Across Mongolia (Part 4): Smells of Home: 15 July 2006 (Saturday) – 16 July 2006 (Sunday)

To make sure group dynamics did not suffer, Robin adamantly switched up the vans. Sarah was not looking good in the morning. A few too many vodkas had unsettled her stomach and we all thought that she was going to “Do a Scott” and exercise her stomach purging muscles during the ride. Today was the night of the “home-stay”. This is when 12+ tourists show up at your doorstep and stay the night with you. Oh yes, don’t forget you need to feed the tourists as well. How would you like that? Well, the Mongolians are incredibly friendly as we found out, but first we had a Twinkie ride to get through.

As it turned out, the driver of the Green Twinkie was not that good. Granted the roads were terrible but compared to Naidam in the grey Twinkie, he was just plain awful. I was happily stuck in the grey Twinkie but poor Sarah, having been moved to the green Twinkie, had been spending the day getting bumped around. So much so that we rounded one corner to see Sarah run up a hillside to “Do a Scott” and purge her guts. We switched vans at that point.

During lunch we decided to have an ultimate frisbee competition. Note that most of us haven’t changed our clothes much during the journey so far and playing a sweaty game under the hot sun without any wind was probably not the best for group smells. I am officially not a vegetarian for the remainder of this journey. Being the only vegetarian on the trip has been quite difficult and the “vegetarian” meals I’ve been eating haven’t left me feeling all that great. My hatred of meat stems from farming practices in North America and as I have clearly seen on the drive so far, the animals wander free on grass which is not fertilized and are treated to a wonderful life before being slaughtered. In fact, cows frolic here. Cows and sheep are vegetables in Mongolia.

So it was in this sorry and smelly state that we arrived at our family homestay. Luckily for us, I’m sure they couldn’t smell us anymore than we could due to the prevailing odour of the goats penned near the Gir and the animals’ bodily by-products. The family was very welcoming and had set up a tent outside the Gir where four of us would sleep. The rest would have to sleep in the Gir or in the vans as the family had vacated to their house in the nearby town. At first a few of us had a crazy and silly idea of simply sleeping outside with maybe a tarp. An idea which paled in comparison to the voluminous grey clouds spreading overhead. The family had three daughters, 13 years, 6 years and one grown-up daughter and one very young grandchild who we initially thought was a cute girl until, like all boys, pulled out his “manhood” and gleefully sprayed his older aunt (the six year old). Ah boys. Apparently boys do not have their hair cut for the first time till they have a ritual at three years old.

The family had gone to incredible lengths to make us feel comfortable. They had even erected a makeshift outhouse for their foreign companions, complete with white sheets to give some privacy. I never visited, but I was told that this was a mess by the time we left. I did feel bad that the family would have had to deal with this. Before you get the idea that we were exploiting a poor Mongolian family, please understand that the family were willing participants and this brought them much needed money. In addition we had all brought some gifts. Lori was so taken by the attitude, kindness and industriousness of the 13-year-old girl that she gave her the extra rucksack she no longer need. The girl was stunned to say the least. Lori has a very good heart.

The boys (Scott, Derek, Robin and myself) slept in the tent outside. Before setting to bed, though, we all had a “roundtable” inside the Gir where we all introduced ourselves, what we did and where we came from. The postcards from Canada (thanks Corey and Donna) were a big success and anyone going should carry loads. Finally it was bedtime. This was when I discovered interesting things about Robin and Scott. They both talk rather fitfully (and loudly) in their sleep.

At one point in the middle of the night, Robin yelled “Move her head!” at which point Scott answered rather loudly also in his sleep. Derek and I were stunned, yet amused. All of us, meanwhile, had to deal with Steve’s incredibly loud snoring inside the Gir and the wonderfully raunchy smells and bleats of the goats around us. At that point I could only imagine what the others were going through inside the Gir with Steve.

Next morning we discovered that they had managed to silence Steve eventually and had managed to get a little bit of sleep. After breakfast we said good bye to our host family and set off in a rather grouchy, somewhat sleep-deprived mood. I was thinking that four days together in the van would be all we could take collectively. Incidentally, our Green Twinkie driver was replaced by his son (Tudev) at this stop and he drove much better than his aged father. Derek has caught a cold and was feeling quite unwell. As they would say in the old Batman TV show: “Will they live to survive another day? Find out, same Twinkie channel, same Twinkie time…”

However, there was a glimmer of hope. Our goal today was to get to Khosvgol Lake, a tectonic lake along the same rift as Lake Baikal. This one however was a tenth of Baikal’s size containing “only” 2% of the world’s freshwater supply. We were to stay at the lake for three nights – a chance for everyone to recover and get some rest.

The drive today was horrendous. As we neared the lake we were treated to 20km of the worst rally bouncing ever. However, this all came after our first flat tire with people in the van. The Green Twinkie that I was in ran over a key after leaving the town of Moron (I couldn’t find a town sign in English) that stuck perpendicularly into the tire. Our new driver is young (23) but quite experienced and quickly set us straight. My brains have been mushed into a goo after four days of bouncing.

Despite all the hardships of van travel, the lake was worth it all. The lake was a solid blue and like Lake Baikal, crystal clear water to great depths (this time to 260m). There were pine trees lining the lake and yaks lounged by its side. Mountains smiled down upon us with taiga forest rising up their flanks. After four days in vans this looked like paradise.

Immediately, Scott and I made plans to summit one of these mountains and get away from everything the next day. We managed to get a guide and decided to set off at about 4:30/5am. Our guide would not be able to speak English but was one of the people who had set up the national park around the lake. He had apparently hiked the entire circumference of the lake 14 times. Mieko decided to join us. Everyone else would be spending the next day horse riding or boating.


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