Mongolian steppes, suite !
Part 2/2 : the article has been cut in half to make it easier to read. To read the beginning, it's here !
And here are the promised tracks!
Mongolia without Mongolian tracks is not Mongolia!
60 kms after Karkhorin, the asphalt road stops abruptly. Then begins 24 hours of track! The track first crosses all green plains, then after climbing a small pass we overlook Lake Ogii. A great spot for lunch. Around the lake, we find ourselves invaded by clouds of midges. It's very unpleasant, but we still take advantage of this water to wash and fill the water bottles.
After the lake, the track is an alternation of soft sand and wavelets; exhausting! We don't last long before setting up the tent a little away from the road... then moving it further to hide from the wind that picks up in the evening.
In the morning, more rested, we take with good humor the 17kms of additional track that await us, always between sand and corrugated iron (But where do those damn corrugated iron tracks come from?). But when we find the asphalt road, we jump for joy anyway! The track is nice, you really feel in the middle of nature, but 50kms are enough for us for the moment!
The road is drawn with the rule. We cross the petit Gobi, desert area under oppressive heat. At the end of the day, a motorcycle stops at our height: what a surprise to see there the bretons, our cycling friends ! They knew we were in the area, and recognized and then followed our tracks on the track in the sand. We set up camp together next to a river (where, to the chagrin of the boys, there is not a shadow of a fish). Thanks guys, that was awesome!
At the heart of Mongolian culture
The next day is still a hot day, on big straight roads – but still very little traffic. This crushing heat is a little hard to bear... And at the end of the day, the water reserves are in the red, the next river quite far.
We cut across fields to reach a yurt. Luckily the hostess speaks a few words of English. We discover an adorable family, which raises horses, sheep and goats. She welcomes us with open arms, serves us food and drink; on the menu upon arrival: rice and… something difficult to identify… eyes?! No… we're struggling a bit to finish our bowl. We will discover later that they are in fact sheep testicles! Phew! We also taste the traditional white goat cheese, a delight!
Shortly after, some of the husband's friends arrive and they spend a long time doing a kind of rodeo competition on the rather wild young horses. Fun!
At nightfall (i.e. 10:30 p.m.), the guests leave and we go to bed in our tent. Barely 20 minutes later, the wind suddenly picked up, the tent started to move in all directions and filled with sand: our first sandstorm! Our host tells us to come and lay our floor mats in the yurt; we fold the tent in disaster under this very strong wind and this sand which whips us the face. In the yurt, it's crazy, you can barely hear the wind. We fall asleep quickly after this day full of emotions.
In the morning, we leave this family, moved by this warm welcome. We drive 30kms to the city of Lun where we meet a group of Westerners in a restaurant: they tell us about their current project of a horse caravan through Mongolia and invite us to join them the next day.
We are curious to know more, so the next day, after 45kms of road then 12kms of track we arrive at their camp in the middle of the steppes!
A crazy project
We are going to spend a day and two nights with them, and discover a little about this project. 14 people from different countries will spend 5 months in community across the Mongolian steppes, with Mongolian horses. After a long preparation phase, they begin the migration slowly. It is a self-managed group, everyone participates: guard tours are organized every 3 hours at night, there are two chefs a day, someone in charge of the 80L daily water supply, etc…. We were impressed by this project and the courage of the participants. Climatic conditions are not always easy in Mongolia; the horses they have just bought are still quite wild, quickly get scared and often run away (they then have the help of Mongolian nomads who are real cowboys and lasso the horses in full swing); horses are not used to carrying heavy loads and it is a great game of patience to make them accept. And only half of the participants are used to managing horses, the others have mainly learned on arrival. And in addition to learning to manage these rather special horses, you have to be able to support life in a small community for several months, despite fatigue, hunger, cold... Not sure that we would be able to do what they make !
We received a great welcome in this group and it was a very pleasant parenthesis for us.
Country of the blue sky?… not always!
On the morning of our departure from the base camp of the caravan, a pleasant tailwind pushes us quietly. Except that… the wind also pushes big black clouds towards us! At noon, we barely have time to find shelter on the side of an abandoned building that the elements are unleashing. Phew, we can cook dry!
After the rain comes the good weather, but the wind has changed direction: we now have it in the face. The landscapes are a little monotonous, it is difficult to move forward. We set up the tent quite early. At dinner, the black clouds are still approaching! We barely finished cooking our spaghetti for the evening when we quickly had to take refuge in the tent: sandstorm and rain. The tent is abused in all directions, one wonders if it will resist. But after 20 minutes, calm returns. Despite a little rain, the night will finally be quite peaceful.
The next day, Thursday May 28, we only have 55kms left to go before reaching Ulan Bator.
The circle is complete
We return to Froit, our Warmshower host in Ulan Bator for a few days.
Our Russian visas were made without problem during our absence. That's it, it was the last visa until the end of our trip! What a relief !
Despite conditions that were not always easy for us and the equipment – which suffered quite a bit – we have very fond memories of the past 15 days.
We are now going to cycle quietly towards Russia, whose border we should cross on June 8th.