So earlier this week, we were scheduled to go visit some projects run by an NGO called FARM. We were to be guests of the Executive Director, a Mongolian Brad has met earlier, and all five of us were going.
His vehicle couldn’t fit us all, so he arranged a mini-van. I agreed to pay the driver and for the fuel. When you rent a vehicle here, it comes with a driver. How else would they know you would bring it back?
At the appointed time of 8 am on Tuesday morning ,we came out of the apartment and found the van. It was a Hyandai something-or-other.
There were 4 people waiting for us. The ED, the driver, an older unshaven guy with a fedora, and a woman. The van was already riding low in the back end.
The older guy turned out to be the watchman from one of the projects we would visit, and he needed to be returned there after a few days in Ulaanbaatar (UB). The woman was the organization’s head agrologist – she spoke some, but not much English.
We threw our luggage in the back, piled in, and took off.
Halfway across the city, we suddenly stopped on the street and a guy with a Dell computer bag and a sleeping back piled in, filing the last available seat. I still don’t know his name, but he spoke pretty good English. We later learned, he had recently joined the organization as a Project Manager, and that this was his first visit to these projects.
A little further along, while still in the city, we stopped in front of a shop and the watchman hopped out and disappeared. After a while, we came back with a small plastic bag which contained a large can of beer, a big bundle of tobacco, and a pack of smokes. He gave the cigarettes to the driver, and away we went.
About a mile later, the watchman suddenly started talking urgently, we pulled over to the side of the road, and turned around. Then we let ourselves in to the gated yard of what looked like an abandoned factory. We drove through the compound and around to the back, passing piles of gravel and old bits of disassembled Soviet apartment buildings. At the back, we loaded a bunch of t-bar metal in the back of the van with the help of a guy who appeared from nowhere. On the way out, we were stopped by a woman who lived in an old ger on the property and we almost ran over her children and dogs.
Then we stopped to buy fuel. I paid 86,000 T to fill up the van with 68.8 L of diesel. They also filled up some jerry cans in the back. I didn’t get out to check, but I’d be amazed if we weren’t driving on the axles by this point.
300 m down the road, we stopped again – this time to inflate the tires at a tire shop make out of an old blue shipping container with a sign on the side. Some men were wrestling the wheel off a dual axle dump truck.
So at 9:20, we finally left the city.
Along the way, I took some GPS readings with my Blackberry so I could keep track of where we went. Occasionally, I will put those in here. Just copy and paste to Google Earth or Google Maps to follow along.
We turned off the pavement for a place called Bayansogt somewhere near 47.91728, 106.13487.
We drove across country, following a dirt track for well over 30 minutes. Up and over a small mountain range, and through some valleys in behind. We passed some canola fields with odd seeding patterns.
We can to Bayansogt and visited a 40 ha farm nursery, where they were digging root cellers by hand and some guys were drilling a well with some ancient drilling equipment. They also had an old circus wagon which they lived in. 48.03669, 105.82162
This location was in a huge valley which would have all been cultivated land back home in Canada. But it was mostly used for grazing. In Mongolia, people use fences to keep animals out of cultivated crops. In Canada, we use fences to keep animals in their pastures. But that’s what happens when your whole country is a pasture, and there aren’t many cultivated acres.
Bayansogt used to be an old collective dairy farm in the communist days, but it had clearly fallen into disrepair and only about 20 families remained.
After a snack in the watchman’s ger, we hit the road (dirt track with grass in the middle). We left the watchman behind, so we had a bit more seating room.
Something happened at 47.93788, 105.61419 and at another undisclosed location that I am not allowed to talk about. But it was bumpy and would give anyone with a fragile stomach a fragile stomach.
Then we suddenly saw three huge pigs wander by. And immediately after, Brad’s seat broke, reducing us to tight seating all over again. This took place only 500 m before getting back on the paved highway.
We rejoiced at the smooth road, only to have it run out about 25 km later. A new part was being built, so it was back to the track, which ran parallel to the road in a meandering way for the next 30-40 minutes.
We stopped for lunch at 4 pm at a place called Altai San. It was a sort of food stop where the truckers and long distance buses stopped for a break and food. We had some noodle soup (with mutton), some eggs, and a Coke and hit the road.
A while later, we came to a place whose sign read PAWAAHT, which is actually RASHAANT in English. It looked like a substantial place of sort, with a bunch of old soviet industry. Here we stopped on the side of the road and met some Chinese looking guys in a truck. We gave them some stuff out of the back of the van.
When we went to leave, the van wouldn’t start, so we had to push-start it backwards down a hill. And off we went.
Shortly after, we stopped at some dunes and got mobbed by kids with camels. Lynette and Jack rode bactrian (two-humped) camels for 5,000 T (about $4.00 – not each – total). If you follow the road in Google Earth, this is by the green area the road passes through.
A busload of Japanese tourists was there, and some of the girls were trying to take pictures of themselves jumping in the air on the dunes.
5:30 pm – off we went (again).
6:42 pm – the road suddenly turned to gravel, just like it sometimes does in Saskatchewan. This took place at 46.95983, 102.93945.
For quite a while, Tommy talked about cheeseburgers.
7:10 pm – Arrived in Khujirt by fording a small stream five times. It is a town of significance (about 8,000 people) in what feels like the middle of nowhere, particularly when considering the condition of the “roads”.
We checked in to a ger camp, where they set our family up in one ger with 5 beds. Brad’s bed was at 46.9063, 102.76851
Then we went to a restaurant, which was more of a karaoke bar with ping pong & pool tables and a small confectionary. The woman said she could cook something, but it would take over an hour to make food. That was at 46.89825, 102.77541
So we went looking for another restaurant and found a ger restaurant, where we waited over an hour for them to make food, but we got to watch. By now it was dark - we’re not sure how the lady didn’t cut off her fingers cutting noodles in the dark.
It was a cold night. All but Lynette were warm and reasonably comfortable. When we woke up, it felt colder inside than it turned out to be outside.
For breakfast, we went to the farm project at 46.90728, 102.76135 and ate in the ger. We had candies, cookies, scrambled eggs, tea, endless fresh cucumbers from the greenhouse, and bread with raspberry jam.
We inspected the crops (an August 7 frost had really damaged the potatoes) and toured around. Then we used the latrine pit and hit the road.
At 1:40 pm, we came to the Altai San again and stopped. The bathrooms were locked because the power was off. While using the outhouse, we saw some guys poking sticks into a big transformer out back, and when we got back inside, the power was on again.
We had some fried beef with egg and some steamed bread with Coke and were very happily full. It cost 8,000 T for our family (about $6.00). A bus had just stopped before us, so their mugs were all dirty. So we drank Coke out of bowls.
A while further down the road, we bought 34,750 T of fuel. By 4:00 pm, we were obviously going down more than up because the driver was coasting the van down all the hills in an effort to save fuel. I guess he got to keep whatever was left over, so why not?
We came back to the construction detour:
Start: 47.88438, 105.32483
End: 47.89373, 105.50329
We got back to the city at 6:10, and after fighting our way through traffic and dropping off the new Project Manager, made it home at about 7:00 pm.
For photos, see my Facebook pics for “Mongolia – Trip to the Countryside”.