(Almost) Mugged in Mongolia

Thus far, on all my travels I have been very lucky in meeting mostly amazing people. Even travelling through West Africa I was never threatened or  felt in too much danger. Yesterday I met my first ‘bad apple’.

I started the day off as normal, and within 5 minutes met a Shepard who asked me into his yurt for tea. It was a little far away and I had just started so I declined and continued on. The wind was strong like the day before making the riding slow and more exhausting than usual.

The scenery was very Mongolian. Treeless brown terrain, with a majestic blue sky, in which a road passed in between vast valleys. I’ve met several travellers here who find the landscape boring. I however love the vastness of it. You really get a feeling of how big the world is, when you feel so small amongst it. The only downside is that there is usually nowhere to hide when camping or stopping for lunch or a rest.

This is how my troublesome day started. I always like to have lunch out the way from the road. It’s a small ground rule I make for myself. However, such being the terrain since being in Mongolia I haven’t always been able to follow this.

I had leaned Stella against an electrical post and was busy eating my lunch when a man on a motorbike, dressed in traditional gear, and wearing a balaclava parked up next to me. You might think the sight of a man wearing a balaclava might be suspicious. But I bought one a week previous and was in fact wearing it as a beanie when he arrived. It’s getting colder now so makes sense to wear one. From the moment he sat down I didn’t like him. I asked if he wanted some food and he said yes, eating a few mouthfuls before stopping. He spoke no English, was just sitting. He then gestured if I had a camera and if he could look at my pictures. This has happened several times on the trip so far, and I always refused saying the battery was dead. One reason being that I don’t want to waste the battery, the second being that unless I completely trust the person I’m not going to show them my expensive gear.

He had a look at my map, showed me his hometown, and I showed him which way I was heading. He was smiling all the while and doing his best to win my trust I guess. I finished lunch, packed up and said I was heading off. I shook his hand and expected him to leave. He didn’t. I cycled back on the road and he was riding next to me on this motorbike. After a minute I stopped and gestured for him to go. I wanted to continue by myself. He again asked about seeing my pictures. In a more angry tone I told him I don’t have any and that he should go. He trailed behind me for a minute before accelerating off into the distance. I hoped it would be the last I would see of him. However I had a feeling it wouldn’t be…

I continued on, going as slowly as possible and stopping several times. Partly because of the wind but also because I wanted to put some distance between us. About two hours later I heard a horn behind me and I knew it was him. He again pulls up alongside me. I immediately stopped and started trying to stop passing cars. It was my plan before he had sped off previous. Although I was gesturing madly, and there was a man in a balaclava next to me, several cars didn’t stop. It was at this point he started getting aggressive. Gesturing me to fight him. Then he stopped and ask for money. I played dumb and pretended I didn’t understand what he was saying. I stopped a car eventually. They didn’t speak any English, and although I gestured to get a lift with them and they could see something was wrong, they continued on.  The guy now started getting closer and gave me a few weak punches to my side, telling me he wanted to fight. I hate fighting and see it as a last resort, so I shielded them and continued playing dumb to his requests. He then started trying to grab my camera bag, it was at this point I felt enough was enough and gave him a right hook in the face. It was a weak punch, but it was enough for him to back off. I’d fallen off Stella by this point and was in the middle of the road trying more desperately to get someone to stop. A car did, and inside were two Argentinian tourists with a Mongolian driver. As soon as he saw me speaking English to them he got on his bike and zoomed off.

I explained what had been going on and asked if they could help me get a lift. They were heading back to Ulan Bator, and were in a very small car, so going with them was out of the question. The Mongolian guy stopped a van, but it was full. A few minutes later a big truck, packed with bags of cement stopped. They were heading in my direction and would take me. We struggled to lift Stella up onto the top of the truck. She really weighed a ton now!

I thanked the couple and Mongolian for helping me. The situation was definitely getting worse and I was starting to get worried about what would happen. I could have given him some money, but being that he had no weapon I felt I could play dumb and bide my time. Thankfully it worked.

I climbed into the truck. Of the two truckers one spoke a few words of English, so we communicated for a minutes before settling into the ride. About an hour later, who did I see on the side of the road… Yes, you guessed it. He was sat there on his bike waiting for me. Everyone had suggested he was drunk. But he was quite clean and coherent, but why he was waiting an hour away (by car) I don’t know. I would certainly have stopped kilometers before had I not got a lift. The two guys excitedly got out of the truck to confront him. I froze and stayed inside. Not exactly scared of him, but just not wanting to enrage him more. They chatted for a minute before jumping back in. He of course denied what had happened. I learnt that he was heading down the same road we were. Until now I hadn’t talked about how far the truckers would take me. If there was some place to camp I would get off. That idea changed and I decided to go with them the whole way to where they were heading, about 300kms further.

As it was getting dark we stopped in a café for dinner. I shouted them, and we continued on in the dark. I was constantly having to look back to see if Stella was still on top. The driver wasn’t the slowest and several times I was sure she must have fallen off. Thankfully as it got dark we strapped her down, and I laid down to get some sleep. It was after 1.30am when we finally arrived. It took us three attempts to find a hotel which was reasonably priced. We offloaded Stella, in one piece, though now very dusty. I thanked my drivers and gave them a few pounds as thank you. Then as soon as that, they were gone. I was inside a guesthouse, warm and cleaning off the day’s dust.

It had been a long, almost confusing day. It made me realize that bad people do exist. And although I’m always very careful to avoid them, sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid them. I’m thankful I got out of this unharmed and didn’t have to hand over any of my equipment. I think in truth he was an amateur, not quite sure how to handle a mugging , or he didn’t quite have all his marbles (who tries to mug someone in broad daylight on the only main road!). Well, it was my first time was well; I like to think I came out the winner!

So today I’m having a rest. The room price is more expensive than I’m used to, however I’m quite tired from not getting much sleep, and a small part of me is paranoid that he could still be looking for me. Thankfully though, the terrain has now changed, I’m a lot higher up and there are trees abound. So, should have no trouble stopping for lunch or camping! :)

One of the friendly Truckers who helped me (The other is taking a cat nap)
One of the friendly Truckers who helped me (The other is taking a cat nap)
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One Response to “(Almost) Mugged in Mongolia”

  1. December 11, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    Hi Sam,

    Fortunately I have found only good people in Mongolia, but the mentality is changing. Thank you very much for sharing!

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