We've been killing time waiting for the Jimny to arrive, but eventually we have to face facts. They are not coming. What in the world has happened to them? Someone suggests we take the motorcycle to find them. Wanting to get the show on the road, Tyler quickly agrees, jumps on, and speeds off into the night.
Then we wait, awkwardly communicating with the drunk Mongolian. The Jimny can't be far away, but it seems as though Tyler has been gone for ages. Our nervousness is mounting with each passing minute, so we focus on occupying our trashed Mongolian visitor. Tim shuffles him another beer, and we keep the conversation flowing.
After some time, the man seems to be getting antsy as to the whereabouts of his motorcycle. Indeed, I'm getting antsy as well. Where are they? Luckily he is easily distracted from the situation at hand. After unsuccessfully trying to explain that we have two other team mates out there, lost in the steppe, he begins miming about something else entirely.
Now he's trying to offer us accommodation for the night, and as best we can tell, he is saying that for the low price of 9,000 togrog, he'll slaughter a goat or maybe a sheep for us. Staying with a very drunken stranger with a knife sounds like a bad plan, so we kindly refuse when he writes the price for us in the sand. As he bends over to draw, headlights flood the area. It must be the Jimny!
…but, alas, it turns out to be a van, full of people taking the night bus to Ayarvateer. Where the heck are they?! Finally, the moto's lone headlamp appears in the distance, shaking and rattling like crazy, the weak light casting an erratic yellow beam through the air. Tyler arrives, successful.
All a bit relieved, we gather around and listen to what he has to say:
I found them a few kilometers away, and I gotta say it does not look good. One of the rear wheels has sheared off. Freddie was so relieved when he saw me, saying "Man I thought we'd be camping here alone tonight!", as if we would ever just leave them out there! Richie wanted to know where I got the motorcycle so I told him, "Some drunk Mongolian guy!"
But yeah, the mechanics in Altai cut off way more axle than necessary when they removed the rear differential. The wheels are held in by nothing more than a foot-long stub of metal…
Back into the cars we go, with a sinking feeling in our stomachs, waving goodbye to the Mongolian man, trying hard to pronounce the Mongolian word for thank you. We find Richie and Freddie after a few minutes, hunched over their car by the side of the road, looking like hell. After relieved pats on the back and stunned looks at the depressing display of broken vehicle, the team mobilizes.
All mechanically-minded people stay to help assess the problem, while the rest of us set up tents, make a cheery fire, and begin dinner for the hungry crowd. I was going to make some Asian-style glass noodles for the group, but Tom has other plans.
Dinner for the evening is going to be a special treat. Matt, Alex, Gem, and Tom have had this grand plan of buying a live goat, slaughtering it, and cooking it ourselves over Mongol Betty's homemade roofrack-turned-grill. This would make for an awesome final victory feast the night before we reach Ulaan Baatar.
….however, when Tom passed a man selling meat from the back of his motorbike today, he decided to give it a try a little early. He picked up a rack of ribs, planning to cook them up for dinner tonight. Now that we're settling into camp, Gem and Tom open the plastic bag of meat, and grab the rack of ribs, which is wrapped in paper. Unfolding the paper, the other side of the "ribs" is revealed.
They realize something is amiss.
This is not a rack of ribs. There are some tiny, pearly white things on the meat… they almost look like teeth? Gem and Tom peer a little closer, and then confusion turns to horror when they see that there is a little FACE in there, staring back at them. It is a MARMOT!
Seemingly horrified by a case of mistaken identity, they leap away from the creature as if thrown back by an explosion, all the while emitting an array of "UUUGHHH!!" and "WHAAAAA! and "GAHHHHGHHH" noises, followed by giggling and hand-wringing and shuddering.
It certainly seems gross, and bit disappointing, but I don't understand the truly horrified reaction until Gem explains: their guidebook specifically warned against eating marmot, advising everyone to avoid it like the plague. Do not eat it, do not touch it, do not believe anyone who tells you it's fine. Because just two short years ago, marmots caused an outbreak of the plague in Mongolia.
Yikes! Charlie, the designated pit-digger, grabs the shovel and begins unearthing a deep grave for the beast. The unfortunate, potentially lethal rodent is then warily carried over, dangling in its sling of paper and plastic, to be buried for all time. Though no one actually touched the meat, vigorous hand-washing ensues.
Meanwhile, back by the roadside, a crowd is forming. A team of huge, empty trucks are barreling down the "highway", stopping to see what the trouble is. With more than one truck to choose from, there are competing offers to carry the car to the next town.
This is wonderful news, because when a WHEEL falls off a car, there is not a whole lot you can do about it. It has simply got to be put in the back of one of these trucks and hauled away. It's time to face facts. And yet Richie and Freddie want none of it, so the potential aid drives away.
Well, we won't be having barbecued ribs for supper! Dinner plans scrapped, I step in to make something I've been planning for a day or two: sweet and spicy Asian coleslaw (an excellent use for the ONLY vegetable available: cabbage) and savory "beef" and onion glass noodles, with soy chunks as meat.
Tyler and Charlie help out, and Tom finds me lanterns to light up the makeshift kitchen. Finally, the meal is complete, and one by one people trade their spots around the fire for a place in the food line. Dinner is a success; everything is delicious.
Tomorrow, we'll have to figure out what to do about the Jimny, but for the moment, all is quiet in this corner of Mongolia.