Friday, June 5: Tsenkher, Mongolia
8:00 Breakfast is the best yet. We get more clotted cream, heaps of fried dough sticks, and another type of deep-fried pastry filled with yak cheese and chives.
8:45 We leave Tsenkher hot springs in a buoyant mood. The temperature has been chilly but the hospitality very warm. The entire family gathers at the gate to say goodbye.
9:15 We are driving over a flat and seemingly dry section of the Mongolian steppe when the truck gets bogged down.
10:15 After an hour of hard work Sura is freed from the rut but in the process one of the sand mats is driven upward, piercing a plywood storage box mounted under the passenger compartment. It only takes a few minutes to dislodge the mat and have it back under the wheels for a second attempt.
10:30 Rachel puts the truck in reverse and guns it. This time the sand mat gets lodged between the wheel and the gas tank and it tears a gaping hole in the aluminum tank. We lose quite a bit of diesel before a bucket is placed under the leak.
11:00 Neill comes up with a plan. Bayaraa is dispatched to a nearby hill and if he can get cell service from the higher ground he is instructed to arrange for several Russian made 4×4 vans to deliver cans of diesel and to ferry passengers into town. Bayaraa heads off into the hills in a sleeveless muscle shirt. It begins to snow within two minutes.
12:10 Neill is able to plug the hole to the point that diesel won’t slosh out while we drive to Tsetserleg. The old glove that had been kicking around the passenger area for a few days finally comes in handy.
14:05 Bayaraa calls to say that once up on the hilltop he spotted a distant yurt with smoke rising from the chimney. He jogged a few kilometres through the snow, borrowed a jacket and a motorcycle, and rode to Tsetserleg which just happens to be his hometown. Neill tells him to cancel the 4x4s but start looking around for a welder. “Already done,” reports Bayaraa. We’re on on our way to Tsetserleg.
14:35 The tank will be removed in Tsetserleg and driven to another town where a man is known to have an aluminum welder. … We have lunch at Bayaraa’s mother’s restaurant. I have lamb and vegetables with rice and it’s really good. The two or three beers went down well too. Bayaraa and his father built all the fixtures (bar, banquettes, etc.) and Bayaraa designed and built the curved wooden “ribs” that are mounted on the ceiling. I can’t help but think of Moby Dick.
15:25 I take some videos in the market where lamb carcasses are being unloaded from a truck and a man is offering a yak hide that has been dragged into town behind his motorcycle.
15:45 I feel rich when the local ATM approves me for a withdrawal of 600,000 – Tugriks. That’s about CA$380. I won’t spend this much in the next three weeks but it’s good to have in case of emergency.
16:10 I find a cafe with good coffee, moderately reliable wifi and Canadians! Sue and Manfred Megs-Becker and their adult son Jonas are from the Greenwood & Danforth area of Toronto. This is their last day in Mongolia, and like me they love it! Sue and I each get the feeling that we’ve met but we can’t figure it out.
18:00 There’s a group meeting at Bayaraa’s mom’s restaurant where Neill reports that the tank should be back on the truck by 21:00. We’ll stay in several hotels for the night rather than driving on and having to erect tents in the dark. This decision goes over well.
20:40 I stay in a 4-bed room at Hotel Sunder while others are sent to a more prosperous looking establishment down the street. From the quality of the service to the state of repair, Hotel Sunder scores a single star in every possible category. I imagine that this is what cheap hotels looked like in Russia in the 70s. It’s a dump in every respect but yet I absolutely LOVE it! Who wants to stay in a sterile Marriott while overlanding?
21:00 It’s hard to get a drink in Mongolia after 9 p.m. but we manage to score some beers in Hotel Sunder’s tastefully decorated nightclub. It had all the charm of a Russian submarine. I took pics but it was too dark to pick up what looked like pieces of pepperoni pizza that had been nailed to the wall and covered in stucco.