Gobi Tour Day 5: The drive back

And a reflection on Mongolian toilets

Date:2017-07-12

By: Sophie

There isn't much to say about this last day, but for the sake of finishing the story with a proper ending, I will tell you how we've spent the day. It is actually important to know that often, when you book a five-day Gobi tour, you will only be visiting places during 4 days and use the last day to travel back to the city.


After having spicy noodles for breakfast (our still drowsy stomachs were not ready for that), we got in the the car for a long ride back to Ulaanbaatar. Possibly the highlight of the day was filling the car up. Until this day, I didn't know there were cultural differences when it comes to refuelling, but the Mongolian style is quite... particular. The driver stands at one side of the car with the gas pump in hand, while another person takes position on the opposite side. When the driver starts refuelling, this person shakes the car. As a passenger, you're sitting inside wondering what the hell is happening. They explained it is easier to fill up the car while shaking it.


If I go into detail about refuelling, I should also mention another 'highlight' that I haven't talked about in any of my previous posts, even though it is an important subject that matters to us all. The toilets. The wonderful Mongolian toilets. If there is one place where you realise how important sanitary is, it is in Mongolia. With vast plains in all directions and no buildings or hills to hide behind, you should be happy with whatever toilet you can find (Spoiler: you won't.) Anyways, I willl always remember that moment when after a long ride, our driver stoppped the car and announced we'd have a short toilet break. The men lined up along the road, happy to empty their tank. But we also were three women in our group. As there was nothing to hide behind, we each started running in a different direction. When I was far enough and my male group members had become blurry shapes, I assumed this was as much privacy as I would get and relieved myself.


Nowhere to hide

Things are a bit easier (I didn't say 'more pleasant') when there is a toilet at your disposition. The term toilet is actually a big eufemism for a hole in the ground covered with some wooden boards and an opening in the middle, above which you need to squat to do your business. If you're very lucky, they've put a toilet pot above the hole (don't take this for granted), so you can actually sit. If you're lucky, the toilet has a door and walls high enough to offer some privacy. If you're not that lucky, there is no door, no roof and walls as high as your knees. The use of this 'cabin' goes beyond my understanding...


I do understand, though, why it is better sometimes not to have a roof or door. I don't need to explain what a cabin with human excrements under the scorching sun and filled with flies smells like. Under those circumstances, some natural airconditioning is no redundant luxury.


Mongolian toilet

There's one more striking detail I wanted to talk about. After that, I will stop talking about toilets, I promise. Sometimes, they also had 'group toilets', meaning a cabin with different holes but only one door. These holes are lined up in a row, so if you're the person sitting at the back of the cabin, you have to wait for everyone to finish before you can get out. Or you'd have to step over people while they're squatting. I don't know how this works.


I apologise for not being able to talk about more exalted subjects, but we just sat in the car all day, and we were getting very bored. Around 18:30 we reached Ulaanbaatar. We were looking forward to a nice shower, but we had to take care of other priorities first, like grocery shopping, souvenir shopping and finding a hostel for the next days...


It was after nine when we were finally ready for dinner. It was too late to go to the vegan restaurant and replenish our vitamin levels with some vegetables that we all had been missing. This late in the evening, we didn't have many restaurants to choose from, so we ended up in a typical Mongolian restaurant instead. On every table lay a set of sheep anklebones, which customers could play with while waiting. It's an old traditional game: the different anklebones somehow resemble the shape of a sheep, camel, goat or horse. You throw these pieces like a dice and the combination of animals that you have thrown predicts your future.


Anklebone game Anklebone game

And with that dinner, we concluded our Gobi Tour. The day after we'd still be in Ulaanbaatar, but we had booked our Naadam tickets (the big national festival) from different organisations and we had different hostels to stay in. It had been a great group of like-minded people to travel around with, and to visit these wonderful places with. Places that wonderful that by the end of the day, the sights washed away every memory of the long ride we had been going through.


Rodrigo Karen Robert
Victoria Aurelien Sophie

I feel a bit bad about having talked so much about toilets in this article. To make it up, I made this little overview of the most beautiful places we've seen during our Gobi Tour.

Practical information

  • We've booked our tour from Man of The Millenium Tours
  • If you buy a Mongolian SIM card, you won't have mobile data most of the time. Weirdly enough, when you reach places that feel like the end of the world, such as the Flaming Cliffs and the Khongoryn Els sand dunes, all of a sudden you'll be able to connect using your 4G. The higher you climb, the better your connection.
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