Once I had my new gear purchased, I arranged a car, driver, and guide/cook for my Gobi Desert adventure trek. After I had ordered my car and driver, I remembered to re-inquire if the car had seatbelts. The tour agency told me that we would be driving in a Russian van or truck and that it did not come equiped with seatbelts. I told the agency that this was not acceptable and insisted on a vehicle that had seatbelts. After some haggling (I threatened to walk) they agreed to get a vehicle with belts. Holding out for safety paid off as the agency ordered a Mitsubishi Pajero. This SUV was quite comfortable and would serve as a nice base of operations for the next 5 days.
My driver and guide arrived at my hotel at 9am and after we loaded my gear we were soon underway. Once we were clear of the downtown area of Ulaanbaatar we stopped at a pre-designated grocery store to pick up supplies. We purchased meat, bread, cheese, water, and some snacks.
The roads were smooth for the first 1/2 hour (while we were still in the city limits). But once we were outside of Ulaanbaatar, the roads were only packet dirt. A few hours out of UB and the dirt roads were no more than previous tire tracks across the countryside. While much of the driving was off road and tough, the landscape in and north of the Gobi was flat and it was possible to drive cross-country without much effort. I was amazed that my guide and driver were able to find their way across the barren landscape.
At the outskirts of town I saw the ger settlements that seem to be of such concern to so many Mongolians. They stand in stark contrast to the proper wood and stone houses that I see further inside the city limits. About 10% of the country (each year) is immigrating to Ulaanbaatar. At the current rate, the entire countryside will be depopulated inside of a decade. The recently arriving immigrants from the countryside settle in ger houses that are added ad hoc at the fringes of the city. Each of these families burn coal stoves to heat their felt tents and as a result the air quality of Ulaanbaatar is terrible during the winter months. Most of the Mongolians that I talk to speak with great concern about the fate of Ulaanbaatar.
About an hour into our drive we stopped for a nature call and I took the opportunity to capture a photo. As with Bayan Ulgi, I was quite impressed with the beauty of the landscape. However, the landscape here, north of the Gobi, was flat and featureless save for a few mountains here and there. The entire landscape appeared to be a huge parking lot covered with small pebbles and rocks.
Once we were clear of the city, we began seeing wildlife everywhere. About every 150 to 200 meters we saw a hawk stalking his territory searching for a mouse or ground squirrel to eat. When power lines were present the hawks waited on the power line towers. In areas were there were no poles the hawks sat atop the highest rock or mound that they could find. I took photos of the first hawks (and one golden eagle) that I saw but after a while, there were so many that I lost count. Considering that I saw a hawk or eagle every 200 yards or so and that our drive lasted 10 hours on the first day, I must have seen a thousand birds of prey.
As with Bayan Ulgi, the scenery was quite beautiful. I have an affinity for deserts and I found the Gobi to be peaceful and beautiful.
Just before lunch my driver pointed out a pair of wild gazelle that were grazing about 200 yards from the road. He slowed so that I could take a photo.
Later in the day we came across some men who’s car had broken down. We offered them some help and my guide and driver chatted with them a bit.
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