Hyargaas Nuur, the lake by which our Russian hotel was located, is the first of what one could easily call the Great Lakes region of
lakes dot the surface of the western Mongolia
depression, which is a good 1,000 m lower in elevation than the average height
of the central massif to the east, and the Altai Mountains
to the west. Our plan this day was to cross the western depression, taking our
time to enjoy the views.
We continue seeing large intrusions cutting through a metamorphic basement formed by phyllites, mafic schists, and hornfels. John is a superb field geologist, so we all had a good time jumping off the car for rock stops. In one very cool area the granite forms prominent dikes that extend for kilometers from one range to the other.
We also saw lots of hawks nesting in power poles, and on at least one occasion were able to spy a Mom hawk with her two chicks. The chicks have enormous dark eyes, and they had them trained on us with the intensity of … well … a hawk.
The day is cold, windy, and cloudy, so when it came time for lunch we stopped at a small town off Umnugovi, where we sought refuge at a local eatery. It was a combo bar room and dining room, and over the latter presided a pleasant lady, impeccably dressed with a clean apron and a funny hat that was clearly a chef’s hat. She served us the most delicious warm vegetable soup, heavy with cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and other greenery. We were all in heaven. In addition we had hot fried empanadas filled with ground mutton that hit the spot on this hot day. We were finishing our yummy lunch when a guy drifted from the bar, and he came to us talking and scratching his throat, clear sign that he was thirsty and could use some more vodka (the national beverage of choice among men). Our gracious host lady shooed him away, but to no avail, so we just had to sit there and ignore his pathetic requests for one more drink.
The map shows us moving in a straight line, but that was very deceiving. We were turning left and right over gentle ridges, but after a while it was hard to keep a general sense of direction. So Zoe spotted a motorcycle coming our way and flagged it down to ask for directions. Two older men immediately jumped down. They were attired in dells (the long overcoat much preferred by Mongolian men and women) and goggles, so they look a bit like old fashioned aviators crash landing around us. The one of them started firing fast instructions to Zoe, who could just blink in confusion, while the other man checked down the Suzuki from top to bottom. At the end one of them offered us his snuff bottle (a very decorated glass bottle with a glass stopper), and we all took polite snuffs (or rather sniffs) of the aromatic mixture inside.
Eventually we made it to the Hovd river, which comes all the way from Ölgii, in the heart of the
Unfortunately there is not a bridge for many kilometers, so in order to cross
it we went upstream one of its tributaries and crossed over the , one of the westernmost
lakes. By the time we got there it was about 6 pm, and we were already making
plans to camp when we came to the encampment of a Kazakh family, where Mom
called us from the window. She runs a simple teahouse, and in no time had in
front of us a beautiful spread of fried curds, cheese, bread, and nata (this is
the scum that forms over the milk when you let the milk cool down after you
boil it, and it is a favorite bread spread both in Mexico and Mongolia),
generously irrigated with strong black tea with milk and sugar. We ate of the
proffered food with great pleasure, and at the same time had a chance to look
into the interior of a Kazakh house. shore of Hatchi Nuur
The Kazakh live in the westernmost
of Mongolia (and in Kazakhstan, of
course), are Muslim, and speak their own language. They live in gers, but
theirs are distinctively taller than those you see everywhere else in Mongolia. They
also build small houses made of adobe or wood, not unlike the houses we see all
over Mexico (did the Mexicans discovered Asia in 1421, and that is why Mexican
and Asian chickens are alike, we both like nata with sugar spread over our
bread, and build adobe houses?
Zoe made the delight of the family by taking photos of the group with her Polaroid camera. Even Mom was encouraged to be in the photo, which she did with remarkable poise amid the laughter of the kids. After much waving and many smiles we continued along the shore of the lake, trying to put some distance between ourselves and our new friends so we could pitch our tents. We found a lovely spot, waited for a half hour to make sure we were not followed, and erected our tents under a pretty fresh breeze. The sky was completely covered by dark clouds, which reminded me that my tent doesn’t have a rain fly. Hmm . . . Well, it is not going to rain, is it?
Rain it did. And hard. So around 2 am I found that my feet were wet. Fortunately I have a fleece insert to my sleeping bag, which remains warm even if wet, so I just rolled to the other side and resume my well deserved rest. The other potential mishap was that the strong wind was threatening to tear my tent from its mooring, but thankfully John and Zoe discovered my plight and moved the car so it provided me with a wind shelter.