Day 41 Tsagaan Uul to Khatgal

27 August 2010

Oranges and Mutton Stew

High Point: Today’s chat in the cab was hilarious. Plus we the lucky recipients of more amazing generosity from our Mongolian brethren. See below.

Low Point: When James played Michael Jackson’s Earth Song and four-fifths of the cab’s occupants burst into chorus. First time thus far I’ve wished I was at work. Hats off to you Jarvis Cocker, that song sucks.

No Point: Burenhaan, a small, but standard Mongolian town has only three shops. Why do they all stock exactly the same things?

Mongolian phrase of the day: minii shud ovdoj bain, bogloosen unachikhlaa. – I have a toothache, the filling has fallen out.

Mongolian dish of the day: The feast we had on Friday night.

Shout of the day: Asset Co. Martha had a tough day. She really wasn’t built for some of the tracks we’re driving on, and Asset Co have done an amazing job, preparing her for these challenges. Martha felt the pain, but she’s trucking on. Big thanks to James and all the lads at Asset Co.

Author’s comments:
The journey from Tsagaan Uul to Khatgal was widely acclaimed by all as a great day aboard FTFE. Today was a cracker. We had a long drive ahead up to the Khovsgol National Park, very near to the Russian border, so decided to set off at a ‘ridiculously early’ time of 8.45. Bit of a shock to the system for the phase 2 crew, as that is a time not normally witnessed by most. However, the mood in the cab was bubbling with excitement, the anticipation of the forthcoming bank holiday coupled with the usual buzz of no-swear Friday, combining to create a great vibe.

Today’s opening miles on Mongolia’s highways was brilliant. A series of bridges with max weight of 5 tons (for those less-informed, Martha comes in at a slightly portly 7.5 tons, I hope she isn’t upset by being perpetually refused access to all these bridges on weight reasons alone) made for some challenging diversions, allowing us to showcase the team skills that we have been honing of late, to a confused band of onlooking locals. All 5 of us made sure that Martha navigated through unscathed. Just about.

Driving Martha on these dusty tracks is without doubt the best driving experience I’ve had (other than car-surfing on the way back from Marisco many years ago). There is such a thrill of manoeuvring a truck around huge holes and rocks, up steep climbs, along mountain passes and through rivers and fortunately for us, its a daily occurrence here in Mongolia.

With this week’s round of ‘No-Swear Friday’ affectively rained off by at least one boisterous punter, the day really sprung into life after lunch, after we’d experienced a few problems with Martha’s audio setup. Today’s entertainment manager, Ross, introduced a series of games to keep all aboard jovial. Mallett’s Mallet, that wonderful word-association game introduced to children’s TV more than 2 decades ago by the hugely underrated Timmy Mallett, was first up. The panic that game caused generated some seriously random, even tenuous associations, drawing frequent bewilderment, occasional debate, and a couple of loud outbursts, when wayward suggestions were rejected by adjudicators.

The other game we didn’t have a name for, but it involves choosing a topic, then each person incrementally selects the number of items he can name. This number may be true, or a bluff, and the next person can either call the bluff or claim he knows more. We thought this would calm the group after the earlier excitement of word-association, but in reality it made for some hilarious debate, generally led by a very vocal, and regularly incorrect, Mr Moore.

He really came into his own here. When asked to name 7 Big Cats, he actually named Liono from Thundercats before he mentioned the more familiar, and accurate, lion. Poor James couldn’t bluff for love nor money, and fell for some basic bluffing so made for easy pickings early doors.
Dave was generally solid, but failed woefully when called to name 17 countries on the FTFE itinerary.
Ross showed wonderful moments of panic, especially when asked to name just 6 current Premiership managers, but his finest moment came when he was asked to name 8 alternate names for breasts. (sorry all, it got a bit loose. 5 blokes, minor cabin fever, it was inevitable really.) I think he meant melons and bazookas rather than oranges and gazookas. Magic.

I had one failure. Exhibiting wisdom beyond my expectation, Dave trumped me by comfortably naming 12 US presidents.

It was all probably way more entertaining in reality than in black and white, but great work on entertainment today, Rossco.

On arrival at our destination, Khatgal, we had a bit of difficulty securing a bed for the night. We wanted a guesthouse or dorm as it had been 3 days without a proper shower, however, the first three places were either closed or didn’t have enough space for 5. On to the next option, Khusgol Inn. When Dave and I were greeted at the gate by 2 smiling children, initial feelings were that we’d come up trumps. However the English-speaking patron informed us that she was closed, the holiday season had ended the previous evening, and she was packing up her family and belongings and leaving for Ulaan Baatar at 6.30 the following morning. This was getting a little bleak.

Cue my best attempt at puppy-dog eyes, coupled with a near tearful and very dramatic, ‘is there any place in this town we can eat and sleep?’. Sensing our desperation, Ariunaa, the patron disappeared for a quick chat with her husband, and returned with the news that we could all stay on her dining room floor, and that she’d knock up some food for us.

What we were served was wonderful, but given that the family were leaving town for 9 months early the following morning, what came out of that kitchen was nothing short of a banquet. Two hunks of lamb, a lamb stew, steamed rice, pasta with vegetables and a salad. For 15 minutes, there was 5 men, 5 over-loaded plates, 5 smug grins. And 5 doffed hats to huge Mongolian generosity.

If you ever find yourself in Northern Mongolia, please stop off at Khovsgol Inn and say hi. It’s brill.


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