Monday, August 23, 2010

Hot mud and rain

Yesterday the tour agent informed me that due to bad weather, helicopter flights had been cancelled. This was a shame, but they suggested I meet with their friends to go to a remote hot spring and so on, for the day. I was given a time and a place, but no names or numbers. After making the rendezvous point I wandered around shivering slightly for about 10 minutes, wondering just how this was going to work. After a while I saw a man in camo water proof clothing (pretty common in Russia, actually) say the words 'Australian' and 'red hair' in Russian, and so all was sorted. We jumped in a series of buses and taxis, then walked about 4km. Along the way the man (Nikolai) carried an empty plastic bag, which he proceeded to fill with an astounding variety of leaves which he spotted, then bounded off the track to collect. In the meantime, he whistled a bit to warn the bears we were coming. There were 7 of us in total. The track steadily degraded, and passing a half submerged car, degenerated into a loamy, peaty track next to a swiftly flowing stream. At last the scenery opened out to reveal a rather makeshift looking hut next to an ancient, mineral encrusted well-head, presumably sunk into underlying strata. Hot water bubbled up, and ducted through several insulated pipes to heat the hut, filled a series of mud-lined dams before flooding a section of ground filled with dead Birch trees. Several decaying slabs of reinforced cement completed the picture, and combined with the smell of sulfur, it was really quite something.

We dumped our food on the table, stripped to our underwear, and took off down the track towards the river. The river ran between muddy banks (not the usual stones), and was freezing. I decided it was now or never and had a dip, which was actually not nearly as painful as I thought it might be. We returned to the pools and gradually immersed ourself in water that was pretty hot. Rolling around in the mud and clay (a deep blue colour) we soaked and steamed until we were bright red and puffy, and there was nothing for it but to run back to the river and jump in. Putting your head under stimulates the mammalian diving reflex (in a BIG way), which is probably why the experience wasn't fatal! After a while we scraped off most of the mud, dressed, and ate most of the food we'd brought. Nikolai poured his leaves into a cauldron and cooked up an amazing tea. We left in quite a hurry to meet the taxi driver, and sadly I forgot my wet underwear, which I'd left on one of the pipes to dry.

About a 40 minute walk back (no sign of bears), then a series of 3 buses taking about 2 hours (one of which was full of men from the navy), and I was home. I cooked about 60 ANZAC biscuits (though some went missing in action...), then walked across town to meet another couch surfer (Tanya), her family, and two couchsurfers from Australia. They are the first Australian tourists I've seen the WHOLE trip (there were 3 others, geologists and mining engineers in various places), and to my delight I discovered I had not forgotten how to speak the lingo. We chatted for the rest of the evening. My knee had got a bit sore (from the bus ride after climbing the volcano, crammed into a tiny seat!), but Olya, who is a physio, confirmed that it was nothing too serious. I put my raincoat back on and struggled through wind and driving rain (which looked amazing under yellow street lights) to my flat, where I took a shower (win!), closed the door (win!), and slept on a bed with sheets (win!!!). 

Today the weather is awful, so I slept in, then ate food and uploaded photos. They are visible here:
This album completes Mongolia, meaning I'm only 46 days behind now.

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