Tumur paid for my bus and here I go direction Uliastai. Here is go is a bad expression because we don't really go anywhere.
We just drive all around the village trying to fill our bus with schoolchildren and several random people. Mongolians are not really good with deadlines. The bus was supposed to leave Tsagaanchuluut in the morning but we are way into the afternoon and everybody is happy, nobody is stressed, as always in this country.
The only stressed person here is me. I need to arrive in Uliastai before nightfall. What the hell am I going to do there? Damn.
We finally leave at half past three in the afternoon and I sit in between two annoying children who try to communicate with me but don't know a word of english. There is a girl who is more mature and can speak some english worlds so I talk only to her. Not because of the language, just because she is more mature. I really think that they should not put 14 year old boys and 14 year old girls in the same class. A 14 year old boy has the mental age of a 9 year old girl, so they should shift everything by 5 years it would make everybody happy.
The bus drives through the void I can't tell weather there is a road or not, we are just going somewhere through the snow; how the hell do these people orientate themselves? We pass a lonely yurt from time to time and we also stop at one to take some passengers. There are some people catching horses with a lasso and a ton of horses running everywhere.
|The bus stops at a horse farm|
Knock knock knock.
No answer. The guy is busy calling someone on the phone. I knock again.
No chinese fuss here, I am going to sleep in there, it is automatic. I don't even have to ask. Mongolian people understand the simple equation freezing "cold + no money = death", they have sufficient deduction skills to figure out that no money implies no hotel and so on.
That guy lives alone in a yurt. He offers me a lot of food, some great horse meat and soup. His yurt is richly decorated, it has medals and trophies of his achievements as well as several types of jewellery. He was a former police officer, no idea what he does now and he is also the first mongolian gay that I meet on my trip. He is dating his korean boyfriend who lives next door and they don't seem to have any complexes about it. So I guess being gay is more feasable in mongolia than other countries like Kyrgyzstan.
|Happy colors in our yurt|
Everybody told me how mongolia has a problem with alcohol, I really don't see anything alarming so far. I'm not saying it hasn't but if it has, it is at a whole different level than Georgia or Armenia. At least in Mongolia, people are aware that Alcohol abuse is a bad thing.
|Drinking vodka is a ceremony too|
In the morning the good former policeman decided to help me: he will find me a ride to Ulaanbataar. Are all my worries over?
It seems like this. He tells me to wait until 10AM his friend the chief of police will come and will find me some car to the capital. Easy. I show him a note that Tumur has written me. It is a hitchhiking note which I have no idea what it says but it is supposed to help me get rides. It should be obvious from it that I am going for free. Me, the guy and the chief of police drive towards the city center to see some family. We eat breakfast, the father of the family counts us his days as a wrestling champion. My host tries to set me up with his daughter.
|My host's friend is a wrestling champion|
We go further in the city, I don't like this, it almost seems as if they are taking me to a bus station. And that is exactly what they do. The bus demands 50,000 Tugriks which is a fair price, 30 dollars for more than a thousand kilometers of hard terrain; the french train would take three times as much.
Of course I refuse and I am angry that I trusted this guy to help me, I should have insisted on my initial plan, that is hitchhiking in front of his yurt. Now I have to walk all the way from the city center to his yurt again and hitchhike from there. All cars to the capital leave in the morning and it is already 10. I was up at six, I have wasted so much time! Now I'll be lucky to catch anything at all. The road is empty and I walk on it for hours. I am not hoping to walk to the next city several hundered kilometers from here but at least to the middle of nowhere where every car which passes by just has to take me because it would just be too dangerous to leave me there. Mongolian people have good hearts and a sense of humanity, therefore I am not really putting myself into danger here although it would not be wise to try the same stunt in china. you could be left where you stand with your stupidity as only companion.
There are cars on the road from time to time but always going towards Uliastai and never my way. I am starting to wonder weather the preferred road to Ulaanbataar from Uliastai really goes north, weather most cars don't just go through Gobi-Altai because the road is just easier.
But it is too late to try the other way, if I don't get a car today somewhere, I'll have to get on that bus tomorrow. If I don't do that, I will not only be putting myself in danger but Janela too. She will arrive to mongolia underequipped and without money, she will freeze.
At last, a car stops. They are going to Tosentsengel, 180 kilometers from here. It is the closest any car can go but I gladly take it. They drive fast, or as fast as you can on these roads. They average 60km/h and it's not even a jeep. At first, the road goes through the mountains. Steep snowy slopes. Sometimes the road is not so bad, it is a newly constructed dirt road, you don't have to have a jeep to drive on it. Sometimes we just drive through patches of desert losely following some tire tracks.
|Landscape between Uliastai and Tosontsengengel|
The only thing is it is already late and there are no cars on the road. I walk to the end of Tosontsengel wondering where I will sleep tonight. Outside is obviously not an option. There is a gas station, some yurts, a hotel also. But my motivation of negociating a place to sleep is low, I would welcome if the situation could solve itself without me doing anything.
|I got dropped off in the coldest place in mongolia in the middle of winter|
I could pray to god of course but that would be cheating and also I like not to bother people and godunless it is really necessary. Anyway the situation kind of solves itself.
"What are you doing here? Do you need a hotel?", asks a tall, strong looking guy. He speaks in mongolian but I manage to make out the sense. They all ask the same thing.
"I don't need a hotel. I am going to Ulaanbataar."
"Yes by foot."
"I am also going by foot. I have a yurt 22 kilometers from here. My car is broken, I am bringing oil from the city. If we reach the yurt, we can sleep there."
"What do you mean if we reach the yurt"
"The region is dangerous. Wolves and bears everywhere. And temperature is dropping fast. But it is a little bit less dangerous if there are two of us."
I guess that guy must have some kind of survival instinct, he doesn't look suicidal or utterly stupid and he solves my housing problem only requesting a 5 hour walk
The tread of my right shoe has unglued itself and fallen down. The cold is too strong for the glue to hold. The only shoes which seem to withstand the cold are the mongolian traditional snow shoes made of sheep wool.
Anyway, even with the broken shoe I can still walk and we start our long way into the wilderness.
|The main road running through the cold, 20 km east of Tosontsengel|
It takes us an hour to get there, I realize how unrealistic it was to plan these 22 kilometers on foot. We are now exactly in between tosontsengel and Ikh-Uul, at some yak farm because ordinary cows would die in that cold. Yaks, with their long hair survive and thrive unless a wolf attacks them.
For the latter case, my new friend owns a gun which he says is very good except for the aiming system which is "chinese shit".
|"The place is infested by wolves," says my host|
|My host owns a Yak farm|
|Hitchhiking in temeratures nearing -40°C inside a sleeping bag|
|The people who took me to Ulaanbataar|
|Overheating car, it cools down pretty fast though|
|The road is long in front of us|
|These are good shoes for this weather|
|Back in Ulaanbataar, pollution ahead|