Herders of the Gobi Desert

Driving back into the busy city of Ulaanbaatar after 2 weeks in the Gobi was a little confronting in its unfamiliarity. The constant beeping of the jammed traffic, noise and billboards were a far cry from the open stillness of the desert steppe and quiet calm of a herder’s ger. It was a none too gentle reminder of the change overtaking this country.

A land-locked country caught between Russia and China, Mongolia is basically un-fenced, un-owned and slightly smaller than Queensland. It has the lowest population density of any country in the world with about 1.4 people/square kilometre but we travelled throughout the most sparsely populated areas and there were people everywhere compared to home. It was difficult for the people I met to understand how isolated my home was in comparison.

Mongolia has a growing population, now around 2.5 million with a 2009 growth rate of 1.9%. Around 35% of the total labour force are involved in agriculture with 44 million livestock heads counted in 2009. 21% of the GDP comes from agriculture, 83% of that from the livestock sector. Copper, gold and coal have now overtaken cashmere, wool and leather as the country’s leading export products. “Mining Mongolia” is underway despite a firm cultural belief against disturbing the earth in any way. We visited Khaan Bogd in Omnigov aimeg, soon to be the site of the world’s largest copper mine. We camped one night not far from Tsogtseggi and heard the rumble of machinery all night from the nearby coal mine. We visited herders who blamed the decrease in pasture growth on the dust created by mining and the increased traffic servicing the mines, and many who blamed the lack of rain on the cloud seeding being carried out in both Mongolia and China. These people have a simple reverence of their land, an inherited lifestyle of living within environmental restrictions that has been successful for over 1,000 years, it is easy to see why they are uncomfortable with the change sweeping over their landscape. Still, mining their resources creates jobs for the growing population and has increased the standard of living for those lucky enough to secure work in the mines. It will bring money into the country that could be used to improve infrastructure and services. Herders who have lost almost all their livestock in the hell that was last winter are moving closer to mines in the hope of securing an income or some of the free fodder provided by the mines to herding families, the benefit of which is a bit dubious.

serious-winter-camp1.jpg dead-livestock-from-winter1.jpg ger-in-the-gobi-21.jpg grandma11.jpg herding-family-on-their-way-to-town1.jpg

While I’m not anti-mining at all, I can’t help but wonder if this money will ever benefit Mongolians living in rural areas. If we draw some parallels between Australia and Mongolia, and it’s easy to do so, the wealth created from the country’s resources will most likely benefit urban Mongolians, not the people from the area the resource is taken, which can only lead to a continued flow of people out of the “countryside” and into the cities, leaving a dearth of youth and herding skills that are an intrinsic part of being Mongolian. Perhaps they will end up like Australians who drag out the image of the stockman as part of an identity far removed.

chimeg-at-the-tourist-camp1.jpg bike-ger1.jpg boys-and-ponies1.jpg  moving-camp1.jpg visitors-to-camp1.jpg

I’m still chewing over the grazing management/pasture issues, it’s incredibly complex and no amount of philosophising over Mongolian vodka is going to make it any clearer. The world’s rangelands are shaped by either fire or grazing, if we go back far enough in Australia’s history, our vegetation was most likely shaped by the grazing habits of megafauna, the sheer size of these animals is an indicator of the high nutritional quality of the vegetation. Years of management by burning changed the vegetative composition to be a landscape dominated by plants that had adapted to the fire regime and resulted in animal species that were far smaller than their ancestors. Now we have 200 years of grazing management under our belts we can see changes in the landscape again, if we look even closer we can observe changes on a species scale, landscapes moved to a certain state by the continual grazing of one species of animal. How does all this relate to what I saw on the Mongolian desert steppe? I guess it raised more questions than answers simply due to a lack of historical records. How much has the steppe changed under grazing is hard to know, historical pollen samples indicate a similar plant species composition 2000 years ago as what there is now, but I haven’t been able to find out how long this nomadic herding with these particular livestock species has been carried out. Perhaps what we’re seeing now are the least palatable vegetation species, perhaps their the same species that have been there since the climate has been relatively stable. Either way, all we can deal with is what we have now and the Mongolian climate is doing that by reducing livestock and herder numbers through tough seasons, hard as that is.

desert-steppe1.jpg camp-at-the-dunes1.jpg flowering-allium1.jpg goats-sheep1.jpg goats11.jpg mongolian-horses1.jpg 

In answer to some of Graham the Grazing Guru’s questions, I’m against supplying pumps for these wells without some sort of provision made to ensure that the well watered areas aren’t chewed out. We visited a couple of water points that had water piped in and troughs on floats, the loss in ground cover surrounding these points was fairly significant as obviously, herders were reluctant to move their stock from such a good thing, and who could blame them, I mean, how many of us would be prepared to make a bucket out of an old tyre tube, tie it to a stick and water a  couple of hundred animals every single day? The other factor to consider is that these wells aren’t privately owned, so who pays for the pump and is responsible for maintenance? During socialist times the wells were better maintained and there has been some attempts to use “herder groups” in areas to co-operatively maintain the wells but the success of this when it is essentially every person for themselves is a bit dubious. Surprisingly enough I have heaps more to say, will add to this later.

cattle-waiting-for-water1.jpg hand-made-well-pump2.jpg lever-action-well1.jpg washing-at-a-well1.jpg water-trough-and-well1.jpg watering-a-thirsty-goat1.jpg watering-livestock1.jpg well1.jpg 

Vodka enhance3d post writing

Hello world from the Mozzies in Mongazs,

I love you man.

Tonight we have been on a cut out party at a Mongolian Pub serving German food with Mongolian girls singing  Swedish songs whilst Pakistanian news was screened on the Chinese TV.

However, we were very sensible and decided not to attend Strings nightclub, for fear of seeing a Philipino cover band covering ‘Land Down Under’ for the benefit of ageing Australian mining men drinking their rum and cokes at the bar.

Instead, we decided to drunkenly blog. A sensible decision.

And, in this state with our heightened understanding of the world, we can categorically inform you that Mongolian countryside music on repeat is really not that enjoyable. At all. However, hearing ‘You aint nothing but a hound dog,’ our suggested replacement, is also not suitable for playing 10 squillion times at 3, 000, 000, 000 decibels in your left ear for 2 weeks straight. And, whilst we are not necessarily a fan of excessive amounts of animal lard, we would like to open a new franchise selling floating camel meat pies in airag syrup. We think it would be a winner, and potential investors can contact us via Ger number 3, next to the Ovoo with the 15 blue scarves and the horse skull and the goat leg and wooden crutch, Genghis Khan soum, Mongaz.

But wait, there’s more. Every new investor receives a free roll of sandpaper-like toilet paper for stuffing up their noses, a free ride in our new Timee Taxi (limitied time only), unlimited aril (the type that sticks to the roof of your mouth despite repeated attempts to remove it whilst maintaining a polite smile on the face), a free set of blue pants to tuck into their Russian riding boots AND various packets of instant noodles (Chinese brand).

But don’t send any money, we’ll bill you. We’ll also throw in a hideously uncomfortable Mongolian saddle, one large flask of weak Mongolian milk tea, a ridicously beautiful sunset (followed by a sandstorm that blows you to China), an endless desert steppe, a plate of fried noodles and lard that you can labouriously pick the fat out of of (and some of us do), more sandpaper toilet paper for ‘washing’ the dishes with, and a roll of ‘scotch’ masking tape for absolutely anything including taping your tent down during before-said sandstorms.

BUT! I beseech you! Send no money. Ring 008023025, that’s 008023025.

Za, za.

The Mozzies.


P. S.  Love ya mum.


Not sure what happened with the last blog post, missed a few sentences or paragraphs at the end, maybe I just didn’t finish writing it in my hurry to go and ride a Mongolian pony.

But anyway, it is a little tricky to sort the whole herder well being/sustainable pasture usage issue, it is so multi-faceted that to waltz in here for a few weeks and speak with 30 herders gives me not much more than an overview at this point in time.

I guess what I’m seeing is that with privatisation in the mid 1990’s, herder numbers and subsequently livestock numbers increased. Whether or not they were better off under Socialism seems to be up to the individual’s experience. They were allowed to keep 75 animals of their own over and above their allotted animals, their own animals were used to replace any that they lost out of the allotted herd so they could get in real trouble in a tough winter.

With numbers building up post socialism the pressure on the landscape also increased, a bad winter in 2002 reduced livestock numbers as did last winter. An old couple we interviewed gave me the impression that it was all part of the natural cycle of herding in a climatically variable landscape. Bad winters reduced both livestock and herder numbers which increased pasture availability for those still able to make it work. The herders without livestock left move to the local town where there is little chance of employment and often end up moving to the capital city Ulaanbaatar and living in ger camps on the edge of the city, again without a lot of chance of employment.

To keep both their animals and the pasture in good shape herders need to move frequently. This used to be done with horses and carts and camels but now is with small trucks and jeeps which costs money. Basically it seems to me that the poorer they are now the less they move due to the cost of moving. This means their livestock are in worse shape and is a fairly destructive cycle.

Typically, herders move 3 or more times over the summer, chasing the pasture, the worse the season the more they move. Over winter they hole up in shelters in their registered winter camp and livestock draw on the fat they’ve laid down over summer to survive. Animals give birth in early spring which is the lowest point in available nutrition and at their lowest weight, but is done then to give the young time to grow big enough to survive the next winter and to allow the mothers a couple of months in autumn to put some fat on after they’ve weaned their young. It’s a tough gig.

Of course, all of this is just what I’m seeing in this snapshot in time and maybe I’ve interpreted wrongly.

Yesterday afternoon Chimeg and I hired a horse each and had a ball racing around the hills and valleys. These horses are small but full of heart and really surefooted in the hills. We were like a pair of kids terrorising tourists as we raced past them through gullies and up rocky hills. Thankfully we had Russian and not Mongolian saddles, not sure how they manage to ride in those things. Chimeg spent her childhood summers helping her grandmother who is a herder in the north of Mongolia so she rides a horse like a Mongolian herder and thankfully likes to go fast too. It was a great afternoon, lots of laughter and a feeling of absolute fun. That’s another one to tick off my Bucket List; rode a Mongolian pony and had a ball.

riders-up-to-mischief1.jpg camelliers1.jpgoasis1.jpginside-tent-post-sandstorm1.jpgchimee-riding1.jpgcooking-lunch-with-dung1.jpgbike-ger1.jpgboys-and-ponies1.jpgcamp-at-the-dunes1.jpgdairy-products1.jpgdead-livestock-from-winter1.jpgger-in-the-gobi1.jpggoat-for-lunch-in-a-hotel1.jpggoats1.jpggrandma1.jpg

Wandering the Gobi

It’s impossible to describe the experience I’m having here in Mongolia visiting with nomadic herdsmen in the Gobi Desert and camping under the stars of the north, overwhelmingly, I feel I am precisely where I need to be. I’ll try and post a heap of photos as words just aren’t going to cut it.

We left Ulaanbaatar (UB) on Saturday 14th and headed south. I’m travelling with Jane, our translator Chimeg and driver Purvee which is how you travel in Mongolia unless you’re a local or with a tour group. There is great camaraderie in the group with both Chimeg and Purvee now schooled up on goat herding in Australia and answering the herder’s questions without needing to ask me.

We started off doing some rangeland assessment sites as well as interviewing herders. It is great to be doing this trip with a purpose rather than sightseeing as a tourist. Getting out amongst the country and looking at pastures and utilisation is about as good as it gets for me and its been a real privilege to be able to visit with herders in areas where foreigners are not common. Basically we see a ger and drive up and wait for someone to come out and hold the dogs so we can get out of the car. If their happy to be interviewed and they all are unless they are busy, we are invited inside their home. The ger is a circular tent made of light timber and felt with a stove in the centre. As soon as we are seated on the floor we are served weak, milky tea and food which is usually a fried dough or aral, a sort of hardened yogurt that takes a bit of swallowing. Sometimes we are given airag, a fermented alcoholic milk drink usually made from mare’s milk but we have also drunk some made from the milk of camels, sheep and goats. Once we were given Mongolian Vodka which is essentially the captured condensations of airag being boiled the hell out of. It’s a clear spirit and I imagine metho might be a little easier to swallow. It’s really important to be polite and I’m being pushed right out of my comfort zone with my long-standing aversion to dairy products that don’t have cocoa in them. Their hospitality is not unlike what you find in the bush at home and it is easy to feel at ease with these people.

It’s amazing how cultural barriers break down when you share a similar occupation and interests, its simply fantastic to be sitting in a ger in the Gobi Desert chatting with herders about their livestock, impossible to describe really. I’ve often thought that the highlight of the Nuffield experience is the “kitchen conversations” that you get to have with people all over the world, and sitting around the stove in a Mongolian ger sipping tea and talking herding has got to be right up there.

Most families in this area have around 200 livestock, usually a mix of goats, sheep, camels and horses. Their principle source of income at the moment is cashmere and so herd dynamics have been shifting as goat numbers increase. This is causing problems during their incredibly harsh winters as goats have less subcutaneous fat and so basically they freeze to death before the other animals. Last winter was the hardest winter anyone can remember with temperatures plummeting to negative 40 degrees Celsius. All of the herders lost a lot of animals, some we have interviewed lost more than 2/3 of their herd and almost all are really battling. Climatically they have been experiencing less effective rain, which means less forage for the summer. They only have about 5 months to put on enough fat to carry them through the winter and with rain becoming so unreliable this is hard to do. In good years the herders cut the pastures and make hay to feed to the stock over winter but with pasture growth so reduced there is no fodder to cut and so they are forced to buy in feed. The herders often have to borrow money to feed their stock and with bad winters they are carrying an enormous amount of risk. Almost all of the herders we have interviewed do not want their children to carry on herding, they feel that the climate has become too harsh to make it viable. When I asked one old man what he thought the future for Mongolia was if all of the young people were moving to the cities, he replied that with no meat and no milk Mongolia would not be Mongolia.

Education is not cheap here and families make enormous sacrifices to send their children to school. During the winter children stay in dormitories in the local towns to attend school. In summer they return to their families to help with the huge workload of milking and combing out the cashmere. 70-80% of Mongolian children go to university, compare this to 30% of Australian adults that have a university degree and you can see the importance they place on education. Often they will take out a loan which many have trouble servicing given the tight competition in the limited job market. This trend of urbanisation is common the world over but it is saddening to see the climatically driven shift in this ancient culture.

We slept one night in a ger in the backyard of an enterprising family in a small town in the Gobi. The family were making bricks out of potash, two at a time, Mum shovelling and Dad and son in law ramming the mix into a hydraulic compressor then carrying each brick and carefully placing it in line. Besides making bricks and having a small ger accommodation business they also have a greenhouse and are currently harvesting 10kg of cucumbers each day. All this enterprise is possible due to the availability of water in their area which is essentially captured snowmelt from the nearby mountains. Most towns we visit have to rely on well water carried in drums to households and so things such as showers and flushing toilets are pretty rare.

Almost all herders water their livestock by hand using a hand-stitched bucket on the end of a stick. The bucket is lowered down into the well where the standing water level seems to be a couple of metres. Some of these herds are 400-500 strong so watering is a real task and I feel a bit of a woos telling them we just have to flick a switch. Watering their livestock is a limiting factor in herd size. With many herders moving to the cities it would seem logical that herd size would increase but for the enormous workload of watering their stock by hand.

Most nights we camp and I’m having a lot of “pinch myself” moments sleeping out in this amazing place. It got a bit interesting though the night we camped near some dunes and a sand storm blew in. My tent survived in a sort of a fashion although it was a long way short of being sand proof but Jane didn’t fare so well as her tent acted like a balloon with her inside. We were pretty grateful to be able to buy a hot shower from a tourist camp the following day.

From a study point of view, these areas have been grazed by nomadic herders for a long time, probably around 1000 years long, so is livestock grazing in these arid areas sustainable? There is some indication that the pasture condition here is the same as it was 2000 years ago so I imagine that is about as good an indicator of a sustainable system as you can get. However, the last 10 plus years have been really hard and it is difficult to know whether this is just a dry cycle or whether Mongolia is seeing the effects of climate change. Factored into this is the winter extremities experienced that in most parts seem to be the worst in living memory, as hard as it is, these zhuds (bad winters) reduce livestock numbers and subsequent pressure on the pastures. Following privatisation in the mid 1990’s, the herder population increased as did livestock numbers. At face value it seems herders were better off under socialism with wells being maintained and herders specialising in specific animal types, but of course there are many sides to this story and I can’t begin to really understand the issues in a few weeks. However, herder and livestock numbers fluctuating seem to be characteristic of the Gobi and are surely a healthy aspect of an environment dominated by a variable and extreme climate.

Either way, their way of life is changing with children looking towards a city-based career, modern comforts and lifestyle far removed from wandering the steppe as their ancestors have done before them. Many of the gers have a satellite dish and solar panel outside beaming television into the lives of nomadic herdsmen. A mobile phone often hangs from one of the main support struts and a metal detector is often tied to the wall of gers found in gold bearing country. This is a way of life in a state of change and I can’t help but wonder what the next few years will bring.

I can’t seem to post any photos but will try again later.

Off to the Gobi

I’ve had a great time in Ulaanbaatar, just soaking in the place and people. Head off south to the Gobi Desert tomorrow, not sure when I’ll next have internet but apparently the mobile service will be much better than what I’m used to at home.

Thanks for all the good wishes from home.

No photos to post, spent all my time at monasteries….

Trans Siberian Express

There was an atmosphere of a school excursion as a bunch of foreigners boarded the Trans Siberian Express in Beijing. I shared a cabin with Peter and Saskia from Holland and enjoyed their sense of humour and ready laugh.


I was relieved to leave the smog and noise of Beijing behind. The beauty of train travel is that you get to sneak a peak into people’s back yards. The country was so steep with villages in the valleys. On the way to Mongolia I saw a man washing his sheep in a dam, donkeys pulling a cart being overtaken by a new but dusty BMW, kids in baseball caps herding sheep and goats, acre upon acre of cornfields, shallow rivers running through valleys filled with light grey silt, contoured hillsides, an overloaded 3 wheel truck chugging up a hill, the Great Wall skirting the hills and peasant houses overshadowed by skyscrapers. My neck was sore from trying to look out of two windows at once.

mountains-and-fields-21.jpg train-cabin1.jpg making-tracks1.jpg great-wall-21.jpg great-wall1.jpg corn1.jpg mongolia1.jpg

The passengers were all foreigners and funnily enough I met a farmer from Port Lincoln who knew someone I knew. It’s not such a big world.
As we crossed over into Mongolia the cabin became filled with dust, not the fine red kind I’m used to but a coarse grey dust. I had a fantastic sleep as the train rocked along and woke to the endless plains of the southern Gobi Desert in Mongolia where gers and ponies dotted the landscape.

gers1.jpg mongolia-dust1.jpg

Arriving in UB I was struck by the mix of gers, old soviet buildings and new skyscrapers. This place has such an atmosphere. I spent today visiting a buddhist monastery and the National museum. I was stopped in the square by a group of local teenagers with big smiles who wanted to practise their english. The traffic is mad here, apparently the most dangerous thing you can do in Mongolia is cross the road. Car horns beep endlessly but people seem to do it with a smile on their face rather than the aggressive beeping in Beijing.I am staying with Jane in her apartment down town, there is a great view of the hollywood style Chengis Khan on the hillside opposite, sort of cute really. Another day in UB tomorrow then off to the Gobi on Saturday. Still missing my family terribly but distracted by all that is around me.

ulaanbaatar1.jpg directing-trafic1.jpg mongolian-parliament1.jpg mongolian-teenagers1.jpg view-from-apartment1.jpg


OK, let’s kill this beast.
This morning I woke to a smoggy Beijing day, beeping car horns and all the trimmings.beijing-china1.jpg
I headed off to a meeting with Meat and Livestock Australia, followed by Austrade at the Australian Embassy then the Chinese Sheepmeat Association.  The basic message was that China has banned grazing livestock from much of it’s grasslands for environmental reasons, livestock are now raised in intensive conditions which has decreased the profitability of the enterprise. Over 98% of Chinese farmers have less than 100 head of sheep and goats. Goat meat is the preferred meat of China, increasingly pork and chicken are seen as less healthy and clean than grass fed animals. China is only just supplying demand and does import a little goatmeat from Australia and New Zealand. Australia has to pay a 12% tariff as well as a 13% tax which means that our goat meat is quite expensive here. There is no quality control on the Chinese product and the general consensus is that there is room in China for a imported premium quality goatmeat for the high end restaurant trade.
Tonight I saw an acrobatic performance that was really spectacular, amazing speed and agility would make them very handy in the goat yards at home, not to mention the 10 girls on one bicycle. Finished off with a meal of Peking Duck and a walk through the streets. It’s quite hot and humid and the men are out sitting on the streets playing mah jong and talking. Had a bit of a moment with an ATM when I couldn’t read the instructions and wondered how I would get my card back but sorted it out in the end.
30 hour train trip in front of me on board the Trans Siberian Express, can’t wait.
beijing-streetscape1.jpg  streetscape-21.jpg chosen-by-god1.jpg acrobatics1.jpg

Nuffield Tour Stage 2

I arrived in Beijing China this morning and went out on a sight seeing tour today. Really enjoyed it despite the jetlag, saw Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City and the Great Wall. We finished off with a Chinese Tea drinking ceremony which was great. All lovely to do but missing my family so much that my feet are dragging a bit and can’t shake the sadness. A couple of meetings tomorrow with Austrade and the Chinese Animal Agriculture Association then it’s onboard the Trans Siberian Express to Ulaanbaatar Mongolia on Tuesday. In Mongolia I will be travelling for 3 weeks with Jane Addison who is an Australian doing her PhD on land tenure, rangeland condition and herder livelihoods in the Gobi Desert. I hope to gain an insight into the long-term affects of nomadic herds on arid rangelands as well as experiencing another culture. Having a bit of trouble getting my head in the right space for the job and admit the fire in my belly has been just about extinguished with grief but I’m hoping a few weeks in the Gobi Desert will clear things up for me and help me focus on the job at hand. This trip couldn’t have come at a better time and I’m glad I have the opportunity to pull myself together before the full on Global Focus Program starts next month. Emotionally I’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there but the support I’ve had has been humbling and success will be forever measured by the quality and quantity of people who support me when the bottom falls out of my world. So I’ll head into this next stage of my Nuffield program with a quote provided by a friend: “Look famous, be legendary, appear complex, act easy, radiate presence, travel light, seem a dream, prove real.”  But in reality I’ll just be a bit of an unfocused mess and try to get through each day.old-mates1.jpg panda1.jpg water1.jpg forbidden-city1.jpg forbidden-city21.jpg forbidden-city31.jpg forbidden-city41.jpg forbidden-city51.jpg forbidden-city71.jpg forbidden-city81.jpg great-wall21.jpg great-wall31.jpg

I’ve been home for over a week now but have had a dead modem so have been out of the cyberspace loop, and suffering withdrawals, but getting used to the idea and starting to like it now. Had to duck over to my neighbour’s place today to bludge an internet connection to email our accountant so thought I’d finish off my blog.

In LA California I met up with the New Zealand Lamb Company. They import and distribute both NZ and Australian lamb and goat. It was a productive meeting discussing potential opportunities for supplying the restaurant trade with a premium goat product that is suited to the western palette. It was interesting to see that goat and lamb were comparable in pricing. After a few rough figures, I’d estimate that on average producers are realising about 30% of the end price.

Our strong dollar and sheep supply shortages will impact on both lamb and goat prices, but just how much more stretch there is in US consumer spending remains to be seen, however, I feel pretty confident that the Muslim market will tolerate prices we haven’t got close to yet due to the fact that goat meat is such an important part of their culture and necessary for religious celebrations.

A real supply concern though is the potential impact that Australia’s increasing wild dog/dingo numbers will have on the size and distribution of the feral goat herd. Low sheep numbers and subsequent high prices may improve rangeland (farmed) goat numbers as producers look for alternatives.

I filled in the afternoon on Hollywood Boulevard and I guess, flavoured from the meeting I was struck by how much money this society is willing to spend on entertainment but expect food to be cheap. Overeating is the plague of the poor, which is entirely illogical and frustrating from a farmer’s perspective.

hugh1.jpg img_0240.jpg santa-monica1.jpg

LA really didn’t impress me much, the public transport was terrible, although I did have one fantastic bus driver though on a trip out to Santa Monica pier. I’m sure she was Whoopee Goldberg’s long lost daughter and offered to be my personal tour guide for the day.

Some thoughts on America: from a livestock producer’s perspective we run absolute rings around them despite our lack of government investment in research and development. We are far ahead in animal welfare and efficiency of management. From a societal point of view, there is an element of farce that grates on me somehow, a lot of chest puffing and pride but I was left to wonder how deep it actually was. But in saying that I met some fantastic people, made some great new friends and am really grateful for the hospitality that was extended to me. There is a lot we could learn about politeness and hospitality from America, but I still think their beer is pretty damn bad.

The highlight of my trip was my time with Bud and Eunice Williams in Bowie Texas and I’ll treasure my memories of sharing Eunice’s fantastic supper in their kitchen while finally understanding the attitude change that was necessary for it all to work.

It was great to get home and back on a bike, even better to start planning out the next leg of my trip, which I think will be Malaysia and the Mongolian Gobi Desert in late July and August then the Nuffield global focus tour in September/October. Better get some goat chasing done before then.

There has been more rain since I’ve been home and the place is wall to wall grass, hard to find the goats but absolutely bloody wonderful!


I’ve been reminded though of just how isolated this place is. With rain and flooded rivers we haven’t had any mail get through since I’ve been home and all but one road out of the area is closed, the power has been on and off, the phone has been unreliable and the internet is down. To top that off, we weren’t able to buy supplies on the way home from the airport as it was Good Friday and nothing was open in Broken Hill. I’m told the Gobi will be better because I’ll have mobile service and internet there. I can hardly wait…

red-dirt-21.jpg the-road-out1.jpg

Cripple Creek, Colorado

Trying to dodge to the freeways landed me in a weird little Colorado town last night called Cripple Creek. It was snowing, the road was icing up and I was low on fuel when it seemed like I fell off planet earth and landed in zombie/wierdville. Cripple Creek is an old gold mining town west of Colorado Springs in the Rocky Mountains. All the old saloons, brothels and pool halls are still standing and it looked magical from outside, but inside was purely acres of slot machines. It was Saturday night and I thought a band would be playing somewhere but after walking the streets in freezing conditions, the only thing I found with any personality was a bear. Still, $3 got me a couple of pieces of pizza and as much root beer (ginger flavoured coke) as I could drink which was the whole of ½ a glass. This morning some of the local donkeys were sunning themselves under the awnings along the main street, the rest of them were still sleeping.

bear-hug1.jpg cripple-creek-co1.jpg cripple-creek-31.jpg cripple-creek-donkeys1.jpg cripple-creek-basketball1.jpg cripple-creek-sheriff-21.jpg cripple-creek-cold1.jpg

On the way up to Denver I checked out some ancient cliff dwellings and the Garden of the Gods. Will would have loved this.

cliff-dwellings1.jpg cliff-dwellings-21.jpg cliff-dwellings-31.jpg garden-of-the-gods1.jpg garden-of-the-gods21.jpg garden-of-the-gods31.jpg

On up to Denver and on a recommendation thought I would visit the US’s number 1 Honkey Tonk Bar. After three goes of trying to get off the freeway and find it I gave up, more relieved than disappointed. I’ve possibly done more city driving in the past 12 days than ever before, these freeways/loops/bypasses are pretty scary but they do move people.


So lots of farm stuff going on at the moment…


Fly out for LA in the morning, my bag seems to be getting smaller.