Days 8 and 9: Saridag Inn to Inspiration River
Going to the reindeer people should only take 4 days from [loogie]-thoomp, but at the rate we were going it would take 5 or 6. And that meant 5 or 6 days back. In other words, I was looking at another week and a half of misery. So I made the only decision I could. I decided to turn back and end this fiasco. And heading back early had a bonus: it gave me more time back in UB to live my original dream: to buy my own horse and head out by myself. Free from any guide, free to trot or gallop whenever I wanted, to camp where I wanted, to do what I wanted. And it would also be a real adventure, a real challenge. If I screwed up, it could be disaster. There would be no one to bail me out. It was a challenge I wanted.
Earning my Tea
I told my guide I wanted to take it slow on the way back so we could just enjoy the trek. That ended up earning a few forehead slaps. I had forgotten how slow Toroo liked to go when we were in a hurry, so this was like telling him to lay on the beach and pass out. We stopped for tea early, after only an hour. Toroo told the man of the ger I played guitar, and next thing I knew the whole family and kids assembled before me. Toroo handed me the guitar case. Doh. I took it out and sang the only song I don’t usually screw up: “Hope of Deliverance” by Paul McCartney. Surprisingly, they applauded happily at the end and waited expectantly for the next song.
|Evening Feast (note giant horsefly above, more protein for me)|
Now, unlike some friends I have back home, I am crap on guitar and I never play in public. Which means I get nervous playing in front of others. Which means I tend to forget songs in the middle of playing them. But it was clear from the faces in front of me that a strange hairy man playing guitar, an instrument you very rarely see in Mongolia, was too much fun for them. Against my gut feeling I decided to launch into “Brown-Eyed Girl.” I screwed up about 6 times, but after the 2nd time I realized they would have no idea if I was playing it right or not. So I relaxed, and just tried to have fun with it. Mongolians don’t applaud much, but after the song the loud hand-clapping and huge smiles made me realize I had done OK.
As all gers do, they generously poured me more butter tea and fed me enough khoshers and yogurt to make my belt a little tighter. This time, I had at least offered something in return. It felt good.
Waking the Muse
|Writing silly songs|
Of course, writing a good song that people actually want to listen to is another matter entirely. Perhaps that actually does take some talent. But like anything, talent is really just another word for hard-won experience. And there is no way to get experience without starting somewhere. So, enjoy my first comedic attempts at song-writing <will post link soon>. I don’t expect anyone to actually think they are good. They were just fun to write, and that is good enough for me.
A Cool Breeze
|The Lake Awaits!|
|Al Qaeda horse, ready for martyr-dom|
|Fields of Gold|
We pushed on and the scenery truly became spectacular. I recognized the spines of the tall mountains we had tackled last week, but we were now staring at their backs. The profusion of flowers in the forested meadows were splashed about with abandon; and on our left stretched the blue of the deepest lake in Central Asia.
Sure enough, no sooner had we setup camp than it started raining, and no sooner did it start raining than my death trap started leaking. I hauled everything into the dining tent; their guides laughed and made space for my pathetic wet mess of junk.
I thought back on how smug I had felt when this group had passed us earlier. And I resolved never again to laugh at a large tourist expedition. When idiots like me screw up, it’s these folks with their 8 spare horses and arugula who are there to bail us out.
Days 11 and 12: Lake of Purity to “Progress”
A Good Place
The next morning was my favorite of the entire trip. In the rush to avoid the rain, I hadn’t really taken much of a look at our campsite. During the course of our trek, Toroo hadn’t exactly picked his sleep spots for their beauty. Or their water. Or for any logical reason as far as I could gather except to inflict pain. I had been used to waking up in whatever random nook we had fallen into the night before.
|Glow from below|
I wanted to shout “woooooooo!!!!” but instead I just let the shout ring inside.
No one else was awake yet. It was all mine.
That morning I filled my bottle from the lake and took a deep drink. If I got sick, well it would be too bad. But I had to taste the lake without the contamination of iodine or chlorine. I tilted it back and took deep gulps. It is hard to describe the taste of truly pure water. Its not something we drink anymore, really. Once it’s put into a plastic bottle for a few days, it doesn’t matter where it came from. I guess I will just say it tasted clean, cold, delicious, almost sweet. In this modern over-populated world, how rare is the pleasure of drinking directly from a lake?
|Red Moon Rising|
There is an odd happiness that creeps over me in these storms. Somehow it takes me back to a bedroom on a farm in Ohio, curled inside cozy blankets as lightning raged outside. On those muggy summer nights, the cool of the storm was refreshment and the boom of thunder made my imagination run wild. I realized how much I missed thunderstorms. Southern California has almost everything, but it doesn’t have this.
A Scar in the Earth
|Tourist gers on concrete: neon orange is a nice touch|
It was Saturday, and over the next day we saw car after car, spilling out drunken Mongolian party after party. Disco blared, men and women sang off-key, trash lay scattered everywhere, bodies lay passed out alongside the road. And then, something even worse. We ran into a large ranch of garish bright orange gers. They were on poured concrete foundations, which when you think about it defeats the whole purpose of having a mobile ger. A sign welcomed tourists in English: “Khovsgol Tourist Ger Camp Number 2!” Immediately following this lay another camp. And beyond, another. I looked down the shore-line, and realized with despair that tourist ger camps were packed nose to elbow as far as the eye could see.
The forests had been cut down. The painted meadows had been grazed to oblivion by herds of yak and sheep or been covered in tire tracks. Cars kicked up clouds of dust as they carried their payloads of tourists back and forth to the lake. Toroo and I plodded alongside the road, slowly, wearily. We were an anachronism at this modern circus. Mongolians stared at us as they gunned past. One van of weekenders pulled up and started pointing and staring at me like I was an escaped hairy monkey. Fortunately I have plenty of practice being an escaped hairy monkey. They began asking questions to Toroo. He replied “Amerikh.” They “ooh’ed” and took pictures of the monkey and drove off.
Horses were not needed here. Where there are roads, cars rule the earth. Horses must scatter off to the side and choke on the dust, their eyes wild with fear.
My trek was over. Now, we were just trying to get off the ride.