We did not go anywhere today, but it was still a pretty cool day. Actually, let me start with yesterday evening. After doing the blog update and writing a mixed online review of our hotel, we were debating our options with Jerome. The two main questions were: Where do I find a mechanic, and where do we go now. Couchsurfing suddenly came to my mind, and I logged into their site, which I have not visited for ages. It turns out that there is a CS community in UB, and by incredible coincidence, their 3x / year community meeting was at a restaurant in the center that day!! It was announced to start at 8 PM. It was already 22:30, but I still put on some still little wet clothes and boots to go there by cab.
The restaurant was deserted like most places, except for a single table with 3 local guys. I asked if they were from Couchsurfing and they happily affirmed. I was so happy about this I invited them for a round of local beer and told them my story so far. They promised to help with the mechanic, and explained that this year the summer is indeed unusually rainy. They said that in dry weather I could hope to get to Tsaganuur in about a week. In wet weather all bets are off. Nyam, who spoke excellent German and English, as he has studied in Germany and even knew some of my Zurich Couchsurfing mates said that it would be a big shame if I would not end up driving through Mongolia, but agreed that it was risky in this weather and our Google maps based time budgeting was completely unrealistic.
I returned to the hotel around 2 AM and slept till 9-ish. Jerome turned his back at the hotel breakfast so I ate both of our portions. This time it was actually better than the previous days, with yummy bacon (Sure it was soggy rather than crispy, and partly cold, but no matter how hard they try, there is no way for them to make me not like bacon.) replacing the disgusting sausage and soup. I also picked up our laundry in return for 38000 MNT, and asked the reception about a motorbike mechanic. They phoned two different people who seem to have recommended more people, and pretty quickly I was on the phone with an English speaking dude who was interested in helping. I asked him to come to the hotel and look at the bike. I only told him that I had a broken blinker and kept the broken windshield to myself, hoping not to scare him off.
A very cool looking guy arrived on a Harley Sportster (!) not much later. He looked at the bike, and demonstrated that the blinker only had a wire lose which when plugged back in made it work immediately. I was a bit embarrassed about not fixing this myself, but of course I was too exhausted to spend time looking at the bike in detail the previous day. He was clearly looking for more of a challenge, which we agreed was the broken windshield. He still needed to run some errands, but we agreed to meet at the hotel at 1PM and drive to his workshop. We used the time to buy some water, more canned food and even a pair of shoes for Jerome to use while his boots were wet.
It turned out that while my phone cannot call numbers here, I can send and receive text messages, so we were able to coordinate his second coming that way. I rode with him through some fortunately mild traffic to an area with panel housing construction sites reminiscent of the are behind the Munkasor housing project in Szigetszentmiklos where I lived when I was in 5th grade. We were greeted by a huge dog, a little dog, and Chimit’s wife, who brought us sweet Korean coffee. He had a bunch of bikes in various stages of deconstruction in his garage, and all the tools one could need. We talked about our families, and about traveling. He was a great guy with lots of experience and lots of interesting things to share. His sister is living in Frankfurt am Main, so he has also traveled in Europe. He said he often fixes bikes for tourists who wreck them in the Mongolian countryside like I did. It was amazing how he improvised: He had some junk bike parts lying around that he scavenged for the right screws and rubber fittings. He cut a piece of plexiglass to the right shape with an electric saw and polished it flawless. He basically made an all new windshield for the bike from scratch in about an hour. I mentioned to him that the bike pulled to one side, which he proceeded to fix by having me loosen the bolts that held the front suspension and then twisting the wheel to one side using the handle of a shovel. He also noticed that the handle bar was a bit bent, which we also readjusted, though the grip heating (!!! I was so stupid (I hope just temporarily, due to the cold) the previous day that I completely forgot about the bike’s grip heating feature.) was too hard to remove in such short time that we decided not to try and fix this completely. We also removed the front wheel and re-greased the axle. I also noticed a small hair crack on a piece of the axle assembly that he recommended I get fixed in Russia. In general he has me do all the simple work myself which was great because I learned a lot. Take that, aloof Swiss mechanics who have never let me into their garage, not even to look!
After working for about four hours he let me go without any payment. He told me his rates, but said I can pay him however much I liked. Wow. I did not have as much cash on me as I wanted to give him, so we agreed that he’d later come by the hotel (he had more errands to run and had no time to come with me immediately) to collect, which he did. Anyway, super nice guy. I hope I see him again sometime, maybe if they come out to Europe again. They are expecting their first daughter, maybe my sons Marci and Moric would like to meet her. 🙂
Regarding going through Mongolia to Tsaganuur vs. going north to Russia, he agreed its a shame to take the easy way, but confirmed that I could not expect any mechanic to help with the bike out in the boonies should it have further problems, and that he had low confidence in the reliability of BMW 650-s in general. Hmm.
I rode back to the hotel by myself through the city, confirming that I was starting to be able to find my way through UB and its crazy traffic. People clearly don’t see foreigners on bikes a lot here; everywhere I turn people wave to me and yield to me in traffic. Amazing.
Jerome was already worried where I stayed so long. He made me an instant ramen noodle soup which I enjoyed in a hot bath. Later we went to the center by taxi and bought a large two layer Russian made tent (They put The North Face logo on the packaging but only the brand of the presumably Chinese or Russian maker was printed on the tent itself. Of course the sales woman claimed it was authentic The North Face.) for 360000 MNT, exchanged some more Euros for local currency, and went for an overpriced Pizza dinner. Now we’re back to the hotel and its again getting late. We will drive off toward the northern border tomorrow.
I would really love to go drive cross country to Tsaganuur, but we already lost 4 days with our crazy little rain expedition, and a realistic estimate for this trip would be maybe 8 or 9 more days, which now includes days probably lost due to bad weather. This means we might not be able to be back in Zurich in 5 weeks as planned, which is bad for me and a deal breaker for Jerome.
Hmmmm. Still not decided about what to do next.
PS: I updated the Aug 26, 27 and 28 posts with photos.