Freezing in the desert


London to Ho Chi Minh by train (and boat!): Day 32.

I love deserts. Some of my favourite moments in life have taken place in these soul-cleansing, wind-tickled, open spaces. Life is easier to find in the desert.

For this reason, I was super excited to visit the great Gobi desert in Mongolia. It looks like so many deserts I’ve visited before and has reignited my love of simple, open space. However, unlike any other desert I’ve visited in my life, here it’s freezing. The little water found here is frozen in sheets of ice. It is both a desert and a winter wonderland.

This contradiction, for me, is exactly what Mongolia is about. The culture is extremely macho. Men fight in the street, wrestle, race horses… And yet women run most of the country and have a strong role to play in both rural and urban society. 80% of university graduates are female, meaning that 70-80% of skilled jobs go to women.

People love animals more than most places I’ve been in life. They have a real passion for them, always interacting with them and talking about them. They are part of the landscape, the home, the family. And yet animals are neglected, abused and slaughtered on a massive scale and consumed as a staple by most.

We just popped to a supermarket to get some supplies for our train ride to China later today. The supermarket sign was a picture of all the types of fruit and vegetable you could ever imagine. It makes sense given period connection with nature and the land. And yet, on the inside, there wasn’t a single piece of fruit or a single vegetable. Not even a potato. Only chemical-filled, processed crap.

I could go on… Soviet history and values versus the crazy consumerist present… The barren, empty towns that always, always have colourful children’s playgrounds. Mongolia and her contradictions have been amazing. I’d love to come back in the summer or just when it’s not -18°C! And I hope that the cold desert continues to bring life, peace and serenity to all the people who live here.

Next stop: Datong, China  — at Sainshand.

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