Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Imagine the worst dirt road you have ever been on ...

The road north from Hatgal, at the southern tip of Lake Hovsgol, to Dalbai, our research area 45 miles up the lake's eastern shore, is considered by drivers who have traveled widely here to be the worst in Mongolia.

Imagine the worst dirt road you have ever been on ...

The road north from Hatgal, at the southern tip of Lake Hovsgol, to Dalbai, our research area 45 miles up the lake’s eastern shore, is considered by drivers who have traveled widely here to be the worst in Mongolia.

That’s saying a lot.  In wet weather it is a gooey mud track that can cling to cars and trucks like glue, or suck them down like quicksand.  When the mud hardens, as it has in time for our drive, every rut, gully, hole and mound created by a previous vehicle hardens into a cement-like obstacle course that must be navigated over, around or through. 

This uncertain surface, which is still spotted with large sections of treacherous slime in low areas, forces the driver to break and accelerate, twist  and turn, and erratically maneuver like a drunken driver in a demolition derby.

Imagine the worst dirt road you have ever been on, multiply it by a factor of ten, sprinkle it with boulders, logs, and pools of mud as large as swimming pools, and you begin to approximate the surface of the road we were driving for a little over seven hours. 

Had it been raining, it would have taken ten… or longer.  Bobbie, our driver, said on a previous trip he was stuck so often it took him three days to travel less than a mile.

When I finally climbed from the car, after a slamming up and down on the hard parts and fish-tailing through the wet, sitting three-across in a back seat made for two, wedged in place with backpacks, camera  bags and flying bags of food for most of the day, I felt as though I had been traveling inside a mechanical bull.

It is good to be out and walking again.  Mongolia is really a country better suited for horse travel than cars. With luck, tomorrow’s drive will be a bit better.

About this blog
The age of exploration is not dead. Over the next six weeks, Robert Peck and colleagues from the Academy of Natural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania will be traveling in Mongolia, reconnecting with herdsmen Peck met 17 years ago and checking for evidence of climate change. Peck will chronicle his travels in the land once ruled by Genghis Khan on a blog at www.philly.com/treks


Robert McCracken Peck, senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Peck is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He has been honored by the Academy, the Explorers Club, and other organizations for his contributions to exploration and the interpretation of natural history. In 2007, the U.S. Department of State and the White House chose him to represent the United States at Mongolia’s 800th birthday celebration. Peck is the author of Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America (1990), Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition into Ecuador (1987), and other books and papers.

Clyde Goulden, Director of the Asia Center of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Goulden’s research in Asia began in 1994 when he and Academy colleagues were invited to initiate studies on a large lake in northern Mongolia, Lake Hovsgol. His work at the lake has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Global Environment Facility through the World Bank. He is associated with a research program to study the impacts of climate change on the lake’s watershed and the nomadic herders of Mongolia.

Tuya Goulden, researcher and international travel liaison
Tuya Goulden moved to the United States in 2006 from Mongolia and is a citizen of the U.S. In addition to college degrees from Mongolian universities, she has a master’s degree in tourism management from George Washington University. Goulden has been active in organizing expeditions in Mongolia for scientists in from the Academy and other universities. She is a research assistant for the Mongolian NSF-PIRE project on climate change impacts and serves as the translator for interviews with Mongolian nomadic herders.

Dakin Henderson, videographer
Henderson, a Boston filmmaker, has produced fiction and non-fiction short films, music videos and science-education documentaries. His films have won awards at Colorado College, the Shoot Out Boulder competition and the Ecological Society of America EcoFilm Festival. He currently works with the award-winning production team, Vital Pictures. Visit his website at www.shaxentertainment.com.

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