Camp 6 – Mountain Ice in the Gobi Desert

We sleep well in the ger. There is something special about the comfort of a well set up ger, and a good stove to keep the space warm. The stove we had last night was extremely efficient while it was hot, but once the wood had burnt we had the hole in the roof and the night chill crept in, just a little. To wake up and look around, first thing at the walls of a ger is really great. Don’t want to get out of the warmth. Know it will be cold as we are high in altitude and in the mountains.

Mervyn lit a small fire with the wood left from last night and we made tea and coffee and slowly worked our way into the new day. It has been a longtime since i have relaxed and I think I am just beginning to remember how it is. Knowing we have another night here and a day exploring the wild mountains we traversed late yesterday in an attempt to find this camp…

Tugsoo and Unench came into our ger for a pre breakfast Italian coffee. My coffee pot is the only one I have seen in Mongolia and am pleased I bothered to pack it. Remember from two years ago thinking it would be possible to buy a coffee pot anywhere in the world, but I was wrong. I have been looking and still none on stores, only filter or electric machines. My little coffee pot is stainless steel and if we make the coffee strong enough can be shared between three. I will gift the pot to Tugsoo and Unench who has become addicted to the Italian coffee.

After breakfast we drove to the Gurvansaikhan National Park. What a wild place. We were early and felt like the only people around. The single lane track meandered high through the wild rock outcrops of multicolored hard rock. We don’t know what the rock type except that is is not like anything I have seen in Australia. Most of it is a dark grey or green with quartz lines running through. Occasionally there are red rocks or seams of various colors.

It was about seven kilometers to the edge of the ice and then a three kilometer walk to the end of the valley. There was only one fork in the road and we chose well.

At the gate to the hike was a fence and several horses tethered which could be hired for a h Ike up the valley. A family was set up with a stall as well as the horses. It was a scene from an old Mongolian movie, all dressed in deel, even the young child. The family sat on the ground and seemed relaxed and at home. Most fascinating was the woman whom was selling and hand stitching embroidered fabrics of Mongolian life. I have not seen these thread paintings anywhere in Mongolia at any tourist or other stores. These were original. The man was selling carved stone and carved timber pieces of local animals. There were all kinds of artifacts laid out on a small table. I bought one of the fabrics immediately and a second one later as I had been taken with them in my mind as I walked. The fabrics were a little like my mother Grace’s thread paintings. Mervyn was taken with one of the small stone carvings. I took a short video of the woman working.

Along the road to the top of the range we passed many gorges as the track narrowed and opened. This country has many wild animals of which we saw none. We did see, however many small mammals that looked like guinea pigs, or hamsters. There were two kinds, one with a tail and one without. The animal with a trail was quite rat like, until it stood up on it’s tail like a prairie dog.

The wildlife we did not see include, Mongolian sheep, the native ones, wolves and bears. There are also rare sightings here of the snow leopard. Many birds seemed to hassle after the mammals and several wedge tail type eagles soared through the thermals above. There was much food for them in these ranges.

The vegetation was also very interesting with an array of scented herbs. Wild rhubarb was growing all through the mountain along with a ground hugging conifer. There were no trees taller than the conifer. A yellow poppy similar to the arctic poppy I saw in Greenland, though smaller and wild iris, a parsley like plant that tasted like parsley though spicier. I picked and smelt many of the herbs but without knowing what they were was not brave enough to taste.

A fresh water stream ran Along much of the track. Then we came across the first patch of frozen ice. And the temperature was cold. The whole mountain was cold and we we’re rugged up with several layers of clothes for the hike and still the wind was like an Antarctic summer on the face. But the spot where the ice was still frozen on the stream was unbelievable cold and windy. We kept on hiking until we reached the end of the gorge and the last weeks of the glacial winter freeze. It was still large and stained with the gravel from storms and landslides. It was visible melting with fountains of dripping ice water trickling into the creek below.

After we had reached the end of the valley and the ice we had coffee back at the car and hoped we could paint but the wind was once more far too strong to allow us to work.

We decided to explore the forked track and once again headed into wild country, up steep mountain tracks and down so steep you couldn’t see where the car was going. At the bottom we were in another river like yesterday’s convoluted jouney. We started to head down the river and after about five kilometers turned back so as to not end up driving to distraction again.

It was four in the afternoon by the time we returned ger camp. We had a rest and painted from the comfort of the ger. The ger makes a great studio!

The most extraordinary thing about where we are now is that we are still in the middle of the southern Gobi Desert. The cold, the ice, the mountains, easy to forget we are in the desert. Apparently the ice can continue for ten kilometers and there are waterfalls visible at times. We were this time unable to reach these parts. Tugsoo has been here twice before and this is the first time she has been able to see the ice. Most tourists come next month and by them it will have melted.

Camp 7 – The Great Gobi Sandhills

As I write I am sitting on my bed looking out of the ger door into the dying evening light. It must be after 9.00pm. I am sunburnt and finally reached the point of not knowing what day or date it is. Now I am in the desert. It has taken weeks to get here. There is no Internet, no wifi or much of anything commercial or western. It is wonderful. I can write and wait until we get back to UB to wifi and upload the last week or so.

It is also hard to reflect on the last couple of days because I am still in them. From what I can remember we spent a hell of a day yesterday (seems like days ago) driving a couple of hundred kilometers to where we are now.

Yesterday’s adventure included a petrol stop in a remote sum looking for diesel. After we asked and found the gas station a little on the edge we town we had to wake up the owner. When we pulled up there was no sign of any activity. We were out from the ger town. A passer bye tod us the owner lived ‘up there in that ger. he is probably asleep, it was a big night last night’. Tugsoo walked up to get the owner. She was told by one old lady that no such man lived here. A child told her her father was in another aimag and someone told her he was also not there. Tugsoo then suspected a lie and cried she knew he was there. After much conversation the poor man rose from his bed and come down, with daughter carrying the key. He could barely walk and I was concerned he would fall. Unench did the bowser bit and soon we were on our way. I gave the man some lollies which made him smile and he proudly let me take his photograph.

From then in we drove along very rough rocky roads. It took two hours to travel twenty kilometers. The road was so bad and once more there were many forks in the road to choose our route.

We traveling through many family ger camps with goats and camels. One of the most interesting camps had a number of buildings constructed from mud brick and dung. This I was really much more than a camp. Tugsoo says many camps in Western Mongolia are also like this, particularly where the Kazakh live.

We found some lunchtime shade behind a small building that seemed to be a storage hut. There were camels grazing nearby where there was also some green grass and a spring with real running water. This is the first water I have seen for days! And this was also the beginning of the Sandhills.

The Sandhills run for 185 kilometers and continue up against the mountain range. It is spectator to see the growing height of the Sandhills snuggled up against the wild rocky mountains.

After what seemed an endless journey we came to the place where the Sandhill camps begin.
We asked how much and what we can expect and decided to go to the next camp and asked. The cost here is much more than previous nights. Maybe because this is so much more remote. We had expected the camps to be closer to the stunning sand dunes. We wanted to sleep inside of them. Not to be, the next camp and the one after that was even further from the sands, and more expensive so we went back to the first. It is great, we have views of sand dunes from our bed, with camels walking outside our gers and hot showers.

What more would we want, camels, moving sands, sunshine and good company.

After we settled ourselves we took a short drive to as close as we could without getting bogged in the deep sand and walked up onto the dunes and watched the sun fade.

Feel like we have finally arrived at our destination. Travelled all this way to sit by the Gobi sand dunes as here we are. We are not going any further south west than this point.

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Camp 8 – The great Gobi Sandhills

We all slept in. This is the first day we have slept so late since being in Mongolia, or indeed at home for a long time. We all slept until after 9.00am. We blamed the long days travel yesterday over the rough rocky roads. Unench likened yesterday’s driving to a full day on a horse.

We were very slow getting going and had coffee and a leisurely breakfast. It was already quite ht in the morning. Very hot, I had to have a second shower to cool down.

When we finally got moving we continued along the sand hills towards where the staff had directed to find a natural spring. The water, we were told is very special and healing for stomachs and one of the boys asked us to bring some back for him.

After following some sandy tracks through the small sand dunes we came out at a river with water. Horses were grazing on the grass nearby, so strange to see water out here under the giant sand dunes. the horses stayed close and were not disturbed by us. They came down into the water and I was able to photograph and video the beautiful horses with foals going about their horsy business drinking and rolling in the shallow waters. We watched the water level rise and change direction as if by some affected gravity pull.

I found some bones behind a sand dune and some clippings from an unknown age of past. It is a. It like finding clippings in the Australian outback. If you look they are not there, they just show themselves when you are least expecting.

We had not found the spring, just a river. Two young boys came along on a motor bike. Tugsoo asked them where the spring was and they said they would take us. Off they set across the river. We had been a little hesitant crossing the river in case we became bogged and it may be difficult to get help out here. The boys took off in another spot along the river and we followed, safely, for if they could get across on their bikes we could manage in our car.

The sand was very soft and deep on the other side of the river. After a short distance we came across an abandoned camp of twigs, mud and dung. There was a sense of many many years occupation by herders. Small clippings of Chinese porcelain, broken bottles and glass.

… Later
I will have to write about this later as I am too tired.

Notes…

We come to rich green grass,
A spring of icy cold water
Horses everywhere
We stay for lunch and paint
The dunes from the luxury of our
Green cool undergrowth, with
The horses.
There are purple iris and small yellow
Flowers like dandelions.

Sandhills, dunes, singing dunes,
Tall, falling sands, walking, higher
Too high, out of breadth, will I make it to the top,
Encouraged, come on you can,
My lungs in pain, I am breathing fast,
my head is hurting
Mervyn is not any fitter
Tugsoo and Unench are already at the top
We make it and the view is on top of the world
Beneath us endless mounds curves and valley
Of sand dunes stretching in all directions
As far as our sight.
Then the wind comes and I am scared for my camera
Don’t like the idea of sand in my canon
Can feel the lens is stiff from the fine grains.

The downward trip is much easier and faster
If I keep my eyes at my feel it looks as if I am walking
On flat ground, the brilliance of the light on the dune
Washes out shadows.

a day of horses, cool damp thick grass, purple irises
Huge sand dunes
Blue sky
Camels and the baby camels at the camp.
Tugsoo has a friend at a ger camp we visited and I
Fell in love with a baby camel who kept trying to eat my shirt.
It was late in the day and the others were calling for their
Mothers.

How good it was to come back to camp and have hot showers
And how red I will be tomorrow.

In the evening we watch hedge hogs and hopping mice
Around our ger.

The sky was full of stars and life in the Gobi is good tonight.

We

Camp 9 – Bayanzag South Gobi

The hottest day so far this trip! We left our most southern camp this morning after the night of playing with hopping mice and hedgehogs (three of them at our ger) and headed North East to Byanzag. We said goodbye to the Gobi Sand dunes too. The trip was back through the rocky mountains we had travelled through, but this time on the other side. We drove through some narrow mountain passes and eventually came out at a long plain that took hours of rocky road to cross. The plain was so hot the car temperature gauge read 45 degrees celsius as the hottest we noticed. There was no shade anywhere to stop for lunch; just the narrow shadow of our car. It wa so hot we barely stopped for lunch because it meant no breeze or air con.

Out in the middle of these plains and at a cross road between two mountain ranges was a market stall. A group of people with tables selling rocks from the nearby mountains, antique spear head tools and some dusty camel felt toys.

I bought a piece of blue crystalline rock I wish I new more about. Sometimes in this landscape I am sorry I did not study geology. There were so many beautiful rocks here and if they all came from these mountain, how rich they are! Some of the thunderbolt agate that emerges from the most unassuming rocks is just stunning.

We were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to see a herd of gazelle racing across the plains. It was a rare sight; first we saw a couple of gazelle running from our left and we tried to photograph them and as we watched where they were heading we saw a herd of many hundred flying across the plains. Never seen anything run so fast, run like the wind. We stopped the car and waited and to our surprise they came back our way and across the road ahead of us.
They were too far to get a really good video but it was wonderful to know they are here and see.

We stopped for petrol at a remote sum Bulgan. It’s extraordinary to find these settlements out in the middle of seemingly nowhere. And it was so hot. At the bowser before us was a man in a deel filling up a jerry can and his wife and child standing by. They all got back on the bike together and rode back into the sum. Interesting how often the petrol places are out of town.

We drove on and on and eventually reached our destination for the night and the extraordinary landscape of the flaming cliffs. This is the place where the famous Mongolian dinaseour bones have been found. There is also much petrified forest and other interesting stones. The cliffs are indeed red, such red ochre sand with strange bits of conglomerate rocks running through the layers.

We are at a camp that is busy with politicians spread their propaganda thought this land.

Tomorrow we head back to the white stupa for the night, back tracking to Ulaanbaatar.

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Camp 10 – Gobi Desert Tsagaan Suvarga (White Stupa) Again

This morning we left our luxury ger with the sunken bathroom and toilet and headed once more into the great desert wilderness.

We are heading back north east today and then east then north to our previous camp White Stupa to the lovely family who showed us so back a week ago.

We travelled through some incredible desert today. Places as wild and remote as I have seen yet in the Gobi desert. The temperature was back into the high 40s and at one place where we stopped to look at some stone edged sand dunes 52c! We Wondered if the temperature gauge in the car was broken and if it wasn’t for the cloud cover and wind to help it may have been even hotter.

We have had strong winds most of the day, white sky, dust? Cloud?

The roads were the usual corrugated ruts with forks heading into every direction and it was necessary to keep an eye on my compass app on my iPhone. The car reading was often erratic but it seems the $2.99 app I downloaded back home before the journey has been worth the exercise.

Through the deep sand and rugged rocky roads we travelled. Stopped for tea but it was too hot… Kept driving always uncertain if we were on the correct road. It is worth it just to see the breadth and wild country. As the land became dryer the herd animals became less. We saw a few herds of camel with not much to eat. Twice we came by a well with animals standing around a dry well. The first well had about a dozen beautiful small horses. We stopped and Unench and Mervyn drew water up from the well to fill the trough. The horses drank so much, they were so thirsty. The lifted nearly twenty buckets. Distant camels also saw what was happening and two of them came sauntering across the stony ground and waited behind the horses. The horses were not going to let the camels in and rushed at them until they had had their fill. The camels are such gentle creatures, so tall and polite looking. These must be females. When the horses had had their fill and we had taken many photographs they moved off and andered away up the hill. They seemed very grateful to have a drink. This is the first of the hot days and the animals must climatise too.

Half an hour further on we came across another dry well. This time a herd of camels looking thirsty. We could not drive past. Stopped again and to our disappointment there was no sign of a bucket or any way to reach the water. The well was about two meters or more down. We had a bucket and some rope in the car and thought we could use that. Unench investigated a hit nearby another well and eventually found a bucket at the end of a long pole. All the while the camels were watching in anticipation and following our every move and clearly wanted to drink. I wanted to give them our drinking water but Tugsoo stopped me saying it would not be enough for them and the camels would get angry if not satisfied.

So once more Unench and Mervyn took relays in being the heavy buckets of water from the well and we watched on the these giant creatures drank and drank and raised their head and sucked their lips and made satisfied noises. They looked at us and said thank you with their souls. We left them with water in the trough as we left.

A little further on we passed yet another well, this time a beautiful white camel was sitting down and patiently waiting and I wanted to stop for her too but the others would not. Camels, I was told clearly can survive without water for fourteen days at a time, and white ones fifteen.

I felt as if while we were getting lost we were traveling across this dry desolate place feeding animals. Well, feeding we were not as there was very little feed in any of this part of the country. It surprising how close to the surface and how sweet the water is we have found. It is as if when it does rain the water is captured underground and the surface dries out to its extreme.

We drove another hundred kilometers planned today as we continued to take the wrong track. We have enough petrol we hope for the next sum.

Eventually we arrived back at this ger camp. We had another interesting diversion when we took yet another wrong track nearby when we came upon a valley with illegal gold diggers. Unench was a little nervous when he said not to take photographs as these ger camps are mining illegally. The miners they call ningers because they are always carrying sacks of rock on their back to sift for gold. They carry guns and people disappear down the deep holes. The police do nothing to stop the activity. He went on to tell us a lot more and wanted to quickly get away from this valley.

It was interesting because just before we tuned down the wrong valley we had been wondering about the bones and clothes we found on the roadside, half buried. Nobody wanted to go digging and all presumed the bones were of the many animal bones strewn across the Gobi. Hmm. There were trousers, a pair of shoes, a hairbrush and other unrecognized pieces of cloth well weather beaten.

We were pleased to finally sight the white gers of our camp. The family were just as pleased and smiled widely when we pulled up. The family had heard us speak on the radio when we were being interviewed at our exhibition at the history museum. That was lovely.

A heavy grey sky with what appeared as a thick dust storm was heading our way. Once more in this camp we managed to get our stuff into the gers before the wind struck. We had to change gers as when we cover the top with felt there were great holes. These came from the storm a few nights ago. We buckled down, closed up everything and had a quick shower before the winds arrived. They were strong. The worst of it past quickly enough I think. I am laying on my bed now, the air has cooled considerably and the wind now milder. The generator has just been turned in and I am hoping for an early peaceful night.

Camp 11 – The Gobi to Baga gazriin chuluu

Storms seem to be following us around but never quite connect. We had good weather this morning for our trip further northward towards Ulaanbaatar. As we retraced our first miles back towards Mandalgovi for fuel the weather heated up again once more towards 55 degrees celsius.
The wind was strong and the dust blew off the roads and many willy willys raced across the plains. Sometimes the wind and dust was so strong we could not see the road.

Eventually we arrived back in Mandalgovi and refueled and decided this town was not good to us and we should leave immediately. The last time was the drama with the drunk who ran into us and we had the police involved. We bought water and explored a soviet style shopping centre and for s second time a car almost backed into Unench. He had to shout st the driver to stop.

Finding our way out of time towards the mountains was also eventful. We took what we thought would be the correct direction and Unench decided to stop and ask a man walking along with large bag which way we should go. My intuition heckles were immediately raised as I remembered the other directions strangers had given us… To my dismay the man hopped into the car and said he would take us to s man who knew the way. We drove up the hill to a man in a shed and some conversations were clearly animated. I wanted Tugsoo and Unench to drive on. It they waited for the man to come back. He hopped back in the car again and said he would take us to the right road. I sensed trouble and more so as we headed into the ger district and drove through with locals looking us as if we didn’t belong. The man gave directions to the top of another hill with an ovoo and directed Unench to stop the car. He then pointed at the road ahead and proceeded to ask Tugsoo for money; because he had been taxi and gave directions. She gave him a hand foul of money. He was not happy and demanded more. He stood with the door open and we did not understand the language between Tugsoo and the man but it didn’t feel good and I asked Unench to drive off in English. We seemed to stay there for quite some time with the argument passing back and forth between Tugsoo and the man until she eventually said good buy to him and told Unench to drive on. It certainly was not a good town for us.

We continued on towards our destination using compass and map and intuition to find the roads. Passed a coal mine and noted that the map had the mine on the other side of the road, so once more we were off the track. Up and down and round about and hills and cranes and small animals and we arrived at a camp set amongst another rock location. When Mongolia tuns on wild landscape she does it really well. Once again these hills of rocks were sculptures of all shapes standing up on each other and leaning in precarious positions.

In amongst these hills was an old ruin of a monastery that had been destroyed about 100 years ago. The walls were thick and blue silk was tied amongst the hidden garden. The monastery was hard to find and we searched several Gorges before we discovered it. It was like a secret garden with many flowers growing through the rocks, and while the skies were black and thunderous with the approaching storm it was warm and quiet in this valley. There were many small makes and birds also living here. The monks may have gone but life was thriving here. We found a birds nest nesting tucked in between some rocks at a level surely predictors would find. The nest had three beautiful eggs. Many ground herbs including tyme grew here, smelt more pungent than the type in my garden, but the same herb.

This was indeed a special valley. The ger camp is set amongst the rocks and looks out over s plain where a gers camp with a herd of goats and horses is happily grazing. A small family of tailless mammals is visiting our ger, probably used to visitors.

The wind has dropped and the generator is roaring. Some German tourists have arrived in a bus, it was the one we commented on earlier today as driving very slowly. It had apparently broken down somewhere. Tomorrow we drive back to the belter smelter of UB.

Camp 2 – Middle Gobi, Mandalgovi

Continued on from last post, I am now writing from the only hotel available to us in the capital town that is Middle Gobi Desert. We contemplated going on to camp but as its a further hundred kilometers from here the plan was to stop off again at a market and pick up those little things we realize we need from our first night out yesterday.

The drive out here was through an exceptional landscape of rocky outcros, sand dunes, winter ger camps and camels. We spotted a small herd of gazelle grazing in the distance. Many horses and goat herds.

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There is a sense I need to write quickly for tomorrow I will once more be away from wifi and computer battery points.

On arrival in the town we decided we would perhaps stay the night because a shower would be a good thing too and we could regroup tomorrow.

Firstly, the town is like a large outskirts of UB with many ger camps and rickety fences on way into town. I forgot to mention the first class bitchumen highway we linked up with and rode into town. Once the bichumen met the local road it stopped and for a kilometer into town the road was broken into lumps of concrete… Surely the new road could have resurfaced all the way into town.

The first hotel we stopped at a man came to our car and said it was closed. Only the new 4×4 vehicles n the drive gave away it was used by a political party. The cars were carrying political posters. Same story in every hotel. Until we found this small one.

I have no idea what the name is or that it even was a hotel but Tugsoo and Unench recognized it as one. Tugsoo went inside to negotiate beds for the night and soon reappeared to say that there was a small room with two beds only; we could do same as last night and share room and boys sleep on the floor. There is nothing else so agreed, and anyway it is cheaper than yesterday’s ger… And there would be a Beth or shower we can use. She also added a man would fix the plumbing, there is a toilet with our room.

Ok, set for the night we decided to look around for perhaps a better hotel and find the market. Nothing appeared so made our way back to the booked room. Unench was having some difficulty depositing the gear stick out of 4×4. While he and Mervyn stood in the car park reading the car manual, well, Unench read because it was written in Mongol they noticed just cams from the front tire a steel reinforcing rod sticking out of the ground ready to pierce the wheel. So Unench moved the car back a but to avoid the rod.

A little while later a small white car with two men inside attempted to turn into the space between Unench and the car parked next to us. He nudged the tow bar. Twice in two day!! I was standing with Mervyn by now and we shouted and indicated to the man to reverse. He looked at us with glazed eyes and pushed forward more, nudging the tail bar almost completely off. Now the tail bar was hanging from the side. The men In the car were clearly vodka affected. They gave a peace sign and didt seem to know what to do. Several people were watching. The man managed to just miss another vehicle as he reversed back into the road and tried to move into another car park. He obviously wanted to come into this hotel.

By now several people including the hotel staff had gathered and the police were called. We took down the number plate. No one seemed to be interested in swapping names and addresses or anything.

Eventually the local police arrived and by now quite a crowd had gathered around. I took some photographs with the canon camera and was told to stop taking them.

Mervyn and retired to sit in the car while the Morgan’s sorted out the problem, clearly we were just in the way, though we were the main witnesses. After theodicy took to the measuring of the car park with a long tape it appeared as if this was about to become a major event.

After further discussions and the arrival of the chief policeman arrived the who scenario moved to the police station.

The poor culprit was still standing around looking rather bewildered. Forgot to mention he had also left the scene and taken us drunk colleague away and returned to the car park where a man from the hotel reached into his car and removed the keys. He continued to deny touching Unench’s car.

The police drove his car to the police station and impounded it into a locked yard. We were told to say in the car while Unench and Tugsoo went into the police station.

The outcome is that the man would loose s license and spend the day in the cell. I understand it is immediate loss of license if caught drinking under the influence of alcohol.

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Then they announced they would take the car to the repair shop and have it repaired immediately. We are to stay in the hotel. That seemed ok, though Mervyn offered to go and et Tugsoo have a rest but she wanted to go. That left Mervyn and I to have shower and relax and wait till they came back.

We carried bags upstairs to our small room. Tiny room really. There was a man with his head inside the ensure fixing the loo who didn’t seem to mind us in the room. Ok so far. Until we asked if there was shower or bathroom somewhere. No. Not. Hmm. No shower, no bath. I took out my Mongolian language book and pointed to bath and shower. He seemed pretty sure the answer was still no. Ok then, it’s a wash in the hand basin. We could consider ourselves lucky to have a loo and a wash basin as we are in the middle of the Gobi desert. Get it into perspective, just because there is bichumen ans brick walls… The water of course is cold. And we are laughing because still because this is Mongolia. What a thrill for us to be here in the middle of the Gobi, a place of so many unrealized dreams. What to complain about, I am sitting on the bench that is called a bed, I have electricity, glass between me and the cold wind and wet carpet on the floor. Life is pretty good. We await the next chapter…

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Camp 1 – Ulaanbaatar to Tuv Borjigon

Finally we left the chaos and rough charm of Ulaanbaatar for the countryside. Tugsoo, Unench, Mervyn and me. We packed Unench’s 1998 Prado with all we thought we would need for a couple of weeks in the Gobi Desert. Like any city, it takes a long time to get out of the thick traffic and we had on the way only one small accident. A young woman bumped into our car and we became one of the many road blocks to cause more Mongolian chaos as Tugsoo and Unench sorted out the issue. Rather than worry about car insurance issues the problem was solved with the woman handing over 20,000 Tg for the damage. On closer inspection the damage could be wiped off with a steel cloth later.

Another stop along the way at a wholesale grocery shop for more supplies of bottled water and packets of Mongolian breakfast biscuits and food.

The road slowly cleared of traffic and we soon found ourselves emerging into the light of the hills, becoming tinged with green from the recent rain. It is clear the country is in need or more rain as the sparse vegetation tries to thicken.

We were driving south west toward the Gobi and beside up in the north west were thick black striking clouds of which I took many photographs. Unench received a phone call from the city saying heavy rain and flooding was beginning in UB and we were all quietly pleased to have got out in time.

Then the wind started.

We left the bitumen road after an hour or so and took instructions on where next to go. It turned out we had to follow a sandy track to the south that was barely a track. This being the main route to the Gobi. Many times we had to make quick decisions on which fork of the track to take as there were no sign posts. Then the wind picked up more and we could still the the dark deep grey clouds to the right of the car now.

The landscape changed to something more similar to the Australian outback, small shrubs and tall grasses similar to our spinifix grass though without the thorns. It is very beautiful. Small yellow flowering throbs began to appear and mauve ground creepers interspersed with a deep purple ground hugging iris only inches tall.

The sky was wild, partly blue sky and thick white cloud emerging into the grey rain steamed sky behind us. Then appeared a brown shadow on the horizon suspiciously like a dust storm. T was not long before the whirling dance of the brown streaked reached us and become one thick brown dusk storm. I managed to get out of the car and take some photographs as it came so quickly upon us, blurring out the near distance to an night sky. What to do. All we could do was keep driving on and hope soon we would come out of it.

It must have been an hour and a half before the wind dropped a little and we were again driving in a clear sky. There were many tracks to follow and the decisions were not definite. Eventually we decided to keep mostly to the telegraph line as a new one had been recently constructed across the landscape. It was so new that the gravel holding up the poles was still fresh and a clear cross indentation was marked on the ground where the poles were held down.

Perhaps following the power lines was not necessarily the best decision. We drove up and down and round and around the rocky poles. We would see many other tracks criss crossing the landscape. Our thinking was, even with the map and compass that the power lines must end up in the Govi-ugtaal. And then we thought about all of the mining in the Gobi. We had been track crossing for many hours and finally, from the top of a rocky ridge we could see a city in the far distance. We had almost given up trying to count kilometers on the road because we took into account the extra length and slow travel of the power line track. Now we could see a larger road which we followed for a while while keeping the lines in sight. To our right on another ridge we could also see an older line but the new ones were our current guide.

Some rough time later, before is was a white city. Only thing is, as we approached the white city of new buildings we could see a razor fence. And then the equipment and gets and containers of a mining camp! It is very good that we are traveling in summer light and that we would still have several hours of twilight.

Enquiring at the camp the whereabouts of the sum we were looking for we basically had to head north again.

Back on the track Unench started back north, then somewhere the advice had also been follow the main road. Well out here there is not much of anything you could call a main road. Unench turned around and decided he would find it and went back to the other side of the camp. And then Mervyn was worried we were going in quite the wrong direction as according to the map if we were where we thought we were we would miss the town completely.

So back around we swung and what an interesting beginning to our first day in the Gobi. Lost on. The first track! At least we have water and food. Out here there is no helicopter to come and search. You will basically be found by a nomad or miner, or die.

At one stop we all needed to pee. It was quite hilarious and we had a sense of humor intact as even the girls realized the length they could pee as the wind was so strong the urine never ht the ground but was sprayed for meters in front. Lesson to remember, always pee into the direction the wind is blowing.

After the wind settled a little the rain came. Not a lot, just a gentle spraying on the dusty windows.

With driving and track crossings we did finally come to a couple of gers and asked the man the directions to the sum. And with an hour or so of light left we got to the town.

No any hotel working here we were told. Better keep going to the camp. Hmm, we still had a good one hour left of light. I was a little unsure of this wisdoms but off we went again passing herds of cattle, horses and goats. Would have loved to stop and take more photographs but the light was beating us.

Passed a magnificent sunset and several rainbows. The countryside is wide Ong and looking spectacular, particularly I the last of the evenings ought.

And then before us was the jagged rocky horizon of a Tolkien landscapes. They are the hills we were heading for. It seemed to take forever now and the hills moving further away everytime we glimpsed them over a ridge,

Eventually we were beside them and able to turn left towards where the camp had been described to be.

Some time later we were indeed driving through the wildest landscapes of rock formations. In our country these formations would be referred to as the devils marbles, but only twice as wild. Ridge after ridge mugged out the most extraordinary formations of rocks piled upon each other and then across each other and more and more of these amazing things.

And tracks coming and going and amazingly a sign that read in Mongolian camp 9 kilometers and an arrow. We followed this and agan came across many choices of which way and the light was running out. Then another sign and wonderfully a light with several gers huddled together.

We had found the camp!!

With what light we had left we pulled up at the camp. It was now freezing outside, down to 9celcious but the wind chill was about zero. A lot of haggling about prices and where and what we could do. There were basic gers and this time as we were all looking forward to light the ger stove we were told no stove. No hot water, no meals. Just the ger and the most expensive price we have ever paid for ger. We opted to share one ger two beds and mattresses to be brought in for the floor.

Fortunately we had bought an extra gas stove on route and had plenty to water and food to look after ourselves. It was cold. No fire in the ger and the first one had no light either. And we were given the one furtherest from the ablution block. Was that for foreign tourists, I wondered. Wow, there may have been no hot water but at least the toilets and wash room was clean with flushing toilets. Considering where we were, out here in middle Gobi it is some knd of a feat to have any kind of accommodation and beds to sleep in.

After bringing in our gear from the car we set about a simple dinner of noodles cooked on our gas stove and cups of tea and soon to bed and a sleep of interesting dreams. I had a big dream about my mother.

Then it began to rain, just a little at first and then heavy downpour. It was quite something listening to the dull thud of heavy raindrops in the canvas outer cover of the felt ger. I hoped for all that the water would not seem through the floor and Lino cracks upon which Unench and Mervyn were sleeping.

Somewhere during the night it got very cold. That’s a lot more cold than when we had arrived. I was sleeping inside my warm sleeping bag and cosy, but my face and head was so cold I had to pull it over my head.

The light filter through sometime early morning and I knew it was morning, but very early so stayed in bed. Mervyn had already risen from s floor bed and put the kettle on to make us all a cups.
Over our breakfast of tea and brewed coffee with Mongolian cakes we decided to pack up and move on after looking around. The wind had set up a gale and there was no way we would be able to effectively draw today in the landscape.

Well, once we had paid the hostess and packed the vehicle we set about exploring this amazing landscape.

Stunning, spectacular and this time perhaps just once I could use that awful word, awesome. This landscape we had woken into was and endless pile of rocks and mountains and boulders spewed up by the earth in some ancient catastrophe millions of years ago. Australia has little piles of the formations but I have never seen the grandeur of this landscape and it was worth all the cold of last night to be here. Still didn’t make it any easier for painting so we spend the morning and day walking around and taking many photographs do where we were.

Tugsoo had told us in the morning in ancient times these mountains are considered sacred and that many dreams a common.

There are all kinds of figures and animals reconstructed in this landscape.

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The photographs I have here do not do the landscape justice because my iPhone camera was flat and all of my good images are in the canon camera. I will try to post other photographs later.

Ulaanbaatar and Desert Sharing

We are still here in Ulaanbaatar and the weather seems to be improving daily as summer emerges.

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Our exhibition is drawing to an end tomorrow, and now we are beginning to get some media attention. Today a journalist came to visit the show and was so impressed she thought we needed more attention. Not long after we returned home Tugsoo received a phone call and the message we would be on the 3.30 Eagle TV news. We had 15 minutes to sit and watch our exhibition and hear our names in Mongolian. Tomorrow we have to return to the gallery where there will be another TV crew to interview us and apparently other newspapers are now interested. The story I wrote for the Mongol Messenger is also to be published this coming Friday.

Although it seems a little late it is better now than never and hopefully good publicity for our next show in June after the Gobi.

The national elections are coming up soon and this is also always a bad time for arts publicity, anywhere in the world. And especially here at the moment when there is much tension on the ground between the nomadic country people and the new industrial and mining companies.

We have noticed the difference, or is it just coincidence? While there are wonderful people we have been meeting there are others in the street that look at us as intruders. I dot remember this happening on our previous trip. It is helpful in understanding how new Australians and visitors must fell at times when they are not tolerated by a minority of our population.

Our friends say that here the difference between the rich and poor is widening, as in other western societies. I am aware of more people on the streets collecting bottles. There are also many one person street stalls selling nuts or offering the passerby an opportunity to weigh themselves on a set of scales. The warmer weather is bringing out the entrepreneur. Clearly there is much poverty in Ulaanbaatar now. In contrast can be seen in the numerous multistory buildings and flash cars on the road. There are car yards all over the place selling new or second hand Japanese imports; with the right hand drive instead of left as the rule is here. It would make sense for Mongolia to change the law and drive on the right like the majority of their cars.

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These photographs were taken this evening when we met a friend at the Blue Sky Tower for dinner. The Blue building that dominates the inner city is today working as a hotel with several businesses and restraunt. Two years ago when we were here it was unused, condemned because of the danger of pieces of glass falling. We had arrived early for dinner and took a look at the view from the top floor Restraunt. It was magnificent to see from the 23rd floor the road map laid out. Below us. And the view of high rise apartments reaching out to the hills and the amount of residential development on the outlying hills and valleys.