Parched plants scattered the landscape. Dune beetles scurried across the sea of sand. Wisps of cloud drifted through the grey-blue sky. Not a single building was in sight, just the vast expanse of the Gobi desert lay before our sheltered, Vermont eyes.
Let me interject here, I’m not by any means implying that all Vermonters are sheltered homebodies who’ve never seen anything past Hinsdale or Keene, but I am implying, just slightly, that a lot of us, not including me, have never been very far away from home. Glad I got that off my chest before you jumped to conclusions to criticize my opinions. As I was saying…
Behind us, the occasional sound of coal trucks taking their long journeys on the vast Mongolian highway could be heard. Across from the highway, a scene straight out of Mad Max lay before us; grey, brown, flat, endless expanse, coal plants spewing spires of white smoke into the smog, and dry, barren trees dotted around the area. Brush fires sprouted up in the plains and parched farm plots filled the remaining land. Beyond the smog was probably the big nothing: a vile salt flat stretching for hundreds of miles covering the remains of humanity underneath thousands of feet of dried minerals. Well, it wasn’t quite that extreme, but it sure reminded me of it.
We hopped into some desert rig, jeep type vehicles with turf covering the bed where we all sat. One by one we piled into the six seats that were nicely placed on the back of the jeeps. The engines revved and our drivers kicked the jeeps into gear. We were off to see the camels! The vehicles wrangled the terrain better than any car back in VT could ever dream of. Down 90 degree slopes, flying over small dune hills and nearly tipping over every ten feet. Before we knew it, we were face to face with giant, two humped camels, all tied to each other with interesting nose-rings. And we rode the camels, yaay.
Okay, I understand that look. Yeah, I know I didn’t describe riding camels in enough detail, what am I supposed to say? It’s like riding a big horse on a beach? I don’t know… So, Camels are awesome, they have super thick fur, they fart every minute or so, they poop wherever they please, they spit on people who get too close- wait a second, this sounds awfully familiar, oh right! Horses! If you’ve ridden a horse then you know what it feels like, and if you haven’t, go to a farm because I just described it for you. Alright, let’s fast-forward several hours…
The dried, yellow grass blew softly in the cool, Mongolian spring air. Magpies scattered from trees as each step crunched the parched, brown path. The wind whistled in the air and rustled the tiny pines. We all scattered among the hills and took our own paths. Patrick and I walked the ridges of the hills, comparing the scenery to the likes of the Southwest United States or California. After jogging past Fairen meditating peacefully on a small peak, we continued to the farthest reasonable one we could find. It felt like running with the Orcs from Lord of the Rings and that’s when I realized, I’d be a terrible Orc. I was out of breath completely by the time we reached the next peak only a couple hundred feet from Fairen. Pat and I built ourselves two rock cairns and some spiral rock trails tapering off from the center then finished off the art with the letters JE.
Out of all the days so far, this day, by a land slide, has been my favorite so far. In terms of scenery, new people, adventures with each other, just ever single aspect of it. The hills reminded me of my uncle’s house in Albuquerque New Mexico, one of my favorite cities in the US and made me appreciate the vast diversity of the country that I live in. As we traveled the Sand Dunes after the camels, I came across an old tourist location that had been eaten up entirely by the sand to the point where only the clay heads of Mongols could be seen and I realized how seriously needed the Mongolians anti-desertification practices are. Now I understand why China plants more trees than any other country on earth, because they don’t want valuable farmland to be lost to the sea of sand.
The day was a long one and had much time for reflection. As I walked through the desert, I thought of the people and events that brought me to where I am today, and as I built the cairn with Patrick, I thought of how lucky I am to live as a white, American Vermonter, whose life is virtually free of the strife that the majority of my human brethren live through every day. Difficulties that I could never even imagine that just pass over my radar, and it’s events and trips like this that open my eyes to other lifestyles and really puts in perspective my problems vs those who don’t even have their own car or have hot water.