20th of April 2005: We are in the middle of a devastating sandstorm approx 20 kilometres south of Saynshand in Mongolia.
-This is very bad; we have to find a shelter, one of us shouts.
Suddenly a sandstorm
Earlier this day it had been enjoyable cycling in tailwind, but suddenly the wind turned and increased in strength, and we got stuck in a hellhole with strong headwinds and large amount of sand particles blowing into our eyes and mouths.
-I can see some buildings over there, says Lyngve.
We find shelter behind a shack. We are exhausted and our mouths are full of sand after having pulled the cycles through deep sand the last few kilometres, and at the same time had to fight against strong headwinds.
Suddenly four men wearing ginger coloured vests approach us. Our rescuers seem to be a bunch of railway workers at a desolate station in the Gobi desert. They assist us into one of the buildings, which apparently house a classroom. Our bikes and equipment are also taken into the building and we can finally relax in safe surroundings. More workers turn up and suddenly it is a big crowd of curious Mongols and four exhausted Norwegians gathered in the room. The language barriers are significant, but when we share Sigbjørn’s photos of Norway and tell them where we are coming from and where we are going, it loosens up and we manage to do some “talking” due to the support of Mongolian Phrasebook. Maider, a railway engineer, seems to be the boss and he brings us into another house where we eat lunch with one of the families. In the evening we move over to Maider’s apartment, where we get dinner (dumplings) and are entertained by a Russian soap on the television.
One day in Saynshand
The next morning it is cold and windy. Maider insists that we have to stay one more day because we are not able to continue on our bikes under such circumstances.
-Archaeological museum in Saynshand today, asks Maider in bad English.
One hour later seven men are crammed in to a Russian truck like sardines. By western standards it is suitable for three people only. Thus it becomes a painful 20-kilometres drive on bumpy roads to Saynshand. The village is an oasis situated in the middle of the Gobi desert, and the rural village is the largest community along the road from Ulan Bator to Erenhot on the Chinese border. First Maider invites us for lunch in one of the better restaurants, and it turns out to be a rewarding meal for us Norwegians, who have primarily been on “diet” of dry food ever since we left Ulan Bator 500 kilometres further north. Then we visit the archaeological museum and Maider is very enthusiastic to show us the dinosaurs. We also spend some time at the Buddhist museum of Danzanravjaa.
When we return to the station, Maider “orders” us to wash our hair, and we suspect that the clean and spotless Maider probably have been embarrassed to drag around on four dirty Norwegians for a whole day in Saynshand. Lyngve and Sigbjørn, ironically the one’s with least hair, accept the proposal immediately, while the hairy ones (Jardar and Eric) refuse to cooperate. A lot of excuses about cold water and bad Mongolian shampoo that cause increased amounts of dandruff, reminds us of two small kids that tries to escape from the weekly wash.
-Dark student, says Maider and points at Jardar. This phrase becomes Maider favourite one, always followed by his distinguished laughter, to Jardar’s big annoyance. And it even gets worse for Jardar (the expedition leader) when Maider starts to entitle Sibjørn as the boss.
Nomads and sand dunes
-Gobi orginali, 50 kilometres this way, says Maider in a very excited manner and points in a southwestwards direction.
We are sitting in the rear seat of a Russian jeep, which is speeding its way through the desert.
-Russian jeep very good, shouts Maider and giggle together with his driver Baga. The latter one is apparently not too worried about his jeep and the prospect of driving it so hard that it transforms into a wreck.
We pass wild horses as well as camels along the way in the steppe-like desert. After a while the jeep comes to a sudden halt next to a camp, consisting of several “gers” (the tents of the nomads)
-Maider hungry, he shouts from the front seat, and we instantly realize that Maider has arranged a lunch break together with some nomads. This is our first visit in a nomad’s home, and we accept the invitation promptly. While the women prepare some food for us, Sigbjørn and Jardar get the opportunity to ride a camel. Lyngve and Eric seems to be more interested to join the women, and get a free lesson in how to make momos (dumplings). This is one of the most popular dishes in Mongolia, and consists of a clump of meat bundled into a dough and then being steamed for 10-20 minutes. The dish originates from China, and is fairly common in many Asian countries.
Taking place in the crammed jeep again, we drive in to a terrain that becomes more and more bumpy. Gobi orginali, repeats Maider for the 20th time and points at the sand dunes in the distance. Gobi consists mainly of steppe and there are only some few sand dunes in the entire desert. Thus we are very excited when we jump out of the jeep and can play in the sand dunes for the very first time, almost like children in a huge sandbox. Maider is the most eager of us, and looks rather disappointed at Jardar, who is more concerned about his camera, rather than playing around in the dunes.
-Dark student take photo, says Maider each time he sees a motive (which is very often), something Jardar finds very annoying. Jardar wants to choose his own photo motives.
We also had some time left to visit Gobi’s Grand Canyon. Not as huge as the original in US, but equal in terms of colours. 50 kilometres later we are back at the station, and everyone praise happiness that we got caught in a sandstorm, which gave us so many wonderful moments in Maider’s own kingdom “Gobi orginali”
The journey onwards
Tomorrow we will continue the cycling towards the border of China, a leg estimated to be 150-200 kilometres. That will take us 3-4 days to cover by bike, as long as we don’t get stuck in a new sandstorm.