Dated: 14 JUL 18
Last night over dinner Martin, the Frenchman, told me that the route north is a no go, rivers streak the landscape and vehicles are forced to turn back; “neigh!” I say, “I’m going north for I am no vehicle.” There are three main routes through Mongolia, southern, middle and northern- easy, medium and hard. I have opted for the latter not because Martin said I couldn’t but because I want to see the green rolling steppe of Mongolia, further south and things dry out as you edge ever closer to the Gobi desert.
As I head north I stop for a quick breakfast at a ger camp. My go to safety food of eggs is not an option so it looks like this pit stop will be just tea and toast, well stale bread for that’s what passes for toast here. When I pull in Granny is milking the goats and I’m taken into the family ger; interestingly they have a house like building but its not in use. The ger is not surprisingly round. Brightly coloured hangings and carpets cover every surface and beds circle a wood burner in the centre with a chimney poking up through an opening in the ceiling. This is going to be a long thirty minutes, I’m not yet adjusted to Mongolian time. Tea is eventually served, it is a milky number complete with a baby’s fist full of salt. I have been forewarned about this Mongolian phenomenon but its surprisingly palatable. I counter act this with sugar making a Mongol energy drink full of glucose and salts.
Milk is continually being heated on the stove and occasionally the chef, mum, scoops off the skin and deposits it into a bowl, the toddlers cant get enough of it; I always used to discard the gross skin on my rice pudding but each to their own. I drop my guard for just a moment and Granny has only gone and spooned a globule of skin into my tea with out my consent, for heavens sake, it now tastes both salty and sweet with a hint of goat.
Half an hour turns into a good hour before I’m back on the “bad” road but its good going, bumpy though but my arse is used to that by now. Passing nomads and their flocks, they often trot over to me to say a quick “hello,” and then they are off again. Ger camps nestle on patches of grass next to a narrow stream, smoke issuing from their chimneys, someone’s clearly up and brewing some salty tea. I love the fact that people still live this life style. Mongolia must be one of the few places in the world where so many people live by the whim of seasons in a nomadic substance life style. In Africa the tribesmen and their cattle are so often at loggerheads with governments, private land owners, fences and wild life. Perhaps they should immigrate here, there’s plenty of room, though the like of the Maasai might find the winters a touch cold and the summers nippy for that matter.
The gers become fewer and fewer as the valley narrows; suddenly things on this northerly quest have an ominous feel, the occasional vulture stares down from a steep jagged rock faces and all is quiet expect for the occasional scurry of scree. Perhaps I should have heeded Martins warnings. Its amazing how much the mind wonders when I left to my own devices.
Things open up and I find myself on an endless sea of rocks, I was told that the roads were bad but as always I should ignore all advise, for there are no roads at all. I pick one trail which seems to be pointing in the right direction and just go for it. When there is no point of reference on the horizon things seem to drag on for an eternity, I’m riding for hours through this barren nothingness. My maps do suggest that there is in fact a main road through this region but perhaps that is where the government would wish a road to be if they had the money to construct one. Tracks crisscross the landscape but unless you are directly on top of one you can not find it. I resort to the more direct and knobbly approach of following a bearing to where I pray I am meant to be going. Its a bumpy bearing.
Things take a turn for the worst, I disturb just about the only shrub for miles and they become aware of my presence. The air turns thick with them, a plague of mosquitoes. I was expecting a mozzie or two on the grasslands but this is like nothing I have ever experienced. At one point I discard my bike and run a few hundred metres, I move in a jerking motion like someone with full body Tourette’s, and I’m yelling – like a man. It is safe to say that I have never been more miserable, just give me malaria already and let this end, except these buggers don’t carry the disease and malaria takes days to kill if at all. Just my luck.
I cant ride fast enough to shake my tail, I look over my shoulder and a cluster of them are sat there with their straws out like its a milkshake bar, todays favourite, O-negative. Kill one and two more settle in its place. To say it is irritating is putting it mildly but I can safely say it is the most miserable I have ever been (I know its the second time I’ve said this but it needed stating twice for good measure). I don’t know what I would have done if I had gotten a puncture, broke down and probably cried!
If I happened upon a lamp as I trudged across the mozzie-scape and as I’m polishing it with the sleeve of my jersey a genie issues from its spout, I will not make the cliché wish for world peace, that can be the next do gooders wish. No, firstly I will request that this genie take on the persona of Aladdin’s Genie complete with Robin Williams’s voice and my second wish will be to never be irritated or bitten my a mosquito or any other insect for that matter ever again. That commanded I will be content and forfeit my third and final wish.
The good thing about cycling is that however bad things get odds are that in an hour or two, a day perhaps or in the case of the Uzbek desert a few days, things will always get better. By late morning the following day, I have climbed out of the clutches of the mosquitoes, cycling through rolling grasslands, its euphoric, a mosquito free utopic, the grass is the greenest grassiest smelling grass I’ve ever had the pleasure of hailing. Yes my arms are still itching and I’m spottier than I was as a teenager but I’m bite free.
The previous evening the wind picked up and blew those little audacious bastards away and I camped in peace but still feeling their presence in the itchy bumps riddling all exposed skin. In the morning I peered out through the mozzie net in my tent door, they are there waiting. I remember reading that when Genghis Khan laid siege to a city, on the first day he would erect a white ger, it let the inhabitants held up within know that if they surrendered now there would be no blood shed. If they waited till the following day they would rise to see a black ger, no living sole would bee left alive. Whether fact or fiction I can picture a mosquito sized black ger just out side my tent, they are after blood; the Mongolian horde.
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