Countless torturous hours later, the mini-van spits out my pitiful remains and a very fresh Saraa. We are now in the very North of Mongolia, in the Tsaaganuur settlement right at the northern border with Siberia. Too tired to have any dreams , I plummet to sleep like a rock.
The early morning welcomes me in Saraa’s voice: “Good morning, sunshine, they are here!”
“They” includes a pack of horses led by a beautiful Amazon, adorned with a red Mickey- Mouse sweater and an impenetrable smile. Her name is Dekke, she is a Tsaatan, a horse-woman and a taiga guide. A small Mongolian man half-hanging sideways off a horse behind her is Lonkh, joining us to go in the same direction.
Dekke takes off her glasses and looks me up and down. Forward comes a horse – well into its senior years, of a very beautiful grey color. Clearly, I will have to prove myself to this woman somewhere along the way.
Dekke puts her friend Saraa on a pretty white horse with auburn spots.
-Watch me fall off this thing! – cheerfully informs me Saraa. – I always do!
We ride into the heart of the Magic Forest – the scenery is straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster. One minute you are riding past a blackened tree scorched by a lightning, with its dry arms up into the skies like a dire warning. Another, you are at the top of the hill, the thick grey clouds staring you in the face, and the wild grass whispering from down below: fresssh flessshh…
The arrival time to the village remains unknown. We get there when we get there. Could be today, could be tomorrow. Depends on how well you can stay in the saddle, they say. And don’t snap photos on horseback – she startles easily. Through the thick woods, across the swampy valley, over the burned patch, around the small lake. My horse is now breathing heavily ascending a big hill.
A big group of vultures starts circling in the sky right above us. The word “carrion” pops up in my brain. And then I realize that the closest thing to carrion around here is me. Suddenly, I feel uneasy. I force the letters in my head to rearrange into “carry on” and straighten up in the saddle.
There are no road signs anywhere, no markers, no park guides. There is no compass, no map, no satellite phone, no chance for an emergency helicopter. There is only Dekke, who knows this taiga like the back of her weathered hand, and then there is Saraa who knows everything else you need to know for survival in this neck of the woods – except she keeps falling off her horse.
Just like now – we hear a dull thump and a piercing shriek behind, which can only mean that Saraa fell of her horse again, so we stop for a much needed break.