Forced Stargazing

Well, it is about 4am in the frigid Mongolian morning and I have attained full adventure. I woke to the sound of my greatest fear, my own stomach gurgling and bubbling with reckless abandon.

Oh please no, I begged the Bowel Gods. Have mercy.

My answer came in the form of me running across the Mongolian steppes in my undies, trowel in hand. When you are camping with 20 people in a flat valley without a single piece of vegetation higher than your ankle, your only friend is distance and the dark.

Squatting beneath the brilliant Mongolian night sky I had a few minutes to ponder how I had gotten into this particular situation.

It started at the Russian-Mongolian border. We made it through the process of crossing imaginary lines in 10 hours and only $20 in bribes. This is a rally speed record, some teams were stuck here for 3 days, camping on cement in no-man’s-land.

Past the bureaucratic hell station we dropped into true Mongolia. After having crossed a dozen countries that were vastly different from my expectations, Mongolia was exactly like I had imagined it.

Gers (yurts) dot distant mountains, hairy yaks trundle across the grassy plains, Nomads cross the country on horses or in dented Russian jeeps from a distant era.

The second day of driving brought us to three different river crossings. A number of teams got bogged down in these streams, having to be towed out. Reports indicate that a few teams retrieved from the water unleashed cascades of water when opening their doors.

The Marabby approached these challenges with her usual style. Piloted by a remarkably handsome driver, she not only cleared the fords with ease but also did it backwards.

Yeah, backwards.

The Marabby doesn’t ford rivers backwards just to show off. The caboose end of the car ends up pushing water out of the way, going forward causes the water to rise up over the bow and fill the air intake. The reverse gear is also a bit stronger than the other options. The “Little Train That Could” should have gone up the hill in reverse and it would have had a better go of it.

I was feeling awesome until We came up to a Mongolian holding his hunting falcon by the side of the dirt road. This was a lot more awesome.

In an attempt to steal back my feelings of confidence I scuttled from the car to meet the falcon, and perhaps, just maybe, hold it, if it wasn’t too much of a bother. He gestured to the leather glove and I stuck my hand in before he could change his mind.

The bird responded by punching me in the face with its wing. Perhaps there was some skill involved in holding a thirty pound, flying carnivore that I hadn’t considered. The Mongolian said something along the lines of, “He likes you.” The Falcon on the other hand glared at me daring me to put my face closer so he could show how much he liked me.

We all took a go without being eaten and felt it was the best experience since we arrived in Mongolia.

Mongolia is vast but every inch of it is filled with beauty. Everything except the towns.

I get the feeling that Mongolians make much better nomads and the Russians didn’t do Mongolia any favors with their cement communist buildings. But the local cafes serve the best food in the world.

The dishes can best be described as meat with meat flavored potatoes. Meat, meat, meat. Sigh.

The unfortunate side effect is that this meat is greasy. I considered taking a wedge of mutton to wipe on our brakes to stop their squeaking, but ate it instead.

And this is why I spent the last half hour stargazing into the most spectacular night sky in the world while crouched amongst two inch high shrubs in the emptiest country on Earth.