From June 21 2009

Outer Mongolia. Dodging Missiles in South Korea.


Our China visa was running out so we decided to do a side trip to Mongolia. Its
only a 30 hour train ride away. This would enable us to re-enter China for an
additional 60 days.

Our research indicated that we did not need a Mongolian visa if we stayed less
than 30 days. However, once we loaded the train we heard many travellers say
that everyone needs a visa. We were a little nervous at this point. We heard
that if you didn't have the necessary visa you would spend the night in a
Mongolian jail and they would send you back to China on the next train. When we
hit the border our hearts were pounding. We sat anxiously wondering what was in
store for us. Surprisingly, they returned to our cabin and handed us our
passports complete with their stamp. Whew! Later we found out that the reason
Americans do not need a Mongolian visa is because we gave them $285 million in
the past and this is their way of saying thankyou. So, in actuality our visa
was expensive.

When we reached Ulanbaatar (capitol city), we quickly discerned that this
country was not bike friendly. The traffic was extremely chaotic and you could
not find another bicyclist to save your soul. Our plan to bike a 7 day loop
quickly changed to a 4 day jeep ride with 2 other travellers, Kevin from
Amsterdam and Imagene from Germany.

Once leaving the city the roads vanished. We were quickly traveling through
pastures with a path much like a cow path. Vehicles picked their own route
weaving around boulders and crossing water ways. It was bizarre. And to
think...we thought we were going to bike here??? We saw lots of wild horses
running freely, herds of sheep and yaks throughout our trip. We would have to
beep to get them to move out of our way. We stayed in gers with the local
families. Gers are their style of housing. They are made of a latice like
framework in the shape of a circle covered with plastic and felt. They have a
wooden stove in the center for heat and to cook. The locals prepared our meals
for us. We ate alot of mutton, rice, and soup. A night's stay and 2 meals only
cost us $3.00 each. Not a bad deal. Water was not available so we had to bring
enough drinking water for the duration of the trip and our only bathing option
were the very, very cold rivers.

Over the course of our 4 day jeep trip we saw alot of different terrain. We
were in the plains surrounded by mountains where we went horse back riding and
also in the sand dunes where you found sand in every nook and cranny. It was
fabulous! Talk about peaceful.

Mongolia is a very aggressive country. It would not be uncommon to be
challenged to a wrestling match right on the street. Wrestling is the national
sport in Mongolia and they frequently practice it. Even at the gers we would
see the farmers engage in a friendly wrestling match. I was glad that Ward did
not have to practice his wrestling moves. He is a lover and not a fighter.
Overall, the Mongolian people are very friendly.

Ulanbaatar is a little dangerous. We were warned that at night the thieves
would come and strike you in the back of the head and then rob you. Ouch!!!!

Next we took the 30 hour train ride back to Beijing and then bicycled to Tianjin
where we took an overnight ferry to Incheon, South Korea.


On May 29th we entered South Korea. We quickly learned about what was happening
in North Korea. Testing missiles and sending them our way? It was a bit
unsettling for Ward and I and, for the first time, we decided to register with
the US Embassy. What was interesting was that the South Koreans were not phased
by this aggressive behaviour. They say, "oh, that's North Korea trying to get
some attention again." They still view themselves as a family with North Korea
and do not think that they would actually ever invade. They also have strong
hopes that they will unite with North Korea in the future. right now they feel
like an island and see the great potential that a reunion would give them. It
would unite them with Europe, China, etc.

We were very impressed with South Korea. It is a very developed and clean
country and the people are incredibly friendly which put them in 2nd place for
friendliness (Argentina still remains #1). We had people stop in their cars and
give us food. When we would pullover to use the bathroom service attendants
would come over and give us cold bottled water. One day we were waiting out a
rain shower and a man came up and asked us to stay at his house and have dinner
with him and his family. Just good genuine hospitality.

We did a 5 day bicycle loop around the Incheon area. We didin't have enough
time to venture to the most southern end of the country because we had to fly
out on June 7th. However, this did give us a good taste of what South Korea is
like. It was interesting... one day we went on a city tour to see some of the
new financial buildings that the map had shown. However, when we reached that
area we could not find the buildings. They hadn't been built yet. Their maps
are a bit premature.

The South Koreans place great value on family. Sundays are reserved for picnics
and family activities. The parks were overflowing with jump rope competitions,
elderly people dancing, families sitting together, music, etc. We did meet a
group of English speaking teenagers and sat with them for 1 1/2 hours. They
wanted to practice their English and we wanted to learn more about their
culture. They expressed that once you are in High School you attend school from
8:00 am - 10:00pm. They are not allowed to play Play Station because that is
for children and they are not allowed to partake in sports since that would
interfere with their study time. When we told them our school system's schedule
they all wanted to move to the US.

We did visit the DMZ (demilitarized zone, roughly the 38th parallel). It was
neat to look out over North Korea. Its amazing how quickly the terrain changed
from green in South Korea to desert conditions in North Korea. We were not
allowed to take any photos looking over the wall. North Korea has built tunnels
in which 4 of them have been discovered so far. They believe more of them still
exist. When they questioned North Korea on the tunnels they said they did not
build them to invade but they were mining coal. The interesting thing is that
there isn't any coal in that area it is all granite. So, to try to convince the
South Koreans they painted the walls of the tunnels black. That's North Korean

June 7th we flew to Alaska. Our overseas portion of our trip is now over. It
was absolutely fantastic. However, we are looking forward to returning to the
US and spending a year biclycing around the perimeter.

Take care everyone and enjoy the summer!
Jacky and Ward