Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Day 167 - Buruunturuun to east of Tsagaannuur - Fri 9 Aug

Day 167 - Buruunturuun to east of Tsagaannuur - Fri 9 Aug
Light rain overnight, but not cold. Woke to texts from our forward scout travelling companions, the river north of the lake Archit Nurr which we have to cross to get to the border, and have been watching since the beginning of August, remains flooded, and fluctuates from knee-height and higher daily according to water entering upstream. They sent us their coordinates from where they crossed on the diagonal heading upstream into fast flowing water. They advised us it was remote, no nearby gers, and no locals were using the crossing. Looks like we’ll have to go around the southern end of the lake, at least another 100kms plus half day. That puts us too late to cross the border on the weekend.
Crossed river just west of Buruunturuun and stopped briefly to wash mud out of the floor mat, and a family of 10-11 got out of a short wheel base Russian Jeep scattering to their various ablutions. One lady came over enthusiastically and pumped GirlRob’s hand and wanted to see inside - opened door and Wanderoos fell about laughing as all the mud we'd been keeping out was traipsed in when the whole family piled in together!!

Wild camel tracks along road, pads close together. Many small packs grazing or lying, funny to see one hump collapsed. One domestic pair not cooperating with their owner - but stopped to peer curiously at us as we drove by. Horses standing in pairs, head to tail, each using others tail to keep insects out of face! Heavy corrugations, in between rutted previously boggy patches, and old river beds or deltas, very little traffic. Huge flat expanses, open range out to distant purple mountains, grass more yellow, dryer – in high desert country. Horse groups with brands or neck ties, belonging to gers on horizon at base of hills. Could see mirage of Mongolia's largest lake Uvs Nuur for tens of kilometres but the closer you seemed to drive the further it retreated. Given it is 5 times saltier than the ocean, is surrounded by marsh and wetlands, as well as plague level mosquitoes - we were not sad we had no time to visit. Couldn't see tops of twin peaks, shrouded in clouds. Supposedly snow covered and permanent glaciers up at 4000 metres. Region known for seismic activity, but we not only didn’t come across hot springs, but rather icy cold water running in man-made canals (haven't seen this kind if irrigation infrastructure anywhere else in Mongolia). Are these corrugations? No – “Richter age rings...”

Arrived Ulaangom, fuelled, to police station to check whether road north of Archit Nurr is flooded - couldn’t understand each other so tried again at lunch stop “Chinggis Pub”. No luck there either (in fact ordered schnitzel, got beef patty with fried egg and rice in a star shape)
Lovely bitumen for 30km out of Ulaangom, then headed straight to mountains, relieved to find the pass through pretty canyon, clumps of purple, white and cream wildflowers. Rain started, rivulets running down road - not boding well for the falling river levels we are hoping for...Khokh Nuur alpine lake, beautiful alternating between sunshine and misty rain, water a crystal cold azure blue, with snow-capped mountain behind. 

Took rocky turnoff not marked on map, very rough with gibber and large sharp rocks through narrow gullies, over streams and on rocky jump-ups. Have to be careful additionally as there were ground holes much bigger than any seen to date, and abutting track -jerboa homes? Such a relief to hit the (relatively smoother!) main road again 45mins later, and surprise, much had been graded. 

Got through the pass, and over into valley sighting north end of Archit Lake. Even though we had the coordinates where Miles and Guy crossed, we checked with locals we were headed towards the best river crossing under recent conditions. Arrived on edge of multiple streams across a wide delta/wetlands area to find a quarantine outpost, where we were charged to spray the underneath and wheels of the vehicle - surely the definition of administration gone mad since we were about to enter the water where it would all immediately wash off!!!

BoyRob manned up to the swarming mosquitoes and the icy water and walked through several streams to check water height, hidden holes etc. As the deepest was only thigh high, we took the opportunity to cross there and then rather than risk water rising from the day’s rain and water catchments upstream. Ozzie handled the stony beds and fast flowing water beautifully. Even though we were fast losing light as the sun dipped below the mountains, we kept going on the other side to get through the boggy wetlands. Still had to run the mossie gauntlet to get into the house though, when we stopped for the night. Even though we were an hour late for the satellite phone check in time, tried to call Miles to update our status, no luck, no one to celebrate with! Made soup and hot chocolate inside, and crawled into bed where we were asleep within seconds... 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Day 166 – Sharga to Buruunturuun - Thurs 8 Aug

Day 166 – Sharga to Buruunturuun - Thurs 8 Aug
Quite cold overnight, now up to winter blanket and mid weight doona. Up by 6.30am for these long days at slow speeds. So glad we bought our Ugh Boots for these cold starts. Dew on ground, flowers all tightly furled overnight. Cabin comfortable without jumpers in early morning sun. Light-faced hawk feeding on early catch of ground squirrel. Track mushy, potholes filled with rain. No one track better than any other. Quite a few Mongols out on horses or motorbikes, all wearing their distinctive greatcoats (in the rain yesterday we saw some have hoods) following cattle/ yak herds, one carrying old rifle slung across his back. Autumn obviously on its way, noticing some action around the winter animal shelters, small stacks of long grass being piled up for hay, dirt/old manure shovelled and heaped outside, new logs being trucked, and woodpiles appearing near gers. Saw bigger ground animal (marmot?) run into burrow, more grey-white in colour. Small mice diving into holes on track. 

Stopped for morning cuppa, and a couple on motorbike stopped to look at Ozzie and were very happy to be invited inside for a look, and pose for a photo. It was amusing to see them ride off with a new microwave strapped to the back, in their full length greatcoats. Some very slushy holes in road, evidence of vehicles having been recently bogged. Boy on horse raced ahead of us to a flat stretch, then raced us along the plain... ah, the joy of youth! 

More dense pine forests on hills, and eventually in a valley following a river (wonder what causes dieback though?). Clumps of wool caught high in prickly bushes lining rutted track - so high they must have been from passing wool trucks, not animals themselves. Chassis-twisting stretch of road through old riverbanks and dense pine forests to end of valley. Passed Labrador draped over seat of motorbike between two people - looked pretty happy! Can always tell the direction of the prevailing winds by the backs of the gers - the doors always face in the opposite direction. Pulled over for comfort stop, BoyRob took a walk along track and after grabbing cheese, cold meat and crackers for lunch on the run, GirlRob drove vehicle to catch him up on sandy loamy track. Yay, she can now boast of having driven in Mongolia! Spotted new little grass bird, light coloured head and shoulders with soft rust rump and tail. 


Covered 200km by mid afternoon, between Bayantes and Tes, in middle of the “top road” (not highway), following telegraph lines. Spectacular "thin pancake" rocky hills at start of road, then past sand dunes, then through lowlands, and delta area in bottom of valley. Day became quite hot. Continued on Highway North, low green hills, long unbroken valleys, little activity. Agriculture seems to be new to the area, with new equipment behind high fences - maybe run by a cooperative? (Mused that golf would be a natural pastime with the natural long straight greens, marmot holes and sand traps?? Oh, except there's not much summer, oh and there's not much leisure....) Saw our first Mongolian sand dunes close up, stood out above steppes. 


Heading for little agricultural town of Buruunturuun - stopped at 7.20pm having done 300kms in 11.5hrs (av 26kph!). Camped in river, amazing aromatic smells of different grasses, sweeter than more pungent basil smell of riverbank in Murun. Family from ger across steam came to see who we were, shared via photos that our daughter-in-law was also expecting - they looked inside our "mobile ger" and gave permission to stay. Spoke to Miles on satellite phone, he thinks we can be processed at border up to 5pm Saturday. With a full day and a half to drive, guess it’s an even earlier start tomorrow...