Today was a warm 97km ride into Bulgan and at Okron Gol the river flowed wide and blue, with wonderful stony banks. The police checkpoint did not involve perusing of passports nor road tax outlay, as bicycles do not pay when crossing Aimag provincial borders. We were simply waved on with no kerfuffle by a man with a blank expression. We continued happily along the dusty and stony track.
Bulgan is a small town of thirty thousand and has made an attempt in creating a linear park of pine trees. There are crop silos and many log cabins. Having passed into the beginnings of the Taiga regions the area is greener with wood used for building homes. The stone buildings are Soviet derived with no architectural flourishes whatsoever. The food stores are little more than “vodka and lolly” shops. The pleasing owner at the hotel made her ten year old son Gainet available as a town guide, he was not actually needed and the communication difficulties confused the boy. He couldn’t understand why we stood in the supermarket and didn’t shop! We thought that his mother had sent him to obtain supplies for the evening meals.
The afternoon thunderstorms; common in the Mongolian summer; are booming in the distance and I sit here pondering our stop at the village of Tagna where yesterday we were offered water at the settlements well and all the children came out encouraging us to wash at the horse trough outflow and to collect all the water that we needed. In return we helped them push their water carts uphill, which was done with much fun by all.
Today we had morning tea with a goat herder who invited us for cool yoghurt, goat’s milk and Aaaruul which is a hardened milk curd which I call ceramic cheese. Often it is found drying on the felt roofs of Gers and is best eaten by leaving it to soften in the mouth.
It was hard and tasteless but the refreshment of the other dairy was energising. He lived in a tin dwelling with no ger visible and before entering he had to ‘call off the dogs’, which is a Mongol greeting. Our own phrase is ‘drop your rocks’ which has come to mean that everything is OK. Most of the canines are loud and aggressive but they know that their territory ceases at the roadway. If that fails the use of a bicycle water bottle is an effective deterrent.
After he had a ride of Michael’s Cannondale mountain bike we said goodbye; bayartai; with great enthusiasm from his family who wished us a good journey. In some ways this climate dictates an Australian Outback informality and helpfulness. It often feels like the desert regions of northern South Australia with its five dwelling outposts, broken down vehicles and petrol bowsers. All the roads have been dirt and the mountain passes have been gradual and probably no higher than 300 metres.
It’s been a good, short day and at 18:30 we await a cooked dinner and three and a half hours of sunlight. An Austrian couple are next-door and earlier in the day they tried to gain our attention from their campsite, as we sped by on the fast claytops.They are both in their early twenties and full of gusto. The astonishing fact is that exactly twenty years ago I cycled from the alpine town of Obertaun to Salzburg along a road where they both currently reside!