Mon­go­lia, where karaoke and the apoc­a­lypse meet

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FRONT PAGE -

Alice Milling­ton

finds En­rique Iglesias is the key to sur­viv­ing a long drive through Nowhere­land

It’s mid­night in Mon­go­lia and a three-year-old squirms on the floor, oc­cu­py­ing the nar­row space be­tween my legs and the driver’s seat in front of me. There is an 11-year-old boy in the boot, a monk in the pas­sen­ger seat; four more of us are pressed knee-to-knee in the back seat of the small­ish car as it hur­tles down the de­serted high­way. The road in front of us glows or­ange un­der street­lamps, the land­scape each side is in­de­ci­pher­able.

An hour ear­lier, our driver, a fear­somely re­gal – yet warm – ex-govern­ment of­fi­cial named Bur­maa, had an­nounced that we’d be stop­ping for a snack. She then ran­domly swerved off the road on to an empty patch of un­lit coun­try­side. We’d taken lengths of Mon­go­lian sausage from the boot, peeled off the plas­tic skin with filthy fin­ger­nails and bit­ten off large hunks of the fatty, cured meat. I had swal­lowed my mouth­ful of salty gris­tle with the re­signed ac­cep­tance I nec­es­sar­ily adopted when sam­pling Mon­go­lian food. Choke it down and, by God, re­mem­ber to chew.

Stretch­ing my cramped legs, I scuf­fled around the almost oceanic ter­rain of un­du­lat­ing grass­land be­neath my feet. With the

sun long gone over the hori­zon, our car perched brazenly in the cen­tre of Nowhere­land, the boot spilling shop­ping bags of sup­plies and the eight of us wan­der­ing som­brely around the va­cant land­scape, I feel like a sur­vivor in the fi­nal scene of an apoc­a­lypse movie. This is the place where the world ends.

Clam­ber­ing back into the car, the three-year-old won’t stop squirm­ing. I get an oc­ca­sional tiny hand to the face as he grabs my nose, my cheek – any hand­hold to steady him as he strives to­ward his new ob­ject of in­ter­est: the pas­sen­ger seat. The smil­ing monk clamps him firmly around the waist and waits. He strug­gles for a few min­utes, be­fore his cap­tor’s un­re­lent­ing still­ness sub­dues him to sleep. The car is com­pletely silent now. I worry for Bur­maa, in case she falls asleep, be­cause the blank road is stretch­ing be­fore us like a long, Tar­ma­cked yawn.

The monk must be think­ing the same. “In Mon­go­lia, we love karaoke,” he de­clares out of the blue, pulling out his mo­bile phone. He speaks very lit­tle English. He doesn’t need to. The open­ing twangs of the track he be­gins to blast make me gasp in un­re­strained ex­cite­ment. “Bai­lando?” he twists around, smil­ing proudly. “Bai­lando!” I af­firm.

Nei­ther of us speak Span­ish. But we try, valiantly, to sing it. En­rique Iglesias’s vo­cals are drenched in a Span­ishAn­glo-Mon­go­lian hy­brid of gar­bled lyrics and it is a fan­tas­tic catas­tro­phe. The three-year-old mirac­u­lously sleeps on. The car plunges ahead through or­ange-lit black­ness, to­wards the end of the line.

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