On Wednesday 13 July, Dan had ordered the part he hoped would restore his bike to fully working order, and with that done there was little he could do but wait for it. Equally, there was little point in Ed hanging around to wait for it too, so once assured that Dan had a repair plan in place, Ed headed off towards the Russian border. Ed was keen to use this unexpected spare time to go and explore the area to the east of Lake Baikal that was not on the intended route before meeting back up with Dan to tackle the BAM road together once the DRZ was running properly again.
Thankfully for Dan, Oasis in Ulaanbaatar is a pleasant place to spend an otherwise frustrating week in the company of a steady stream of friendly overlanders and assorted travellers. American Ben (800GS) had already left for the final Russian leg of his Round the World trip, but the unstoppably helpful Allan (1150GS) was still waiting for Maggie (800GS) who had broken her ankle badly whilst the three of them were on their way to Ulaanbaatar. Maggie made a brief appearance at Oasis on her way home to Holland to have her ankle properly seen to. Dutch Tijs (Africa Twin) and Italian Enrico (KTM 990Adv-S), two great characters Dan and Ed had first met in Tashkent arrived with another great character – Irish Chris (660-Tenere). Three Swedish riders also on new XT660Z Teneres had arrived for a night, and interestingly were planning to ride the Old Summer Road (the so-called “Road of Bones”) to Magadan and then return to Sweden via the BAM road – both of the challenging roads that Ed and Dan intended to tackle in Eastern Siberia. A very friendly German motorcycle-overlanding-journalist couple, Andreas and Claudia, arrived on their BMW F800 and G650 GSs, and another German chap on a hideously overladen BMW X-Challenge was also around for one evening, as well as the rest of the German group that Ed and Dan had met halfway across Mongolia on their heavily laden big BMWs and even heavier Guzzi-sidecar-outfit. American Travis (1150GS) was headed in the other direction, having ridden through Eastern Russia, he was now headed for Europe. Portuguese Joao and Paolo on another couple of BMWs were another friendly and entertaining addition to the growing overlanding crowd.
Dan was on his way to the supermarket to buy some Sengur beer and some instant noodles for dinner when a Land Rover ambulance and a Mitsubishi L200 pick-up both on British plates hoved into view. A team of intrepid students from St Andrews had raised the cash to buy the vehicles and drive them to Mongolia to donate them to charity. It was interesting to compare notes with other brits on the road – one observation in common was that the people of Mongolia were not quite as friendly as they had been led to expect. That is not to say that Mongolians are unpleasant or even unfriendly in a UK context – but the flow of stories of heart warming hospitality told by travellers through Mongolia even just a few years ago seems to be running dry. In some countries of central Asia everyone is interested in communicating with visitors – to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to get on with buying some groceries from a shop or riding a motorcycle along a road. In Mongolia however, the interest seems less – it can be difficult just to gain the attention of a passer-by to obtain directions.
Dan had hoped to receive his mechanical aid parcel on Saturday 16 July, but a phone call to DHL in the centre of Ulaanbaatar revealed that it had arrived at the airport customs clearance centre which was not open at the weekend – Monday would be the earliest it would leave the airport. Whilst it was tempting to spend another couple of days just drinking Sengur and eating instant noodles, Dan was able to find at least a few more productive activities, helping Andreas and Claudia change the wheel bearings in Claudia’s bike, fix a puncture in Joao’s front tyre and drain Allan and Chris’s fuel tanks into his own to allow their bikes to be cleared for airfreight home to Holland and on to Thailand respectively. Allan had already fixed everyone else’s bikes (including helping Dan repair his fuel tank brace a few days before, and donating the starter motor of his bike to Travis to get him back on the road), so once those simple tasks were completed, it was back to the Sengur and noodles…
On Monday 18 July, Dan was hot on the trail of his aid parcel. The DHL office in the city that had been so helpful over the phone on Saturday was not so useful in person – the shipment had been sent via DHL but not by DHL, so the tracking number Dan had was not valid in the DHL system. The staff around on the Monday claimed there was no way to track it without the DHL number, despite their colleague having managed this two days before. An email to the UK carrier company was hastily sent, but the time difference of 8 hours meant that by the time they responded, the DHL office in UB was already closed. Dan was left with the frustration of knowing that the vital part was so near, but out of reach. A few more Sengurs and more chat with fellow overlanders would have to suffice until Tuesday morning.
Tuesday dawned dull and drizzly, but Dan was up and on the bike on his way to the airport armed with a DHL tracking number and some interesting information from Andreas and Claudia. They had previously had tyres sent to them in Mongolia and had got away without paying import duty on them – arguing that the tyres were going to be fitted to their motorcycles and would leave the country with the bikes, and therefore the same approach taken for the temporary import of the bikes should also apply – no duty payable. This was worth a try, particularly as the DHL staff had estimated the duty payable on the parcel at 106400 Tugrik (£56, over 50%).
Arriving at the DHL customs clearance centre a little before they were due to open for business, Dan did his best to charm the young lass behind the counter round to his point of view on the payable duty. He was doing fairly well, the lass in question seeming to agree with the concept and wandering off with the temporary import document for the bike to see the customs official. Sadly the steely-eyed middle aged man occupying the customs hot seat that morning was less easily swayed. Duty was to be paid, but less than 40,000 Tugrik, a bit over £20 and not much more than the UK VAT payable had it been delivered within the UK.
Rain delayed play somewhat as Dan was not keen to open up the side of the DRZ’s engine to fit the new stator whilst it was raining. In a gap between showers Dan was able to get the part installed and the engine buttoned back up before the drizzle started up again. With the bike built, there was nothing for it but to take it for a test ride – if Dan’s diagnosis had been correct, all would be well and the bike would run perfectly. If Dan had been mistaken, he’d’ve just wasted the best part of a week waiting for a part he didn’t need to fix a bike that still didn’t work…
With some trepidation, Dan slung on his jacket and lid and headed out onto the cratered Ulaanbaatar streets and out of town to give the bike some stick. A few miles outside the city a long straight provided Dan with the opportunity to open the throttle and check all was well. The bike pulled all the way to the rev-limiter, just as Michio Suzuki would have intended. Eureka – Dan could leave Mongolia in the morning.
With the relief provided by a properly functioning motorcycle, Dan was able to relax with his fellow Oasis residents that evening. The beer flowed as freely as the overlanding anecdotes and the time to settle for some sleep in order to be able to get up in the morning and make a reasonable start came all too early.
Whilst Tuesday had dawned drizzly, Wednesday had achieved proper wetness. Big raindrops were hammering on Dan’s tent as he packed up his belongings inside, and when the time came to transfer items to the bike’s panniers, take the tent down and strap the roll bags onto the bike, Dan got absolutely drenched. With the bike packed, a little time was taken to wring out his t-shirt and try to dry off a bit before putting on waterproofs and heading for the border with Russia. After a great send off from the remaining Oasis inmates, Dan headed across the city, doing his best with the apocalyptic road surface despite many of the hazards being concealed beneath the numerous flooded sections. Heading north out of Ulaanbaatar towards the border, the “real Mongolia” doesn’t make a comeback – the road is all tarred – though there are fewer tourist gimmick ger camps advertised at the side of the road and the scenery is still lovely.
Close to the border, Dan saw two large bikes coming the other way – the KTM 640 Adventures of Bernd and Heidi, the honeymooning German overlanding-veterans Dan and Ed had first met in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. They had been told the fuel shortage in Mongolia was far worse than it really was, and had travelled eastwards through Russia, planning to just enter Mongolia for a short time around Ulaanbaatar to see some of the place before heading back to Russia to continue towards Vladivostok.
It was good to catch up with them, and they brought news of having seen evidence of Alistair, the very likeable chaotic Brit, as he had at some point signed the dashboard of a Lada that had later stopped to say hello to them at the roadside. They were also able to report that the border staff seemed helpful enough, and Dan headed on, eager to make it through into Russia before the border closed for the evening.