TRUST ME, YOU'VE NEVER SEEN A SUNSET LIKE THIS
Khovd, Mongolia to Altai, Mongolia
The next day the roads were rough, dirt and rocks and the occasional ginormous potholes to wake up a sleeping Josiah.
Shortly after we came to a big river crossing… As we were investigating the best way to cross, Jon Back (Team Slightly Lost) plowed ahead and immediately got stuck in one of the many river forks of freezing water. After some ill-advised tire spinning the Backs were entirely swamped in a foot of icy water. This water wasn't just icy cold.. It was painful, pin and needles cold..
We cursed British impatience as we jumped in and attempted to push the car in water that immediately turned your feet numb and a brutal wind that provided little relief outside the water. Soon a local family in a Prius (shockingly the most common car in Mongolia) attempted the crossing and were stuck right beside us. A local shepard came to help, covered head to toe in a rough nomadic del and facemask. Working together we were able to free the Prius, but the Backs were another story as they were dug in too deep. Some improvising and ingenuity was required. We fashioned 3 tow cables together and positioned our mighty VW Polo just outside the water. After one failed attempt with no pushing, the entire crew jumped in and gave it everything we had. And Oh did the transmission burned and the ropes strain, but a cheer went up as they flew out of the water. Yipeee!!!! After a reanalysis of the river, we flew across the rivers without stopping and were on our way.
The rest of the day consisted of dodging potholes and crisscrossing streams. The scenery would change around the rivers as greasy moss would pop up to give it a swampy feel, reminiscent of the ‘Dead Marshes’ in LoTRs. A few more times pushing the Backs out of trouble (including one when they hilariously got stuck sidewards in the road) and we were out of the toughest terrain by late afternoon.
We swapped cars with the Kiwis to keep things interesting and it took all of 5 minutes for Tom to kill our engine. The Backs went on ahead to try and find a mechanic as we waited for our spark plugs to dry. The rest of the day consisted of the general shenanigans; riding on the roof, jumping between cars, ghost riding and a healthy dose of Tom’s bare ass. We rode into Khovd with the beautiful figureheads of Marshal and Tom adorning the front of our cars.
Khovd was our first Western Mongolian city. It looked much like you would expect a city built by nomads. Mostly consisting of Gers assembled behind square lots of wooden palisade fences to protect the families from the wind, ice and snow. There were occasional western style buildings to hold restaurants, stores and a few apartments. Very few buildings were over 1 story, the town sprawled more outward, where it intermingled with free standing gers and grazing land.
Khovd also exposed us to Joe and Batmonk (best name ever). Joe is a PHD student in anthropology focusing on the link between Mongolian religion and economics and Batmonk is the local mechanic. Joe had been living with Batmonks family in their Ger and translating for Mongol Rally teams as they limped by. We spent the the rest of the afternoon and next morning getting lessons in Mongolian culture while we waited for Batmonk to have a look at our car. We got our first taste of Mongolian wrestling (spoiler: Tom and I both lost), tsuivan (a fantastic dish of lamb and dry noodles) and had an interesting night out with local Peace Corp members.
Finally Batmonk had a look at our fuel system and determined that there was nothing wrong and our fuel sensor had only been rattled out and was giving us incorrect readings. With peace of mind, we headed back out into the wilderness.
Our first taste of asphalt roads awaited us as we left Khovd, the first 90 km of that days drive were smooth and quick. However, it didn’t take long for the roads to return to their previous glory. Dirt, rock and more dirt. We made good time as we flew along improvised paths that ran along the under construction highway. We didn’t stop much, but managed to find time for a 100 meter dash between Tom and Marshal. A drunken banter brought this dare up... The loser was supposed to wear only saran wrap for a day. After an expectedly physical race between 2 former rugby players, Tom emerged victorious. However, to the embarrassment of team Yaks on Yaks on Yaks, Marshal refused to uphold the wager…
This is where we pause for a minute, because sometimes there is a moment that stands out amongst the clutter.
This was that moment. We pitched camp next to an unoccupied stone nomadic winter residence to provide some shelter from the wind. We began our usual setup routine, but abandoned it in favor of the sunset of all sunsets. The sky, dotted with the perfect Mongolian clouds, was vivid deep blue and grey/white, mixed with a crystal clear yellow orange sunset over the mountains. As we stood there in awe, packs of wild horses meandered all around us.
The valley in front of the mountains was covered with herds of camels, some of which ambled just outside our camp.
does it get any better than this?
I could die here.
Sunsets seriously don’t get better than this.