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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Mongolia - 9 August, 2003

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Camp northwest of Guchin-Us N4533.103' E10234.927' 1,562 meters .
Arts Bogdyn Nuruu mountains . . . .
Finish Ger at Khongoryn Els N4346.565' E10216.918' 1,368 meters 282 km

Total (by train):

5,991 km

Total (Mongolia):

1,883 km

Total (Kamchatka):

1,339 km

Total (other):

199 km

Total:

9,392 km

 

Weather: Highly variable weather.  Begins mostly clear, sunny, warm and breezy.  In the afternoon as we enter the mountains, it becomes overcast, windy and cold with heavy rain.  Leaving the mountains, it becomes partly cloudy, windy and cool with occasional sun.  The evening is partly cloudy, sunny and cold with strong wind.  Overnight is cold and windy.

 

 

We wake up to another wonderful morning.  The mornings seem to be the best time here - clear and sunny.  We have our usual meager breakfast (poor Gerlee - not enough meat!), then pack up and our on our way by 10 AM.  After a short drive we find a well, where we try to fill some of our water bottles.  But the water is too dirty, even for cooking, so we fill one bottle to use as washing up water.  Lars also takes the opportunity to wash his shirt - it dries quickly in the dry desert air as we drive along.

 

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We carry on southwards on the desert steppes.  The track seems to follow the line formed by the wooden electric wire poles.  The scenery is pretty monotonous and does not change for hours.  At 1  PM we stop at one of the few gers that we have seen.  There are only two people there - a grandmother and one of her daughters.  After being invited, we soon learn that she has 13 children.  They live in a very basic ger with a dirt floor that has a thin carper as covering.  It seems that we interrupted them in their preparations for their own lunch, so we soon take our leave and carry on.

 

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After about a further half an hour of driving, we decide to pull over and make our lunch next to a small hut.  We are approaching the mountains and the weather is looking very threatening, so we think it is better to stop here.  As we are making our lunch, a few locals stop by.  First are two girls, that have walked a few hundred meters from the nearest ger.  They sit down and start to chat with Gerlee.  We offer them some of our food.  Next comes a guy on a motorcycle, who also stops and sees what is happening.  Finally, a truck stops by and two more men join us.  It has turned out to be quite a gathering.  Gerlee has made a meat soup and he shares that with them.  We share what we can with them also.

 

After we finish lunch, we drive up into the mountains and the stormy weather that covers them.  The track follows a dried up river bed that winds it's way up the side of the mountain.  At times, it forms a narrow gully carved through the solid rock, and at other times the river forms a wide, stony bed that we can make swift progress on.  After we have penetrated high up into the mountains, we drive off to the left and pass onto a ridge and drive along from mini-peak to mini-peak.  If the sky had been clear, this must have been a stunning drive.  But we were fogged in with the rain pouring down.  At all the "scenic" spots, we just stayed in the jeep and imagined what the view must be like.

 

After about three hours of driving and getting a little lost in the fog (but good thing there are the occasional gers to ask directions), we begin to descend from the mountains and enter the desert area known as the Gobi.  There is just one problem - this appears to have been a very wet year and it has been raining recently, so some parts of the desert have become soaked, especially with the run off from the mountain.  Gerlee has been warned about one stretch of sand that has become so water logged, it must be like quicksand.  We need to find a way around it.

 

In the end, we have to drive over 25 km out of our way to find a passage through the tricky part.  Even where we crossed we had to be careful.  We could note the sections of sand that have become very mushy with the water - the jeep would just sink in up to its axles.  In fact, as we are trying to find our own way through, we come across another jeep that is stuck far out in the sand.  We unfortunately cannot go to their aid, otherwise we too would have gotten stuck.

 

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Once we are through the swampy bit, which lays at the bottom of a broad, flat valley where all the water gathers, we needed to find our way back to the correct track.  First thing to do, stop at the nearest ger and ask directions.  The ger we stop at is owned by a newly wed couple that invites us in.  It is very bare, mostly likely as they are still building up their house wares.  As usual, we are offered tea and snacks.  The snacks this time are some deep fried bread sticks.  While they are very hard, at least they do not have the awful taste of the products made form mare's milk.

 

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We are soon on the right track and after another hour or so of driving we finally arrive at the massive dunes of Khongoryn Els.  These dunes in the Gobi are spectacular.  They can be as high as 800 meters, 12 km wide and stretch for over 100 km.  We stop at a group of gers and go for a visit.  We are offered the usual tea and snacks, of which we partake some.  The most amusing part of the stay was seeing the goat come up to the ger door bleating loudly.  We discover that she is in need of being milked.  They ask if Jacqui would like to milk her, but she declines.  One of the young girls, about 4 years old, then sits down outside the front door and begins to milk the goat.  We stay only a short while as the husband is overly forceful on trying to sell us services, such as guiding on the dunes (he speaks no English, so not sure how useful he would be) and camel rides.  Gerlee says he drinks too much.  

 

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So, when we have a choice of staying at one of their gers, or an empty ger nearby owned by another friend of Gerlee, we take the empty ger off on its own.  Rather not have to deal with a drunk.  We drive over there and, while the owner cleans it up, admire the dunes that stretch to our left and right as far as we can see.  The sun, as it slowly begins to set, begins to peak out from the clouds bathing the dunes in a warm glow.  The other amazing sight we have is of a full rainbow, that stretches from the edge of the dunes up into the sky and back down to the desert steppe in a full half circle.

 

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While we are getting dinner ready, one of the sons of the owner of the other set of gers comes over and enters our ger.  While he has been sent over to try and sell us cheap souvenirs, he seems more interested in our possessions and what we are up to.  We take a quick look at what he has to offer, but it is really cheap stuff, so he just sits there and stares at us.  After a while we take a Polaroid of him, offer it to him and he then shortly leaves and walks the short way back to his gers, admiring the photo on the way.

 

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Just as we finish watching the last traces of the sunset, our dinner is ready, so we retire to our ger and enjoy our pasta.  Gerlee is eating with his friend, so we use up some of our non-meat dishes.  We wash up our dishes and then Lars does his best to start a fire.  We have no paper or kindling, so it is difficult, but fortunately the desert wood is dry and we get a fire going.  And we soon discover how hot this wood burns - the ger practically turns into a sauna and the candle in the holder that we left near the stove completely melts.

 

We head off to bed, but we have to lay on top of our sleeping bags as it is now too hot in the ger.  But as soon as the fire goes out sometime in the night, it will get very cold, so we have our sleeping bags ready.

 

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