We got up early and continued our trek south. We stopped in the small town of Baruunbayan Ulaan, where we met up with the large truck (affectionally called the “Kimaz”) that caused so much trouble for the earlier expedition members. The truck had engine trouble, causing the group to take six days to travel to Bugin Tsav (it would take us only two days).
As we continued south (now with five vehicles and 12 members), we stopped at one of the several ovoos along the road. An ovoo (or heap) is a type of shamanistic cairn usually made from rocks, bone and wood. When travelling, it is custom to stop and circle an ovoo three times in clockwise direction, placing a stone each time onto the pile. This is done in order to have a safer journey and secure blessings from the spirits. Blue silk scarves called Khatags are tied to the ovoo and offerings in the form of sweets, money, milk or vodka are left as well.
After crossing the Gobi Altai Range, the “Kimaz” broke down. It took a few hours for the drivers to finally get the truck running. By this time it was getting late, and we decided to continue on to base camp at Bugin Tsav instead of making camp for a second night. We arrived at base camp around 11 p.m. and were met with warm welcomes by everyone.
After introductions, food and stories of our travels, it was too late to set up tents. Louis and I decided to just unroll our sleeping bags on the sand and sleep under the stars. Lucky for us, it turns out to be a clear and calm night.
(In photo: John Graf tying a Khatag to an ovoo at Naran Bulak.)