Sunday, 21 September 2014

time and space

yummmm, semolina
It is snowing.  We wait for the snow to stop and the cloud to finally lift.  The afternoon takes us along great firm tracks into a pretty valley.  We see trees again - the first for a while - and finally camp on the edge of woods.  The day has remained cold and at sunset Gabor registers 2 degrees on his clock.  Gayle wears her down jacket in bed.  I wear two hats.  Gabor has on his snug down suit and an extra sleeping bag. Water bottles freeze.  We survive.  The next few days the weather is gloriously sunny and the nights are freezing.  We adapt.  We wonder about the route ahead and if we can get to UB before bad weather stops us in our tracks. What's plan B?  It's the end of September.  The landscape has changed subtly.  There's more grass, more trees.  The woods hug the upper slopes of the hills.  The tree line might be rescinding faster than my hair line.  When we camp in any forest we can see that all the big trees have mostly been chopped down and all that's left are the younger thin ones.

The landscape in Mongolia is, of course, big.  There's no other word for it.  And there's something weird about how the scale affects us.  You can cycle along half a day and the view might not change that much - we are minute creatures in this vastness.  We wonder what it's like for families in their gers living here.  The isolation must be terrible.  Sometimes we come across gers in a huddle of three or four together, but more often they stand alone, presumably because their animals need space to graze the land.  How does anyone meet anyone else to marry?

Gabor is always a happy camper when there's a seat

Our riding days have settled into a regular pattern - we always set off before Gabor, get to a village or town, stock up on food and water, stop somewhere for lunch.  By this point Gabor usually has caught us up and we ride together until we find somewhere to camp.  After the first two days when we find few fresh water sources, we start to load up with water at each village.  It takes a while sometimes to find the pump house and in some villages the water has to be switched on by a key-holder.  Invariably we turn up when the pump house is locked up and we have to ask around to find someone with a key.  I guess restricted times means that everyone is not wasteful with the water.  It's a mighty effort just to get water to your home - most people have trolleys to carry the plastic barrels they fill up.  We often see motorcyclists, coming or going to gers in the middle of nowhere, with water barrels strapped to their bikes.

it's a treat to find a river to camp beside

still at the beach

as useful as a bucket with a hole in it

the oh so stupid phone thief
One morning we are setting off before Gabor, as usual, when a horseman appears to check out Gabor's campsite.  The local doesn't say much but his eyes watch everything.  The Big G has almost finished packing up his bike so we head off. After we've gone the local fella tries listening to Gabor's mp3 player.  Finally he rides off and then Gabor discovers that his smart phone has gone.  He checks around and wonders about the horseman.  He knows Gayle took a photo of him.  He hurries after us and catches us up in the next village.  Someone takes him to the police station where he shows the policeman the photo.  A woman is fetched to help translate and finally the policeman takes Gabor off to arrest the horseman.  They go back to the camping spot.  But the horseman lives in a ger on the other side of the river. Never mind, the cop commandeers a horse from a herder and rides across.  This is Mongolia, right?  He returns with the horseman and after a lot of talk, the phone is handed back.  Gabor is asked if he wishes to press charges.  He declines.  He is asked to provide 'petrol money' for which he is all too happy to do and then the policeman invites him to stay the night in the police station.  It's all a bit different from the reality cop shows on TV.

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