Monthly Archives: September 2007

The trouble with Nomads…

…is that they tend to move a bit I guess. Mongolia doesn’t really have proper roads anyway, only dirt tracks across the steppe so on our way south our driver frequently had to stop at other Ger camps en route to ask for directions. I think the content of these conversations might have ran like this:

DRIVER: Hey is this where the Jones family live? (NB Mongolians don’t speak English and it is highly unlikely that the Mongolians were called Jones – I’m using artistic license)

1st Ger camp: No they moved three hundred miles that way [nomads point at some distant speck on the horizon]

DRIVER: Okay cool, I’ll drive that way

Some time later, 2nd Ger camp.

DRIVER: Hey do the Joneses live around here?

2nd Ger camp: Over that way 200 miles [points in another random direction]

In this manner we proceeded to zigzag our way across the great steppe of Mongolia, which looks uncannily like a big, bumpy, sandy lawn, which has been cut through with dirt tracks. That is until you reach the real Gobi, at which point enormous three hundred meter high sand dunes rear up out of the ground.

On the the first night we arrived at our Ger and were wondering how to occupy ourselves for the next few hours after sunset but before we slept. At this point the nomads uncovered a huge satellite dish, an ancient plastic black and white television and a car battery that had been charging off a solar panel all day long. I have no words to describe how impressed I was that they could get any kind of signal out in the middle of nowhere with only the most basic equipment. They must have spent an hour trying to tune the TV making minute changes to the dish and decoder but ultimately could get it tuned right.

We eventually reached the Gobi on the third day of driving south to be confronted by the dunes. We awoke one morning opened the Ger door only to have a small family of goats attempt to join in our breakfast. Using bar stools as battering ramps we pushed the recalcitrant goats back out of the tent (in the same tent we also discovered some sort of desert rat). We got one of the locals, a kindly only man with a deeply tanned face and James Brown rayban sunglasses, to make us a lunch before we headed up the dunes. It took a long time to make it up under the sandlanch which occurred with every step but we eventually made it up and looked out across the dune sea heading off into the distance towards China. It was the most Star Wars thing I’ve ever seen (a sight helped by the moonbase like structure of the Gers). Later on we rode evil smelling camels into the sunset (it is worth noting that the nomads make evil smelling camel cheese from the evil smelling camels).

I’m back in Ulaan Bataar now, having washed of the sand and the camel smells. I should make the Chinese border toward the end of the week. Maybe I’ll have time for another update before then

I’m still in Mongolia…

…but I’ve got the beginnings of some sort of travellers flu/head cold job thingy. Still trying to work out how to get to the desert. Nothing to tell other than that I went to a German theme pub run by Mongolians yesterday – I think we were the only westerners there. Pretty surreal. I’ll blog more when I’m not ill and when I’ve done something crazy.

So later on…

On the same journey I eventually managed to befriend the people who threatened/joked about robbing me – It transpired that they were actually a minor league Siberian football team – aside from the fact that they drank solidly for 72 hours (I’m not joking I don’t think they ever slept) they turned out to be pretty nice – if not very rowdy. All they wanted to talk about with me was premier league football and Peter Crouch’s capabilities on astroturf. That is as far as I could translate with my meager Russian language skills.

The train eventually arrived in Irkutsk at around three in the morning local time. Very confusing because the train service operates on Moscow time but covers about 8 different time zones so you always need to have one time piece on Moscow time on one on Local time to work out what is actually happening.

I spent some time after that by Lake Baikal doing some hiking (as I probably alluded to below) then caught the train here – Mongolia. Yesterday I spent almost 10 hours on a searing hot train at the border whilst my passport and travel documents were checked and re checked – no one ever checked my bag though. I could have taken anything across and no one would have known

Oh yeah – I’m currently a millionaire by Mongolian standards. I should get myself some bling and a fur coat. I’m just a stones throw from the Gobi desert and Gengis Kahn’s nomadic decendents. Only another 2000 or so miles to go before I hit Beijing and the great Pacific beyond. Apologies for the lack of detail in this post. So much has happened that I’m finding it difficult to filter my perceptions of time and place. My watch is on Mongolian time, my phone on another time zone and my soul… my soul is a few thousand kilometers away struggling to catch up.