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Gangrene anyone?

Day 5: Camp Spot 1 Middle of Nowhere to Camp Spot 2 Middle of Nowhere

Unfortunately Rick’s Mongolian Horse Flu had subsided and he was up to continue riding the next day. Dammitdammitdammit I was hoping he’d been struck by a deadly but temporary illness that would cause us to have to recuperate in a Chinese spa (as they don’t exist in Mongolia).

We are feeling bonny again (lower case ‘b’, or that would be creepy) because we have figured out how to get our horses to canter. While this is terrifying and worse on ankles, knees, back, jaw, arms, and thighs, at least it takes pressure off our bottoms. We get in trouble for stopping the horses after cantering because the blood will run to their legs and kill them. Chinzo doesn’t realize that this was exactly our plan. But nothing lasts forever, cantering becomes too exhausting, and we fall back into masochistic trotting.

We are not alone in hating horses. Ten wild dogs run at us, nipping at Bambam’s heels. Bambam doesn’t care and unfortunately the dogs do not eat him. White cows with horns the size of horns surround us, blocking us on both sides with evil intent in their jaundiced, bloodshot eyes. Once again, sadly, they do not gore Bambam nor cause a bloody, painful death.

Chinzo points to some brown hill seventeen thousand miles yonder and mumbles something about that being the frontier to Russia. This perks me up. I can say I’ve ridden a horse from Mongolia to Russia! Two hours later I ask him if we are close to the border, at which point he calls out my ignorance and says “You didn’t understand me earlier did you? Did you?!” My reaction in these situations is to say nothing, but Chinzo keeps insisting, trying to get me to admit how stupid I am. Rick is kind enough to rescue me, and falls on the sword, saying yes, he didn’t understand him. Chinzo mutters something disdainfully about a black line and trots off.

“What bloody black line?” I ask Rick who is much nicer than Chinzo and points it out. Sure enough there is an eight meter wide brown line that stretches the entire Russian/Mongolian border. You may have noticed I have not made as much fun of Rick in this blog as usual. This is because he is being less annoying than usual.

Side note: Chinzo is our main guide, who is with us the whole trip. Tseren-dash is our horse guide for three days and he is super nice. He can’t speak a word of English, not even hello, but always has a smile on his face. He is 70 years old and fit as a fiddle. Most of the people we have met in Mongolia seem really nice, but unfortunately English is few and far between. Only Eric, our guide in Ulaan Baatar, and Chinzo have spoken fluently. Twopsha the cook knows a bit but not enough to have more than a few word conversation with. So Chinzo – sour, taciturn, and bigoted – is Mongolia’s finest representative. Chinzo is one of those people who does know a lot, about everything, but has a very one-sided point of view. Because my world history is awful it’s impossible to argue with him and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m afraid to ask a question for fear of being reprimanded, called ignorant, or having to listen to his biased monologue for the next thirty minutes. I know I shouldn’t be offended, because he calls all westerners, easterners, northerners, and southerners ignorant, but I’m getting a sore jaw from gnashing my teeth.

After about eight hours riding today Chinzo tells us we’re camping just over the next ridge near the lake, and can we make it a few more kilometers. We are aching and breaking and dying for water. Chinzo tells us off for not having any. “A herdsman always carries water”. Yeah, do we look like herdsmen? However we don’t want to quit so we continue, parched, under the blazing sunlight. My tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth and my lips are cracked and dry. The temperature is so variable here that it can change 40 degrees F in a day. I was in a t-shirt at this point but afraid of getting sunburned, which meant covering up with a heatstroke inducing thermal top.

Like yesterday Chinzo and Tseren-dash leave us in the dust, which is better than having to make conversation. However Chinzo’s definition of ‘just’ is a little different than ours so we don’t get there for another two hours. Our first view of our tent, a yellow dot on the horizon of the steepe, is welcome, but it is surrounded by dozens of curious cows. We watch from a distance as the tent falls over and the cows poo all over it.

We finally make it to camp and Chinzo offers to set up a shower tent for us. Of course he wouldn’t set it up himself because he is fat and lazy, but the cook and driver do. I fully admit that we are equally lazy, and are happy do nothing but watch. Besides the fact that the floor of the shower tent is covered in cowpoo this is awesome because we haven’t showered in two days. I splash the two tablespoons worth of water available over me and use the 2-in-1 shampoo as soap and get most of the important parts. My feet are covered in poo by the time I get back to the tent, but at least no one can smell me from a distance of ten feet or more.

For some reason Chinzo tells us we did well today, and that Mongolians rarely tell people nice things. So, he bestows, this is a compliment worth it’s weight in gold and we should express (by groveling obsequiously) our appreciation of his benevolence. He goes on to describe why his expectations were so low (because we were inexperienced non-Mongolian losers), reducing the value of the compliment to rusty tin. I agree we are inexperienced non-Mongolian losers, but couldn’t he say it in a nicer way?

In the tent that night I admit, mortified, to Rick “I think I have a problem with my bottom”. Rick, bless his heart, offers to take a look. I am expecting raw, bleeding, weeping wounds from the riding, and to both our horror my butt IS covered with raw, bleeding, weeping wounds! Oh god, the shame, the pain, the fear of infection, gangrene, amputation, losing my backside altogether. I’d thought saddle-sore was a synonym for weary, but I think it’s an actual thing! And one more day of horse riding too. Rick breaks out antiseptic spray and antibacterial ointment and does a good job patching me up. Then we realize that I’ve been bent over on hands and knees, and he’s been kneeling with a flashlight behind me, and goodness only knows what sort of shadow that projected on the tent. Rick tells me that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but I think this trip might actually kill us. Rick then confesses that he thinks he has the same affliction and could I please check. Yep, we are united in our disfigurement and I delicately tend to his pustulant sores in a kind and nurturing fashion.

It doesn’t help that what I will refer to as The Hounds of Hell have surrounded our tent, growling, sniffing, and scratching at the nylon walls. These are not nice little puppy dogs, but huge mutts with saliva dripping from their rabid fangs, claws as sharp as razors, and a hungry I-eat-New-Zealanders-for-breakfast type look in their eyes of glowing coal. As usual I need to pee in the middle of the night, so after a restless yoga-like pose I wake. Because I don’t want anyone to see me (no toilets, no mounds, bushes, or ravines) I take the flashlight but leave it off and walk as far from the tent as I dare, fearful that at any moment I will feel teeth tearing through my calves. I squat, ready for sweet release, when I hear a rustling next to me and a steadily growing snarl. I freeze in terror and fumble for the torch hoping I have an overactive imagination. The torch flickers on and there’s a giant hound crouched next to me, ready for dinner! My shriek pierces the night! The hound prepares itself to pounce, to tear my limbs, simultaneously licking its lips and extending its claws. I run to the tent, but trip with pants around ankles, landing in a big horse poo. No matter, I reach the tent and leap inside to safety.

In the morning the hounds have in fact transformed into friendly little puppies, but in my heart I’m onto their midnight shape-shifting ways.

Justine Cutler's photo.
Justine Cutler's photo.
Justine Cutler's photo.
Justine Cutler's photo.
Justine Cutler's photo.

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