21 Days In Mongolia

Day 18:

Once we set off after what turned out to be the warmest night of the trip (as I had actually had my arms out of the sleeping bag) I thought to myself "only 2 more ups and downs”.  Today was basically a day of bouncy driving.  The colours in the countryside were still fantastic and we spent hours driving through rolling hills.  We had a couple of van races but I found myself longing for tarmac roads. There appeared to still be a lack of gers as the houses and small villages we passed were made of logs and occasionally concrete.

It seemed like we drove from one break/dip in the hills, to another valley in the distance and we got there by just driving to it, cross county, following one track or another.  There was none of the western…follow the A341, turn right, on to the B3423 and turn left at the telephone box.  For 18 days it had just been "you see it – you drive towards it” more or less in a straight line, but avoiding the bumps and holes in the dirt, the drivers using clumps of trees and bends in the river to navigate.

We drove through a ghost town, no-one in sight at all.  It actually felt quite strange.  I had read about these towns in the book I had been reading and it appeared that here lay a village where the residents were still out living in the countryside and they would be returning in the following 2-3 weeks to prepare for the winter living in the village. Later in the morning we drove by a couple of villages and at each one on the dirt track that ran by the outside of the village there was a villager, obviously waiting for a minibus (similar to ours).  There are obviously no timetables in Mongolia.  I wondered how long they had been waiting for a bus to the next village…..”and then 3 come along all at once”, but we weren’t picking up!

We stopped on a concrete bridge, a novelty in itself, for 15 minutes, to stretch our legs and for the view, just before lunch.  We no longer cared about greasy hair or sticky out fringes anymore.  Dirty clothes were the accepted norms and trying, usually unsuccessfully to clean finger nails with wet ones was a chore we undertook to pass the time.  We discussed favourite moments of Mongolia: the sand dunes, visiting individual gers, racing vans, driving through narrow gorges, following babbling brooks, scrambling up boulders and fighting spiders’ webs, getting the van out of the bog, seeing camels in the desert for the first time…

The lunch stop was good.  We had salami sandwiches again.  Its unfortunate the bread was always dry.  Altai had to put a new drive shaft on the van so lunch actually ended up taking 2 hours.  It was really hot though so we sat by a stream and relaxed in our shorts and t-shirts.  We splashed our feet in the stream.  It was a blessing that we had 2 hours to relax as the afternoon was long and very arduous.  Towards the end of the afternoon, we went to an ancient burial site, which was marked by a stone from the Bronze Age, with reindeer carved on it.  Bataars van got a puncture so he was about half an hour late arriving.  To try and make the afternoon go more quickly, we sang harvest hymns and Andy practiced his guttural throat singing which always made Jagaar laugh.  It was a horrible day for driving today.

We didn’t arrive at camp until about 7pm so it was a late dinner of mutton curry.  2 or 3 of our fellow travellers got stuck in to the airag and vodka with the drivers which proved not to be the best idea due to the hangover that arrived the next morning.

We felt dusty and dirty to the core by now and we couldn’t wait to get back to UB and have a shower or even a proper wash.  However earlier in the day we had seen girls in their pristine white pinafores walking to school and it made us wonder how they did it?  Dry skin and hairy armpits were now ruling the roost.

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