Camp 12 – Back to Ulaanbaatar (End Gobi journey)

It was difficult to sleep with the noise of the German and Korean tourists partying on all night. The bed in this camp is also the most uncomfortable we have had, which is a pity as it was our last night out before UB.

We had a little visitor who had managed to cut a hole in the soy milk overnight with his little teeth. We have fed much wildlife this trip.

It seemed to be cooler today with an overcast sky as we left the camp for the curious journey back home.

The camp guides suggested we take the local roads back to UB as the main road is not good. This entailed a rough instruction if just keep to the tracks and follow a north easterly direction and you will eventually find your way to UB. We had previously vowed to keep to the main roads as we kept getting lost in the unsigned posted tracks that litter Mongolia. Never the less Unench set off over the mountains and up and around rocks and barely visible car tracks. At one point the ‘road’ disappeared completely at a ger camp. We were then sent off on another ‘track’ that came to a group of horses and people.

This aw a very special day, it was a full moon and the day the local ger camps meet to try out for Nardam. Nardam of course being the most famous and important festival held each year in July in Mongolia. Nardam is a horse race run over 25 kilometers and mostly by young children, it is spectacular for traditional costume and more horses than people. We were fortunate to attend one two years ago when we we’re last in Mongolia. So we understood a little of what we saw.

There we’re two lines set up on poles which the horses were hitched too. A very famous horse trainer was here giving the young ones special instructions, a couple of family groups mostly in deel and a monk ringing bells and saying prayers for the racers with beads.

We stopped to ask the way and were immediately invited to share some airag. We had pulled up just as the monk was doing bit and the adults were preparing the vodka and milk drink. A small table was set up in the green field with cloth and a bowel of sweets and milk products. I watched as one of the woman poured milk in small dishes and vodka into a silver dish she first offered the priest the vodka of which he took a drink, then it was offered around and to us first. The vodka was then mixed with the milk product and we were each given a dish to drink. Tugsoo kindly offered to drink mine after I took a polite sip. I am unable to drink dairy and in this country that is a difficult thing to negotiate. After the airag came the fresh made yoghurt. I am finding this a little more palatable and actually enjoyed the small sips I had before passing it over. I am not sure how mvuh I can handle… And as far as vodka, I have been sworn off it after my last ‘taste’ on the last day of the exhibition with the museum director at lunch. Never again…

We stayed here for what seemed like quite a while. I was. Ross I had run out of memory space this morning and rattled through scan cards to see what I could delete so I could take some good photographs with the canon camera. This was a photographers treat and a privilege to be here at this special occasion for the Mongolians. We hoped we brought them luck, the foreign visitors I’m their patch. We were still more than two hundred kilometers from UB.

Eventually we left the party of beautiful horses and outfits. I will always remember the Mongolian horse, it is a wild horse yet living with families. They are wild in their nature and not shy to fall down and roll in the dirt and standing grunting and snorting and rubbing each other affectionately. They seem the often stand head to end with each other and shot flies for each other with their tails. They are the most beautiful of creatures in their carefree manner of abandon. The colors are both rich and creamy and the most beautiful cream horses, chestnut and darkest of chocolate brown.

We continued on our road across the steppe of grassy tracks and rocky outcrops. We have now pretty much left the Gobi and entered the Steppe country. The grass is greener, thicker and the scent more heady with the early summer flowers. We saw several groups of one to three cranes, some flying, some just hanging around a water patch. Wedge tail eagles were hovering over a haul with the. Implant of black crows and a myriad of others. Hard to photograph. The sky was a deep indigo with rain shadows creating random fingers of brushstrokes behind us, it was raining, hard, somewhere, the storms have been on our tail for days and reports of damage, let us pray we beat it to the city,

And the highlight of the day, well, equal with the horses was down in a w unite valley the discovery of a white camel; and baby, the camel appeared to have been separated from her herd as she was quite unkempt. Her hair long and left over from winter. She looked well enough with her most gorgeous little white baby camel, perhaps three months old. The innocence and shyness of the baby as it stayed behind mother. We stopped for a cuppa here and to watch them watch us. We kept a reasonable distance and the mother was aware and watching us but showed no sign of leaving her place. She let us come close enough to photograph well and we too respected her space and didn’t her to feel threatened or try to attack us as they can.

We left as the heavy clouds groaned and rumbled warnings and sent little sparks of electricity to get us in our way,

Not far from our camel Unench stopped the car. He had heard a strange noise. We were now on top of a rock hill with a herd of goats and a distant ger with smoke rising from the chimney.

Yes, it was a flat tyre. The last day of our trip and the first flat tyre. Luckily he had an air compressor at hand and the tyres had been filled with some goo a year or too ago that helps heal small holes. Fixed and on again. A further check didn’t seem to be of concern a few kilometers later.

Hours later and much track hopping, grass growing taller and more paddocks more fertile, animal herds more abundant and somehow we reached the main road. This was still gravel. And worse be ause of the heavy vehicles and trucks breaking it up. Then a small section of a few kilometers of brand new bitumen which we were not supposed to drive on. We, like the other traffic did until it too ran out. [of money?]

Back on the gravel and periods of sandy holes and stones and then the tyre. It was completely flat this time. The sky was threatening and lightening flying all around, the blue bruised clouds visibly thickening all around. No choice, Mervyn and Unench had to change the tyre. It was like a miracle as we watch the rain fall on the hills all around and somehow miss us.

Before we knew we were back st the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and the smell of fumes and noise of traffic and faces of hopeful politicians everywhere. What has changed, not much except from every available billboard and orifice was a poster of a politician. It took exactly one hour in traffic to get home.

Back in our apartment by 7.00pm and life goes on.

Tomorrow we begin to organize the second exhibition for the Desert Sharing Project.

the traffic to get home.

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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.