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Back to Ölgii

by Tara

Glorious morning views are waiting to greet us as we reluctantly crawl out of our warm sleeping bag today. Yellowing fields stretch far and wide around us, hugged by a series of awe-inspiring mountains. Our camp is nestled near the lake in this scene, canopied by brilliant blue sky. What a place to start the day!

Mongolian Landscape

Emerging from the tent, I wander around taking photos, observing Elena off in the distance tending to the goats. Her little girl toddles along beside her, tugging at her pant legs, begging for some attention. I watch with a smile as Elena lifts her daughter, kisses her round, chubby, bright pink cheeks, and sets her down again. A few minutes later, they walk back towards their small apartment, stepping over the threshold and closing the door behind them.

Calves & Pen

While everyone packs, Nazir, who has arrived as promised, comes over with a smile, speaking to me in French, inviting us in for breakfast. We were planning on leaving right away, snacking while driving, but we are easily swayed by the prospect of a proper hot meal. More fried bread and more hot milky tea await us inside, served generously by Elena.

As the kids wander around, bundled up like snowmen, I watch their mother making the dough for a second batch of bread. Instantly excited, I ask Nazir to tell me what's going on, and he translates as Elena explains what she's doing.

Into a huge bowl of flour go a little salt, and some butter, …and that is all I learn. There are eggs involved too, but I don't have time to sit and watch, or ask for a recipe. It is time to go. We leave as Elena begins to knead a huge mound of dough, and I wish that I could stay behind.

Everyone is busy tearing down their camp and packing it away. In the throng of activity, we are visited by the same girls we met yesterday at the neighboring ger. They come over to say hello to the little boy who lives here, and then skip back home, hand in hand.

Mongolian Girls Running Home

Meanwhile, Nazir and Naurs are preparing their mammoth truck for travel. First, they fill its giant fuel tanks, using all of our collected jerry cans. Then, they connect it to the Doblò with a towing rope. Ready to go, they crank it up by hand, spinning a huge metal rod which protrudes from the grill. The engine roars to life, and they set off quickly, heading towards the road.

Getting Ready to Tow the Dublo

The rest of us are a bit slower, now distrustful of the terrain. We stop often to let the taxi cool down, and equally often to take pictures. We spotted our first Asian camels today! Between the foul smell, the poop eating, the pee drinking, and the gurgling and spitting, I've decided they are the most disgusting animals I've ever encountered.

Mongolian Camels

Driving along, looking out the passenger's window, we're passing landscapes that look to me like watercolor paintings, with purpley mountains spreading smoothly into blue sky. I wish I had my paints with me, but I content myself with watercolor pencils, drawing in a notebook, inspired by Mette's artistic renditions of her travels.

Naurs & Nazir

Entering Ölgii once more, we pass over the Worst Road Known to Humankind: it is more pot-hole than actual road. It makes for a lurchingly, slow drive. We cringe as we dip in and out of the pock-marked ground, swerving, praying, and hoping our car can handle it. After much ado, we arrive at the mechanic's garage. Nazir and Nours have already arrived &ndash they are talking to him about the Fiat.

As everyone in the convoy catches up, we begin to attract a large crowd of men. We must be quite entertaining! Nazir explains to his friend, the mechanic, as I translate to everyone else what's going on. They decide to tackle our exhaust first, since it's an easy fix. They push our LRC into the garage as Tyler drives, straddling a long, deep pit.

With the LRC in place, Tyler jumps down to remove his windscreen fix so the mechanics can see the problem.

LRC's Broken Exhaust LRC's Broken Exhaust

The welder plugs his machine into the wall with a dubious-looking pair of frayed wires. After jamming them into a blackened outlet, he prepares to go to work.

Preparing to Weld

Tyler looks on, snapping photos and trying not to blind himself.

Welding LRC's Broken Exhaust Welding LRC's Broken Exhaust

When they are through, Tyler inspects the weld and reports that it is awful. There are holes everywhere! It takes several rounds of back and forth before the mechanics agree to finish the job. In the end, Tyler deems the weld passably incomplete, and gives up. With the LRC "repaired", we all push the Doblò into the back of the garage.

Pushing the Doblò into the Garage

Once the mechanic has started with the Doblò, I follow Nazir and Nours to the gas station for their remaining payment of sixty liters. Upon fill-up, they each shake my hand firmly. Nazir apologizes over and over for leaving so soon. The women are at home tending to the animals on their own, you see, we really need to get back to help out.

When we pass their way again, he says, we must stop for the night. We'll have a place to sleep, we'll be honored guests, they'll sssthhhhttt (slicing motion across his throat) kill a goat for us! He grins, and tells me adamantly in French to pass along the message. I thank him and agree to do so, waving at them as they pull away for the two-hour drive home.

Next, I have to locate a pay-as-you-go internet SIM for our time here. As I walk towards the center of town, I see a faded sign for a Mobicom store. Success! I push the door open and find myself in a mob of people, all maneuvering their way to the head of the line. Oof, I guess they don't do standing in line here. Not having the energy to deal with the pushing and shoving, I note the location of the store. I'll come back later with Tyler; maybe it will have cleared out by then.

When Tyler returns from the shop with the news that the Fiat is happily repaired (he's learned that the seal between the fuel pump and the fuel line must be incredibly snug or it won't work well enough to keep the car running), the two of us set out together. The Mobicom store has calmed down quite a bit, and we successfully purchase a one gigabyte mobile internet sim card for only 19,000 togrog, or roughly $15 USD. Success!

Back to the ger camp we go, each of us setting our things on top of the same beds we claimed last time. Someone starts the fire going, and soon we're all as cozy as ever. It feels good to be back, to be settled, to have the whole afternoon ahead of us with no major plans. I'm not used to so much non-stop action! Before I start doing anything else, I lay down on the pair of twin mattresses scooted together on the floor for us. There's the same soft down comforter as before, and the same cushy mattress.

Everyone else seems to be enjoying their rest, too. Mette is calmly drawing outside in the warm sunshine…

Mette Drawing Mette Drawing

…Freddie is singing songs:

Freddie Playing Guitar

Richie and Charlie are talking photography again:

Richie & Charlie

…and Tim is going to head out for a shower.

Tim in Mongolian Ger

The rest of the afternoon is spent seriously trying to get work done. Mostly in vain. We've been commissioned to write a few articles for Rough Guides, and our due date is rapidly approaching. Normally we'd complete a project like that immediately. Being in a convoy in Mongolia is a lot of work, and a lot of fun, but it is really making it difficult for us to get anything accomplished.

We aren't the only ones with work to think about, though. Mu has a new job that starts in England in just a few days! With no idea how long it will take us to get to Ulaan Baatar, and having made basically zero forward progress since arriving in Mongolia, Mu sadly realizes that he cannot finish the rally. So, he books a flight on a tiny little plane to Ulaan Baatar in the morning.

The evening turns into a leaving party for Mu. Though we've known him just a few days, we will miss him and his sense of humor. To celebrate, we all head to dinner at a nice restaurant. Though it looks fancy, each dish costs a dollar or two. Needless to say, we order a lot of food.

Over beers, burgers, and >buuz, we talk and laugh, cracking jokes and saying goodbye. A few hours later, we stumble sleepily back to our ger.