Nobody is in a hurry to get moving this morning. In fact, when I rouse myself from a comfortable night's sleep around 9AM, everyone is still cocooned under their down comforters, or wrapped up like pupa in their mummy-style sleeping bags.
I leave the sleepers in peace, whisper to a very groggy Tyler that I'm going to get food, duck under the short ger door, and emerge into a shivery Mongolian morning. In search of groceries I go. We'll need to stock up for the coming days.
It is one of my favorite things to do in a new place, simply walking around with our camera, orienting myself, checking out what new and different things are available in the shops and markets. As I amble, I notice the lack of asphalt, and it reminds me of Tunisia. No sidewalks, just dirt which becomes awash with mud in a single rainfall. I kind of like it.
There are also treacherous, uncovered manholes, just waiting to swallow an inattentive walker, and some intense, majestic birds surveying the scene from above. In other countries, crows and pigeons crowd around dumpsters and sit perched on their ledges. Here in Mongolia, two-foot tall birds of prey fill this role.
I stand with my mouth gaping open, inching towards them for a picture. I didn't bring our telephoto, so I'll have to get impossibly close. They notice my presence well before I can capture them. One by one, they take flight, beating the air with their wide wings, sending out a rhythmic and powerful WHOOSH WHOOSH WHOOSH.
Carrying on, I pass the central square where a group of men congregates over cigarettes at the foot of a statuesque obelisk. I pass banks and closed stores and the pub we frequented yesterday. I have yet to find a market or food shop. To expedite the process, I ask a woman for help – she points the way, but it still takes quite a bit of wandering and asking before I manage to find it.
As I arrive, three girls in aprons are just unlocking the door, opening for business. I follow them inside, pick up a basket, and survey what my options will be for the next few weeks in Mongolia. It does not look promising, but there's always dry pasta and ramen if all else fails.
I'm a little surprised to find that there's no milk and no meat save for the jar of slimy looking hot dogs in some sort of liquid and cans that have a cow's head on the label. There are barely any fruits or vegetables (a few sad looking carrots, potatoes, and apples) and no cheese to be found. I do manage to find some grains, chips, cookies and a large jar of pickles, though. It looks like eating out will be the way to go in Mongolia.
Stocking up on staples, I also grab enough yogurt (there's yogurt!) for everyone to have for breakfast, and a few unfortunately mealy apples as well. Bags in hand, I walk back to the ger camp.
The team has awoken. Charlie is grilling slices of bread over the central fireplace and Mette is passing around a plastic bottle of honey left over from Uzbekistan. Freddie is peeling a hardboiled egg, and tosses another to Richie. I dump by bags to the floor, and dig out my contribution of yogurt and apples, which Tim eagerly pounces on. He must love yogurt as much as I.
Hot water is boiled for coffee, made from small individual packets of fake instant stuff with brands like "American Flavor" "Ye Ye" and "Mac Coffee." As we drink, Mette shows us some of her impressive drawings:
Everyone amply fed and caffeinated, we slowly begin the process of packing and cleaning the ger. Tyler cranks up our stereo; our cold Mongolian morning acquires a soundtrack: Los Lobos. Tingling with anticipation, we prepare to embark on another big adventure.
My attempt to make the best use of time this morning proves to be futile. After our long, leisurely breakfast, and our long, drawn-out packing, everyone still needs to buy food and fill up on gas. As a group, we drive single file along the potholed roads, leading to the store I found earlier. Communal shopping ensues, communal gas buying ensues, and then finally, we are on our way!
With the openness of a vast, wild country laid out before us, our trip has never felt more new and different and exciting. Everyone else seems to feel it too. We are really out there. Here we are, thankful to be a team, and not one of us can wipe the smile from our face.
We stop often to let the taxi cool down, but also to observe the wonder of our surroundings. We've all got our cameras out, trying to soak up all the newness, all the intensity, the insanity, the sheer feeling of adventure. It can't be captured in a photo, but still, we try.