Theme Song for the day: 'Waka Waka' by Shakira, in honour of my friends in the Gobi, and of my new kidnapper friends
7am wake-up-knock rings loud and clear at quarter-to-seven, though it is 9am until we reload the 4WD, and find directions to our next destination in the form of a Land Cruiser headed the same way. A shiny black, brand new Hummer joins our caravan, and quickly leaves us in the dust.
Photo: Grass tussocks form windbreaks which create frozen waves of snow in the landscape.
Photo:Discarded vodka bottles are ubiquitous throughout the landscape, especially roadside.
We enter the Altai Gobi, literally translated to Rich Desert , which is a vast basin of snow, sand and pebbles which streak together across the massive windblown plain in an endless marbling of brilliant whites, blues and greys, with clumps of stubborn hay-coloured grass painting golden streaks meandering along the shallow desert erosion gullies.
Unlike the other basins we have driven through (this year and last), the rocky hills which form the rim of each bowl are snow-covered mountains, rounded with the passage of eons, and peeking at us from far over the horizon. As we crest a rise which must have been 5 km long, a concrete jungle skyline that could be Hong Kong through a misty morning shimmers into view over the horizon, a lost modern city rising from a frozen emptiness - a desert mirage.Photo: Roadside ger encampment.
Photo: Entering the ger lunchstop.
We catch up to the Land Cruiser and the Black Hummer at our lunchstop, another roadside ger encampment appearing from nowhere (this one is real, or at least I think it was). What happens next might be considered unlawful detention by some, serendipity by others - as if the already surreal journey unfolding whizzing across the brilliant, frozen Altai Gobi at 80km /hour weren't dreamlike enough.
The impeccably well-dressed and impossibly good-looking cast & crew of the two 4WDs are the entourage of one Dr. Sarandava Bat-Ochir, of the Mongolian Academy of Contemplation, Astrology, Spirit and Psychology, who has written two books on Financial Literacy and Abundance for Mongolians (one on traditional approaches to responsible money management - did you know that Ghengis Khan invented the concept of shareholders?? - the other book is adapted for contemporary times), and is touring the countryside giving lectures, workshops, and buying us lunch. I try to buy copies of her books (teaching financial literacy has long interested me) and am given one of each instead.
She waves me into the Black Hummer as we all hit the road again, and whisks me away back into the desert with her pretty young translator in tow as my friends watch, scratching their heads, then jumping into our brand-new-old Japanese pickup (ute for you Aussie readers) and peel out in the snow to keep up with the entourage we have been absorbed into, and my kidnappers (who, for the record, are the nicest, best-dressed, good-looking kidnappers I have had the privillege of being captured by).
Photo:My kidnappers. Dr. Sarandava wears the red coat.
After my interrogation and counter-interrogation, (among other things, I find out that the Hummer came from Sacramento, where 'Svarzznehgrr' also drives one), we agree that should the good doctor ever find herself in Hawaii, she should look me up and we can talk more about financial education. I doze off to the surround system serenading us with Mongolian crooners singing their epic, operatic lovesongs over horsehair strings which flow like the epic landscape we are charging across (with an incongruous cameo appearance by Shakira singing the WakaWaka song), and when I awake we have arrived at the next aimag center.
As unconsciencable as an oversized Hummer is cruising the cushy gridlock of American suburban roadways, there is much to be said for the vehicle's ability in the offroad wilderness of Mongolia - and if you can afford one there, why not. Instead of dozing off and finding myself airborne every time we hit an unexpected dip in our trusty 4WD, clenching every orifice to get my bum back on my seat safely (before my head is bashed against the cramped cabin's roof, again), I was serenaded to sleep in absolute comfort (would sir care for more water?) in climate-controlled bliss (digital readout on the rearview mirror reads minus 15 outside).
Photo:The Black Hummer, driven by the good Doctor's hubbie.
I wonder, if I could figure out how to run of those things on recycled veggie oil, if my conscience would allow me to drive one...
In all seriousness though, the day's shenenigans did have a practical purpose: making new friends, especially friends interested similar areas (teaching financial literacy, Mongolian roadstops, and the open, if not frozen road), who are most importantly, taking action to manifest their passions through their work, creating the resources to back it up, is always a good thing.