A Gobi full of chives

‘If you walk towards that mountain, you will cut off a few kilometer and find the road to Yolyn Am. Good luck!’

As soon as the car started driving I remembered that I should have asked what the road would look like. Of course there was no road but a confusing collection of sandy trails coming up to me from the wrong side. For hours I walked with twenty kilogram of backpack without seeing any moving life except for insects and some birds. Hitching a ride with them was not a serious option.

While I contemplated the thirty five kilometers to the gorge, my slimming five liters of water and the artful but not so precise map, I noticed that my feet were brushing past some oddly familiar flowers. Would that be…? I plucked a small strand, smelled and took a bite. Yes! It was chives. The flowing and delicate carpet that stretched out for many kilometers was not made of grass but a common kitchen herb. If I were interested in making salad or soup I could pitch my tent in herbal heaven.

But of course I was not interested in camping some ten kilometers outside of town. After seeing the mountains from the bus, a wedding and a hotel window it was time to buckle up and get to the bloody peaks, with our without help. This was not the Sahara, I was in a desert full of chives. I was in a dry, warm and empty land, but I trusted that I would manage to survive. Within ten kilometers I would be able to find a ger. My water would last for another day and although I would be tired I had faith that my feet would take me to some friendly people when I got sick. I was not playing with my life, I was playing with my fear. Unless I would break two legs, bash my head and die I was quite safe. I was willing to bet on the odds.

I walked from mark to mark. If I could only make it to that barn, the top of the hill, those shrubs. I got tired and warm but managed to keep going. In the evening I finally found a road that led to an opening in the mountain range. At least it looked like a gorge. I led out a sigh of relieve and walked just an hour more. I pitched my tent at a fork in the road hoping that some people would find me. It was a strange and solemn night. As I was lying down on my mat I let go of almost all fears. With every breath I became calmer as I surrendered myself to possible danger. No use to be frightened before it happens. Just in case of a drunken man I put my knife next to my pillow and managed to get a surprising sound night of sleep. The following morning however my stomach was upset and I felt weak. I walked anyway but after a few kilometers I realized that I was being stupid. My milk had gone bad and I had only one liter of water left. The visitor center might have been only an hour away, but I did not even know if there would be people. A frowning man on a motorcycle was so kind to bring me to Dungenee ger camp. I was ushered in and selflessly cared for by the manager. I have never been so happy to eat fried sausages with black tea. Lying on the bed in my private ger I could see the mountains again, a little bit further away.

The next two days I waited for a ride and thought about my trip. There was not much more to do than to let my blisters heal and think about a rich life with little things. What would I need? I made a list of everything in my backpack and brought it down to a few things. Health, love, faith in the goodness of most people, the ability to endure some hardship and a way to express myself. A knife was handy too, just as warm clothes, five liters of water and a few days worth of food.
I remembered the story about a traveler with only a fanny pack filled with undies and his money. I slowly start to understand how that would be possible. Everywhere I go there are people around that could provide shelter and food. Out of my own choice I would never do without family and friends, but I was finding it increasingly easy to do without my stuff. The freedom that I got in return and the exchange I had with people, were simply more interesting. As long as there is some form of human presence in a place that is not desperate or dangerous you could go around with a fanny pack and currency. Be they money or skill.

Of course I know that it is easier for a European woman. I have the gray eyes, a little bit of money and the sympathy vote. Of course there is a small element of danger. Not everyone is friendly and you should not camp in winter without a fire to keep hungry wolves away. But for a while you can do without almost all just-in-case measurements. Mongolians do without many. We fill our house with stuff to keep out all discomfort. We then need to worry about our possessions. We want to have everything instantly working (again). We sooth our mind with insurances against disasters that have long odds. We are kept put by our cravings for predictability and comfort because we forget that we can simply endure so many things.

Maybe we need a new kind of ramadan. No repairs, complex tools and dependable services for a month. To expose the silliness of many of our cravings. Failed plans, lost favorite scarfs, a little bit of cold and some semi tasty artery clogging fried hotdogs are not the end of the world. We can endure much more than we think and Mongolia shows just how much you can do with almost nothing. The economy is on its downfall and there is real hardship to be found, but in the Gobi there are many kind people who try to be a decent human being. When you treat it carefully, it is in our human nature to help each other. Even if you sometimes have to ask ten people to get one. The Gobi of Mongolia is dry and desolate. But the desert is not bare, it is full of beautiful flowering chives.

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  1. Bea

    Hi Loes, you’re so right about the material stuff. In 1999 I traveled a few months and had the same experience. Life is so much simpler if we are able to let go of a lot of things. Of course, it hurts a bit when we have to give up all sorts of things that we are used to or that we’ve become attached to. Enjoying the abundance of everything we have is okay as long as it doesn’t possess us. See the beauty in chives or in clover, in rain and in sunshine in everything there is… Wishing you a wonderful journey and I really love it to be a small part of it through your journals and blogs. Thanks!

  2. Thank you Bea for your very encouraging words. You are especially right about enjoying the material things. No problem with that until it starts to clog your brain. It did mine anyway. Now that I had not much more than enjoying nature and good company every once in a while, it felt like freeing my mind. Please write me some more whenever you feel like it.

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