Ulan Ude - Ulan Bataar
In Ulan Ude we rested for a couple of days. On the second day we took an excursion to Lake Baikal with Dasha - an English teacher we met and her uncle - a colonel in the Russian army.
We visited the main Buddhist temple in Russia; got some famous partially smoked Baikal fish; checked out the lake; had a classic Russian banya and some local brews. Also had a good luck at an impressive Kamaz truck that you see everywhere in these parts of the world. Had a traditional Buryat meal on the way home - sheep meat soup and dumplings.
The next day we rode to Ulan Batoor. This took a huge amount more time than we predicted - not arriving to UB until nearly midnight.
The day involved our first land border crossing - with some incomprehensible levels of bureaucracy on both sides. There were probably 15 separate passport checks during the three hours we were there.
On the Russian side Zane was separated from Todd and Alex by a soldier and taken to a separate room. The soldier kept asking for '10 dollars’, '10 dollars'. Not yet fully understanding that this was not an official process, but thankfully not playing along, he made it back to the group to find out what currency they were paying the 10 dollar fee in. Boom - no such fee existed, and Zane had avoided a scam. Thanks for your hospitality mate!
On the Mongolian side the scenery was stunning. Rolling hills and big landscapes - exactly what we had been dreaming of all along.
There were lots of toll checkpoints with 500 Tugrik tolls. We were thinking this would quickly burn through our cash until we did the math - 500 Tugriks is about 35 cents Australian.
On and on we rode, with the sun going down. On dark rain set in and persisted all the way to the capital. It was a hair-raising experience riding into UB: busy roads, pouring rain, nearly midnight and fatigued. It was a real relief to make it safely to our hotel.
In UB Zane remembered he had a contact from 9 years ago - Toogi - who was his tour guide all those years ago. A Facebook message later and we were meeting up! Toogi, who is now a lawyer with her own company (at 29!) was keen to take us out for a traditional Mongolian dinner. We had a meal of horse meat and buttery milk tea and a few drinks afterwards. Thanks Toogi!
Other than that we have been planning and preparing to hit the plains of Mongolia. The next 10 days are set to be an amazing adventure, one that we have all been looking forward to for a long time. Wish us luck.