30 days alone in the Mongolian desert
It was just before the health crisis of COVID-19. Tired of the northern storms, I challenged myself to cross a sand desert. Alone, in total autonomy, with a bag, a tarpaulin and rations. Until now I was used to cross the northern tundras beaten by the rains and the high winds…I had never faced the sun and the sand.
Paris – Moscow – Ulan Bator – Uliastay. After 6 hours of flight and 14 hours of bus in off-road I arrived in Uliastay, start of the adventure!
I arrive at sunrise in the small capital of the district of Uliastay. This region is one of the poorest and most remote regions of Mongolia. The maps are blurred, no tourist, the Gobie desert is not far. PERFECT! This is where I decided to start my adventure, along the Zavkhan river.
A turquoise river which undulates between the dunes. The dream! At least, from Paris sitting behind his computer screen. Because contrary to the Nordic storms that I am used to face, the daily repetition of the thermal shocks +35°C (day); +2°C (night), the walk in the sand, this incessant blue sky… tire the body and the mind. No rise to “grumble”, no slope to breathe, no cloud to distract you. I miss the battles against the elements, experienced in the great North. They distract the mind and make you forget the pain of the moment.
The young nomad
I advanced 20 days thus. With time, the body gets used to it, the fatigue decreases… leaving place to an immense silence and a great NOTHING. And then the impossibility to give up which prevents any cry…because my plane was waiting for me 700km further, in Khovd. As I progressed in the steppe, human encounters became rarer and the eyes became wide with bewilderment. Nobody crosses this region, not even the Mongolian riders… there would be wolves and the dunes are too difficult to ride.
It is in these moments that we rely on what I call “the great chance”. You know the one that takes care of you, and always organizes a spicy daily life! Negative and positive! But worthy of the greatest travel agencies … welcome at the inhabitant’s, nights at the beautiful face of landscapes out of norms … horse riding … race of motorcycle cross in the dunes … We will forget the swarms of flies, the heat wave, the falls in the marshes … the thirst…. It is in the middle of this complete planning that a young nomad invites me to have dinner in his yurt. A magical evening between horse training and exchanges on our ways of life. Thanks to the mimes and drawings on the sand… And then in the morning, a rodeo on a motocross bike and here I am again on foot with my 50kg on my back.
Lakes and boredom
21st day. After the dunes and this flat immensity where I almost lost the North … I fall on a Soviet ruin. A night protected by 4 walls far from the herds of wild horses. At sunrise, I take full South direction Khovd … The dunes and the river leave place to a grey region of rocks, strewn with big immobile lakes. No wind. No waves. No noise.
The crossing of the desert having been done faster than expected, I gained 7 days on my estimate. 7 days to wait in this empty immensity before the return plane. Not too far from the only water point, not too far from the nomads’ track…Not too far from a high point to sleep protected from the herds…In short, it is here that I discovered the real ENNUIE. The one that happens when you have eaten, drunk, read, written, cried, walked, drawn, contemplated…this big white page without any roughness…or rather this big white and smooth wall that hits you in the face. ENNUIE. Luxury or hell. I would have said hell and now back in Paris, I will say luxury. We are never happy!
The monk and the Chinese mafia
28th day! Here I am in a progressive return to civilization! The nomads appear again. When I tell them my journey I have the right to a copious and well-watered meal, accompanied by laughter and curious looks. Little by little they leave place to the landowners and I discover the extreme poverty of the property… before crossing the shanty towns of Khovd and their poor workers. And then suddenly I am welcomed by a pharmacist who will guide me to a monk and his Buddhist temple. We exchange on the walk and the different journeys we have lived…he to escape China…I to “take a break”. A dinner based on sheep’s head and sacred water will be the reason of me… slumped on the sacred mountain of Khovd I spend a horrible night… which will have the merit to heal me!
The morning, I go down well lightened and cross 4 black range rover. 10 young Chinese and an old man get off. Investors in gold… master Kung fuh… I find myself taken in picture with the old man who holds my ring finger. All this while my solar charger charges my satellite phone. Back to civilization!