July 30th; 296km; Qiqihar, HLJ to Boketu, Inner Mongolia
6th province today! Today was probably one of my favorite days so far of the trip.
We got off to a pretty good start at around 9, but not before asking several people about the roads ahead. It seemed that we had put the worst behind us with our two difficult prior days. This was very good news as we were preparing ourselves to abandon our plan to head north to Manzhouli altogether not knowing how much more we could take of dilapidated and dusty roads.
Sure enough, we got on the road, the sies were clear, and the road beautiful. We made great time doing the 100+km to the provincial border with Inner Mongolia.
Mongolian Photo-OpsOnce we got to the border though, it looked like our brief run of luck had run out. Across the road literally right at the border was a big sign saying the road was closed. Behind that was a wall of dirt with a path cut through the middle, and beyond that, cutting through the Mongolian grass plains for miles, was a dirt and gravel road clearly under heavy construction.
At the border however there was a nice scenic outlook spot setup with traditional Mongolian yurts. So we decided we would pull aside for photos before deciding what to do about the construction.
There were a few ladies on the side of the road selling fruits at the entrance to the outlook. We decided we could ask them about the construction and if there was any way around. One of the ladies got very excited to meet a couple foreigners though, so before we could get any information, we took a few photos with her.
Making Us Earn Province No. 6Apparently we were able to go through the construction towards where we needed to go but the road construction went on for about 20km. This seemed tough but doable especially since at least it would be dry instead of the mud from the previous days.
So after a few pictures at the yurts we hopped back on the bike and pushed forward. The 20km was indeed very difficult. There was a lot of loose gravel and some sections that were very bumpy, which meant that for most of the time I wasn’t able to go much faster than 20km/h.
Some places Amy even ad to get off the bike to make it a bit lighter and easier to handle. This we would mostly do if the road got extra bumpy or for steep inclines and declines.
After an hour or so though we finally made it out- tired and hot but satisfied with what we accomplished. We pulled over for gas and an instant noodle lunch, and that is when noticed the looming rain clouds.
The Inner Mongolian Weather
After finishing our lunch, we packed up quick to make some miles but it looked like we were heading straight to the clouds. As we were driving, we could actually see exactly where the rain was coming down.
Just as we were passing through a town the rain hit. We put on our rain gear and soon it was coming down hard. Huge puddles formed immediately in the pot-holed road and visibility shot straight down. I pulled into a gas station, as I decided it might be better to try and wait this out rather than risk it farther away from town and shelter. As I rolled under the roof over the pumps, it seemed that more than a couple local cabbies had had pretty much the same idea.
Luckily for us though the rain seems to come in spurts here in Inner Mongolia (which is why you can see the storm miles away) and soon the rain lightened up before stopping altogether. And that’s when things finally turned back around.
A Proper Welcome to Inner Mongolia
Soon the skies were completely clear, the roads had opened up, and the scenery was just phenomenal. We were weaving through rolling hills and open plains. There were farm animals grazing and streams everywhere. It looked like the plains had actually flooded from the rains as trees on the side of the road were have submerged in some places in the middle of some very large rivers.
For the most part this flooding was ok because the road was slightly elevated. This was except for one small section where a nearby stream or pond had flooded and there was a relatively strong current actually passing over the road for about 1-200 meters. It looked pretty deep and as I went through, the water came up into my boots. I was nervous about the current forcing the wheels out from under me so I had my feet down for balance and kept the engine revving high to keep it from flooding and shutting off.
Strong Finish To A Tough Day
In the end of the day we made it to a tiny little village next to some train tracks. There weren’t really many hotel options but the next town was about 120km away and we didn’t want to push on too late. We eventually found a little guest house which didn’t have much in terms of accommodations, but at least it looked clean!
We had a great experience at dinner too. We walked down the street from our guesthouse to a little local restaurant where it turned out there was a family celebrating a wedding. The kids were in Harbin but the families had gathered from all over to celebrate in this little town. THey were very friendly and we had a great time with them as they sang for us, took pictures with us, and drank with us.
So overall, all the aspects of a perfect day on the road! Beautiful scenery, making it through challenging roads without incident, a brief rain, and good company for dinner!