Sunday, July 21

Sandstorm In The Gobi

After a long day of driving over the desert, it is impossible not to wonder if our driver knows where he is going. (He has mentioned that he last drove out to Khongor two years ago.) Driving across the Gobi is not done by signs or even landmarks as far as I can tell, it is by intuition, memory and guesswork. Quite often, the faint tracks in the desert will split into two, and our driver will hesitate; he will take one track and start muttering, only to change his mind after ten minutes, abruptly veer off at ninety dregees, and find the other track we almost did not take. At other times we will leave an established-looking trail and trundle off-track over virgin scrub, and eventually another trail of some kind will appear. The mountains that march on to our left (as well as the phone GPS) give me some comfort.

The ranges close in on us after five hours. How much farther? "Fifty kilometers. Maybe."

We drive on for another hour. Higher up in the hills, he gets a bearing on the pass, on the other side of which lie the Khongor sands. How much farther? "Seventy kilometers. Maybe."

Past Tsogt Ovoo, we realize the clouds over the far dunes are not made of water, but billowing sand. By now, the Gobi Discovery ger camp is visible in the desert far below, the specks of its tents white against the yellow backdrop of the Khongoryn dunes. The wall of sand swirls towards us even as we pull out all stops and hurtle downhill to the safety of the gers. All at once the sandstorm is upon us.



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