There are no road signs in the Gobi Desert. Part 2: A break down.
After the thrilling night sleeping in the family ger we rose early, our host was already out tending his animals. Bread was toasting on the gers stove, breakfast was devoured. We brushed our teeth in the icy outdoors and were soon bundled into our little grey van along with the sleeping bags and food. Bidding farewell to the family we set off under blue sky across the desert toward our next destination, Bayanzag.
The scenery was so dramatic, scrubby dry land edged with low mountain ranges. The desert is far from lifeless, there as so many small birds flitting in large flocks across the tracks. They scatter from the van in their thousands, twittering. We saw many isolated herds of horses and a bushy tailed fox. There was no specific road, just many wheel tracks spread across the plain, Bata, our driver, instinctively knew the way. We stopped for a short time at a tiny village where there was an old Buddhist Temple, Bata got playful and started a snowball fight!
We reached an extremely wide, featureless and bird-less plain, the van ground to a halt. From the noise we knew this didn’t sound good. We had broken down. Bata got his tools out, he was a carrying a garage-worth under the seats, and started to tinker. After a while it looked a lot more serious than we hoped and Badmaa made us some lunch. This was certainly a contender one of the more random moments of the trip. We sat on a makeshift picnic blanket, weighed down with rocks, in this empty corner of the Gobi desert eating hot spaghetti and tomato sauce.
Bata showed us the problem, it was the clutch. He needed to get the van to a village so he could work on it, he had the part but needed more tools. A truck arrived and the van was tethered to it with a metal cable. The five of us were squeezed into the tow truck. That night we were accommodated in a sparse dorm room in the small, dusty village of Mandalovoo. Vodka, beer and cards, this may not have been a ger but we made the most of it and had a hilarious evening.
Bata worked through the night, coming to bed at 5am and heading back out just after 6. We had eaten breakfast before we heard the van rumble back into life. These little Soviet Uaz vans are indestructible! And Bata was a hero, he really didn’t need to apologize!
Back on the road, well the track, we headed for Bayanzag, the Flaming Cliffs. These red rock cliffs rising up out of a magnificent landscape are famed for the huge number of fossils and dinosaur bones that have been unearthed there, the cliffs were excavated in 1922 by Roy Chapman Andrews. They are more like a raised gorge, a red rock burning up from the sands with views over the empty plains.
It was mightily windy up on the cliffs, it sure blew away the cobwebs of the night before. We climbed and explored, eager to find a fossil or a dinosaur egg. The vista was spectacular, one of those views that makes you feel like a tiny speck on the landscape.
Thoroughly windswept, we climbed back into the van and we set of southwards. The desert here is so varied and constantly changing. Our journey took us through a narrow rocky valley between the mountains, sheltered from the wind we pulled over and had some lunch. A chilly picnic among the rocks, a vulture circled above us.
The track continued over a mountain pass into the next valley, from this high vantage point we could see the Khongoryn Sand Dunes in the distance, running along the edge of the mountains on the other side of the valley. The sun cast long rippled shadows across them.
Not far from the dunes lay a tourist Ger Camp, very quiet at this late time of the year. Our little group was allocated two gers, Chris and I got one to ourselves! The stay included a camel ride out to the dunes, the sun was setting as the camels padded softly off. I opted not to ride and followed behind them on foot for a bit. It was wonderful to be alone, the desert surrounding me, the ger camp on the horizon. The sun was balanced on the mountain ridge, so low the shadows cast by the spindly shrubs were long and dramatic. As it slipped behind the ridge I walked back to the camp and waited for the rest of the group to return. An evening of cards and a splash of vodka ended the day.
The camels hadn’t made it to the dunes before sunset so the following morning Bata drove us right up to them, expertly handling the little van in the deep sand. They were quite amazing up close, sculpted by the wind into waves and ridges. They ‘sing’ when the wind blows across them, alas it was a still day, silent. We became children, we ran up, we slid down, we threw ourselves off until our shoes and pockets were full of sand.
It was fun to expel some energy before another long journey across the desert in the van…
- There are no road signs in the Gobi Desert. Part 1
- There are no road signs in the Gobi Desert. Part 3: Snow
By Rachel Davis