Day 76: House of bones to Hill , Thirsty work

A herd of camels approach the camp compound.
Camels coming closer.

I awake at sunrise, rising in the still dawn air to take photos.

It’s a shock to the system after the warm night, a balmy six degrees if my phone was correct. But I didn’t sleep well, the illusion of safety being just that. The wind really picked up in the night, blowing sand against my tent. I guess I knew the risks when I chose this building over the weird rooms filled with hairy bones, but I’ll take wind-broken sleep over a haunting any day.

My bed experiment failed too, the sleeping-bag-survival-blanket-thermal-liner sequence successfully firing my body heat back at me, but making my liner and clothes quite moist in the process. Mmmm, moist.

I’ve also discovered that I’m on completely the wrong road!

Charging both phones from my solar battery reveals that leaving Mandalgovi via the metal arch put me on the dirt road to Dundagad (sic) rather than the paved one to Dalanzadgad. This track should join up with the asphalt at the next town, but that’s at least 50km away.

My unintended detour has effectively ruled out a planned side trip to the sand dunes at Khongoryn Els, which is a bit of a bummer. That said, it has been great meeting the fine folks who live around here, and it’s an adventure to wake up every morning knowing that I’m still one step ahead of the dreaded motorcycle bandits.

The camping has been pretty good too, the main downside being not the cold, but the time penalty. Setting up and breaking camp probably takes half of every day. It wouldn’t be a problem except that I have a deadline to meet at the border.

While I cook a slow, drawn-out breakfast, a herd of camels arrive at the pump house.

Standing patiently, it seems that they are waiting for someone to come and fill their trough.

But no one comes, and they look in my direction. Perhaps he knows how to fill the trough? I’ve seen a pump used before and could probably figure it out, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable about using the owner’s petrol.

Aware that someone could come at any moment, and keen for them to, on account of the thirsty camels, I decide that it would be wise to vacate the camels’ quarters, if that was where I was, and set about packing up.

As usual my tent takes ages to bag up, repeating rollings required to squeeze both tent and fly into my inelastic Stealth handlebar roll. Each time I look up, the camels seemed to have inched a little closer. After a while I stop looking up, worried that the looking up is somehow inextricably linked to their progress.

Just then a young guy arrives on a motorbike.

Looking sharp in a neck scarf and sunglasses, I assume that he is the pump guy, so I ask him if I can get some water. He nods, and I hand him all my empties, ten litres worth.

But instead of riding to the pump house and the increasingly impatient herd of thirsty camels, he disappears in another direction. Feeling foolish for having given away my water containers, I’m quite relieved to see him return only a few minutes later. Somehow he’s managed to fill my bottles already, and these are handed to me by his friend, who is now seated on the back.

They point out that several of my newly filled plastic bladders are leaking. Good spotting! Thankfully this is quickly fixed with duct tape, the universal solution to anything that breaks in the countryside.

Feeling a sense of debt, I tolerate the curious pair as they make their way through my panniers. Presumably they're looking for treasure and I'm glad that my laptop is well hidden. However they quickly take a shine to my Braven bluetooth speaker. Holding on to it during the proceedings, I’m afraid that it’s the going rate for 10L of water. But when I nervously ask for it back, they freely return it, and we agree on a price of one condom instead.

Taking turns to ride each other’s bikes, I again opt for the back, and, he, again, finds the sand tough. We take photos of each other, before parting ways.

It’s a beautiful day, clear and bright.

After locating my sunnies, I check the time and am surprised to learn that there are only three or four hours of daylight left.

But I have a signal! So, keen to allay any fears back home, I fire off a text to my mum, there not being enough bandwidth to do a proper Facebook update. She reports that all the postcards which I sent from Ulaanbaatar have been gratefully received. Go, Mongol Post!

Not expecting to make it far anyway, I stop often to pick up odd bits of firewood and wire.

One of these is perfect for attaching a water bladder to the top of a pannier. Assigning uses to things lets me indulge my inner Tidy Kiwi, plus things seems to have more value in this barren place anyway.

I’ve heard that Mongolians feel the same, maintaining a box of bits for the regular occasions when their old Russian vans inevitably break down.

At sunset, a flaming golden ball sinks below the horizon and is replaced by a new moon.

There aren’t any gers or buildings to be seen, so I drag my bike through the sand and camp on the hill.

It’s been a short day, twenty kilometres at most, but by all accounts a good one.