16-Sep-2004 -- This visit was supposed to be the easy one – in the middle of a huge grassy steppe. However it beat us 2 days earlier at 47 116 and would not be taken easily today.
We spent 2 nights at Sumber in the far east of Mongolia and considered points for our return journey to Choibalsan. At the planning meeting we were disappointed to learn that the most easterly point in Mongolia would be almost impossible (mountains and no roads) and that the next point west (47N 116E) would be difficult as the rain that was falling would make the roads very difficult. If we got stuck we would just have to wait for the wolves to get us! Reluctantly we settled on the only other possible point – 47N 117E.
After visiting fields and the farm “brigade” we set off back west and towards our point.
The roads were slippery and after a couple of slides we managed to flip. No one was hurt and after righting her, cleaning out the air filter (full of oil) and clearing up a lot of mess (!), we set off again. The road passed one salt marsh with a causeway across it. One car was stuck in the mud on this but we managed to slither round. With more heavy rain things were looking tricky at this point but we returned to drier land and the rain stopped and soon we were at point “easy”.
At the point the novelty of point hunting must have worn off for some as only 4 of us got out of the van! However everyone got out for a photocall a short while later when we reached a salt lake used for salt production. A camel cart is used to carry the wet, harvested salt back to the camp, where it as allowed to dry before being transported out.
The rest of the journey should have taken 5 hours but actually took nearly 24 hours. Soon after leaving the salt lake we saw a herd of 100 gazelle. The strong wind died and it became foggy. The road passed through a large salt marsh and then as night fell we ran out of fuel. This was not an immediate problem but the 25 litres we had in the spare tank would not take us all the way back to Choibalsan. However, at that point we had little choice but to carry on and hope for miracles. A little later the accelerator pedal of the van failed. A linkage had broken and despite our best endeavours to “Mongolize” a repair – 7 hands are better than one - it failed too. The solution was to operate the throttle using a string from the passenger seat. Although slow we managed to continue until the driver had to sleep. After 2 hours we set off again with a sporting chance of making the 9am flight back to Ulaanbaatar but we had not pleased the Gods and the fuel ran out 40km short. After walking 8 km to the nearest herder with a motorbike we sent the driver off with him for fuel and a spare part for the accelerator.
Choi and I sat in and around the ger, without the energy to walk back to the van, while the herder’s wife provided us with tea and cheese and got on with the business of boiling milk (to separate the cream) and making yoghurt.
We finally made it to Choibalsan at 3pm. Having missed our flight we decided to drive back to UB – undaunted (or some might say “some people never learn”) new opportunities for CP hunting were emerging!! ….. see 48N 113E.