Hole #3: Golf Mongolia has wheels

From basketball shoes to blueberry jam, you can find almost anything you want in the main market of Ulaan Baatar. But would it be able to provide a solution for the Golf Mongolia expedition. That would be the real test.

I was midway through hole #3 on a hot, sunny day when a Russian minivan and a truck full of goats and sheep pulled off the road near where I was searching for my ball. George approached me first. A short, stocky Mongolian man with a mustache, George would be classified by many as a simple man. He would never win the Nobel Prize but he knew how to handle goats and sheep, and he had this responsibility for the truckload and trailerload of livestock that he was accompanying. George and I somehow made an easy connection and he and I had little trouble communicating despite the language barrier. George's English vocabulary consisted of my name, and the words America and whiskey, but his ever-present smile and deliberate hand gestures made him easy to talk to.

Soon the others in the van approached me and I explained my expedition. Two men in the minivan had some stake in the welfare of the sheep and goats in the accompanying truck, but there were also three female passengers in the back who were getting a lift to U.B. from Choybalsan. Everyone sternly expressed their disapproval when I explained that I was walking across the country (Mongolians never walk anywhere when it's possible to ride a horse or get a lift in a machine). These comments must have echoed with my own doubts about the sanity of my current situation because when they offered me a lift to U.B., it took about two seconds for my backpack and golf club to get loaded into the back seat of the van. Once we were under way, I made a comment in Mongolian about George being a nice guy. The men laughed and shook their heads and said "George Bush", referring to their simple friend in the other vehicle, but probably having no idea about the quality of their satire.

Back in Ulaan Baatar, I had my first shower in two weeks, a hearty meal, and a cold beer, and then began preparing my "road map" for Golf Mongolia success. My plan was to have someone fabricate a metal frame with a couple of sturdy wheels to act as a pull-behind golf cart, but first I went for a look in the "black market", Ulaan Baatar's largest bazaar. Avoiding the pickpockets, I made my way to the mechanical goods section, and I almost couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the exact creation that I had been dreaming about. It took a little bargaining, but after handing over the equivalent of $15, Golf Mongolia officially had wheels!

Many Chinese people had told me that Mongolia was full of wolves and now many Mongolians were asking me if wolves were a concern of mine while camping out every night. I pshawed this idea as wolves are rarely a threat to humans. Eleven nights had passed without even the slightest hint of a lupine presence, but on my twelfth night camping I finally heard the first howl. The constant droning of the howls grew in volume until the sound was all I could hear in my tent at twilight. Despite my best "Here, doggie dog", I couldn't coax any of them into visual range (I was camping among the bushes near the river). But that sound of dozens of wolves' calls resonating in harmonics across the landscape for hours remains one of the most incredible experiences on my journey thus far.

They say you are what you eat, and I certainly look at food and calories in a whole new light here in Mongolia. I expend a great deal of energy every day and the choices of cuisine are limited. This combination has caused me to lose a considerable amount of weight so far and I know that I need to increase my caloric intake. So when a man took a plastic bag from the roof of his ger, pulled out a slab of mutton, and cut me off a piece of fat big enough to knock over any supermodel, I didn't think twice about feeding it into my mouth in four quick bites. Mutton is the king of meats in Mongolia and everything (food and drinks alike) has a muttony aroma to it. No dish is complete without chunks of mutton fat and meat mixed in, whether it be rice or noodles. What's bizarre is that I actually look forward to a good mutton feed now, the more fat the better. The condiments found in every ger are the same: a bottle of ketchup, some MSG/soy sauce, and a bottle of vegetable oil, which all get poured over every meal. It's easy to understand that most of my dreams at night revolve around Filet Mignon and lobster dinners, bottles of Alexander Valley zinfandel, and salads of fresh veggies with Roquefort cheese and balsamic vinegar. But for now, my short stay in Ulaan Baatar, where decent restaurants can be found, has again prepared me for the culinary hardships of the countryside, and it's time to get the Golf Mongolia wheels rolling.

The last 60 km before Ondorkhaan on Hole #3 consisted of difficult terrain for golfing. This combined with the difficulty in finding transport back to where I left off has led to the decision to shorten Hole #3. Considering the distance I still have to cover as well as the difficulty in the journey so far, I am content with this decision and I'll soon be teeing off on Hole #4 from Ondorkhaan. Next update in 2-3 weeks.

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