November 22, 2011

S is for Surprise

4:30 am

“It’s going to be a good day,” Baagii says, grinning broadly as she enters our ger (nomadic tent) at the crack of dawn to rouse us. “I have many surprises for you!”

Baagii, our spirited guide in Mongolia, is the star of our fifth day’s adventure in Hovd. It’s a long, entirely true story, necessarily made short(er) for this post. (Words in bold gray are links to directly related posts.)

The first surprise of the day – which Baagii did not plan – is that Magsar, our driver, fails to appear at camp at the appointed time. An inauspicious sign? Yet some hours later arrive he does, hurtling towards us in the dependable old Russian van that’s been delivering us to diverse corners of this remarkable aimag (province), leaving a cloud of dust behind him.

Hovd, 2007

12:00 pm

After some hours on the road taking us southeast from the capital, quite in the middle of nowhere, Magsar stops at the base of an unremarkable rocky mound and Baagii summons us to climb it.

Baagii and Sergelen

Turns out this hill is chockfull of ancient pictographs of animals dating back to 3500 BC.  Cool!


Our next stop is to say hello to a family of goat herders. Baagii sits down with the women to milk the goats with complete ease and surprising dexterity.



2:30 pm

A few hours down the road when we break to answer nature’s call in the most charming outhouse, our local guide Sergelen shows us more rock art and takes photos for scientific record. 


Onwards. We have not seen much vegetation or water this day, so this little stream with a few trees delights us. 


As the van crosses the stream, intrepid travel mate Pam squeals, “I love driving through water!” My immediate retort with a laugh, “Better wait till we get out of it” is in vain; the van smoothly glides over to the other side.

That is where we soon find another of Baagii’s surprises: the Khoit Tsenkher Cave… or perhaps I should say first: the climb up to this cave! The parked van is bottom right of this image; the cave top right.


We are enticed by tales that the cave is rich with Stone Age pictorials, pointing to cultured settlements here in prehistoric times. Our party of middle-agers huff and puff to the top. Magsar and Sergelen are the first to reach the entrance, with me and my camera not far behind.


Baagii bravely scours the cave for evidence of the promised 15,000-year-old paintings…


…but in the end all we find is graffiti left by idiots visitors who preceded us.


I learn later that almost all the rock art in this important cave – which made the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites – has been defaced or covered in dust. So the only timeless treasure we see is this magnificent view.


We descend only slightly disappointed. And return to the side of the stream to savor a late picnic lunch and rest.

We continue onwards, not knowing our final destination for the day, open to being surprised. 

6:20 pm

As it happens, we never make it. We reach another stream, but this time we don’t get to the other side. When the van stops dead, our hearts skip a beat. This is my view out the left window.


One by one we climb out of the van and gingerly walk back through the rocky stream, thigh-deep in water, whence we came. Once all our feet are safely back on terra firma, I look at the van and see this.


Well, so now what? Can’t exactly call a taxi. Can’t call anyone; there’s no cellular network out here.

The boys look frazzled and offer no solution. Baagii looks calm and tells us, “Please just wait. I will go get help.” And off she goes, across the river. The rest of us… wait. Several go for a long walk, hoping to meet a herder, anyone, along the way. Others read, or meditate, or perhaps pray.

I watch Baagii in the distance. She vanishes around the mountain.  Exactly one hour after leaving us, I behold her in admiration as she appears on a horse and gallops away to disappear again around another bend.


In the meantime, I see Magsar and Sergelen across the stream when a vehicle approaches them. It stops; there is a discussion, and what? – the jeep drives off without them! Later I hear they were not willing to help, but I’d like to think – being in this ├╝ber-hospitable land – that I just missed something in the translation.


Never mind, Baagii to the rescue! Again it is an hour later, exactly two hours since the van stopped midstream, when I spot her with the rescue team.


8:45 pm

It is this ragtag team of boys and men with Baagii and yours truly (in red) who manage in about 20 minutes to jiggle and grunt and 1-2-3 push… or make that rock and roll! this baby backwards to shore.

[Photo taken by my dear friend Ruth Lor Malloy]

As Baagii and I stand by the van still in the water, I assure her no one is upset. She is visibly relieved, beams me her dazzling smile and exclaims, “This was my surprise!” We both break out in a roar of laughter.

Back on shore, they decide to give the van time to dry out. We express our appreciation to the rescue team with small gifts we had brought to give along the way.


After dinner is prepared and eaten, the next question is whether this clunker can be made to start. While we hold our breath, Magsar gets behind the wheel, turns the key… and sputter, spurt - water squirts from the exhaust pipe - cough, cough… and vrooooom! Amazing!

The crowd claps with shrieks of glee. I turn to Baaggii and say, “Now no more surprises.”

We leave the stream at 9:40 pm and arrive safely back to camp three hours later.

This watery adventure full of surprises is linked with Our World Tuesday, ABC Wednesday (where the letter is S), Watery Wednesday and Outdoor Wednesday.

47 comments:

Indrani said...

What a great trip and terrific sights!

Sylvia K said...

WOW! What a trip you had, Cisca! Terrific captures! Such a fascinating place it looks to be. Thanks for taking us along and sharing the fun and the mishaps!! Hope you have a great week!

Sylvia

Pierre BOYER said...

Great !
Best regards from France,

Pierre

Traveling Hawk said...

This was an adventure! But people living there are used to solve any problem, not depending on technology, so it was really only a surprise. I like the photos, especially that made from the mountain to the valley.

Roger Owen Green said...

my goodness, a SLEW of SURPRISES. Great post!
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Mar said...

What a surprise! and superb trip, enjoyed the shots.

S is for ...

ladyfi said...

What a delightful and adventurous experience!

Jane and Chris said...

I thoroughly enjoyed my virtual trip!
Jane x

jane said...

Wow what an adventure - how wonderful to see the rock art and the goat farmers - but it seems you had a few Scary mments too. Jane UK

cieldequimper said...

Waiting for the next episode here, hope it comes soon!

joo said...

What a trip, Francisca and your photos are superb!
I'm going to join Ciel in waiting for more episodes:)
Hugs
j.

Andy said...

Usually I don't like long reads when it come to blogs. Too my surprise I enjoyed every word and photo of your surprise. Francisca, thanks for sharing.

jennyfreckles said...

It would have been quite an adventure even without the added spice! Those rock pictures are incredible, they must be goats?

EG Wow said...

What an adventure. I bet you worried a lot while you waited for Baagii to return but now you have this wonderful story to tell! I'm surprised the 3,000 year-old paintings have been defaced though. What a terrible shame.

Leslie: said...

What a lot of surprises for one day! I bet you were happy to get back...actually, I'm glad you DID manage to get back or else we'd be out looking for "relics" of human skulls! lol

Have a sweet day,
Leslie
abcw team

Genie said...

Loved the story...read each and every word of it. You told it so well. I had to giggle from time to time. Glad you got the antique out of the water and that you got to see such interesting landscapes. Sorry about the graffiti. Con’t believe it is over there, too. Guess it is everywhere. Keep travel and keep those stories coming...and keep practicing on “manual setting.” genie

Water come to me
Flow over my aging toes
Bring your soothing touch

FrankandMary said...

Finally, something that makes me feel young. ~Mary

Pat Tillett said...

What an amazing adventure you had. I really loved it. A great photo and word tour to a place I'll likely never see.

tapirgal said...

You've made a first-class journal for yourself here as well as for the rest of us. I'll bet it took all day to put this one together! What a great look at scenic beauty that few of us will have a chance to visit. And that's probably a good thing for the landscape and the culture!

J Bar said...

Awesome shots.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Andrea said...

Hi Francisca, is this trip different time with the one with a very unique arrow to an outhouse in the deserted area? This post will make a very good contribution to a travel mag! Amazing experiences you got there, you are really AWESOME. But why are you there in Mongolia? When you were in the river pushing the van, who took your photo. I am surprised too that even with those unusual and maybe scary experiences, you still don't forget to shoot lovely landscapes, a great journalist! Don't you think so?

Kaye said...

What a fantastic adventure. Your photos are wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

Francisca said...

@Andrea... Thanks for the kind words! The outhouse post you remember is indeed the one I mention here (and is linked). The photo of me pushing the van was taken by my hero Ruth, the star of another post I wrote earlier, where I also explain our mission in Mongolia. :-)

Andrea said...

Oh yes, now i remember i've read that one about Ruth, an awesome lady who must be awarded for all those things she does for the world. I re-read that beautiful article again, and yes my previous comment is my evidence.

Karen said...

Another amazing adventure! I love Baagii's sense of humour, "this is the surprise"... priceless

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This was an amazing adventure and you told the story so well, Francisca. I'm honestly surprise the van was able to be driven again after being submerged that deep in water. You are very fortunate that Baagii was able to find such good helpers!

The ancient drawings were so interesting! I agree with everyone elses that it is a shame that many are becoming defaced.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Fabulous trip. Beautiful pictures. Shame about the graffitti. Some things are the same everywhere sadly.

Ann said...

I am surprised the van didn't "die fire" Chinese for cease engine. after the water.

Would you consider joining the Amazing Race?

Tina´s PicStory said...

what a great and interesting trip! thanks for sharing with us ♥
till now we have a very nice autumn but if the rain, fog and grey comes i would like to live in the tropics :)

biebkriebels said...

That is a great story with a happy end thanks to your lovely guide. The surroundings are beautiful, specialy the emptiness of the country.

Shooting Parrots said...

What a great story! The trip was memorable, but somehow all the more memorable when something goes wrong.

jeanne said...

This tour was the best share ever. I loved the commentary and the photos so very much. I am glad your are safe from harm. BIG smile here.
Jeanne

Paco said...

Realmente impresionantes...

saludos

Kim, USA said...

My gush my heart stops for awhile, your story is awesome I feel I am also there. ^_^ Nice shots!

The Falls

Birgitta said...

So many interesting and great photos! Thanks for sharing!

Spare Parts and Pics said...

Incredible post and great adventure travel! Your newest follower.

Carola said...

Wonderful how you surprise us with your adventure. The photos are awesome. Outstanding post!

Gattina said...

Wow ! what an interesting trip full of surprises but also wonderful landscapes !

Halcyon said...

What an adventure! You got some great shots too. I love the story as well.

Barb said...

Now that is really living! Hats off to you, girl!

Evelyn said...

Fancisca! What an adventure. I love the places you go to.

ps. re your comment, I totally agree with you. I am very much an Asian gal at heart!!

Judie said...

Francisca, this is a wonderful post! The landscape looks almost identical to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert, except we have no rushing streams. We have petroglpyhs in a canyon not too far from my house. Your pictures are just wonderful!!

☆☆Mumsy said...

Wow..what an adventure you've had. I'm glad the van started again to bring you back to the camp.

Genie said...

Well, you can tell I am going back through all of your posts this morning. I have thought about your getting stuck so many times since I first read this post. I cannot tell you how many times I managed to get my old Land Rover - the one that was supposed to ford rivers and climb mountains - stuck in high muddy streams. It is not easy getting old heavy vehicles out and running again. I miss my Land Rover. Ridgie, my middle son, turned it upside down in our creek coming across our bridge after a “driving lesson” with Buddy. NOT GOOD! genie

Linnea said...

I think I just watched an adventure movie! Wow! Great shots and story and what fascinating landscapes. Thanks for dropping by at my rather unadventurous "s" post!

jabblog said...

What a wonderful story, Francisca, but so sad about the pictograms. The landscape is beautiful. What an intrepid traveller you are:-)

JM said...

I can only say this is a GREAT post! WOW, what a day! The photos are fabulous.