We are stuck. Nothing works anymore. Although there is no honking and little pushing, we still make it only centimeters forward. Rush hour, although it is Sunday. You already suspect it: Ulan Bator sends his regards – we have arrived in the Mongolian capital – after almost exactly six months “on the road”.
After we had taken our time at the beginning of the trip and actually only wanted to go as far as Kyrgyzstan, it became a bit more strenuous after our decision to go as far as Mongolia. We took less time for breaks and had to organize more, partly because we needed a visa for Russia.
Now that we have been here for a few days, it is time to take stock.
We have driven a good 26,000 kilometers in 25 countries. Except for a real crash last week (more on that later), we had practically no breakdowns, our BMWs G650 GS held up wonderfully. We also had almost no rain, so that our great motorcycle combinations from Klim could not show what they can do. We had optimistically left the extra rain suits at home. But what we had was snow. Right in the first few days of our trip to the Balkans we had sleet, and a few weeks ago in Siberia or in the neighbouring Mongolian Altai it was really cold and the fresh snow cover stretched almost down to our road. Currently I am sitting in the sun at over 20°C in Ulan Bator, but according to the weather forecast it should also snow here in three days. In spring we complained about the cold, in summer about the heat. We had – especially in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – well over 40°C. As a motorcyclist you can hardly escape this and many a time I have longingly watched the campervans with their air conditioners. But apart from the weather, motorcycles have many advantages: First of all, they are MUCH more fun than four-wheeled vehicles. They also give other people a completely different picture. In a car you have drawn a line between yourself and the world, with a motorcycle you are right in the middle of it. It’s often exhausting when a gang of kids pulls on the throttle without being asked, but it’s also a good part of our travel feeling. Right in the middle.
But the central insight of the last months is that we were moving too fast, although we tried to avoid exactly that, especially at the beginning. Six months sounds long, but it is not. We wanted to take our time. For example, we spent two weeks in Odessa, one week in Istanbul, one week in Tbilisi. Still, we had the impression that we didn’t see too many places and missed great opportunities. Of course, planning a trip always means making a choice and leaving out a lot. Sure, but our ideal idea of traveling is to travel around a country until we have had enough and want to move on. However, the general conditions of the Germany-Mongolia route were such that we planned differently. Just think of the start with snow and the end with snow. But we have learned from this and will do it differently on the further journey.
A second realization is that encounters with other people always remain on the surface if you cannot talk. Of course, it is impossible to learn 25 languages while travelling through 25 countries. But on the way to Mongolia, knowledge of Russian would have helped us a lot in many countries. At least I know the Cyrillic characters, that alone was helpful, but most conversations were more or less pantomimic. The bigger the place, the more likely someone spoke English. Sometimes some of them even spoke a few words of German and were proud to present them. Mostly it was the numbers from one to ten or the names of some German cities. This resulted in funny situations. But in the depths it only went with English. I remember a homestay in Tajikistan, where the grandfather of the house told us a lot in the local language and we were quite helpless until the daughter of the house joined us at dinner and started translating with good English skills. Then we could get rid of our many questions about politics, compulsory schooling, life in Tajikistan in winter and so on. It was a win-win-win situation: the grandfather was allowed to talk, the daughter was practicing to become an interpreter and we could get rid of our questions in a comfortable atmosphere. What we now know in many languages is the word “Thank you! With it we have reaped a smile in many situations.
Third insight: We are so privileged! As white Western Europeans who can afford such a trip (aka: have worked hard for a long time), we see every day that many people are not doing so well. We get to know the young hotel manager in Tajikistan, who does not know the city 150 kilometers away because he works seven days a week. Our definition of luxury shifts: Toilets are a hole in the ground across many countries. Often without toilet paper, sometimes without a door. Hotel or hostel rooms do not naturally have their own bathroom, up to 30 people and two showers are not unusual. Yurts are quite cold at this time of year at night, when the embers, which are stoked up in the evening, have gone out. We also don’t normally have to collect and dry yak dung to be able to heat in winter. We can be thankful for this every day. We are, we only forget this occasionally when it gets difficult.
Zusammengefasst: Dankbar, langsam und mit Sprachkenntnissen!
These findings are actually not particularly spectacular. But they are essential for us and our further journey. Our language course in Spain starts in January. Let’s go with vocabulary buffalos!
P.S.: Ach ja, der Crash. Wir haben vor ein paar Tagen den Asphalt geküsst. Jacken und Hosen haben ein paar Löcher, aber grundsätzlich den größten Schaden abgefangen; geprelltes Handgelenk bei Daniela, Bänderanriss im Knie bei Wolfgang, stark angeschlagene Gepäcktaschen. Aber insgesamt ist alles glimpflich abgelaufen, wir konnten direkt weiterfahren und werden in den nächsten Wochen unsere Blessuren auf den Philippinen am Strand auskurieren. Das Leben ist schön.