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.