- Created on Sunday, 23 June 2013 09:23
From Bayankhongor to Hurengiyn (passing through Buutsaagan: Beggars can't be choosers
The hot shower that we were foretasting, it is actually a lukewarm rain that is irregularly squirting from the old shower system in the bathroom; in the only room out of the three existing "hotel" in the city, equipped with en suite facilities and, in theory, with of hot water.
But no matter at all: the beds are there and also the mattresses along with pillows, which are not as common in the private homes we visited so far, where you can find hard shelves or padded ones, by very tiny stones that model itself according to the weight of the body.
We lose the senses around eleven o'clock, after a special dinner: our accommodation is called "Seoul" and inevitably the food was Korean. We had rice, chicken, potatoes, soy and eggs.
The next morning, the thirteenth day from when we left the China, we all seem mysteriously affected by a sort of Mongolian syndrome: we crossed the desert. Less than twelve hours before, we were getting lost in the valleys that come first of the highlands of the Altai. We have already covered almost two thousand kilometers in this Country, and we are deeply divided between the desire of enjoying it fully until the end and the need of getting out from here. Out from this dream that is so intense as to contaminate the reality and distort it irrationally. How long are we in Mongolia? Where did we sleep three days ago? How far should we go today? And above all, how will be the streets? Now we're back on level ground – even if at 2100 meters height – but what should we expect? Jagged slopes: so we will have to get on and off again? Or should we wade across creeks by avoiding to sink in the mud?
Best Shot by Mirco Lazzari
We want to make clear something: we are proud of us. We have passed through the Mongolia as few did before us. We didn't want to rely on a tourist agency; we didn't scheduled a fixed route, instead, depending on what occurred to us every day, our goal was simply that to reach what we were able to do daily; guided by our good sense, our strength or by the limitation of our equipments. Also Roolma confirmed it to us. Our guide (rather than a guide she is actually a translator, useful for communicating with locals, she also provides us with general information about the territories that we cross) that admits she never made such a trip in many years of experience as a guide in her country. "You're not tourists, instead you are travelers. I wonder how you dare to cross Mongolia as you are doing. Often neither do "the local" do dare to cross certain streets" This is what she said. The Mongolia it's not dangerous, but the territories are huge with very few people (2 million and a half in total, two-thirds of which live in the capital), there are no street signs, no roads as we are used to conceive them.
Mongolia lives mainly on herding, nomadic life and hospitality when it's possible. It just happened to us, after 220 kilometers from Bayankhongor, when we haven't found hospitality in no way. In the beautiful valley where we are, there are no villages or pastoral communities, and the few Ger that we see around are already occupied by shepherds and from their families.
We try to play the last card: near Buutsaagan there are a dozen dilapidated houses, one of which would have offered to us hospitality if it wouldn't have already been fully occupied by workers of a construction site. The sun is setting; topographic maps say there is no inhabited settlement in a range of 150 kilometers. At this point there is only one solution: to pitch our tents! We get those ones that open in a second. We placed it one near the other, behind the pick-up, like a shelter from the hard wind blowing from north-west. The other pick-up is 300 meters away. The generator is running in order to give us some light and recharge the batteries of motorcycles. We are tired and hungry. We could eat canned food and biscuits, bread and jam, but we are cold. We'd have preferred to eat something hot.
We are lucky! Valerio brought from Italy some ready soups in bag! Some of our friends, in Shanghai, had laugh Valerio while he was putting those soups in his luggage.. foolish we said! We immediately added hot water and they were ready to eat. We are now sitting at our camping table with empty water bottles cut in a half as soup bowls, some bread and dry biscuits to complete the meal. The night arrives breezy and the full moon makes us less sad. Covered as much as possible, we inflate mattresses, open our sleeping bags, we sneak in tents, each of which houses two of us. Soon comes the dawn: the alarm rings at seven, fifty minutes later we are ready to go. At the fourteenth day of our trip, we aim at the city of Altay, one of the last three "big city" where we can find provisions and anything else we need before heading the Russian border, 700 kilometers away. We arrive there relatively early, around 1 p.m., but Giorgio has stomach-ache, the same we all had in the previous days, probably due to irregular meals and to local food, which we are not perfectly able to digest. Nothing serious though. He'll recover soon. What instead does not improve, is the weather.
Despite the journey of the morning has been quite smooth - except for a couple of crossing in the mud – in the afternoon the rain never stopped, and now that we reached Altay, it has become a storm. The streets look like small streams and they are full of potholes. We find shelter in a local restaurant, where we hear things able to paralyze us for a long time. "If you really think you can continue heading north-west" - says one local Sherpa to which we ask our way towards the Lakes region Har – "you must know that the rain has formed puddles with more than a meter deep. A cop joins the discussion: "There is a possibility that, given the slopes along the way, some rock walls can break down.”. “It is expected to rain for the next three days", Roolma adds. What to do then, wait or go? They are perhaps overreacting? Or are we a little too imprudent? We discuss about it for a while, until we come to a common solution: we just try and see, drive for a few kilometers and find out whether the streets are all right or prohibitive. We go, and around 6pm we have a surprise: there are no more signs of flooding. At least not here. The slopes are wide and fairly regular.
The contexts, once again, wonderful. And we are glad we made the right choice. We get closer to the lake area, where we will camp tomorrow. We find hospitality along the way: the place is called Hurengyin, it is nothing more than a farm consisting of a pair of Gher and one wooden house where a shepherds family lives. Husband, wife and three children. The "house" is composed by two rooms. We can sleep in the one with a large sofa meant to welcome guests. In the other room there is the family that, as we are writing what you are now reading, at midnight-thirty, is cutting pieces of lamb, while the children are spying on us. They do not seem surprised. Here hospitality, even though is expected you to pay for it, is a normal practice. We, crammed into this room, once again away from it all, we think that there is no hotel that can stand comparison with this shelter, or kindness that can match the spontaneity of these people.
Text and photos by Flavio Allegretti
Path traveled today