Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dirty Old Men

It’s been eight nights since Astana and our last shower. We’re grungy, dusty, dirty and smelly. It’s great! Yesterday we made our first big river crossing at the edge of the Gobi. As filthy as we were, we still didn’t consider a dip. Thus far our rivers have been pretty small and we’ve become increasingly overconfident with our abilities to ford them. Here at last was the real thing, the Baydrag Gol, a broad, obviously seasonal river with a massive wash of white stones and grey mud. Two young lads on a motorcycle came up and excitedly made the tow sign and gestured that we should follow them to a waiting tractor. The price was 15,000 tögrög, and being white and tourists we immediately accepted. The freezing waters ran fast and about halfway up Swifty’s doors. The tow line snagged momentarily and we spent an extra minute shipping more water than we’d have liked, but in the end there was only about a quarter inch in the cabin. 

We had met Pascal, who was busy crossing Mongolia by motorcycle, earlier in the day and again by the river. As he was running low on benzine we gave him a few liters from our spare supply. Tom and he got to chatting as Mike entertained a tribe of local kids by taking photos of them. Eventually, the three of us ended up sharing a lunch of rice and gristle in the local ger cafe and talking about life. Pascal has the heart and soul of an explorer. His work with special needs teenagers for the Paris public school system allows him time to travel widely. He learned from a trip across Sumatra last year that buying a bike locally can be cheaper than renting one. It’s pretty easy if you can agree to sell it back to person you bought it from. He also realized on that trip that speaking the local language is essential if you’re going to get the most out of your adventure. We agree wholeheartedly and were impressed that in three months of study Pascal had learned about 400 words of Mongolian. Mental notes for our next adventure. 

We made short work of the remaining 120 brutal, mind-bendingly difficult kilometers to Bayanhongor and found our first true hotel in Mongolia. Itself an experience of mixed emotions. 

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