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:

Andre: Hello

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.

Some time during the day, I'll come across a truck parked by the side of the road and the truck drivers always wave at me to come over and see them. The trucks are usually hauling some kind of livestock and today it's camels and horses. In case you're interested, I learned that a horse costs about $80, and you can walk off into the sunset with Joe camel for about $200. I climb into the front seat of the truck and there are now five of us in there. One of the men pulls out a cardboard box from behind the seat that's filled with dried meat, bones, and scraps of bread. The five of us reach into the box with our dirty, greasy hands and tear off pieces of meat. I never would have guessed that cold, fatty mutton could have made me so happy.

I've gotten better at finding the golf ball after I hit it. I mark the line like a Labrador Retriever and then count my steps. The counting is sort of like meditation to me and keeps my mind from singing the bad Pop songs that always pop into my head. I'd like to pop Robbie Williams and Enrique Iglesias in the head for making such horrible music that sticks in my head, like the horse dung on my boots.

It's finally cooling off and I decide to stop for the day. The trick is setting up the tent fast enough so that the flies don't get inside. As I dive into my portable home, I notice that the combination of dust and sweat from the day has created a layer of filth on my legs thicker than Tammy Faye's makeup. There will be no shower today, however, or for many days to come.

When the sun decides to tuck itself over the horizon, it cools off fast. It actually feels good to climb into my sleeping bag. This is the part of the day when I feel most optimistic, and as I lie there in my tent, the optimism generates enough confidence in me to know that I can get up again tomorrow and do it all over again.

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