Here is a short excerpt from the book I am currently working on. Please note, this is strictly a Work-in-Progress – it might not even appear in the finished book, and if it does, it will have undergone extensive editing! Because it’s rubbish. But then, I always think that 🙂 Enjoy!
The World Is Your Bathroom…
As always, the first order of business upon arriving at a Mongolian ger tent was to locate the toilet. Roughly half the time this proved impossible, because there wasn’t one – and that’s when our guide Soyol would deploy her favourite phrase: ‘all of nature is your toilet!’
This time, however, we were in luck. This being a semi-permanent residence, at least for half the year, the owners had dug a loo, so we went in search of it straight away. Presumably to keep unpleasant odours away from the camp, they’d dug their pit a good few minutes’ walk from the tents. By way of compensation, they’d picked an incredible spot for it – if ever there was a loo with a view, this was it. Surrounded by a waist-high log fence, it faced the misty mountains across vast, undulating plains.
“Worth making the trip,” Roo commented, as she squatted behind the privacy screen. “This thing works as a windbreak, too!”
Now, it’s not often that wind direction is a factor in urination – but out here on the steppe, the buffeting breeze could have serious implications for one’s accuracy. Not that it mattered when using all of nature as a toilet, but when the nomads were good enough to provide a boards over the hole to stand on, it did seem rather rude to pee all over them.
But of course, this wasn’t a problem for Roo. She was more concerned with the bum-chill factor.
It was a beautiful walk back though.
The matriarch of the family was milking a yak, which by that point seemed completely normal. She crouched on a tiny orange stool, and had mastered a milking technique I’d never seen before. Holding a baby yak under one arm, she let it reach out and take its mother’s teat in its mouth. Once the baby started to suckle she slapped it in the face, knocking it loose, and fastened her gnarled hands on the teats to squeeze them for all she was worth.
The baby yak moaned in dismay, and received a clip around the ears with the woman’s free hand as she adjusted her grip.
“Poor little thing,” said Roo.
“Sucker,” I added.
It was a refreshingly natural method, if a tad on the cruel side.
That evening, I felt the dreaded clench in my stomach; the sure-fire indication of an imminent explosion. I’d held off since the last time we’d seen a pit toilet – which was two days at this point – and the resulting urgency sent me sprinting out of the tent in search of release.
I remembered to grab a head torch on the way out, which got me as far as the dirt road we’d driven in on. I knew the loo was over that road, so I crossed it – and was faced with the endless, trackless grasslands in front of me.
Only it was all pitch black.
There was no light pollution of any kind, which would have been perfect for viewing stars – if there had been any to view.
“Okay, I can do this,” I told myself.
Whilst it’s true that my sense of direction isn’t the greatest, I knew I only had a short distance to go. I was fairly sure of the rough direction, and of course I was heading for the only structure between me and the mountains. If I reached them without finding the toilet… well, I’d have covered at least a hundred miles on foot, so I’d probably have shit myself.
There was a rise in the ground, an embankment running parallel to the road. This I remembered, and I jogged up it and down the other side. Keep walking straight, I thought, because my trajectory on leaving the road had seemed about right…
I stumbled through the darkness for several minutes without coming across anything. My stomach gurgled audibly, and I stopped to consider my options. I could retrace my steps, and try a slightly different angle from the road. Or I could carry on this way, and keep my fingers crossed. And my legs. Or, I could walk in a spiral, like divers do when searching for something underwater… Hm. Perhaps that was a bit ambitious. Plus, it was kind of hard to concentrate with my arse about to erupt.
Walk back, I decided. Try again. So I turned around, and behind me there was nothing but darkness. No road. No car. No sign of the camp at all. That low ridge between here and there prevented even the tiniest trickle of light from reaching me…
Then I made a huge mistake; I turned around again. It was automatic, a reflex action to see if I could spot any other clues. And just like that, I no longer knew which direction I’d been facing to start with.
The night extended seamlessly in all directions.
It made me want to cry.
I had no frame of reference. The land rose and fell at random intervals, making walking difficult, but none of these features worked as a landmark. I swept the torch around me, but its beam failed to penetrate the darkness. It was good for highlighting the rough grass at my feet, and not much else.
Shit! This is ridiculous!
It suddenly occurred to me that, not only was I going to soil myself, but if I didn’t find my way back to the camp afterwards I’d be out here all night. The temperature was plummeting, with merciless winds battering the steppe.
Standing still was not an option; there was nothing to do but pick a direction and keep walking…
About forty minutes later, I crested a rise and saw the ghost of a log fence.
Thank the Gods!
I daren’t run, because breaking an ankle whilst going to the toilet and freezing to death in the sub-zero wilderness five minutes from my tent would be a shitty way to go.
So I moseyed.
Within the confines of the logs, the torch-light was far more useful, and allowed me to position my numb limbs without falling down the toilet. Then I took hold of the fence and squatted, praying that my arse was aimed correctly, and that my frigid fingers wouldn’t release their grip and plunge me back into everything that was coming out of me… Now that would make me popular back in the ger. Especially when it would be a week before I could shower again.
Finally, business done, I stood eyeing the route back to camp.
From here it should be a fairly simple trip. My sense of direction had been restored, and sooner or later there should be some light leakage to help guide me.
So I set off.
Ten minutes later, hopelessly lost again, I was starting to despair. Why the bloody hell did they have to build the bog in such a ridiculous location? They were a tourist camp, for crying out loud! Surely this problem had arisen before?
Or was everyone else escorted by a guide on their way to squeeze the cheese?
Maybe it was my fault. Obviously I lacked the basic ability to walk in a straight line, otherwise I’d have hit at least some part of the camp by now.
I stopped, and stared around me.
Then it dawned on me: the head torch was screwing me over!
Its beam was too weak to pick out anything more than a few metres away, but it was ruining any chance of developing night vision. I reached up and switched it off, and stood there with my eyes closed for a couple of minutes. Sure enough, when I opened them the world had taken on a tiny bit more definition. Everything was still black, but there were shades to it now – so, following my nose (because it juts out quite a way in front of me), I headed off in what seemed like the right direction.
I could tell when I crossed the road, because the hard-packed earth underfoot felt different from the grass. It was flat and hard and rocky, rather than uneven and hard and rocky; a small distinction, but it meant I was literally on the right track.
Then, out of the inky blackness, something loomed – a shadow, a form, a structure perhaps. I walked towards it, one hand extended before me… and recoiled as it made contact with something warm and hairy.
“YAK!” I yelled, as what I’d thought was a wall suddenly moved beneath my fingers. “Hairy yak!”
I backed away – not in revulsion, because even unexpected animals are my friends – but because the yak might not share this sentiment, and might instead choose to stick his horns into my belly.
I edged around the beast at a safe distance, and suddenly there it was – a tiny sliver of yellow light, spilling out from under the door of our ger. Somehow I’d approached from entirely the wrong direction, and the yak had been blocking my line of sight.
Which, you know, happens sometimes.
Cold and weary, I strode up to the door and let myself back in.
“There you are!” said Roo. “We were about to send out a search party!”
“I could have used them about half an hour ago,” I said, “but you’d never have found me. I was beyond the yak.”
“Oh,” said Roo, “that’s… unfortunate.”
“Tell me about it!”
“I’m glad you’re back though!”
“Yeah, me too.”
“I’ve been waiting for you, because I need you to help me with something.”
“Oh, right? No worries. What is it?”
“Erm… well, I’m busting for the toilet, and it’s a bit dark outside… Will you go with me?”