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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A surprise turn of events

As one opportunity crumbles before my very eyes another unfolds. It's a valuable lesson in life to recognise opportunities as they pop up, and they can pop up in the most unexpected places. At two in the morning the van transporting my bike back to Ulaan Baatar draws up outside a 24 hour cafe on the outskirts of Bayankongor, as I wander towards a darkened corner to relieve my bladder a rather grubby looking westerner emerges from the gloom. Life was about to take an unexpected turn, after an awful 24 hours prior to this it was a very welcome one. Once deciding to call an abrupt halt to my efforts in Altai everything had happened swiftly. I'd felt so deflated, as well as utterly exhausted, I sat in my hotel room feeling completely incapable of dealing with the simplest task. Downing painkillers did little to relieve my creaking legs, walking was a stiff-legged effort. My efforts at communicating with the staff had been ineffective, to say the least, I couldn't even get them to understand that I wanted to find transport back to Ulaan Baatar. I resorted to the linguistic skills of a staff member at the British embassy. So through this intermediary, and my newly acquired Mongolian SIM card, the details were agreed and the bike loaded into a minivan. (Photo: Watching the goings on - Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia)

Three local Mongol guys did all the work, they were happy and helpful, realising there was little I could do to help. All the seats but one row were removed, the bike slotted nicely into the newly created space and my luggage was fitted sensibly around it. They worked well together, seeming competent and professional, showing concern that i was happy with their efforts. Unfortunately their exemplary behaviour changed almost as soon as we left the town boundaries. They couldn't be accused of being nasty, merely loud, uncouth, and a pain in the arse. They took the mick, but never in english, which they could hardly utter a word, and pestered me with inane crap. I thought the high spirits would peter out, but no, it continued for the next twelve hours. At our halfway stop, Bayankongor, I meet Konrad and life became decidedly different. (Photo: Traditional delight - Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia)

We struck up an accord almost immediately, our views and experiences in life so similar. He'd just sold his horses after a three week solo ride through central Mongolia. Having planned to spend a good deal longer on his equine excursion he was in much the same boat as me; we were both trying to get our heads round falling short of our hopes and expectations. But that came later, as we made the most of the chance to converse in a language we both understood, and it wasn't German. Initially it was the BMW that proved coincidental, he'd had an F650 GS himself, same year, same colour, even the Dakar version. Many of the next 16 hours were spent discovering a host of similarities, more than anything we shared a the same views on life, strived to experience the same type of lifestyle, valued the same things. It was like talking to a younger version of myself. When he joked that he could ride my bike back to Europe for me I merely laughed. After a couple of hours stuck in the van my head had turned over the possibility, at the next stop I declared that it wasn't such a bad idea. Who'd have imagined proposing such an idea to a complete stranger? Yet when travelling you have to trust people instinctively, otherwise your days are filled with paranoia, your experience tainted. Sure you get ripped off now and again, but that's part of the experience. Unless you're stupid or very unlucky it won't be drastic anyway; when it boils down to it property is replaceable, life and health are the important considerations. By the time we entered the capital again we'd agreed to look into the idea, see whether it was feasible or not. He could take care of the bike while I travelled, it would be easy to fly to Germany instead of Britain, and then I could still ride home. I know this tale sounds bizarre, but it's humoured us both immensely. First and foremost though we were in desperate need of rest. So abandoning his plans to return to his previous guesthouse we booked into Gana's, taking the luxury of a private room. One of the nice aspects of foreign travel is chance meetings with like minded people, every now and again strong bonds are made. The level of comradeship we seem to have found is quite unbelievable, as I said, a very rare occurrence indeed. (Photo: Participants of Naadam Festival - Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia)

Acute embarrassment was felt at having to admit my failure to complete my passage through Mongolia. The plates in my arms felt like excuses, saying it was too much for me felt lame. I found myself explaining to all and sundry the extent of my previous injuries; it still felt that I was making excuses.Whether or not folks understood, I faced no ridicule. In fact the welcome back by guests and staff alike was heart warming. But I still feel awkward telling people I'm not continuing by bike, that I didn't get all the away across Mongolia. However others may view this is unimportant, I have to deal with my own thoughts, and I am my own worst critic. Finding myself in the company of another mere mortal, another person who didn't finish the task he set out to do has helped tremendously, the respond of friends and family has also been a great help. Over a week later I still remind myself of the doubt overhanging the trip when I set out. It was a bold plan, one that would test me to my limits. And it did! (Photo: Archery judges - Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia)

Our days of rest ensued, in a vodka induced haze. Knocking back numerous bottle is easy with the help of a couple of burly Polish bikers. Gana's guesthouse has proved a wonderfully chilled place to stay, the number of kindred spirits never fails to surprise me. Places like this are seldom encountered, I've found many I appreciate but so few that attract the best of the bunch. The majority of guests are a pleasure to share time with, few days are spent without appreciating the company of others. And Konrad, well we've fallen easily into close friendship, appearing to many as travelling buddies, well versed in the easy camaraderie of people who've a well established friendship. And do I doubt the decision to entrust my beautiful machine to a near stranger? Not in the slightest, it's a good option for me and an ideal end to a year of travelling for him. (Photo: Never too old to compete - Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia)

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