Day 43: Lake Ugii to Ulaanbaatar , The van tour (Day 5)

A man sits on top of derelict stone walls.
Broken walls, buried treasure.

The dark ger is like a sauna.

Heat and vodka seem to be a deadly combination. The nightmares are back and they’re worse than ever.

Real life dreams and anxieties morph into soap opera, then twist into a dark family secret before descending into graphic horror. At one point I feel an overwhelming rush of grief, but I push it away and it quickly passes.

I yearn to know exactly what happened, but the dream is paused like a program on the holodeck. Pinned down by the oppressive shroud, I’m powerless to pursue it.

Maybe my visions are tied to the lake, why it is dirty and we don’t drink from it.

Breakfast is beans on toast.

The toast tastes like home. Oily or eggy toast could be a nice addition to my camping menu.

My organising travel companion apologises for making the tent so hot last night. Piling fuel on the fire right before bedtime isn’t exactly a cardinal sin, but with only one heat source and one ventilation hole there’s obviously a trick to managing the temperature inside a ger.

Her apology is appreciated and we start to mend our broken bonds. We talk about our inspirations for coming to Mongolia and take a walk by the lake.

A large billboard models green steppes, like those promised to me by Tom Allen. Not for us, we make do with coffee and sweet bread instead.

On the steppes and the highway, everyone and everything seems to be on the move, including us.

Good horses lead badly, herders drive their sheep and goats, nomads move house, and horses and camels cross the road.


Back in the van, we share playlists over Bluetooth. It’s a good chance to musically explain who I am. But Google music has unhelpfully synched random music on to my phone and I constantly apologise for the B grade selection.

At Khar Bukh (Blackbull), we clamber over the falling down walls of the old monastery, perhaps explaining their demise.

A beautifully squeaky gate can be heard in every part of the ruins. It reverberates through the blustery blue sky and the surrounding nothingness. I love it.

Our driver sits peacefully atop one of the walls, gazing into the countryside. When I join him, he explains that there is a tomb here, containing gold, silver and people.

As I walk around the perimeter, I have a flashback to the Lego castles of my childhood. The right angle brick walls seem to be built on a grid. My masterpieces had a habit of falling down too.

And then we’re on our way home, to Ulaanbaatar or UB as we now affectionally call it.

Or not. Travelling down the long dry road, the first we see of Ulaanbaatar is its blanket of smog, a line in the sky demarcating town and country.

Sure, the city has parks, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, high rises and coffee shops, but none of that stacks up to the big skies and serene landscapes out west.

It must be a really tough call for nomads to move into the metropolis and settle down there.