We rode for three days with Big Batdrack. On the first day he took Captain James easily coping with his regular attempts to shoot off and his riding horse’s attempts to ditch Captain James. I rode Mongol Morris and led a spare unsaddled horse that Big Batdrack would use to gallop home. I had fallen out of love with my horses and renamed them my riding horse and my luggage horse.
We rode with no incidents to the town of Bayan Onjull. I was amazed there were no incidents as Big Batdrack had started drinking bowels of vodka at 9am that morning – at least that’s the first time I saw him drink and yes, you read correctly, not a glass but a bowel of vodka. We stopped at a wall on the town’s outskirts. Big Batdrack explained he was going to the shop and left us to look after the six horses. We dismounted, hobbled the horses, tied them to each other to stop them wondering off and sat by the wall waiting for Big Batdrack. He was gone ages. Turning to Tim I said ″I bet he’s gone to get drunk.”
When Big Batdrack returned he had brought some goi tea (a very sugary, popular brand of soft drink that one sees the empty bottles of strewn across the countryside), bread and a tin of pilchards. He offered to share this with us and I felt guilty assuming he had been getting drunk. We ate and drank together then Big Batdrack asked ″How much money will you pay me?” I felt this was a man-to-man chat and stared at the ground. Tim replied ″60,000 tugruk. Densmaa said this was OK.” Big Batdrack thought for a moment and then called Densmaa. She asked to speak with us, asking Tim ″Are you OK?” I think she could tell Big Batdrack had been drinking ″No problem” Tim said and she asked that we call her the next day to check in.
With the money sorted out Big Batdrack turned to me saying ″Sam noiling saas bain uu?” I replied ″Bagga” and handed him the toilet paper. He walked 100 metres in front of us, turned his back, pulled his pants down and had a pooh. Looking at Tim I chuckled at the unorthodox behaviour and noticed the bag of toilet paper on the ground. Nice.
Once Big Batrdack had finished his business, before returning to us and the horses, he cut the bottom off the goi tea plastic bottle and poured half a bottle of vodka into the newly formed bowl, drinking it down in one go.
We removed the hobbles, untied the horses and remounted with Tim taking Captain James. Less than 5 minutes later Captain James was cantering off towards the centre of town, Tim saying ″I couldn’t hold him” and Big Batdrack shaking his head. Captain James stopped near a truck of his fellow Mongolians and Big Batdrack went and got him. I am not sure if this made me feel better or worse. It was reassuring that Tim couldn’t hold on to my pack horse but in a day and half we would be on our own.
We rode for 10 more minutes until Big Batrdack pointed to the horse racing that was taking part around the edge of the town and said ″We will camp here” meaning the outskirts of town. Reasoning that the local trouble maker was our guide we agreed. We set up camp, hobbled and tethered the horses according to Big Batdrack’s recommendations. Our two riding horses were tethered and the remainder were hobbled. Tethering involves hammering a metal stake into the ground, tying the mantie rope to the stake and using a bowline knot on the metal loop between the front hobble to secure the horse.
Big Batdrack explained ″I am going to the horse racing over there. I have a horse racing. I will send water to you.” Sure enough two guys turned up 30 minuets later on a motorbike with a large water container that we decanted into our two 10 litre containers. We assumed Big Batdrack would not be back for the evening and cooked dinner. We kept an eye on the horses and regularly fetched Captain James and Big Batdrack’s horse back to camp instead of letting them hobble home. After the sixth return we resolved to change the order round. We tethered Captain James. Mongol Morris and the horse I had been leading all day were emphatic about getting home and our vigil continued well into the night.
Eventually we slipped into our sleeping bags and set the alarm for an hour later. We did not have to wait an hour to awake because Big Batdrack returned. He saw the problems we were having with the horses desperate to flee to the comfort of home and he put the bridle back on the hobbled horses tying the reins around their front legs. Basically a stress position. This made it difficult for them to move quickly but solved the problem.
Whilst this was happening Tim was with Big Batdrack but I was in my sleeping bag, minus my trousers, for comfort. Night had bedded in and inside the tent it was dark. Tim and Big Batdrack returned and Big Batdrack insisted on having a cup of coffee, Tim obliged. Big Batdrack by now was thoroughly pickled. ″I am a bad person” he slurred in Mongolian ″Why?” I asked ″Because I drank vodka. Please don’t tell Densmaa” he pleaded. ″Don’t worry we will not” we both replied. Tim switched on his torch to light the stove and leering over me was Big Batdrack ″I’m a wolf” he drooled ″Really” I said ″You are a wolf?” He laughed and then apologised. I turned to Tim saying ″I think I had better put my trousers back on” ″I would if I were you” he advised.
The next morning Big Batdrack had the hangover of all hangovers but we managed to pack up and load the horses in 3 hours. Before we left camp he asked me “Sam noiling saas bain uu?” and wondered off to a more respectful distance than the previous day.
Big Batdrack took Captain James or my luggage horse as he was now known and I continued to lead the spare horse. We rode with the sky grey with impending rain and the wind blowing in our faces. We made one stop to let the horses drink at a stream. This day was our last full day with Big Batdrack and he would be riding only for a couple of hours with us tomorrow. I was apprehensive about taking both my horses again. I sat by the stream whilst Tim and Big Batdrack slept for 40 minutes listening to the birds, the wind blowing and the snort of horses in the distance. We had covered 20km so far and planned to cover another 15km.
Near to our designated camp the skies opened and the rain poured down. As I had no rain coat we stopped and put up the tent. The horses were unloaded but left hobbled and tied to each other. The rain stopped quickly and Big Batdrack suggested we pack up and carry on moving. We were only 3km from our planned stop so Tim told him that we would sleep here. A truck came over and in it were Big Batdrack’s friends. They went away and came back with water for us and asked Big Batdrack lots of questions about us, laughing when he told them our plan. He turned to the loudest laugh-er saying ″Be careful they speak Mongolian.”
The rain eased off and I went to check on the horses whilst Tim and Big Batdrack set up the ground tethers. Mongol Morris had a lump on his back that felt hot to the touch. Using my flannel and some of our drinking water I made cold compress for his back and alternated this with gentle massaging. We took turns waking in the night to check on the horses and at 6am the following day we got up and begin packing and loading the horses.
As soon as I woke up I exited the tent to check on Mongol Morris’ back. The lump had gone down and his back looked and felt healthy. What a relief. Then it struck me. I had dreaded the day Big Batdrack would leave us and I would be in charge of my horses. That day of course had arrived today.