Photos

Aaaargh! I have sat in front of this computer for way too many hours now trying to figure out where to start with the epilogue. It’s a lot harder that I thought it would be. Please be patient, it is forthcoming. Meanwhile, I  have managed to post photos to my website. Please visit www.vesseyphotography.com and click “Mongolia” under the “Galleries” tab. For those of you who bought sponsorships prior to the trek you can now make your choice and I’ll get your print(s) to you post haste.

Cheers!

Dave

A Little Secret

Back in the capital city after a little more than three weeks on the road and it seems like we had just left. Neither Maaike nor I can believe how fast it flew by. Both the second road trip and the whole two months for that matter. Getting here at the beginning of July, September seemed so far away and now, not only are we back in UB, but it’s almost time to go home. The first couple of evenings that we are back we hit all the good restaurants where we know they actually use herbs and spices in their food. First it was Rosewood, then a Thai place (which was a little slice of heaven right here on Earth).  This is where I have to let you in on a little secret. We actually got back to UB on the 31st of August. We zipped thru the last couple of places that we wanted to hit and made it back a little early. I kept writing the blog as if I was still on the road because I had a sneaky plan in mind. As soon as we got back to UB I e-mailed my Dad. It was thru his travel agent that we made all of my airline reservations (who uses travel agents any more?). Anyways, she ended up with better prices for the trip than I could find on the internet by myself so we booked everything thru her. I asked him to call and see if she could move my reservations from the 8th to the 2nd or 3rd of September. I wanted to see if I could get home early and surprise Donna, my wife. This is where things got tricky. I e-mailed my father on Friday the 31st. He sends an e-mail back on Saturday saying that it’s a “go”, but he doesn’t send any details. He says that we’ll get an e-mail spelling out all the details soon. This presents a small problem. Afternoon Minnesota time is in the wee hours of the morning UB time on the next day so by the time I find out it will already be early morning on the 2nd. I have to get up early on Sunday morning to check e-mail and find out if I’m leaving that day or the next day, Monday the 3rd. My quandary is that we no longer have an internet connection for Maaike’s compter. The air card we were using the last time we were in UB ran out of time. Also, Rosewood Cafe, which has Wi-Fi is closed on Sunday as is Millie’s. Adding to my frustration is that the Telecom Mongolia internet center doesn’t open until 11:00AM on Sunday mornings. Aaargh! I think, well, maybe I can get Shombodon to come to his office early, which is fairly close by,  and I could connect there, but he runs on Mongolian time, which means he might show by ten o’clock. Not good enough since if I leave on Sunday I’ll have to make a mad dash to the airport to catch the one and only daily flight to Beijing at 11:00AM. I had met Eddie, the guy who was going to rent the apartment that I had stayed in between road trips, so I climb the stairs one floor and tapped on his door. I can hear the TV thru the door so that’s a good sign. A few moments later he opens the door and invites me in. We exchange pleasantries and he asks about the road trip. Not wanting to make it seem like the only reason I came to see him was to find out if he has a computer and internet connection in the apartment yet, even tho it was, I spend a few minutes giving him the highlights of the trip. Finally I get to the crux of the situation. He says yes, he has a computer, but no, no internet. He does explain that his office is right down the street and we can go there in the morning and I can log on there. Great! We make an agreement to meet at a little before eight o’clock in the morning and walk over to his office. I spend the rest of the day shopping for a couple of presents for Donna and packing. With nothing else to do I spend the rest of the afternoon plotting how I’ll get to the airport in the morning if that’s what my reservation gets changed to. Maaike is at Shombodon’s office helping them put together a proposal for a project they were asked to bid on. I know she’ll be back by late afternoon and I know she has the number of a reliable taxi service and I’m sure I can lay on a car if need be. She returns at five-thirty with Shombodon and Engthbier in tow. She had told them of my plans to leave early and they wanted to come say good-bye. We talked a bit about the road trips and how they want me to come back and visit. They also said that Engthbier would be happy to take me to the airport whenever I needed to go. Score! Every time I’ve arranged for him to take me somewhere he’s been early. Gotta love that. So, after having done all of our laundry and getting packed up Maaike and I walk over to a Thai restaurant that we hadn’t noticed before.  We just couldn’t get enough of the food that was literally exploding with flavor. Our taste buds had gone dormant while we were out on the road and we were shocking them back into operation.

The next morning I am up a few minutes before the alarm. I shower, dress and pack in record time so I have about an hour and a half before my rendezvous with Eddie. I use the time to finish a book that I had started the night before. A fascinating travelogue by Peter Fleming (the brother of Ian of James Bond fame) about an epic journey he made from Moscow to Beijing in 1934 which gave me another brilliant idea, but more about that later. I sit and watch the minutes tick by and at precisely seven-fifty-five I bound up the stairs and knock on Eddie’s door. Okay, “bound” might be a bit of an exaggeration, trudge is more like it. He’s ready to go, grabs his laptop and we walk over to his office. He’s hooked in and logged on in no time. I see the e-mail from the airline and I scan it frantically looking for my departure date. Why is it that when you are desperately trying to find something in a written document it takes about three times longer than usual to locate it? Bingo, my eyes rest on the departure date of September 3rd! I don’t have to make the mad dash to the airport. I can take my time and when I get back to the apartment Maaike calls Engthbier and tells his what time to pick me up in the morning. That evening Maaike wants to take me to an Indian restaurant. It had been close for a while for remodeling so we were taking a chance not knowing if it has re-opened yet. It had and we were treated to a wonderful meal. We spend the time laughing about all the crazy things that had happened over the last two months. Back at the apartment I ready my things for the morning.

Again, I’m up about ten minutes before the alarm. I shower, dress and pile my duffel bag and camera case by the door. I grab a bite to eat and a little after eight o’clock Maaike and I go downstairs and find Engthbier smoking a cigarette and patiently waiting for me. We load my stuff into the Isuzu one last time, say our good-byes and we’re off. It’s Monday morning and traffic is everything you’d expect it to be during morning rush hour. It takes us exactly an hour and a half, the very time we alloted for the trip, to get to the airport. Engthbier and I do our best to say good-bye, neither one of us having command of the other’s language to fully express what we want to say. I make my way to the “International Flights” waiting area. The doors aren’t open yet and there are plenty of other people milling about so I get the idea that I’m in the right place. A few folks strike up a conversation with me and we find that we are all on the same flight to Beijing. We exchange stories about our time in Mongolia and share a laugh about the food and the fermented mare’s milk. Finally the doors to the ticket counters open and we all flood in. In short order I am face to face with a smiling, helpful ticket agent and I hand her my passport and my itinerary. She doesn’t speak much English but she is very good with facial expressions. When her expression turns from happy and confident to utter confusion it gives me cause for alarm. “Name not right”, she says without taking her eyes off of the computer screen. “Huh?”, I utter knowing that needs no translation. “Name not right”, she states again, this time with more authority. “Must go to office”, she says while pointing at a door on the far wall. I take my passport and itinerary over to the Air China office. This space is only slightly bigger than your normal office supply closet. They have managed to cram two desks, two filing cabinets and a stack of boxes. The stack of boxes is perfectly placed to make sure they are in the way of everybody. I stand in front of one of the desks that is occupied by a young Chinese lady who has four passports in one hand and is pecking away at the keyboard of her computer with the other. She looks concerned. She is in the midst of trying to explain to a Mongolian tour operator why four of his client’s reservations appear to  have been cancelled. The other desk  is manned by another employee of Air China. He is dealing with two Mongolians who aren’t happy, but are speaking Mongolian so I don’t know what their issue is. I just know that, if you are in this office, you have a problem. The lady behind the desk, in front of which I am standing says something to her office mate, hands him the four passports and looks at me with a look of complete exasperation. Having their dilemma usurped, the Mongolians switch from confused pleading to rapid-fire anger. I try not to make eye contact. The lady behind my desk reaches for my passport and itinerary and I surrender them in hopes that she can straighten this out. She examines my passport and types my name into her computer. She gives my itinerary a cursory glance and types some more stuff into her computer. She types and waits. Types and waits. Types and her expression turns from exasperation to confusion. Types a little more and turn her computer screen towards me so I can see. She points at something on the screen and says something about me not being confirmed. “Wait, the lady out there said something about my name not being right”, I say. “No, name correct. You’re seat not confirmed”, she replies. “Um, the piece of paper you have in your hand has a confirmation number on it. How can it not be confirmed?” I plead. She points at her computer screen which is nothing but airline codes and pokes at a set of numbers and letters that is supposed to prove her point. “Okay, how do I get it confirmed?” I ask flatly. “Have to call travel agent”, she replies. I laugh. I didn’t mean to, it was just a natural response. It’s now 8:00PM Central Standard Time on Sunday night in Minnesota. Yeah, that’s really gonna happen. I try my best to explain that to her, but it’s not getting past the Great Wall of China. Finally she tells me that I can buy an upgraded ticket to make sure I get on the flight. Right, and I’m sure that’s going to be cheap.  I say, “okay, go ahead”, and I whip out my handy, dandy travel debit card. Turns out they deal strictly in cash. Where am I suppose to get cash? “Downstairs, at ATM”, comes the reply. I leave my duffel next to the pile of boxes in the middle of the room  just to further disrupt the traffic pattern in the cramped office and strike out on a search for a way downstairs. The only option is a flight of stairs that is roped off. Seeing no alternative I step around the ropes and slip stealthily down the steps. I spy two ATMs in the corner, one of which is out-of-order. That leaves me with one chance to get any money from my card. This card doesn’t work with every bank ATM in Mongolia so I’m sweating it a little. I insert my card, choose my language, enter my pin and take out one million tögröt, about seven hundred U.S. dollars.  I figure that’s a reasonable amount with which I can buy my upgrade. I nonchalantly pocket the wad of cash, look around to see if there are any security types around and slip back up the roped off stair case. At the top of the stairs is a long line of people waiting to get into the ticketing area and a security guard with a befuddled look on his face. The trick is to look like you’re on a mission so I stormed past everybody without looking back. I was expecting a police whistle or an authoritative shout, but nothing. Whew! So I get back to the Air China office and I barge to the front of mob gathered around who I’ve now become to regard as “my” ticket agent. I thrust my passport and itinerary into her hand and wait. She types a little and reads her screen. Types and reads. Types and reads. Every once in a while she mutters something under her breath. She tells me she can get me on the flight, but it will cost $115, far less than I anticipated so I shell out 160,000T and she takes me out to another ticket agent. While the ticket agent prints out my boarding pass my other ticket agent is giving me some double talk about not being confirmed for my flight from Beijing to Los Angeles. It’s then that I realize that she’s just handing me and my problem off to some poor ticket agent in China. Oh well, at least I’m out of here. In the back of my mind is the nagging little detail that you have to have a visa if you stay in China more than twenty-four hours. If I don’t get out on a flight I might end up in one of those Chinese prisons that you see all the time in movies. One last little bit of business to attend to. I have to make my way back downstairs to one of the bank branches in the bowels of the terminal to exchange the rest of my Mongolian currency back to U.S. dollars. Between the ATM fee, the buy-back exchange rate and getting scammed by the Air China con artist, I figure I’ve been taken for about $150.   The other passengers who were having issues also make onto the flight.

The flight to Beijing was uneventful and we land and taxi to the cavernous Terminal Three. T-3 was built just in time for the Beijing Olympics. It’s a beautiful facility with absolutely no signage to give you even an inkling on where you’re supposed to go and what you are supposed to do. Luckily I had figured all that out on the in-bound leg of my journey. This time it was easy. I go stand in line at the International Transfer desk and wait my turn. When my turn does come I confidently hand my passport and itinerary to the pleasant ticket agent. She takes them and types something into her computer. She types a little more and reads her screen. Types and reads. Then she starts a conversation with who I suppose is her supervisor. A short question and answer exchange occurs and she types something else in her computer. The things that are running thru my head at that moment aren’t suitable for mention in this blog.  She looks at me and smiles and asks if I would like a window or aisle seat. What?!?!?! At the same time her supervisor delivers a stack of boarding passes to load into her printer.  That whole conversation was about getting boarding passes for her computer! I am bathed in relief. I answer AISLE! trying to remain cool and calm. She prints out a boarding pass for my PEK to LAX leg and another for LAX to DEN. I grab my camera bag and head for the security screening. Even tho we just went thru security in Ulaan Baatar, we have to be subjected to and even more thorough search before you get to board a flight out of China. I was just so happy to get my boarding passes you could have done a full strip search right there in front of Buddha and everybody and I wouldn’t have cared. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to pass a seven hour lay over. One of the ladies on the flight to Beijing asked if I had any books to trade. Even thought I didn’t she graciously gave me one of hers that she had already read. I got thru the first twenty-five pages of a murder mystery and it was so bad I left it in the seat pocket when I got off the plane in Beijing. I found a bookstore that had a couple dozen books in English so looked for one with an interesting cover and the words “New York Times Best Seller” on the front. (Isn’t that how you pick a book?) I check the departure board and my gate has yet to be assigned. I find a comfortable place to sit away from the noise and confusion of the shopping mall part of the terminal and settle in for a long afternoon of reading.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the “Surprise” ending.

This is the end, beautiful friend, the end…

Ok, so the song reference might be a little too obscure for some of you. It’s by the Doors from 1967.

Erdene Zuu MonasteryWe visited the hometown of Shombodon’s best friend and it took us a while to find him. We tracked him down at his office and Maaike and Shombodon interviewed him for a couple of hours. He is a former Aimag Governor and was the director of a university after that. He is newly retired, but still maintains an office at the school. Engthbier and I just chilled at in the Isuzu while Maaike and Shombodon did their thing. The school is located at the edge of a complex of run down apartment buildings. It was wonderful to watch everybody go about their daily lives. A young mother with her two small children at the playground. The drunk sleeping on the sidewalk in the shade of a dilapidated storage shed. A scruffy old dude pulling up in a large, empty flatbed truck and going into each stairwell of the apartment buildings and yelling something. Moments later a flood of people come out with their trash and piled it on truck. Two young girls surveil me at a safe distance until I wave and smile at them. They take that as a signal that it might be safe to come and talk to me. I ask them their names in their native tongue and don’t even come close to understanding their replies. They are obviously asking me other questions, but my interpreter has disappeared. Finally Maaike, Shombodon, Engthbier and their interviewee show up, but my young friends have already taken off. Shombodon’s friend insists that we have dinner before hitting the road. This presents a slight problem since, according to Shombodon, we have a two-hour drive to our next stop. Two hours, according to Shombodon, means it will take at least four hours. So off we go to one of the hidden gems of the restaurant world and have a nice meal. I am formally introduced to our host and his name is Mr. Jaansendorg. I call him Mr. Johnson for short. He is a large, imposing presence. He has a huge head and it makes his stylish hat look comically too small. He is the very definition of gregarious and he dispatches our waitress with a smile and very few words. She reappears in short order with a bottle of vodka. This isn’t the polite half liter bottle that lubricates most of our gatherings. No, this is a full liter and I am bathed it dread. Engthbier isn’t drinking since he is driving (actually, he never drinks), Maaike will only take a few sips and that leaves Shombodon, Mr. Johnson and me to polish off this bottle. Luckily, IErdene Zuu Monastery guess, it’s really good vodka. Lots of food and many toasts to friendship and world peace later we finally stagger to the truck. It’s a very quiet ride to Kharkhorum and two hours into the ride we aren’t even close to our destination. We make our way over a saddle on a low ridgeline and Engthbier pokes his head out of the driver’s side window, mutters something under his breath and pulls the Isuzu off to the side of the “road”. Flat tire. Oh, that’s just the icing on the cake. Eleven o’clock at night and we get to change a tire. Bonus! All the tools that we need to change the tire are buried under the three tons of stuff crammed into the back of the truck. Engthbier digs around blindly underneath all of our tightly packed junk and produces a jack and tire iron. Maaike stands off to one side and Shombodon does his best to get in the way. I crank on the emergency brake and start loosening the lug nuts while Engthbier operates the jack. With the precision of an Indy pit crew we manage to change the flat in something less than a half hour. On the road again, it takes us another two hours to reach the outskirts of Kharkhorum. We pull up to the gate of the first ger hotel we come across. It’s around one-thiry in the morning and Engthbier honks the horn. I cringe as I imagine just how delighted the other guests at the camp will be. Nobody stirs so Engthbier gives a few more blasts of the horn. I start looking around for escape routes since I’m sure that we will be strung up by an angry, sleepy crowd of people in their pajamas. Finally a lone head pokes out of one of the gers. Shombodon ambles over to talk to her. She is in fact the owner of this fine establishment and they negotiate terms of our stay. Is short order we unload the bare necessities and are in bed with the lights out in no time flat. I’m out as soon as my head hits the pillow.

I wake up in the morning and I can see through the chimney hole at the top of the ger that it is a gray day. The chill in the air makes me hesitate before slithering out of my sleeping bag. The need to “check the horses” cancels out any more procrastination. I open the ger door and fold myself  in half to extricate myself from the tent since cracking your skull on the low door frame is something to be avoided at any time of the day, but especially first thing in the morning. It’s then that I discover why we were not greeted by an angry crowd after our noisy arrival. We are the only guests at this ger hotel. Turns out it had just reopened after some renovations and we are their first customers since the grand reopening. I look to the west and notice that the sky is clearing. I can also see the reason why we are here. The magnificent monastery and its white walls less than a mile away painfully remind me that I don’t have my sunglasses on and that the effects of that bottle of vodka have not subsided completely. Not long after I get out of bed the rest of our contingent is up and about as well. Nobody feels much like unpacking all of our food provisions to find our breakfast stuff so we settle on some tea and bread. After chatting with the nice proprietor and her young daughter we are on our way for the short drive to the monastery. It’s a beautiful place and well worth the effort to get here. Engthbier catches a few more ZZZs while the rest of us go in and explore. Maaike and Shombodon take the guided tour while I strike out on my own and take photos. The light cooperates just long enough for me to get all the images I need and we take our leave of the place. Maaike and Shombodon want to visit the museum and I opt to accompany Engthbier to get our tire fixed.

Mongol Rally CarThe commercial center of this town is a dusty square bordered by old rail cars with the wheels removed and old retired shipping containers. The rail cars and shipping containers serve as tiny shops and auto repair centers. The first two places we stop at are too busy to fix our tire. The third time is the charm, but I worry about a place that has few, if any customers. What does that say about his abilities or his customer service. As soon as the mechanic gets done welding something to the back of another Mongol Rally car he fixes our tire. For a grand total of 500T (about 70 cents) we are good to go.  We go to pick up our companions at the museum and decide to grab an early lunch before hitting the road again. The guidebook has a couple of interesting recommendations. The first one we try can’t serve us because the cook hasn’t shown up for work yet. Second restaurant, same excuse. Finally we let Engthbier use his powers of divination to ferret out a place to eat that is open and has a cook who has shown up for work. He wheels the truck into a parking lot, he gets out and pokes his head in the door of the establishment and gives us a smile and a thumbs up. Testing my luck one more time I order some veggies and rice. I notice that my odd request doesn’t elicit the same response that we get from the other places I tried that. It didn’t even prompt the cook to come out and make sure she understood what I wanted. What I got was a very nice dish of sautéed veggies and rice. Seemed way too easy. After lunch we stop at a small market and pick up a few bottles of water for our trek back to the capital city.

It’s a very quiet ride back to Ulaan Baatar. We’ve been on the road for a little more than three weeks. That sounds like a long time to me when I think about it, but it has flown by. It seemsPrayer Wheels like we just left and now it’s over. In no time flat I’ll be on a flight back to the States. The ride back to UB is boring. The landscape is boring and the high clouds saps what little color there is out of everything in sight. Not long into our journey we get to the paved part of this route. After a while traffic starts to pick up and then two lanes turns into four lanes. We crest a low ridge and UB and a dense brown haze hanging over the city comes into view. No sooner do we see the city than are swallowed up into the perpetual traffic jam that plagues this metropolis. We jerk along in traffic for about an hour before we arrive at our apartment. Neil has left he key to her flat at the manager’s office (she’s in the U.S. attending a family get-together). After unloading our stuff and making arrangements to see Shombodon and Engthbierin two days time Maaike and I decide to eat first then take our showers. We walk around the corner to Rosewood Cafe, a wonderful new restaurant in UB. We were both just desperate to eat something with flavor. I had the Penne Past with Italian Sausage and Maaike had the Green Goddess salad. I asked for additional crushed red pepper and the waitress produced a small ramekin with about a quarter cup of the pepper and I dumped the whole thing on my pasta. I think our taste buds went into shock. It was, in a word, amazing.

We ended up back at the apartment and started a load of laundry and took turns taking very long, very hot showers. Very few things feels as good as a shower if you’ve been without one for a few days. It was only eight-thirty or so when I went to be, but no matter, I was out like a light as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Desert, Desert and More Desert…

Mother MountainOkay, so, we hit the road early in the morning after spending the night in the desert. The desert seems endless in the direction we are going. There are high mountain ranges on either side of us off in the distance. We pass some rock formations and then another mountain range appears ahead of us. Beyond that is the “Mother Mountain”, the most holy of places in Mongolian folklore. We stop and do a little hiking, grab a bite to eat and hit the road again. We head off in a northerly direction and up a long slope to a mountain pass. This pass was carved out by an ancient glacier. It was not an easy road. Very rocky and ever since the “Big Bang” we’ve had problems with the Isuzu overheating when going up hill for an extended period of time. We had to stop and let it cool off three times on the way up this pass. We finally make it to the top and coast our way down into another wind-swept desert town. This one held a surprise though. A few of Shombodon’s relatives live here and they met us on the outskirts of town. They lead us toMaking Buuz a one room apartment and that’s when the merriment began. A bottle of vodka appears out of nowhere and the women of the house start preparing buuz, chopped mutton wrapped in a flour noodle and steamed.  One of the ladies notices that I am taking photos of the process. Every time she starts to do something new, she pauses, looks at me as a signal to take another photo. Once, she pause and looked at me while wielding a meet cleaver. I wasn’t sure how to interpret this, but I took a few photos anyways in hopes that it wasn’t a threat to  my well being.This a raucous crowd and the eating a drinking lasts until late in the evening. After we are done there they take Maaike and me to the Buuzone hotel in town. It consists of one room with four, rock hard single beds. We sleep there for the night and Shombodon and Engthbier sleep with their relatives. In the morning Maaike and Shombodon interview the chairman of the elders council. This guy was a true grumpy old man. He was not happy that they had transitioned from socialism to democracy. He was not happy with the younger generation and a whole host of other things. He’s convinced that people had all the freedom they needed under socialist rule and that the transition has ruined the country. He also doesn’t think that the young people of today respect their elders. Hmmm, I think they respect most of their elders, just not this one. After Maaike and Shombodon finish the interview we pack up and get ready to go. Was relieved that the relatives had shown up for the good-bye without a vodka bottle. Turns out that they are going to lead us out of town and show us some rock drawings on the way. We start out through a very rugged canyon and stop a few times along the way to take some photos.Desert Canyon I find a canyon that rivals anything I’ve ever seen around Arches National Park or Canyonlands. We finally get to the petroglyphs and then they show us a steep rock wall that we need to climb to see some natural pools that the lamas used for Buddhist ceremonies. About halfway up the rock face I remember a very important fact. Once I get to the top of this I will eventually have to come back down. I can go up Natural Stone Poolswith no problems. My knees really hate coming back down. Oh well, there’s a guy in our group doing this in flip-flops, how hard can it be? So, we get to the top, ooh and ahh at the natural pools and then start back down. Let’s just say it wasn’t my most favorite thing we did that day. Back on terra-firma we pile into our respective cars and the relatives lead us out of the canyon. We stop for our good-byes and, you guessed it, out comes the vodka bottle. Not the polite half liter size either. It’s another big gulp vodka bottle, but at least there are more of us to help kill it. One of my favorite images of the whole trip will be of Engthbier getting directions from one of Shombodon’s cousins out in the middle of the Gobi Desert. We drive for the rest of the day and reach our next destination my early evening. We arrive Getting Directionsat just another windswept town up in the foothills and set off in search of the Lama who used to be the head of the monastery here. Maaike wants very much to interview him about the Lamas and life under socialist rule and the purge in the late 1930s. It was a comedy of errors trying to find him in a tiny little town. Everybody knew who we were talking about, but nobody could give us accurate directions to his ger. We’d show up at the wrong ger and get another set of instructions to another ger. This happened 4 times until we finally found him. I was beginning to think that we’d just end up checking every ger in the town. It might have been faster. Maaike and Shombodon interview this guy for an eternity. It was already dark by the time they were finished. It was going to be very hard to find a good camping spot, but the Lama offered his front yard as a campground. Score! Shombodon, Engthbier and Maaike had their tents set up in record time and I had crawled into my sleeping bag in the truck and we were asleepPetroglyph in no time. The next morning I wake up and notice frost on the windshield. The Lama insists that he show us the petroglyphs in the hills surrounding the town. He also shows us the rocks etched with codes that the Lamas used during the religious purges of the late 1930s to tell future Lamas where they hid the sacred texts. The Lama has been able to find a number of the buried treasures, but needs assistance in finding the rest. When I get back to the States I’ll see what kind of social media campaign I can start to help support him in his efforts.

…but we never talk anymore…

Ok, ok! I’m sorry I’ve been incommunicado lately, but towns out here in the Gobi are few and far between. Larger towns with internet connections are ever fewer and farther. Also, don’t be too disappointed. I spent a little while resizing some photos for this post but this computer doesn’t have any USB ports that work. I’ll make up for it in the next town which should be tomorrow.

Anyways… I think we were in Kovd last time I posted (before Donna’s birthday). We got up and packed and we were met by one of Shombodon’s old friends. He had brought along the local museum director and he guided us out to some spectacular petroglyphs and stone men. Imagine, if you will, a very nice photo of a petroglyph of an animal with antlers and a man with a bow and arrow and another of a small stone statue in the shape of a man. The stone men and the petroglyphs date from the bronze age and are in great condition. The stone men are grave markers of heroes killed  in battle. These are way, way, way off the beaten path so they are unmolested as well. I’m lucky in that very few foreigners and probably no tourists get to see these.

We head south after our good-byes (sans vodka). The terrain turns even more arid and sandy. We stop in a dusty, windswept town for lunch. Imagine a nice photo of a sun bleached  town with dirt streets and a row of low slung buildings with lots and lots of small motorcycles in front of them. The only restaurant in town, lucky for us, is open for business. The only restaurant in town has only one thing on their menu, the house specialty, mutton with noodles. After eating our fill we all pile back into the truck and head farther south. A little ways out of town we come to a turn-off and take off up a road that leads us to a nice desert mountain pass. The air is cool and dry and I notice that this is a really nice road. I ask Shombodon about it and he says that it’s a mining road that the Chinese built and maintain. There is a coal mine up here and the Chinese are the only customers. We see a few marmots and some other little critters and lots of beautiful hawks out looking for a late lunch. It’s a perfect scene and I’d love to take photos if not for the fact that the mid-day sun makes it impossible to get a good shot. I am enjoying the vista none-the-less when all of a sudden, POW, no, make that a BAM! It sounds like a small explosion and everybody flinches. I take a quick scan of our situation. Engthbier still has control of the Isuzu so we didn’t have a blow-out. Nothing is smoking so we aren’t on fire. Engthbier puts the truck in neutral and pulls to the side of the road and turns it off as soon as we get stopped. I fully expect to get out of the truck and see fluid gushing from under the engine compartment. Nothing. Hmmmm. That’s odd. Engthbier opens the hood and we can hear the water in the overflow container boiling. There is a hissing sound coming from the cap of the radiator but nothing more than that. Engthbier gets back in the Isuzu, puts it in neutral and does a backwards u-turn to get the truck facing into the wind. A few minutes later I notice Engthbier getting ready to take the radiator cap off. I guess waving ones hands frantically and saying no, no, no, no, no is pretty much universal in any language that means that might not be a good idea.  Imagine a photo of Engthbier looking under the hood of our white Isuzu Bighorn with a clear blue sky After the Big Bangand jagged mountains in the background. We wait for a little while and start the truck up again. Everything is running fine so off we go. We reach the summit in no time and it’s all downhill from there. No problems. Never have figured out what the big bang was.

After we reach the bottom of the pass we head even farther south and end up looking for a nice place to camp. We don’t have to worry too much about finding a hidden camp site since the chances of anybody passing this way during the night are between slim and ain’t-never-gonna-happen. We spend the night in the middle of the Gobi Desert and it’s about as quiet and serene as any place I’ve ever been. I get up in the morning, take a short hike away from camp  and catch some nice sunrise photos. Imagine an image of a picturesque mountain range lit by a lovely, early morning golden light. Imagine, too, another photo that shows the desert floor Self Portraitwith my very long shadow in the early morning sun titled Gobi Self Portrait. Everybody is up and getting breakfast ready by the time I get back. We pack up the truck and everybody holds their breath when Engthbier goes to start the engine. To everybody’s great relief it starts without a hitch. We all climb in and head off even farther into the desert. Enough adventure for one day. Today will be the second day of this trip that we’ll pass without seeing another soul. Will post more tomorrow and I promise there WILL be actual photos.
Cheers!

Happy, Happy Birthday Baby…

Hello All! I’d like for everybody to help me celebrate a very special occasion. It is my dear wife’s birthday today. She is the best wife ever and the coolest person on the planet. You can find her on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/#!/donna.vessey

AnnaHoney, I wish I was there to celebrate the day with you, but I’ll be home soon enough. You know how you wanted me to get you something uniquely Mongolian for your birthday? Well, I think I accomplished that. We were visiting a ger a few days ago and the folks we were interviewing we looking after their granddaughter. I told her she was a little cutie and that I would love to take her home with me. Shombodon thought that was funny so he translated that to the grandparents. Well, the Mongolians take that sort of thing seriously so after a few shots of vodka and some hugs we now have a daughter. She’s 16 months old and her name is Annaread. Her real name is too hard for us to pronounce so we can just call her Anna. She keeps calling me “Grandpa”, but it won’t take long for her to change that to “Daddy”. The real parents have nine other children and the grandparents said they probably won’t miss her.Everybody’s always said that we’d make great parents. Now’s our chance to find out if they were right.

Then, a couple of days later, we stopped to take a few fotos of some camels. Two young ones took a liking to me and I joked to MaaikeDonna's Birthday Presents that I should get them for your birthday presents. Shombodon thought this was funny and he translated it to the owners of the cute little beasts. Well, the Mongolians take that sort of thing seriously too. So, after a few shots of vodka and a handshake we now have two young camels. I didn’t name them yet. I figured since they were your presents you should get that honor.

The problem now is, I can’t get the camels out of the country and little Anna should be raised in her native country. You know how you’ve been thinking that you’d like to move? Well, I traded one of my cameras for a nice ger and a Russian jeep. So, you can sell my Jeep and your hybrid and we could live here. The two camels are females so we can make fermented camel’s milk (which is so much better than the fermented mare’s milk) and I got a few goats along with the ger and the Russian jeep so we can live the herder’s life. Kinda like “Green Acres”, huh! Ok, so let me know how fast you can sell everything there. I can’t wait for you to join us here in our domestic bliss.

Oh, and, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Stay tuned for more fun and adventures, there have been plenty. Will post again mañana…