A few days ago, I visited a town in the middle of nowhere. I met a local hauling a load of soil into his village in a Bongo pickup truck, along with his one eyed friend - we drove together into town. I thought it would be helpful in this region to know some locals, and they looked intimidating at first - never judge others by outward appearance on the Steppe grasslands of Mongolia - 100% are genuine people living an otherworldly life that I have never known completely through birthrights. I do enjoy traveling and have found my global journey to take my permanent life to Asia, so I can relate to where I am traveling in Mongolia, Korea or China - all these are close to home these days for my new family.
Outside town, wooden fences with paint faded and peeling in long strips was the guard stop of a tiny Buddhist temple. We stopped the truck with a squeal of brakes and dust shaken up and blown past as we opened our truck doors. My friends were shirtless, golden tanned and smiling brightly - great characters to meet in person, I would introduce friends to them when I return in the future! They allow me to stroll around, take photos of the building and surrounding, mostly wood buildings, all painted in the same faded maroon red paint, the wooden framed houses constructed as log cabins were the permanent dwellings, while most residents also had their Ger tents in their yards, quartered off by tall wooden fences. The Nomads have come to settle down, and this location was very pleasant - as were the people who I interacted with through shopping and exchanging money at a local bank.
We sat outdoors next to their log cabin home, there was a garden growing vegetables in their yard in place of a Ger tent, and there was a welding workshop, built of wooden timber in the shape of a small barn. I parked the bike in the workshop, and watched my host after dinner, cutting steel and welding steel to built frames for tables and work benches. He was a local handyman. Earlier today, we drove around town and he greeted everyone and I raised an arm saying "Sainbain au!" We dropped his one-eyed friend at a local convenience store, at the end of a hard manual day of labor, Mongolian men were sweeping their vodka out of these small shops and turning the dirt roads for home and their reward for their work.
In all, I had an enjoyable time here, apart from the annoying questions from a guest, local dentist and her husband who continuously probed for the value of my bicycle (I told them it was definitely cheaper than their motorcycle!), my yearly salary, where I would be leaving my bicycle when I left Mongolia, etc etc etc...that was enough to give me enough anxiety, would the bike be there in the barn where I left it in the morning? - of course, as they sat and drank all my beer!
I went outside in the heavy rain, walked 360 degrees around my tent and tightened the stakes in the Earthy soil, then zipped up my rain cover and took retreat indoors - the tent is the oasis.
The hosts couldn't communicate very well in English, their eldest daughter offered some translations which were the bridge over a large linguistic gap. The sheep head that the Wife of the Herder Welder hauling dirt prepared was delicious, and their daughters educated and friendly. In all, their group was cheerful, warm and friendly -expecting nothing and appreciative for all the extra food gifts I purchased to leave with them the following day. Thank God, I left with photos and memories of a great night with them. It was unfortunately they had their uninvited and nosy guests, the Dentist and her tooth-pulling sly husband who seemed to drool over my bike, as the price of everything I had had strapped on my back, the bicycle of course (priceless, don't even ask me!) and the constant pressure to give them my banking balances and sources of income to take such a "worldly trip" as it were, visiting Mongolia. I explained the cost of the flight to the capital Ulaanbaatar from Korea was the biggest part of my investment, fortunately, with a return flight back home after this adventure was over. The rest of the bicycle parts were cobbled together and the frame being the most expensive component built by Lynskey in the USA.
Unexpected situations like this have rarely occur on any of my journeys around the world. Today was that 0.1% leading to an unexpected and uncomfortable time inside someone else's property while staked out camping near a vegetable garden on a dark, stormy night. But once I settled into my tent, lighting my guidebook with a headlamp, reading a few pages, I released my grip on the thoughts of of their dentist friend coming back at night with bolt cutters to remove my lock and snatch my bike, nothing more than a myth. I slept great and left them with a memorable night shared together. It's worth mentioning, that even though the locals were housed and sheltered well, there as in most places in Mongolia today, there was no running water in the their place, nor flush toilets or showers. Just a wood box and hole in the ground outside for a toilet which does it's job. Be prepared for the unexpected. I always do.
Thanks for reading my daily thoughts and meditations written while mountain biking across Mongolia this summer. More adventure is coming soon!!!