Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Day 159 - To Deer Stones and return to Murun - Thurs 1 Aug

Day 159 - To Deer Stones and return to Murun - Thurs 1 Aug

Ducks swimming in V formation on shallow river. Travelled across country on tracks to see Deer Stones at Uushigiin Uver – took it easy so no problems with welded spring. The site has 14 upright carved deer stones, (burial markers from the Bronze Age), the most unique topped with head of woman, plus sacrificial altars, up to 4000 years old, and there are over a thousand burial tombs in nearby hills. 

By chance we met Irena, a Russian archaeologist specialising in burial art, it’s her 3rd season here excavating. The site was originally unearthed by Japanese expedition, who stained a couple of stones with brown ochre to show up engravings. Irena’s group has recently unearthed stones 16 and 17. Many are broken into several pieces. Stones stand in a south-north line, and are pink or grey granites, brought down from nearby mountains. Engravings are stylised deer/ birds to help person buried travel to afterlife, with the tools they may need along way including belt, axe, shield, whet-stone. Man Stones are similar apparently, but with faces and parts mostly of men. Stone 14 at this site has woman's face which is unique in any site to date. 

Drove back to town and farewelled our friends who are heading west towards border, we will try to catch them before Guy turns towards Kazakhstan. Drove around to garages and found one who bashed the mudflap metal bracket back into position ready for its repair tomorrow. Then – awful news from Miles - he had done a front hanger spring only 40kms west of Murun. These Mongolian roads are deadly! They took five hours to repair his Izuzu and get back on the road, luckily he had not cannibalised his spare springs for our repair, so had everything he needed, both men so knowledgeable about the process now. 

Drove south of town to see whether there were more attractive campsites where the river broadened out, saw large flock of circling swallows ducking into holes dotting riverbank. Too many local campers though and too much rubbish to stay (also no cell network and need to know of arrival of springs) so went back to our familiar riverside camp. BoyRob created spaghetti and meatballs from frozen meat patties and spicy tomato soup – very tasty! A couple of male revellers came by in a ute on dusk and yelled out "hey, hey" to us a few times, but we took the safe option and stayed inside reading, until the evening shower projected a magnificent rainbow over the town.

Day 158 - Around Murun - Wed 31 Jul
Rained last night, and woke to rainy misty morning, all potholes and ruts filled and boggy - we'll probably have to find a drier camp. Birds deciding we are a tree and pooping everywhere. “Our” dog knows to come and search out our new hiding place each morning for the rubbish bag. We are obviously becoming part of the local scene.
Pocket Lumix camera has developed another problem, lens won't open or close all the way. Will it last another two months? Worse problem though – is the fridge dead?? It hasn't drawn power overnight, has been alternating between loud humming noises and no sound at all – watching brief - meat in freezer doesn’t seem to be defrosting....
Met Sara tourist guide/translator for our auto and bank transfer questions, she is from Tsaatan reindeer people, Lonely Planet says of Tuvan ethnic group, only 300 left, living in orts or teepees, truly nomadic moving reindeer herds every 2-3 weeks to find special grass and lichens. Some are lured to lower slopes chasing tourist dollars, inhospitable elevation endangering herds who can’t live there. Sara is working for their long term sustainability through advocacy and eco-tourism. She has previously studied nursing and tourism, had a study grant to Japan and is now looking for one in Australia whilst tourism shuts down over winter. Promised to help assist in some way. 

Heard from our overlanding icon Kym who had the same spring issues with his EC, he is now travelling in Central America and says his temporary weld held 3000km! 

Our travel buddies turned up with our washing and stories of their Lake explorations. We had dinner at 50*100* hotel, none of mutton meals available for our adventurous men - probably just as well seeing one was sheep’s head... Back to river camp seeing rain had passed. Man from ger closest to river demanded money from Miles to camp there, he politely declined. Ger Man came down to us on bike half hour later wanting money from us. BoyRob pointed out many people used riverbank esp locals so it was free for everyone. They had an amicable miming session and the fellow left us in peace to drink our hot chocolate and go to bed.

Days 155 to 157 – Around Murun - Sun 28 to Tue 30 Jul

Days 155 to 157 – Around Murun - Sun 28 to Tue 30 Jul 
Sunday: Found out that the locals call their town Murun (“Muroon”) so we will change to its more respectful title. Measured all springs and holes meticulously, photographed on iPhone and wrote lengthy email to Carrolls re the customised EC springs required (replacement plus front/rear hanger spares with bushes), nominating John M as our Aussie liaison. Nothing could be done today of course as business in Australia closed for weekend.
Were entertained by woman washing clothes in river, spreading all out on grass and bushes to dry, all the while singing with 3-4yr old boy skillfully rolling heavy tyre up and down “beach”.
We were adopted by an undernourished dog with the shakes. A goatherd and his flock grazed by, and a herd of horses drank and washed nearby in river, then rolled in dust. From mid-afternoon there were a succession of people walking, on bicycles, motorbikes, horses or cars coming down to wash self and clothes in the lazy waters.  We connected with Miles on satellite phone to let our travel buddies know our status.
Finally had our pasta – shifting between indoor and outdoor stoves due to strong winds and showers. Guess we’ll be settling in to this pattern for a while…
Monday: Sorted spring order through Carrolls, emails with John M and their workshop manger re delivery logistics through Mongolian Star Melchers to process easily through customs (otherwise person named on package has to claim/pick up, in Ulaanbaatar). We agreed not to wait for springs to be painted, so they’d leave Australia quickly. 
Heard shocking news of death of a family member - calls and messages to Australia – felt very far from home.
Used bucket to wash Ozzie, a couple of under the weather guys came up for a conversation re our map and their hero Chinggis Khan. Later a father and his two teenage daughters walked around back of EC as BoyRob was having outdoor shower - stood there trying to understand his English (which was "No, No! I've got no clothes on!")
Went into town and filled up at water station using shower pump and bucket -sparkling clear and icy from underground (and winter permafrost!!) only charged 100TGs to fill up. Called Miles with daily update, our travel buddies have offered to wait with us but there’s no need for us all to suffer… they’ll be back in Moron Wednesday morning ready to turn west.

Tuesday: Rain, mist, cool. Enjoying sleep-ins and break from driving. Springs will leave Australia today – fast action! BoyRob measured and drew diagram of bracket for spare springs to sit on back of vehicle above the MaxTrax. Patted calves and yak-cows, and watched antics of butcher bird look-alike, with a long iridescent tail. Heard that springs won’t arrive UB until next Monday – spirits down again. Our Mongolian visa expires 14/8, so parts will need to arrive in Murun, be fitted and we depart in 2 days, to leave a week to get to border. Drove into town and tried internet cafe, chock-a-block with young men playing video games in a stuffy dark back room – too creepy for GirlRob. Fortunately both Mongolia Telecom and MobiCom have free wifi (but no spare power outlets). Searched for English speakers to help translate instructions for replacing springs and to fabricate bracket, and finally stumbled across badly signed Tourist Info! Two helpful blokes pointed us towards a local, Sara, and we made an appointment. Went looking for BookBridge a library of English books, but "closed till August"... slow day, but our late afternoon rainstorm arrived on time. Had fun trying to order a vodka and orange to waiter - GirlRob mimed "little" vodka, "lots" orange juice. He came out with a new bottle of Chinggis, opened and a half glass poured, and with small plastic bowl, no juice, then went off to serve someone else. GirlRob had to go over behind drinks bar and get juice, tip most of the vodka into the bowl and start fresh to mix her own! 

Day 154 - Khovskol Nuur Lake to Moron - Sat 27 Jul

Day 154 - Khovskol Nuur Lake to Moron - Sat 27 Jul
Stopped at Tourist Info for Davo to obligingly write a couple of questions for us in Mongolian about buying and repairing springs. Drove slowly and despondently along the 100km of bitumen back to Moron, past tepees of the Tsaatan, reindeer people. 

Unlucky search on a Saturday afternoon, no ATM that worked, no tourist info. Cautiously drove around town streets in their abysmal condition, stopping at the grotty, as well as the better, auto workshops looking for new or 2nd hand springs or information. Picked up simpatico man who jumped in front and pointed way to auto part sellers, including black market, but no springs in town, even old truck ones. Gave up around 1.30pm and called into hotel for hot lunch and wifi. Contacted our Aussie friends Rick and John for info, and left messages for Earthcruiser, and FUSO in Ulaanbaatar. Rick tracked down Carrolls, Brisbane based modifier of EC springs - we decided we had no choice other than to order their customised springs to minimise recurring issues on the rest of the trip (we still have 900km of bone-jarring roads to exit Mongolia). John agreed to be our on ground representative and expedite our order. Reluctantly we accepted we will be here for a while...

With all business avenues exhausted for the weekend, we went to shallow river on outskirts of town and made camp. As if to makeup for our despondency the skies opened and gave us an amazing light show over the next couple of hours.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Day 153 - Tosontsengel to Khovskol Nuur Lake - Fri 26 Jul

Day 153 - Tosontsengel to Khovskol Nuur Lake - Fri 26 Jul
Cool morning, plenty of dew on meadow grass, rocks with lichen. Off towards Moron (sure to be some radio fun with that name!). Bitumen ran out, rough tracks, deep ruts and holes. Beautiful flat plains, ringed by mountains, yaks and herd animals, overloaded trucks carrying daggy wool. 

Stopped at Moron for fuel, bread and water, watched a man hacking up an animal and hanging it in a tree in the main street. Had morning tea on outskirts near cemetery (“dead set Morons”). Found goat skull. 

Good bitumen road north of town towards Khatgal and the Lakes. Khovskol Nuur Lake is known as Baikal’s sister, 136km long, 262m deep, holding up to 2% of world’s fresh water. We think the lenok and sturgeon are calling Guy’s fishing rod... Stormy sky with lightening ahead. Have read of Deer Stones west of Moron, plan to see them on way back. Drove past small lakes/ reservoirs, plenty of evidence of pine tree logging; plethora of new log cabins going up in all towns. 

Met Dava at the info centre, she will take sheets and towels washing, "no more than 30,000TGs" (ouch!) runs ger camp, has good English, trained for tourism in UK. This finger of the Lake is only a taste of what’s further up the track, but it’s such a pretty azure blue! Bought a large rump at the outdoor meat stall - as usual, we were as much of interest to locals as they were to us.

Oh no, oh no, oh no! Just turned onto the track up the west side of the Lake and we've broken the passenger side front hanger spring at forward U-bolt!! There will be no mention of the first half hour following...the only consolation was how fortunate that we were still in town. Back to Dava for advice. 8hrs later the Mongolian mechanic she recommended, and his mates in a water truck, and our three fellows had cut and welded Miles' 2nd hand spring on to broken top spring from front scroll to 200mm behind rear U bolt, using a variety of tools, knowhow, muscles and a winch to get us functional enough to go back to Moron in the morning and source either a better 2nd hand spring (eg truck) or order one (from UB? from Russia? from Australia???), and if the latter, we will have an enforced stay in Khovskol aimag (and yes, not the worst location in the world). 

The Mongol Mechanic was a merry soul when he wasn't swearing or smoking, and he charged us 400000TG, then laughed at foreigners, and gave half back! Fortunately the brewing storm also went around us, but 'twas 9.00pm and getting dark by that time, and (following a visit by a wandering horseman) it was 10.00pm before everything was sorted into the three guys toolboxes, and we could get at our lockers and into the truck to start dinner. Gave up the salami pasta on the chopping board in favour of a quick toasted cheese sandwich and hot cocoa. We all camped where we were right beside the road.