On our third day, we visited a National Park, Yoliin Am, Valley of the Vultures. We travelled down some very bumpy roads to get there. Sorry, not roads, tracks! It beggars belief how they manage to navigate in this landscape. You can be driving down a dirt track through the desert, then all of a sudden, the track might split into three. There are no clear markers as to where you are, no signs at all, but Baggi just knows where to go. I’d be a whitened pile of bones in no time if I was left to my own devices! After the jolting journey, we were relieved to be able to get out and stretch our legs as we went for a walk through a gorge. The river was just a trickle, and was iced over in places – I imagine in the past it must have been quite a torrent to carve such a cleft in the rock though. Cliffs towered on either side, blue sky chinking through above us, and there were lots of little ‘murine’ rodents scampering about. These were about the size of guinea pigs and golden brown in colour. They would race across the path and up the rocks, in and out of their burrows, scolding us with indignant squeaks when at a safe distance. This was vulture country, but we didn’t see any. Although they are known to inhabit this area, we didn’t see any snow leopards either, of course, but I like to imagine that they were peering at us from behind some rocky outcrop.
That afternoon, we were treated to a surprise shower! We visited a bath house in a town we were passing through where you could have a shower for about 66p. Families that live in gers often use bath houses like these, as there is no running water in the desert!
The family we stayed with that night kept goats, and as the sun got lower in the sky, they filed over the hilltop into the valley where the ger camp was. One goat was really friendly; we christened her Galadriel. She really liked a scratch on the head. A very dusty jeep pulled up and the goats crowded around it and started licking off all the dust – a Gobi desert car wash! We had milk tea again with the family and passed around a cup of fermented goat milk. This was cold and a bit fizzy and very strong tasting. It was pretty cold in our ger that night, as only half of the roof hole was covered, so Luke and Jeff cobbled together a cardboard cover so that the heat didn’t escape quite so quickly. This was to become quite a regular occurrence, always with different materials, resulting in a haphazard patchwork that never failed to amuse the nomads. The stove was powered by dung, as this is the most readily available fuel in the desert. It didn’t smell bad either!
That night, despite having felt quite warm under my three layers of sleeping bags, thermals and PJs, I started uncontrollably shivering. Partway through the night I had to get up and urgently go to the toilet, but even with Luke’s help I couldn’t find the hut in time as the moon hadn’t risen yet, so I had to go on the surrounding land with the icy wind biting at my poor exposed buttocks. I felt a bit better and went back to bed, but a few hours later I was up again. I just made it outside in time to vomit profusely in front of an audience of inquisitive goats, who had come blinking up in the torchlight to see what was happening. After another trip to the loo (which I found this time), I felt much relieved! I am not sure what triggered it, but I was fine the next day, if a bit exhausted from lack of sleep!