21 Days In Mongolia

Day 4:

Today was one of our early start days – nothing like throwing us in at the deep end. We were woken at 5.15am for a 6.15am start as we had many miles to cover today. I am not good in the morning at the best of times but it was cold and dark and we sorted out breakfast for the first time by torchlight.  However Andy and I were the last to get our tent down and I didn’t like being last. Somehow, however, we made it back on the road without leaving anything or anyone behind and set off towards Mandalgovi and Yolyn Am.  Day 3 had probably been about 35 degrees but with the wind blowing today it felt much cooler.

The scenery in the morning was much more "desert like”, like I imagined; gravel and coarse stones interspersed with the spiky grass. With the windows opened in the van to get rid of the smell of petrol, the early morning was very cold and windy and we sat in the vans with our coats and hats on until at least 9am. We started to listen to the driver’s music tapes today in Baatar’s van.  Our first stop of the day was at 8am to catch a glimpse of some herdsmen passing. The sky was really clear and blue and I realised why Mongolia is referred to as the "Land of Blue Skies”.  At each of these stops we always took the opportunity to go to the "loo” although we did stop fairly regularly we were also trying to keep our fluid intake up.

Back on the road again, we passed gers and horses, yaks and goats. We saw eagles perched on lonesome rocks and we even passed a very small pond that had 6 ducks swimming in it….a most peculiar site in the Gobi.  The sky was blue but the wind chill was there so it wasn’t a shorts day today.

Before we knew it, lunch was upon us and we stopped in a town in the middle of the desert.  We could tell we were approaching a town as the tracks became a little clearer.  This very small town was experimenting in trying to grow some sturdy crops in the Gobi.  The little "café” made from white breeze blocks that we turned up at had been expecting us, as on Paul’s last trip he had told them what day we would be passing.  So once they knew we were there, they began cooking and left us to wander.  This was our first desert town and I can only describe it as the kind of town you see in an old Western film, with the dust blowing and the people wandering with not a care in the world. There were 2 shops in the town. However, it must be noted that a "shop” in Mongolia, when not in UB, usually consists of a small room with 2 or 3 glass counters and sometimes only 5-6 in quantity of each item.  If we wanted chocolate or biscuits we had to take what came. Obviously some shops were better stocked than others but we took what we found.

We saw a mother and child in their hashaa (this is a fenced off area where there are sometimes a fair few gers or houses belonging to an extended family or sometimes just a fenced enclosure) and they let us take some photos of them.

Lunch was an experience and we tried our first mutton dumplings. Most hot meals in Mongolia have lumps of fat in them – which is what the Mongolians eat in order to sustain them through their very cold winters. The soup we ate had fat in, but was edible if we ate around it.  The best bit however were the dumplings that were served. "Just cooked” suet like pasty twisted in to individual sized dumplings contained mutton and fat. Andy – being the one to always give something a go once, bit in to one and was rewarded with the hot greasy fat running down his chin. Unfortunately this put most other people off eating one. I had two, but just the outside of one of them.  I am sure the drivers, being Mongolian, liked these lunch stops over the sandwich stops as they got to eat the food they were used to rather than our western bread lunches and varied evening meals.

After lunch, word had got out that a group of westerners were in town and the children had gathered to have a look.  We, as a group, had a wonderful time playing with the children and taking pictures of them playing.  Before we set off again, we all went to the two public toilets just outside the restaurant (better than some we would encounter) and we were off again.

In the afternoon we stopped off at another town – Dalanzagaad, to stock up on supplies for the next few days as we would not be going near any other towns.  Our journey took us over arid flat lands until we finally saw the mountain range in the distance. We made an afternoon toilet stop and saw a couple of local women wandering by on their Bactrian camels. It gave the drivers a chance to have a cigarette and we stretched our legs as we noted the landscape has given way to more grass than we had seen earlier and the day before.  We finally arrived in our camping spot, 15 minutes from Yolyn Am. The low light reflected the surrounding hills in a lovely colour as we erected our tents at 7.30pm. It had been a long hard driving day but stir fry for dinner followed by rice pudding (well, left over rice with milk and raisins added to it) made up for it.

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