for lunch. During the lunch break it snowed! What we would call sago snow.

Last night we stopped late-ish and after sunset it becomes deathly cold. So today we stopped at 6pm, in a lovely Fir / Baltic Pine grove, had a beer and red wine (South American Malbec), had dinner and in the roof top before the sun set. Mind you the sun sets at 9.30pm. Odd!


Postage Stamp Mongolia

Will update with the real ones when wifi allows images through

On the way to the Lake, from Moron, we saw a batch / pride / mob / murder / clan? of vultures. I’d say at least 30. We stopped and half flew away while we were getting the camera out.

In amongst them was a little black, white and blue bird, like a big pee, hassling one of the vultures. Both birds were standing on the ground. I gave the little bloke no chance, but he just kept pushing him(her?)self in the face of the vulture. Anyway, the big fella gave up and flew away. They were all much smaller than the monsters we saw in the Gobi a few weeks ago, but thick chested and very impressive, nonetheless.

I said we lost half while getting the camera, and when I took my eyes off the little hassling bird, looking to the west, the mob? was circling some poor thing 500m away.

We’ve seen maybe a dozen marmots in the fields. They dig a hole like a wombat, quite a big hole. They have a really broad bushy tail. And they certainly contribute to the rough ground, because when you walk over marmot warrens, the ground is rough as.

At one location, there were heaps of leaves. Quite neat heaps. We don’t know if it’s a way of getting food ready for winter, or nomads coming back to ‘smoke ‘em out’, catch and eat in the way we saw a while ago. Bit of a mystery that. The bunches were neatly stacked, and quite widespread. About 300mm high, and a metre circumference.

Returning from a walk, at the Lake, on the cold day, we came across a fox. Not a wolf. It was light brown, slender with a bushy striped tail that had a large white tip. Didn’t seem as spooked as Aussie foxes always seem to be, but we were upwind and he may have relied on eyesight. His first move was to the end of the peninsula, with only a swim escape, which I thought was going to be interesting. But he soon picked up on that and came back, surprisingly close to us, and nicked off into the Fir / Baltic Pine forest.

Then there’s the yaks. They are huge here – Darryl Eastlake huge. Also, the males look like the old pre-historic bison, with the big shoulders and tapered rear. They are shaggier than in China and they head-butt regularly.

I don’t know if it’s mating time before winter, but boy, you should have seen two at it yesterday. We stopped well short so as not to spook them. The dark one really intimidated the light coloured one. At one stage, the light one was being pushed upwards and backwards, then tried to turn, but got a head in the ribs, with stronger pushing, till it was very clear to the audience, that he was beat.

Small calves were in amongst it, getting in the way, but nimble enough not to get hit, and four females were forming a ring around the spectacle (okay, a four-sided ring!). We were entranced. The spectacle lasted quite some minutes. Like a wrestle in a Nadaam.

Pecos are little squirrel-like things, the locals call barbeques. They’re everywhere.

There also plenty of Buddhist Ants. They’re are of varying size, but they are all Buddhist – they don’t bite!

The mosquito’s are definitely not Buddhists.

No matter what anyone tries to tell you, camel or yak dung on the fire smells like camel or yak dung on the fire! And I think the mossies have a laugh at you, while you sit in camel dung smoke, thinking they won’t sit on you and bite! They will! And they don’t make a buzzing noise, so you have no idea where they are or how close they are. And they are huge…

We’ve only seen one snake, in the Gobi. It was banded, small and according to the lady at the museum in the Gobi, not poisonous.

There’s not much to fear in the bush here, compared to Australia.

But apart from mossies, there is one other species that bites – spiders! There’s lots of small, multi coloured spiders and some aren’t Buddhists. One bit me the other day, left a mark, which turned scaly and itchy and with a ring of red skin around the bite, like the rings round the moon on a cold-to-be night.

Anyway, spiders seem to be the biggest threat, so no big deal.

Friday, September 11 2015

We’ve just completed a hard day’s drive. And we only did 102km today. Rough, rocky, creek crossings and confusing landmarks, plus a tyre blow-out all joined together to hinder our progress.

We’re camped in a dry creek bed, dry (N 49° 43.47′. E 93° 31.58′). We’re running in a westerly direction towards Russia, but the going is slow. Today, I got a radio call from Lynn (driving Barry’s car): “Al, there’s something wrong, I can smell burning rubber!”

So I spun around and Lynn stopped and jumped out of the car and we discovered a very battered and bruised left hand rear tyre. It had been one of Barry’s fronts, but had worn so badly due to incorrect wheel alignment (impact abuse), he had put both fronts on the rear. Trouble was, both tyres had the inside severely scrubbed, exposing the canvas – or whatever they use these days! Lynn must have got a stick or rock through the canvas and gravity did the rest.

We’d just gone through a little town called Hyarga, and while we were unloading Barry’s tools a motorbike pulled up. Sort of had all (or most of), the family – Grandad, dad and young daughter. Anyway, we had a beer on the strength of the situation, then got about sorting out the replacement spare. I must say grandad was far more help then dad.

Spare on, time to go into town for a replacement. But, pay dad four beers for his trouble! It worked, as another bike had shown up, with only two people on board, so they drank the beer and we went back two km to town where we sign-languaged a bloke to follow him to a backyard tyre and “fix anything else” fellow.

When we arrived the tyre guy was welding up a motorbike frame, wheels, fuel tank, etc. still attached! He jumped straight into our repair. That’s the bit about China and Mongolia that outstrips Australia for service, big time. In Australia, the trade shop may / will make you wait. Here, no.

In Australia, years ago, I stopped on the Pacific Highway, near Nambucca Heads, to help a broken down car. It was a couple from Belgium who had waited, patiently, for five hours, since an NRMA guy had seen them and said, “I’ll be back”. Bloody hell, how patient were they!

That won’t happen in Mongolia. At this fellow’s tyre repair shop, there were quite a few people – an audience, not a client queue. One included a young, 12 year-old boy, his son.

The young fella was in amongst the action, and keen, so I got him to help me put the fixed spare back under the Ford. It’s a bit of a prick of a job and the older men offered, but I showed them a small toy kangaroo as a gift for the boy (thanks Sue) and as one, they all smiled and understood. They got into the action by helping the young boy with angles, rotation directions and support, but left him to do the work. When it was done I gave him the toy kangaroo as payment, and the smile on his face was enough to break the bank. Awesome response from the surrounding oldies too.

After the tyre was changed I gave the guy the wrong-sized spare tube Barry had been carting around as payment. He refused the 10,000 MnTugrut I also offered, so we agreed for the boy to have it, plus a gold kangaroo pin for him and another for the guy who took us there and off we went. A good result all round!

So we got another 40km and are camped. In that distance Lynn had her 4wd skills stretched to accommodate the dry creek crossings. Entry or departure angles don’t seem to be a bother to Mongolians and some of the crossings are pretty extreme. I climbed out of one creek at, I think, the second steepest angle I have driven a 4wd. The steepest was when I had our kids and Manfred’s kids in tears, but that’s another story!

Alcohol and Driving!

PMF Members take note, Lynn has now made the connection between a hard drive (a day’s sprints, 4wd driving or circuit work) and the joys of some alcohol at the end. So from now on my friends, she is one of the converted! I must say driving six hours and only getting 100km or so is hard work. But a beer is a joy, even if you have one early, en route!

We had a huge wind storm overnight, which made it feel like the roof top camper was going to be shredded at any minute. Sunrise is just after 8.00am, so early starts are unlikely.

September 12 2015

I’ve been using Barry’s GPS while he has been in Australia. It has maps loaded for Mongolia. The gps manufacturer is trying to value add, play catch up to the car satnavs, so when you set a target, and your preferred mode of transport, and quickest / shortest mode, etc. away she goes and gives you a pink line to follow. So when you use them in the city, if you miss a turn, it recalculates and sends you on your way, adding say one minute to your trip. Not this fecking thing.

When you miss a track, say keep left on a diverge instead of straight, it recalculates so you think you’re on your preferred track. And I mean track. No bitumen out here matey. So, a few compromises later you find yourself chasing shadows, 20km or more off track. Anyway, this morning, chasing the pink line on the gps, we ended up heading south, up a blind valley, deep in the mountains, miles off track, and threatening to blow up more tyres! We backtracked, sent the gps to the sin bin for Barry to deal with on his return, and I fired up my 15 year old trusty. We got out of the mountains, and cross-countried north to the plains.

Also to the north, on our way to Ulaangom, is Lake Uvs, a huge shallow lake of fresh water contaminated with salts from ground water and evaporation. Too salty for fish, or probably stock to drink. You’ll have to Wiki it yourself and while you’re there donate a dollar every three months to Wiki to pay their bills.

We saw the lake and hot footed it there. We’d driven until 4pm and only did 80km – bloody hard going.

At the lake there was a wide beach, with SOFT sand. Lynn and I were in convoy, Lynn following in the Ranger. The radio messages got mixed up and when I bogged in the soft sand I looked in the mirror and guess who I could see, bogged! So, both cars bogged and no-one for miles. Many miles. In fact 50km as the crow flies, to Ulaangom, our stopover on the way to Russia. But not tonight!

I let 20psi out of the Cruiser tyres, down to 20. It, with a bit of coaxing, crawled out. So I parked it up high and went to the Ranger, where I also let 20 psi out, down to 20. Selected low range 4wd, kicked her over, let out the clutch and down she went. Like a marmot, hiding from a skinning from some hungry locals!

So, still confident, I cleaned around the tyres, let out another five psi, 15 all round, jumped in the cockpit, and the #$%@ dug another hole. So Lynn cleaned around the tyres and the diffs, (I’m glad the tide wasn’t coming in!) and I collected the 8 x 10m long 2.5 tonne swl straps we have and positioned the mighty Cruiser on hard ground, and, with a bit of pulling, swearing and revving, we pulled the Ranger out. AGAIN! Number six! Who’s keeping count?

The day having got away, we’ve decided to camp. It’s a lovely spot, in amongst the sand dunes, no one around a backdrop of mountains 40kms away, stretching 2500m above ground level to the south and the lake to our north. And South American Malbec to quench our thirst!

I had a skinny dip in the lake, a little habit Cliff and I started a long time ago. The water was beautiful. Not as salty as the Lonely Planet says, but nice. Not sure it would be good to mix with your drinks.

Just as I’m finishing this, the cows have come in for a yarn and a sticky-beak. They are inquisitive as Indonesian village people. Two days ago they had a lick of the breakfast table! If you were scared of cattle you’d have something to write home about!

Next report when we find some more wifi!

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Comments (4)

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  1. Ken Johnson says:

    A great read Al-good to see you are keeping your negotiating skills well honed

  2. Judy Veitch says:

    Oh my, what an adventure! The best laid plans …
    I can see you guys returning skinny as, with muscles popping out, and being the best ad hoc navigators and vehicle repairers! And with a beer and a glass of wine constantly at the ready, just in case ?
    Your stories are eagerly anticipated and much enjoyed. They are like tales from an imaginary land, way beyond my keen. And they are much discussed at movie group too. We miss you but will cheer you on and raise a glass in your honour, probably more than once ? Xxx

  3. ray abbott says:

    Good story, can’t wait for the movie to come out.

  4. Christine says:

    Sorry to hear about grant. How awful for the family. Sounds like you are enjoying yourselves. Bet you can’t wait to get back to work. Love to you both.

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