There’s not much to say for the Hot Springs Gir Camp. Very few of us descended into its grimy depths, even less went to see the source of the springs. The food, however, was excellent. A three or four humper rating for the food! The morning dawned dismal and rain-filled. The night saw more sleep talking or so we thought: Scott talked to all of us, but because we thought he was talking in his sleep we promptly ignored him.
The real adventure today was getting to Kharkorin (ancient Karakorum, once the heart of the Mongol Empire). We were in the green Twinkie with the young Tudev as the driver. We knew we were in trouble when we encountered a river swollen with rain within twenty minutes of leaving the camp. Tudev stopped, scratched his head and waited for the elder Naidam. Naidam looked at the river, laughed and launched the grey Twinkie through the deep water. Tudev revved the engine and followed suit with all of us screaming and cheering. Suddenly, half way out of the water on the other side the engine sputtered and died. With the exhaust pipe submerged it looked like a wet attempt at pushing the van out of the river. The smart drivers (who have probably had to deal with such situations any number of times) kept starting the engine in first gear using the starter moter to inch the van out enough that the engine could be started.
Having parted the sea we overtook the grey Twinkie during a swan photo stop and attempted to find the promised land of Kharkorin without our elder leader. This was where things went awry. Tudev must have taken a wrong turn in the maze of wet, muddy, foggy forest roads and soon we were in uncharted territory. A few days earlier the drivers (through Jargalan) had told me that they had a mental map of Mongolia and navigated through the use of local signs like rocks, mountains and rivers. Obviously things had gone wrong.
We realized our predicament only when Tudev abruptly stopped at a random Gir and jumped out to speak to a surprised nomad. There was much pointing and hand-gesticulating and off we went back the way we came. About three such attempts later we made it back to the road to Kharkorin. Naturally we had started to wonder about the possibility of being permanently lost in the featureless, and now rainy and miserable, steppe. It would not have been pleasant I imagine.
Ancient Kharkorum no longer exists. It had been razed to the ground in the distant past and the foundations had only been recently uncovered. Instead of ruined palaces our stops were to be the Erdenzuu Monastery, Turtle rock, and the intriguingly titled “Phallic Rock”. We arrived at the monastery about thirty minutes later than the others who had decided that the delinquents (us) had stopped off to use the Internet or some such. Instead of wandering around the rainy monastery, these delinquents decided to go to a cafe described in the Mongolia Lonely Planet as:
“After a long drive from Ulaanbaatar, the European Crown Cafe will come as an excellent surprise…”
We all decided that the Lonely Planet might want to update (or perhaps visit) their entry. For instance they could drop the word “European” unless by “European” they meant the coffee machine and the existence of an English menu. Certainly they could also alter “excellent” to reflect the long service times and the soggy fries. Oddly, having not had fries in many weeks, we certainly cleaned up and didn’t complain that much.
From the monastery we drove to Phallic Rock. We had all been expecting a gigantic penis-shaped rock. To which Sarah sighed and said:
“Well, at least we girls are used to exaggerations in size…”
Certainly it was pretty anti-climactic at best. The rock was created by the head monk of the nearby monastary to shame the other monks into celibacy. It points to a “Vaginal Slope”. Egads.
With the conversation turning to vibrators, butt plugs and so on we headed east and south towards the Gobi Desert – well the Bayun Gobi which is not quite the famous sands you expect when you hear “desert”. As I write this, the others have all gone on a camel ride while Scott, Jargalan and I will join them by camel in an hour.
Addendum: We found out today that right after we had left, Khovsgol Lake flooded due to massive rains that we had somewhat witnessed earlier today. Apparently the Blue Pearl Gir Camp was flooded as was the Intrepid crew that had left Ulaanbaatar a day or two behind us.