Day 64 Mongolia Day 3

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The most amazing day. Stopped in Khovd, which was remarkably modern with a reasonable supermarket, then on towards Ulaangom. Crashed my bike at about 30mph on deep gravel. Hit a thick bit and got an almighty tank slapper, violently whipping from side to side in ever increasing degrees until it spun round completely, landing sideways and backwards, ripping off the left pannier. I miraculously landed on my feet next to the bike, going from 30mph in the saddle to 0mph standing next to it, not quite knowing exactly how that happened. Fixed the pannier back on with a bit of hammering and a ratchet tie down strap, not pretty but it still works. The down side is that it’s hard to take off without undoing all the temporary fixes. Then 2 miles down the road, Dave drops his bike in soft sand. Is it really going to be this hard so soon? The day runs out and we decide to set up camp. Being Mongolia, we simply turn off the main track and head for somewhere that looks nice, cross country. We camp, in the middle of totally empty wilderness as far as we can see in all directions and have dinner. Then we climb the nearby rocky hill for a panoramic view. While we’re up there we spot a couple of horsemen herding cattle in the distance. They see us too and head over, climbing up the rocks to meet us. We exchange handshakes, but don’t share any language at all. They decide to bring their horses up to the top. Mongolian horses are short and stocky, but these two are good looking animals nonetheless. The older of the two locals, both appear to be early 20s, gestures for us to sit on the horse, which we do. It makes for a great photo and is quite an experience but is pretty scary, perched as we are on top of the rocky hill. In return, we invite them back down to camp to sit on the bikes, and the two lads seem to really enjoy having their photo taken. Then it’s our turn again, this time to ride the horse. Next we share vodka and chocolates, and spend an hour or so sitting, eating, trying to communicate. It’s odd enough being so far into empty wilderness and having someone wander by, but to sit with these two Mongolians is a surreal experience that is hard to describe. After a while they decide to demonstrate their lassooing technique. Playing for the camera, the older one expertly ropes a cow from his saddle at full gallop, while we video it. Triumphantly he poses with the cow for more photos, before jumping astride it and riding round our tents, which has us all laughing hard. Then he insists on both of us riding the cow. After a while they leave, and we prepare for bed. Sometime later, however, they’re back, even though it’s now dark. They’ve ridden for over an hour in darkness just to bring us some of their homemade cheese and a jar full of a liquid that seems to be their homebrew spirit. So for another couple of hours we sit round camp, eating, drinking, laughing, not understanding a word each other is saying. It’s brilliant. The friendliness shining through on their faces and the effort they have gone to just to make friends with total strangers is quite something. It’s an amazing experience, and impossible to describe just what it was like. When they’ve gone, i’m treated to a stunning starscape in the perfectly clear night, the milky way showing more brightly and clearly than i’ve ever seen it. Just an astonishing day.

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