Sunday, January 26, 2014

Little giant

 South Korea is the country number 50 that I visit, and after almost a year of pedaling mainly through remote regions of Asia , arriving in Korea was like an abrupt jump into the future. That leap forward took away the adventurous routes loaded with adrenaline that  constantly fed us for so many months. All that temporarily came to an end. Adventure would be reduced to zero, zilch, nada and the extreme roads and rigorous weather would all be left behind. How to survive on a small budget in these technology congested jungles, extremely reduced space and exorbitant prices would become the new challenge. The enjoyment would not be the beautiful tingling of the adrenaline running through the veins but the bedazzlement facing a world so technologically advanced that it is someimtes incomprehensible.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dharma. My new bicycle.

We crossed into China with a voracious appetite. It was not the hunger as much as the necessity we had to eat well, to eat delicious food and nothing better than being back in China to accomplish this. You pay the price though, of exchanging a fairy tale dream land for being back at the factory of the planet and the return to it feels like the most brutal punch back to the crude reality. It was inevitable since sooner or later we would have to leave the tale anyway.

The poisoned earth

Already in the final stage of our crossing of the desert, on the way to Zamyn-Udd one could already the change in the horizon. Ahead  of us, we were able to see the Chinese horizon and what used to be an immaculate blue sky vanished into a murky grey. Once in China, the remaining 300 km of Gobi desert were devoid of any attractive whatsoever. A flat terrain, infinite, dull, full of huge high voltage power lines towers, a massive increase in the traffic which was loud, fast and annoying and now with the added hindrance of a very strong headwind that was incredibly hard to tolerate. However, the worst would come in the final 300 km before Beijing riding across the scary province of Hebei 河北.

The incredibly high price that China has to pay for insisting in keeping a level of growth that is simply unsustainable, unsustainble for them and unsustainable for the whole planet, is nothing but outrageous. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mongolia in the heart

Having cycled across Mongolia meant having made a long-time dream come true. 55 days that felt like leaving the time and space in which one is used to live in. It is probably true that you must have felt some romanticism in all of what I have written about this country, but it's just that the beauty of Mongolia takes you out of your own orbit and invites you to romanticize. Its landscapes of smooth shapes and slow paced "precarious" life pacify the mind and evoke a feeling of magic inside. It is true that these are images of its brief summer. Soon after we leave the country, temperatures will plummet down to -20C and by the end of December they will stabilize between -37 and -40C (when speaking, Mongols unconsciously omit the "-") and a windchill of much lower ones. Even with its extreme weather, I suspect that even spending a winter here should be an intense experience which I'll try to make happen some time in the future. 

There are many beautiful countries in the world, or better said, all countries are beautiful or have something beautiful in and/or about them, but there are countries that apart from being beautiful they are special. In my perception, when I'm in this kind of places I can sense an extra quality that separates them from the rest. Until today I have trouble describing what that quality is and I certainly have no definition for it, but it's like a series of phenomena that happen in the same space at the same time invoking a physically and mentally positive body reaction inside oneself, a sort of mix of joy and inner-peace. I have come to feel this truly powerful sensation in my several years of traveling across the Tibetan plateau, and I have happily felt it once again here in Mongolia. It is not by coincidence, I think, that both Tibetans and Mongolians live both in very extreme regions of the planet and carry out ways of living and have spiritual beliefs that are very similar. Mongolian nomads are by all means extraordinary people and that's to say little about them. Their affection has gotten very deep inside us and we have lived some of the most truly special moments in some of the most unreal and remote places that I have ever been to. I think I will never leave Mongolia because it is very deep inside me and has grown on me, in both my heart and the sheep smell that seems impossible to wash away. The series of photos at the top of this post are a very brief summary of the infinite images that were recorded in my retina. 


The more I travel the more I understand that idyll doesn't come in one but multiple forms. As time passed by, I discovered that the beaches of turquoise crystal-clear waters are as idyllic as the snowed peaks of the mountain ranges or the infinite grasslands of the steppe. I learned that what changes is not beauty itself, which is always the common denominator of any idyllic place, but the effects that the phenomena produced by a certain type of beauty has on oneself. This basically makes that each idyllic place feels completely different than the others. In this aspect, the crossing of the Gobi desert revealed to my eyes a new form of idyll that I would have never imagined would be possible. Because the initial image that one has of a desert is that one of a desolate and inhospitable place, and it certainly is in many ways, however, the Gobi, of all the deserts that I have already ridden across, ended up being a dazzling surprise that I didn't expect. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lake after lake

The journey to Lake Hövsgöl left us completely exhausted. We spent 12 days and cycled 648 km riding at an average of 35 to 45 km per day, through trails of sand, mud, rocks, roots, crossing rivers carrying our stuff on the shoulders, fighting evil insects, dealing with an impending cold and in my particular case, having a terrible toothache that I will never ever forget. Reaching the 100 km stretch of asphalt that separate Hatgal village in the southern tip of the lake from the town of Mörön, felt almost like fantasy. After so many rough days , we welcomed the asphalt with utter enthusiasm. We were filthy, tired and it was only 100 km left to find a shower and a bed to sleep. Asphalted roads always take the charm away from a place, but the surrounding landscape on the way to Mörön was still amazing. Dense forests gradually disappeared turning again into vast expanses of steppe, which in some areas already started turning from green to yellow in the first week of September already. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Problems and no problems

In terms of physical rigor, the entire journey to Erdenet had passed almost unnoticed. Having just passed 10,000 km and 6 months in the tropics cycling steep slopes every single day, the gentle ups and downs of the steppe felt like a simple stroll that we welcomed with great joy. The story, however, would change in the road to the lake Hövsgöl.