After our third Naadam, this time in Khutag Ondor (get in, get mutton pancakes, get out), we head east and slightly north, aiming for the Eegin Gol – the river that thwarted us back in Snag-gulp Eewr.
South of the Khosvgol mountains, it is stinking hot, dust sticks to your sweat and stays, and it’s many many kilometres before a river that can wash it away. The food fantasies have begun in earnest – burgers with fresh crispy lettuce and juicy tomatoes, relish, mayonnaise, potato salad, mangoes, wild strawberries goddamnit, cucumber raita … fresh things, please god … to deal with the heat, we rest in the shade for a couple of one-hour blocks, on the rare occasions there are enough trees to make this possible. After canned Russian mackerel and cold huushur for lunch, I doze under a pine tree, and when I wake up, a few hundred goats bleat over the pass.
A few ks down the road, we’ve taken a turn down into the valley and are far from the high road we should be on, when, the big dark Mongolian storm clouds pile into the sky. We consider hiding out under the tarp in a ditch to avoid the lightning, but decide to head back to this obscure agricultural construction site just as the rain gets really heavy, and a few minutes later there are hailstones as big as grapes coming out of the once-baking sky.
Three Mongolian labourers and their stolid cooking wench welcome us into their trailer, and without blinking we are served bowls of steaming something meaty soup, with balls of stale delicious deep-fried dipping dough.
We hang out, show them our topographical maps, make awkward phrasebook small talk, when around the corner of the trailer a cement mixer starts tipping all this silver … cement? A what the hell?
Tama races outside with his SLR, I race outside with the flip, and there is, man it’s a flashflood of hailstones and water, smashing down the drainage ditch and overflowing in crazy waves of ice, like a glacier on fast-forward. The track we’d been on thirty minutes earlier is under a foot or two of water, and all manner of crazy flotsam is washing past … if we’d been hiding from the lightning in that ditch, well.
One of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed, especially a couple of hours later when the hailstones suddenly started melting sending a mad mist and waves of cold air out over the ruined wheat-fields …
That night we stay in the trailer with the construction peasants, drink Chinggis, learn three or four words of Mongolian (Ot – star; Naraa or Saraa – moon), and cuddle up in a row in the trailer like peas in a pod in a NZ tramping hut, feet sticking out of the bed.