Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia


July 25, 2017

Vanity has definitely gone out the window on this trip! I looked at myself in the early morning. My hair was like a straw bush hanging in my face, my chin and neck were covered with bites, and my legs and ankles were itchy and flaky. This trip was certainly exhilarating, but not good for the ego.

The day was warm and sunny and we all felt better after a leisurely breakfast. I lazed around, listened to Mongolian rap, which I liked a lot, and, despite being chided constantly, continued to sterilize my water with my steri-pen. Bogie went out of his way to prove to me that the water from the stream was safe. I would have none of it. I’d had one bout of giardia. That was enough for one lifetime!

Soon we headed for Zavkhan Province, passing the dam and reservoir where we had tented previously. On the way we visited another ger family, this time from the Dorvod ethnic group. Bogie had gotten hot milk from them in the morning, but, unfortunately, they had no yogurt. In fact, not even the stores had it. They told Bogie that they had come from the southern part of the lake, but were disappointed to find bad grazing…more evidence that global warming has had a disastrous impact on this part of Mongolia.

I can’t believe how excited I was when we reached a very smooth highway, flat land with mountains in the distance, no animals, and very little ground cover. It was nice and peaceful until Algaa decided to go off-road through the bumpy desert. This took us close to a beautiful lake until he suddenly veered left and headed over the open field. What was he doing?

This almost intolerably bumpy road lasted for an hour, until I thought my neck would splinter. By 2:30 we were begging for a water break and a bite to eat. We were also pretty upset with Algaa, who just seemed to be searching for some phantom road in the middle of nowhere. He was totally unperturbed and we couldn’t stay mad for long. Soon our discomfort turned to laughter as we started a contest to come up with the best title for our Mongolian trip and its search for the hidden highways and byways. Bogie spent a lot of time reassuring us that “We are almost there.“ It was as if he were placating his impatient children. I decided to time him. Tuul convulsed with laughter when I announced that Bogie’s “almost there” was forty-five minutes!

We soon came to a real desert, like the Sahara. But, of course, it was another part of the Gobi. All sand and stunning black outcroppings with sand trailing down their sides. I had moved to the backseat, so got no photos…only memories.

Around 5:30 pm we reached a section where huge convoluted rocks rose out of the sand. Algaa stopped and Tamara and I explored closely, walking over the ground stubble and sand until we reached what looked like temples…all made by nature. There were caves we didn’t explore, but found crystals at the entrance and were sure it held stalagmites and all manner of cool formations. It had an Egyptian feel to it. All Bogie could tell us was that it was part of the Margaz Mountains.

Click on photos for slideshow.

A road, at last!! But it was all sand and rather dubious. A mile farther down, stuck in the sand, were some Englishmen in a Prius. Can you believe? They were chagrin and asked for help. Ever-ready, Algaa towed them out of the sand and waved at a young boy way ahead on the road, who had been sent for help. God knows when help could have been found. I wonder where the poor devils are now. I took no photos. They were embarrassed enough.

By 7:30 we had gotten to gorgeous Bayan Lake, a fresh body of water surrounded by sand dunes. It was a bit mushy where we camped, but sandy farther on—the best beach so far. There was a compound of horses and a car with several nomads, nestled high on an adjoining hill.

Thus began an evening of socializing with men of varying ages. They really were a handsome group, including a young boy, who loved the ball and bat that Tamara gave him.

Tamara, Bogie, and I were elected to get dinner and give Tuul a night off. Bogie decided on a rice, potato, and veggie soup, and boy, did we cut and chop! It was massive. We used up all our left-over green veggies, and added turnips, squash, garlic, onions, carrots, and ginger. Really, really good! Naturally, the whole nomad “neighborhood” was invited and sat around on the beach enjoying Mongolian hospitality.

As the sun was setting, the young boy who had received Tamara’s ball and bat continued to pop flies to whomever would pay attention. He was dogged in his persistence and continued long after sunset.

Bogie was in his element…always up for a challenge. Such energy! He and a really large, long-tunic’d nomad decided to wrestle. I thought they’d kill each other, but Tuul just watched and chuckled as they threw each other on the ground, repeatedly, and got up, laughing. There were three matches and I took videos. Here is one. It’s quite dark, but it’s fun to listen to the men talking to each other.

At 11:30, as I finished the dishes and left the party, the stars were starting to pop out. It had been a lovely evening, ending with two sips of vodka and a hug from Algaa. It can’t get much better than that!





1 Comment

  1. carol goodman

    love to read your account. My mother told me that some of our ancestors came from M ongolia. Do I look like them ? Carol

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