Hole #15: Descension

I've descended into the belly of the beast. Well, the belly button literally. From the highest point of my journey at 2300m elevation, I quickly descended from the Khan Taishiriin mountain range into the desert flats at 1300m above sea level. This region of the country is known as the Khuisiin Govi, or, Belly Button Desert. There are dozens of named desert regions in Mongolia and this one has the pleasure of being named after a navel. Even though this 1000m drop in elevation has brought along some unpleasantries, I keep telling myself, "it's the attitude, not the altitude".

1300m above sea level may seem like quite a high place but for Mongolia, and especially the mountainous western region, the contours of the topographic map here clearly resemble that rounded depression that once housed the umbilical cord of life. The region is a gravelly, rocky, flat land with dabbled bunches of sage-like shrubs and, luckily, some small clumps of grass. Twisters whip across the landscape funneling clouds of dust up into the air in tight cylinders. And, it's hot. The rocks are hot, the sand is hot, and when the wind blows, it's hot too!

In the heart of the navel, where you can go no lower, there are small lakes of stagnant water ringed white with salt, and full of tall reeds, abundant birdlife, and plenty of mosquitos. Mosquitos in the desert. Can you imagine such a thing? I wonder where this fits into Dante's hierarchy of hells. Sweating in the glaring desert sun, and swatting mosquitos at the same time.

To make matters worse, my golf game has also gone downhill. Hook and Slice showed up like two fraternity buddies with a bottle of tequila just when I'm trying to get some serious work done. The scorecard will surely reflect that was my worst golf performance of the expedition. But I try to look on the bright side of life and have some fun at the same time.

Mongolia is a geology teacher's dream and throughout hole #15 I've come across sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks all scattered about on display. The ground here is covered in a mosaic of stones in all colors; brick red, winter purple, petrified cherry, shy peach, envious lime, the blacks, the whites, the earls of grey, rosy quartz (where every verdict is just), and the evil and insidious stone known as obsidian, showing how black black can be. The swirling of color and textures that are smooth, jagged, or crystallized, are a natural art gallery. Could any artist even come close to recreating this work of nature? And as far as having fun, well, I've been hunting for birdies.

My caddy, Khatanbaatar is a keen hunter and frequently relates tales of him and his friends hunting for gazelles, wolves, marmots, (and probably a few endangered species) in his eastern homeland. When he saw the flocks of ducks that were near the marshy lakes we passed, he got excited. He convinced me that if I were to hit a golf ball into a flying flock of ducks, surely I'd get one. So there I was crouching and stalking with a golf club and golf balls in my hands, hunting for birdies. Combine all the excuses you've heard from golfers about their poor game, and from hunters about the ones that got away, and I need say no more. One shot skidding across the salt flats and the other shanked off to the right (damn that slice!). But we celebrated the effort during dinner by opening a couple cans of miscellaneous chicken parts from Russia.

Even though I failed to bag any birdies, or put any game into my game, it was enough of a distraction to lift my spirits out of this refuse-collecting navel and brighten my attitude for better golf tomorrow.

continue to hole 16 >>