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Vultures and No Fences in the Gobi Desert

August 11, 2015 0 Comments

Tuesday, August 4 2015

We’ve spent this time camping and travelling through the Gobi desert. Rather than a daily ramble, I’ll mention a few highlights, and see how we go.

The three vultures: I know, I know, I just mentioned them. But they were the biggest in the world! (see Backtrakin post)

The steppe and mountain shapes and colours: If you’ve travelled outback Australia, or desert regions elsewhere, you’ll understand colour and shape. On top of that, there is a vastness, where you can see so far, but it looks so close. When you walk away, then look back at the cars from a distance, set up to camp, and the land stretches in every direction to the horizon, many, many km away, it is so humbling.

Goats in Gobi Desert Mongolia

No people, but plenty of goats!

You’ll not see anyone in that space. Animals yes, camels, horses, goats, sheep, cows, birds and lizards. But not a person.

There are no fences here. You can travel overland (in our case drive, but you can ride a camel if you want – just rub cream on your butt), 500km and not see one fence. Tracks will lead north-south and east-west and generally taper to a target (town, ger, track intersection), but no signs. No indication at all as to where (or why) they are going where they are going.

Often there are (for me!), inadequate landform uuls (mountains), to confirm a heading or intersect a position, so a GPS is essential. We have two as a back-up. Mine is 15 years old, working beautifully.

Water in the desert: The groundcover varies from square kilometres of lush grass, to scattered spiny grass clumps, to barren rocky/clay surfaces, but there’s a good distribution of artesian springs. Some are locked, usually where the water is deep and a pump house system is required. We’ve found a few dry ones, but the water in the others is cold, clear and spectacular.

Our stomachs are by now happy with the spring water. In fact I’ve been drinking it for weeks with no ill effect. Barry and Donna are less adventurous with their food intake, and their guts are probably less acclimatised.

Getting the water out is a mission in itself. There is always a sewn hide bucket tied to a stick nearby, so you can scoop the water out ok. We rig up another bucket (20litre), on the roof of the cars, fill it and syphon from that bucket into the tanks. Works well.

The wells have been marked on a local map we got at a little museum, so we can always get water. Also, now that we now know what the springs look like, we can get to them.

Monday, August 10 2015

Up very early for us and on the road by 8am. We have a big day ahead – 250km of daggy bitumen road back to Ulan Bator, then the Australian Consulate to chase some sort of consent to travel without passports, (the Russians have ours), find a resting place for the cars for 10 days, book return plane tickets for us four to Australia, find a hotel, get souvenirs, eat.

Tom McGann, at McGann Travel in Sydney was awesome. He had the ticket options all ready for us, waiting for a green light from our end. Brendon Dowes and his staff at the Australian Consulate were brilliant. Brendon got one of his Russian speaking staff members to talk to a contact at the Russian Embassy in respect to our situation.

We then headed to the Russian Embassy and went into the scary little interview space. When I held up Brendon’s business card to Boris and gave our surname, his face lit up with the biggest, friendliest smile, told us to wait, (like we were going somewhere else anyway?), shot off, and came back with our passports, with our Russian visas attached inside. Absolutely fantastic co-operation to smooth out an otherwise tricky little situation.

The Australian Consulate said this had never happened before, but they thought out a wonderful solution. While at the Ozzie consulate, we asked if anyone knew a vehicle workshop. Took a little pushing, as they don’t like to give out plugs etc, but we got the name and number of a workshop where one of the staff’s husband takes his car.

We rang, they got a guy to drive and lead us there, and voila. A perfect place. A high end 4wd mechanical workshop, with lots of dirty young men, working on cars with modern tools, on a workshop floor you could eat your breakfast on, AND walk blindfolded without tripping on anything.

I had a list and when the boss looked over our cars, he put the Cruiser on the hoist, and with his stethoscope(!) found two bearings needing replacing. (One on idler for a/c, the other a front drive tail shaft). With the idler bearing, his translator said to me, “It will be good till you get to Russia, replace it there”! I said, “No mate, let’s do it here!”

Everything was pretty good; the brake pads were only half worn, after 25000 km of tough work, but he’s got a list of 12-13 things to do.

With Barry’s he’ll replace the shocks and do a service and get the car ready for a steel scrap dealer down the track. Barry had no list, but told him to do whatever needed doing. Plus he’ll lock up the cars until we get back. Plus, his translator, (family), took us to a great hotel in Ulan Bator.

Tuesday, August 11 2015

We got to Genghis Khan International Airport and when I was going through immigration I thought, ‘these bloody visas are single entry!’.

I asked the girl and she confirmed, “You must go to Canberra to get another visa before we let you scumbags back in!” I grabbed the four passports and asked for a boss. I had this brainwave that if I stood in front of the immigration boss long enough and held the whole plane up, (as we’d already checked our luggage), they would relent and wave some magic thing over the passports and we’d be set to come back.

Na. The boss of immigration, and let’s accept I got there, through a lot of locked doors, back alleys and stairs and concerned looks from other travelers, was a very cranky, obese women, who had just all but punched two blokes out of her office. When I wouldn’t budge, told her Canberra was out of reach, and name-dropped the Russian and Australian Governments, etc, etc, she just took a few more heart pills. By the look on her face, I thought she was going to die right there in front of me.

You see, my tactic was they (immigration), would buckle, rather than Mongolian Air spending hours pulling our baggage out of the plane.

Na, wrong again. A little guy came over, walkie-talkie in hand, and said very softly to me, “they will just go without you”. And they would have. I reasoned this because I had already been taken/escorted downstairs to “luggage”, where one of my bags had been separated from the load.

They had found a mysterious item in one bag and wanted a look. Fair call on their part. It was a power inverter I had bought in China – a white tin box with gauges and wires in it, and coming out of it. Yeah, looked like a bomb to me on the x-ray, so no wonder they wanted a talk. So, I reasoned if they looked at everything going on the plane, no reason why they couldn’t just takeoff with it. Easy.

Anyway, McGann Travel don’t know it yet but we have another contract for them while we are buzzing around family and friends.

Sitting in this plane is a bit like a time warp. It’s a Boeing 737, with knackered seats and one small overhead drop down screen for four rows of seats, and no earplugs. Cute really. The service, food and coffee are great.

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