It was with a heavy heart that we bid adieu to the beautiful lake region. With the first winter snowfall, it was a matter of good timing and luck that I’d managed fit it in at all.
We came across a crazy bunch of dutch tourists hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere. We drove past them in a daze as it took a few seconds to register. I announced we stop and help them out. Without hesitation Japur reversed and collected our bewildered passengers. They looked bedraggled, buggered and sun burnt. The silly people all signed up for a walking tour of the wild west. It was great to interact with fellow travelers after so long being utterly secluded in the far flung regions of Olgii. The dutch crazies walked on average 20 kms a day for a week long hike. I thought they were absolutely insane for taking on such a mission, I couldn’t do it nor would I want to, not out there. Give me a bumpy, rickety old rattle trap any day. They were doing Olgii in luxury with tents, cooks, marquees and gourmet food etc all set up for them on arrival. I couldn’t believe my eyes, they even had a portable dug out toilet! The staff were incredibly friendly and welcomed me and Japur to stay, eat and drink with them. Proper food,chocolate and wine meant a very merry evening. With them being Dutch and me being South African, we had an instant connection. I could surprisingly understand quite a but of the Dutch conversation (thanks to learning Afrikaans for so many years at school). All in all, “Ja, a baie lekker dag dankie.”
What a great afternoon and evening, we swapped travel stories and everyone in the group of 15 or so had something positive and encouraging to say to me. I was the youngest and bravest by far. None of them would dream of doing what I was embarking on and to have their admiration and congratulations felt kinda cool. We enjoyed a beautiful full moon rise. Of all things, the moon kept me company (and sane) throughout my trip. I started my voyage to Mongolia with a full moon and I ended it with one as well, rather fitting. It was a harsh and freeeezing night, quite literally I woke up the next morning to frost caked tent shucks even the water in my bottle froze overnight. After a wonderful breakfast, I thanked my lovely new friends and sadly we parted ways. It was colourful and invigorating to have their company, even for just a day.
Our next mission was to find petrol. We were low, very low and the locals we asked along the way didn’t seem at all hopeful that we’d find any. Japur took me past some more Turkish stones, balbals and cemeteries which took my mind off the thought that we could be stranded in the middle of nomad’s land with no petrol and a scarce supply of food…Then again, I could quite have happily stayed on for a bit longer, found a foster family and enjoyed the mountains. I’d go back to Olgii tomorrow, it is so precious and humble. The mind is cleared from the clog it accumulates and as should be, the spirit soars.
Out of nowhere, hallelujah we found a “petrol station”. My god, it was ancient but no one was complaining. Normally this one had nothing in it according to Japur, so there was little chance of getting any juice and hopes were anything but high. But a raggedy old Kazakh emerged from his ramshackle shack on cue, and without so much as a words he pumped some gas by hand like it was another day at the office.
We moved on, relieved and happy with the full tanks. Japur remarked on what a difference it is to drive a heavy jeep compared to one living on fumes. We stopped by a small stream and had lunch with a family who looked completely shell shocked to see me. It was pretty obvious they’d had little to no interaction with foreigners. Most families we’d stayed with had some experiences with interacting with travelers from lands afar. This family didn’t, even Japur commented on this saying the family never had a tourist lodge with them before. It took a while for the ice to break and for the suspicions and bewildered stares to subside. Eventually, they showed me their tiny collection of bric-a-brac photos. I was shocked to see how little they possessed in terms of family photos and memoirs. Barely a handful of photos showed glimpses into their mysterious lineage. They asked if I could take some more recent photos and send the pictures to them. I did, I can only hope they got them… Next time I do Mongolia, I’m bringing a Polaroid camera with loads of film so I can give my friends their photos on the spot. That would be awesome. Naturally I was thrilled, this lead to a photo frenzy all afternoon with the most precious subject matter. I was invited to watch the horses being milked, and suckle their young. It was an interesting process, the young foals were unwillingly separated from their mums whilst they were being milked. It was crucial that only a small amount of milk was taken from each mare. They were milked several times a day, for very short periods of time. This milk was going to take the family through the god forsaken winter months of cruelty that they would have to endure.
The young lad of the family showed little interest in school but great interest in his beautiful herd of horses. He had a way with the foals, a special bond which reassured and eased them whilst their mums were being milked. This skill, he learnt from his mother as they both possessed such soft hands and hearts. Mother shared the maternal instincts with her mares, this milk was essential for the survival of her family as well as her new stock of foals. The mares understood this and knew their importance in keeping the family alive. I know it sounds all “horse whispery”, but the nomads I met all throughout Mongolia speak to their animals or rather to the spirit of their animals. The interact with the spirit of the land and survival. It’s a bond of unison with man and nature that is innate in all of us. Some can speak this language of the world better than others, or rather some are more willing to engage with it. This bond ties these incredible people to the earth they live and farm on, to the winds they hear, to the clouds they read and to their ancestors they remember.
Horses aside, father of the family seemed far more interested in proudly showing off his prize camel and motorbike to me and even demanded a family portrait. What an intriguing family, who can only be described as beautifully mysterious.