Hole 12: Fate says Chigeeree

The abundance of lizards scurrying to escape my footsteps should have tipped me off. Or maybe all the camels grazing off in the distance. As I pluck my golf ball from a cactus patch and place it on the loose sand, I know for sure that I've headed way too far south toward the Gobi desert. As the sun pounds relentlessly on the sand all day, it grows hotter and hotter. This is the hottest I've ever been in Mongolia and the funny thing is I'm not supposed to be here. Or, at least I hadn't planned on being here anyway.

I plotted the GPS coordinates on my map and showed it to my caddy, the little X-marks-the-spot jottings clearly showing that we were much further south than the main road heading to Altai. "Yes", he said, "this is a different road. The other road goes across the mountains and this one is much flatter." And much hotter and drier, I thought to myself. But I've said before that you must always trust your local caddy, and when Khatanbaatar asked if I were upset at traveling on this road, I gave the all-encompassing Mongolian response of "Zugeer". No Problem.

I'll never really know if he meant to lead me on this road or not. He drives the jeep off ahead in the distance and I just hit the golf ball in that direction. It's incredibly easy to get lost on the roads in Mongolia. What looks like a main highway on the map is in fact just a dirt track, or several dirt tracks, across the vast openness of the steppe. Some tracks veer off and then later meet the others again. Some veer off and are never seen again. There are no road signs, and you can travel for hours without seeing any people or signs of inhabitance.

I've been on two long-distance (more than 24 hours) public transportation journeys here in Mongolia and both times the driver has gotten lost. I'm imagining a day when all the drivers will carry maps and GPS receivers, but I think that's a long way off. Until then, it seems perfectly logical that drivers will get lost in this endless landscape.

But, damn it's hot! Summer seems to come on in Mongolia as if someone flipped the switch saying, "winter is officially over, let the summer begin." This year, that timing just happened to correspond to my drift south toward the reaches of the Gobi. Forget about the thermal underwear and extra pair of socks that I've needed at night up until now. Instead, I'm refilling my water bottle two or three times a day, and lathering on the sunscreen. The sand collects the solar rays and beats them back at me as I trudge through the barren landscape avoiding the lizards, my body temperature slowly rising throughout the day. And then finally, a gift from the gods. Running down from the Khangai mountain range a few hundred kilometers away is the Baidrag Gol River.

There is something special about a desert oasis. Something that causes people to be overcome with giddiness. Something that makes people realize that all their troubles are far away and life is indeed wonderful after all. Even though this river is just a trickle of knee-deep chilly bliss, people have stopped their vehicles here to plunge into the water, laughing, playing, bathing, enjoying one of life's pleasures. It's the atmosphere of a holiday, and then the circus comes to town.

I, myself also succumbed to this blissful joy. When I left Ulaan Baatar, I figured that I would have exactly two showers over the next two months. But this, this unexpected chance to submerge my body in ice-cold water, to wash away the grime and dust that was coating my skin, to get my feet out of the sweaty boots that surely must have overpowered the smell of burning dung in the ger where I slept the other night, this was a miracle.

An expat living in Mongolia last year told the story of how she tried to tell the taxi driver to go "zuun" (left) but he just drove "chigeeree" (straight ahead). This story soon evolved into the common mantra of expats living in Mongolia. "I say zuun, fate says chigeeree". It symbolizes more than just the difficulty in communication between different cultures. As a foreigner in a strange land, you must accept the fact that despite your best efforts of planning, sometimes fate leads you in a new direction. And sometimes it turns out for the better. For me, the golf across this Gobi terrain has been excellent. I've lost far fewer golf balls than I would have on the northern road for sure. And as I lie pensively on the rocks, half submerged in the refreshing cold waters of the Baidrag Gol, I think to myself, "fate says chigeeree".

continue to Hole 13 >>