After 3 weeks working hard filming to support solidary social projects, I decided it was time to explore Mongolia my way. I journeyed to the remote areas of the north-west by walk and hitch hike. Everything was going too well, being invited to eat and sleep by almost every nomad I encountered and enjoying the wild soul of this unique country. However, as often, I challenged my fate and I took myself too far. I was about to live 2 days 2 the limit.
After staying with a family of Nomads who even sacrificed a sheep to offer me a delightful dinner, it was time to hit the road again. A family member was leaving by an old car and he offered to take me to the path which leaded to my next destination, Baruunturun. He bade farewell with a wide smile. It was 10am and already real warm, with no geographical accidents in the landscape and just plain and endless steep ahead, I started to walk. I enjoyed hiking to the horizon crossing words from time to time with camel, goat and horse herders. After 2 hours something went wrong. I knew I had to head south-east and even though so far I was walking straight to the east, I was not worried hoping the path would eventually turn south. However, it turned north, with nothing in between me and Russia. I decided to follow my instinct and walk in the direction I knew I had to face, although being off road I had no chance to hitch hike. It then began my journey across the desert.
I was literally going away, leaving behind the spare Gers along the landscape. In the horizon I could not see track of human life, but it was still noon. After few hours walking, a local man drove towards me on his motorbike to let me know that I was right, the first man left me in a wrong path and now I had to catch up with the right way. Every step made me realize I was getting into trouble. 35ºC, almost no water left and no houses around, a desert of wild wolves and freezing cold nights is definitely not the best place to find yourself homeless once evening falls. At some point, I was convinced to be seeing a Ger far in front. I speeded up and started to dream with milk tea and perhaps end up my traveling day staying over. After 2 hours walking and only when I was barely 100 meters away, I realized the Ger was actually 2 white sheep together. Despite having journeyed already 5 hours under a blazing Sun with 20 kg weight the scene made me laugh.
I went on committed to find the road where I could finally hitch hike…although I had seen no cars around in the whole day…and in the desert you spot anything moving within 15 km. Luckily, then I saw a group of houses at the horizon, maybe I had walked a lot and that was the town I intended to reach? Although I wanted to rest, excitement pushed me to keep on, step by step over the sand of the desert. I felt physically good and even proud of such a day walking with heavy weight on my shoulders, but then I looked up and the houses had vanished, they were not there. To avoid over thinking I kept on walking saying to myself that my point was finding the road, realizing that now I had no choice, I could not stop. I had almost no water, I started to be tired and dusk was coming. It is hard to explain and even harder to believe, but a while after, the houses were there again, now clearer and closer than ever. I thought earlier it probably was a visual effect…but I was wrong again. The houses were sometimes real close, later further than ever and other times…they were not there at all.
It was 7pm, with 9 hours walking non-stop and still no track of neither a place where I could crash at night…nor the road, the goddamn road. When I was starting to feel hopeless, I saw a car and guessing he was on the road I walked towards there. It took me another two hours. It was getting dark and I had no water, but I was on the right path, hopefully somebody would pass. It was around 10pm and when I had no idea what I would do, finally a car picked me up. I arrived to Baruunturun at midnight and I stayed at some local Karaoke-Motel where I was so fortunate to have as soundtrack the out-of-tune shrill voices of vodka-drunk locals at the room right next. It felt incredibly nice to feel safe.
The next day I promised to myself that I would take it easy, finding the right road in the morning and hitch hiking to the next village, Tes, 300 km away. And so I did. I found the road after an hour walk and half an hour later I was traveling at the back of a truck, easy business. 2 hours later the truck stopped to load. The driver explained that once they finish they will go back. However, the guys from the land where the truck was loading were going to Tes, lucky me! I asked for a ride and they said yes…if I paid…400,000 tugriks! (160€). I laughed and left.
It was cloudy and I intended to stay near a place where I could cover in case it rained. I walked and waited next to a Ger till another truck passed. They dropped me in the middle of a field and said that I had to walk 4 km south to find the road to Tes. After forty minutes I was near the road when I started to feel rain drops. I had 2 cameras and a laptop in the backpack. “I will walk fast to hit the road and then I will protect my equipment”. Although I did not want to stay far of any Ger fearing rain, now I could see just one far away on top of a hill. Once I hit the road it started to rain, so I speeded up the process of protecting my gear: a rain bag for the big camera backpack, a plastic bag around the small camera bag, a big garbage bag for the big backpack and a rain coat for me, it seemed OK…but it was not, the big storm blew up. All in a sudden it got extremely windy and the rain began to fall heavily. I wanted to reach the Ger, but I realized my equipment was not safe enough and it could get wet. By instinct, I placed the bags together and myself on top, covering them with my rain coat and hoping for the storm to pass soon…but it didn’t.
It had been already 3 hours under the rain, wind and cold, moment when I realized it would probably stay like this much longer. I started saying to myself: “hell, this ain’t getting any better. I’m dying. I’m dying. I’m dying…” While I kept repeating this in a catatonic state I noticed how wet I actually was and that I could neither feel nor move my hands because of cold. Then I had a moment of realization and I yelled out loud “I’m dying!” Not even conscious of what I was doing, I stood up in a move with one of the camera packs on my back and another under my jacket, I held the backpack upside down with my both arms and I started walking towards that Ger in top of the hill not even caring to leave food and water behind. It was an uncomfortable position to carry the 12-kg backpack, but this way I could protect it surrounding it with my arms while the other 2 camera packs were ‘safe’, one under my jacket another on my back with a rain cover. While walking I suddenly felt how extremely windy and cold it was and I did not know if it just got much worse and I took the right moment to leave or, most likely, that was the weather I had been facing for the last 3 hours curled up by the side of that inglorious path waiting for a vehicle which never passed and hoping for the end of a storm that only got worse. As if it was not enough challenge, my pants were falling down being unable to pull them up and the land was full of holes. Even if I saw them and knew I had to avoid them, I just couldn’t, falling into them several times and standing up the same amount of times.
Last part of the journey against the storm was tough, being required to climb the hill. Finally, with the very last zip of energy I made it to the top and I started walking around the Ger. In Nomad hospitality most of the times the Ger’s door is open, meaning that you are welcome and you will be attended. However, bad luck, the door was closed. This time I had no time for formalities and I just knocked the door yelling while shaking of cold “sain bain uu!” “sain bain uuuu!” (Hello in Mongolian). Finally a middle-aged man opened the door and after checking me all the way up to down not even changing his facial expression he invited me to come inside. I fell down in the carpet, took off my gloves and placed my hands at the very few warm parts still left in my body. I was safe.
The time with my host was special. Normally I feel pity of being unable to talk, although I always find ways to communicate and hold a conversation. However, this time was different. I did not have the power to talk and my Mongol savior did not seem to feel like hearing either. Somehow we both appreciated not having a common language to avoid protocol talks. This time communication went way more basic and efficient. I was freezing to death, he started a fire. I had energy down to the bottom, he took a piece of hanging meat, boiled it with some pasta and gave me eat. I was extremely tired, he lied down and fell asleep, letting me know this way that I was welcome to stay over.
Now, the storm feels almost charming from inside my sleeping bag while I write this lines, promising to myself, once again, this is the last time I take myself to the limit.