“Where my cheese at? Where my cheese at?” – Chinggis Pugs, 11am
We roll out of Erdenet bright and early, remembering to dispose of all our nice hand-picked bush-weed (out of respect for the Mongolian police and the terrifying dungeon that is UlaanBaatar prison) but forgetting our precious stash of cheese! We bought some cheese, agonised over whether to store it fridgeless and sweaty in our room, or give it to reception and risk forgetting it. Sheeeeit. (Can’t even blame the Mongolian bush-weed for that, been way too busy and tired for that stuff.)
So we roll out of Erdenet bright and early and cheeseless. The city sports a fine variety of industrial hell, highlights including a bunch of cows grazing on plastic bags in a carpark, and a doom-laden power plant with giant letters on the smokestack that read not “1984” but “1986”. On the edge of town there is a scattering of depressing gers and unsmiling peasants (the first we’ve seen in Mongolia), and a horse with a broken leg dying in a ditch while an unsmiling peasant demands money off some guy with a very dented front bumper on his car.
Apart from that, the day is quiet – too quiet.
Actually, it is our first, and possibly only, relaxing day’s riding. We ride on tarsealed road for the first time on this lumpy bumpy trip. There are some great smooth ripping downhills – Tama clocks 59.9km/hr at one point – and at those speeds, the kilometres just fly by, especially since every kilometre there’s a little numbered roadsign telling you how far you’ve come from the big bad city. We get to 100 in a few hours, the most I’ve ever biked in a day, and are at 108 by the time we pull into a derelict truck stop for dinner by a nice-looking river.
We manage to bully and scare the two timid teenage waitresses into making us soup with noodles and mutton in it – and nothing else. (While Tama kept saying, in English, “You choose” and “We’ll eat anything, whatever you think is good”, I kept pointing to “noodle” and “meat” in the phrasebook. I guess they were too worried about getting it wrong to add anything else.) This was the worst meal on the trip so far, until we doused it with Indian chilli sauce and Chinese sweet pickled garlic, after which it was chilli and garlicky. A kid rides my bike around and around in circles in the carpark, and we get a bit tiddly on Russian beer. The truck stop owner finds the word “mosquito” in my phrasebook.
When we make camp by the river, the guy is right about the mosquitoes.
And when we finally make it to the river, it’s almost dark, and the river looks – and smells – not so nice. Just muddy and sloppy and full of cow shit, mainly. We have a short swim that definitely doesn’t count as a wash, and sleep deeply in our little mesh cave.