Day 8 and 9 - Mongolia - June 17 and 18
- Created on Tuesday, 18 June 2013 06:52
From Sanishand to Tsogttsetsiy: Tell me that is not a dream (a daydreaming)
The "Ger" are tents that can be found in only four countries around the planet, but their design and construction, comes from Mongolia. They have a circular map - a diameter of about 5 meters - and in the middle, at the top, to the sky, there is a porthole. This help the flow of air, and at the height of the break there is a string attached to a stick, which cuts horizontally the same. The rope reaches the ground and there is a weight attached: it is the center of gravity of the structure and makes the tent almost unassailable by the wind, even if it blows with a great power. The tent, of cylindrical shape, wider than high, it is padded with animal skins and outside coated with hemp and other material, which makes it waterproof and heat resistant.
In the early morning, we step out from our accommodation at Sanishand - a not bad town that winds through the streets half-destroyed. If until yesterday, the Gobi has been less spicy than expected, now the spices may be too strong if we had not prepared the stomach in an appropriate manner. Another person will join us: a Sherpa - is called Muckda, is 53 years old and it seems a good man. At seven in the morning is already ready with a jeep and with a piece of plastic that contains pieces of goat meat. We need him, because the night before we took a decision: we won't go to north but we'll bet the southwest, where roads don't exist but only "tracks “more or less recognizable in the immensity of the desert areas.
The wind can cancel these traces and it's sufficient to flip over few degrees and we'll get lost or we'll get into serious trouble, despite the GPS. In fact it isn’t a browser but it's only a tool on which you have to set the coordinates and then it shows you that in one way or in another is "there" that you must go. But if you have a problem on the cars or something does go wrong, you can wait up to a week before someone happens along there. And maybe he cannot help you. We go four kilometers away from the town, and is now a sequence of bumps and sand, more or less hard, small tufts of dry grass to be avoid like landmines, because it can hide serious dangers. We cannot drive at constant speed: because when you least expect there's a hole or crack on the ground. You can tip over, pierce and break a suspension.
Nicola, Valerio and the Sherpa open the path, and teach us a few basics in these circumstances. Signal like: arm bent at ninety degree angle and with a closed fist, extended forward, toward the horizon, it means: "Be careful, slow down." An arm bent at the same angle and closed fist, pointing upwards, it means: "Warning, slow down, danger." The same position just mentioned but with open hand, means a real stop due to - a deep pit or other serious risks. We cannot distract us at all. Drive on - either for the motorcycle’s drivers or for the pick-up's drivers - is full of adrenaline; fast-paced, exciting, but we cannot afford a loss of concentration.
We travel thus. Under tension. It seems to be in a movie with the "fast-forward": see everything fast, you see everything in pictures, you are touched, but you cannot dwell too much on what you have just "recorded" in your mind, because the show is in becoming. Camels, horses, goats, mammals that are a cross between cows and yaks: free, in the desert. A master, a nomadic shepherd, he will be somewhere. These animals may lounge around even for a week: they always come back, led by the mysterious and ancestral relationship which binds men to animals. It is improper to mention the place where we are as "The Gobi Desert". Gobi: that's that. The name was given by a Mongol nomad in the Thirteenth Century - the same who brought the culture and horse breeding in these areas: means "Sand".
It is a local word and summarizes the characteristics of this desert: sand, a thousand colors, a thousand shapes, endless variations. After all it is the second largest desert in the world, after the Sahara. Some argue that hide even more pitfalls, just because of uneven surface. We can say all of this, thanks to the presence on board of Roolma. The suffix "Ma" means Mom. She is a guide that assists us to communicate with the Mongolian population, which obviously does not know language than their own. We go on, while dunes crop up left and right and the clouds look like little cotton flocks that fill the sky and create a play of shadow on the sand, offering a perspective that evokes the infinite. On the horizon, open space, nothing else.
We come across very few travelers with motor vehicles - three or four in a day. Here, however, the best natural resources, the only truly indispensable, are water and road maps. As far as the first we don't need to explain why; the maps, instead, are fundamental to understand where we are. We get left behind: we have already travelled for two hundred and thirty kilometers but it took seven hour, including batteries replacement; time to contemplate this dream; break to recharge batteries and electric cells. The wind blows from the west by shifting Valerio and Nicola's motorbikes. The sun will go down in less than two hours and it is clear that the settlement where we head towards for tonight, is not reachable in safety.
Driving in the desert at night is like climbing without safety: if you mess up it can cost your life. It is clear that we must to camp but the wind rather than give us respite, instead increases. Trite to say, we are in the desert, land, here, is mostly flat, and despite the stretch of road we are going through is not too sandy, even if there was a dune it would be foolish to pitch a tent beside it. We might become a dune as well. While we find a solution - and quickly, because when dark go down, to prepare and manage our camping equipment would be prohibitive - suddenly emerge as two four-leaf clovers in a sea of land a couple of Ger. Two, just two. We move close in on asking for hospitality. We are really in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles away from other forms of life and shelter, except for our cars and these two housing nomads. The good news is that one of the two tents is not occupied at this time.
The family that lives there, is at Sanishand for stocking up for the next months. The news less encouraging is that the other family - a blood relative - at first glance doesn't seem so glad for six foreign - men, with colored jeeps and motorcycles that "do not make noise" - in spite of their eyes betray a ' hospitality almost inscribed in the genetic code of this population.
Roolma ensures that we are good people and the children around us look at the map printed on the side of our pick-up that describes a journey thirteen thousand kilometers long and ends with a city called Milan ("Do you know where Milan is?". " me-lla-nnno? "." And Italy? ". They Smile.). No, they don't know where is Italy, because they live in the desert, moving with two hundred animals - sheep, goats and horses, as well as six or seven camels - but they are smiling; offer their hand, They ask for a small contribution for accommodating us; they prepare for us camel milk; they look at our hand-rolled cigarettes and especially they allow us to enter into the Ger.
It is clean, hospitable, almost empty but with some ornaments. We are going to sleep in eight: six of us, our Sherpa and the eldest son of the family, also him a pastor.
Roolma, instead, will sleep with them. She is a woman, and here a woman, especially for nomads, worth being respected. We haven't turned a blind eye for all the day, but now we can dream: Giorgio screws some untied screws on vehicles, due to the endless vibrations accused. Valerio communicates with children; Enrico takes these scenes that will never be impressed upon the tapes as in our minds. Nicola is happy and wants to feed us: with the my help (the writer) serves an excellent pasta - that boils thanks to our induction cookers, linked to the generator - topped with what we bought at the market: tomato, onions, peas.
All the components of family are seat with us, and it is nice to see how everyone take the food we offer with curiosity. We communicate by gaze and we get some more information: the sustainability of this family, how happens for most of the nomads of the desert, is the result of their work. They eat the flesh of their animals and drink its milk. They support themselves by trading of the products that derive from farming. In the winter it takes week-long trips for the supply. They feed themselves with a hyper energy drink: milk of camel almost of semi-solid consistency, obtained in two steps. A milking "forced" that produces a highly nutritious milk, but undrinkable in purity. After this step milk is left fermented for two months, by utilizing techniques difficult to explain, that develops a considerable percentage of alcohol. After having completed this process. it's blended with a fresh milk, thus obtaining a so rare food: a "portion" feeds you for a whole day.
While we learn everything open-mouthed, the sun goes down and gradually cedes the stage to the Moon and the Stars. We see them from the tipping of Ger, while close to one another, arranged like the spokes of a bicycle wheel, we inject into sleeping bags and we are confident that each of us, at this time, is thinking about something or someone , or is simply enjoying the caress of this circumstance that has no price, no time, no nothing different of the beauty of life and the pleasure of living it. Just like that. Now, after having driven, today, further two hundred and fifty km - 3150 from the beginning we have arrived to Tsogttsetyi. We aim for Dalanzadgad, just 100 km from here. However we need to fix the vehicles; take a rest; make feeds. Mongolia in some ways is just beginning.
See you soon.
Text and photos by Flavio Allegretti
Path traveled today