|Hole #5: A Day in the Life
I don't wear a watch but I always know it's time to get up when the sun starts warming up my tent until it feels like the inside of a microwave popcorn bag. If you're wondering what a day in the life of the Golf Mongolia expedition is like, then here it is.
Breakfast. It's MacCereal of course. It comes in little packets that have an American flag and a bald eagle on the front. It's all natural - just dehydrated milk, sugar, and tiny rice and corn flakes. It's meant to be eaten warm but I can't be bothered heating up water that early in the morning so I just eat it cold. I love the name MacCereal, but it's not even close to the best name I've seen in Mongolia. There's a hamburger restaurant in Ulaan Baatar with golden arches in the shape of an "M", with yellow letters on a red background spelling out the name MonRonald's.
The sun always puts in a full day's work in Mongolia. It gets up early and doesn't retire until around 10:00 PM, beating relentlessly all day. There are no trees on the steppe. Not one. There's nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from the brutality of the solar rays. I tried setting up my tent one mid-afternoon, but the "greenhouse effect" was so great it would have made Al Gore dance the merengue.
Survival on the steppe boils down to water. "It's the water, stupid" would be the politicians' slogan if there were anyone to hear them out there. I obsess about water all day, calculating and recalculating how much I've used divided by how far I've traveled. I always come up with the same answer: I'll never make it to the next town. That little plastic water bottle sings its Siren song to me all day. It would be no problem for me to guzzle down two liters in one go, but instead I take these tiny sips and swirl them in my mouth, rationing every drop. This usually leaves me unsatisfied and one minute later I'm thirsty again. I've always been idealistic, but today I think I'd trade world peace for a pitcher of lemonade with floating ice cubes.
I spot a ger in the distance. The traditional Mongolian home, a round, white canvas and felt tent, popping out of the steppe like a single barnacle on a ship's hull. I know it'll be worth the effort to sidetrack over there and, quite frankly, I don't have a choice. My typical ger conversation using my limited Mongolian usually goes something like this:
Mongolians: Hello, where are you going and what are you doing?
Andre: Today, it's hot.
Mongolians: Yeah, it's hot. Where are you coming from?
Andre: I'm going to Ulaan Baatar.
Mongolians: Aren't there any trucks or jeeps?
Andre: I like to walk.
This is such a lame answer that it's usually followed by a period of silence where the Mongolians look at each other with strange expressions of bewilderment on their faces. I break the silence by saying "Do you have any water?" This usually gets me invited into the ger for some hot, milky tea. Not exactly the lemonade I was dreaming of but it quenches the thirst nevertheless.
After I'm finished telling them my name, age, nationality, marital status, family background, and profession, one of the adults usually sends the kids to fill up my water bottles. Every ger has a barrel of water next to it. I don't know where this water comes from and, to tell you the truth, I really don't want to know.