Mongolia Part 3 – Steppe Nomads Tourist Camp

Day 175: September 3, 2018

I didn’t have the best sleep in our ger in Hustai National Park. The beds were quite hard and the pillow was not high enough giving me a major kink in the neck.

In the morning, we packed up our stuff and went to the buffet breakfast. It felt a bit chilly so we decided against having showers. I recall our trek in Nepal where I showered the first night and got an awful chill. I would rather smell than not be warm for the next week.

As we drove away from Hustai National Park, our sweet guide was there waving goodbye. I was not having the best day and a migraine put a bigger damper on it. We stopped on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar at a store that was very similar to Costco. We picked up some lunch food and snacks.

We drove south of the city to avoid the traffic. We stopped to see the Bain Tsokto Inscriptions which date to the Gokturk Empire which dominated Central Asia between 552 and 745. The stones had a locked gate, but Danny snuck through the pulled apart bars to take some pictures.

Bain Tsokto Inscriptions

Next stop was the Chinggis Khaan statue. It was huge. We paid 8,500 MNT ($4.50 CAD) to go to the horse head. There were also some statues of different Mongols around the area.

Chinggis Khaan statue

I had a certain idea in my head about Chinggis Khaan, but the more I read about him the more my view changes. In the book I’m reading, “On the Trail of Genghis Khan” by Tim Cope, it mentions that Chinggis Khaan had every Mongol soldier travel with at least one spare horse so they could always have a fresh one. He would also have every soldier light several campfires to deceive the enemy as to the size of his army. The book also talks about how Chinggis Khan moved from conquering to governing an area and taxes were used to serve the people.

We drove on then passed our exit and had to turn back. We drove up a dirt track then realized there were stones marking the direction to our ger camp. It was 17 km from the main road.

Upon arrival, we were shown our ger which has a large bed inside and two comfy chairs. No one really told us where anything was located or what was happening. Danny went to the restaurant and found some ladies who seemed official. They didn’t know we had arrived and asked who had shown us to our room. Danny says he understands the saying, “I don’t know. I just work here”, much better now.

There are a couple of other people staying here, but it doesn’t seem as busy as Hustai. The Steppe Nomad tourist camp can apparently hold 70 people. It seems it would have been very fancy when it was built in 2004, but now it’s looking a little run down.

We had showers and then chilled in our ger until supper at 7:00 pm. There was salad, mashed potatoes, roast with BBQ sauce and a chocolate bar for dessert. The food was tasty.

We went back to the ger and watched “Dark Tourist” on Netflix. We aren’t sure about the host, but some of the destinations are interesting. After we went to bed.

Day 176: September 4, 2018

We slept in a bit as this bed was a bit more comfy. We had breakfast at 9:00 am: porridge, eggs, wieners and bread. After breakfast we played some basketball then Danny tried to teach me some of his volleyball skills. I don’t think he succeeded.

We were called for lunch which we hadn’t expected to be fed. There is Lipton tea at every meal and I think I’m becoming addicted. For lunch, we had a chicken curry salad with random fruit that was actually really tasty. Then dumplings and a salad.

After lunch, Danny went for a hike and I caught up on my journalling. The ger camp was in a very beautiful area. The view from the deck had a large valley in front with small grassy mountains surrounding.

See Danny up on the hill?

Danny returned from his hike and we walked down to the Herlen River. We decided against kayaking during our stay as the water was moving very quickly. We skipped stones and sat in the cool breeze.

Herlen River

Around 7:00 pm we returned to the camp for supper: tuna salad with seaweed, chicken, spaghetti, mashed potatoes and a little marshmallow bar for dessert.

We returned to our ger for the evening, but before going to sleep we heard thunder. Outside there was a spectacular lightning storm. We watched for a bit until it got too close for comfort. Back in the ger we got ready for bed.

Day 177: September 5, 2018

We were up for breakfast at 8:00 am: soup, bread, egg and wiener. After our stomachs settled, Danny asked if I we could rent a couple of bikes. We took them on a ride up the dirt track. I drove through a couple of the bigger puddles. We stopped to talk to some cows, but they kept walking away.

Merai with the cows

Continuing on the track, we reached a river crossing. It looked a bit too deep to cross with our bikes. However, there were horses on the other side I wanted to get closer to so we jumped across the narrowest section we could find. My shoes still got a little wet.

As I approached the horses they started to get up and walk away so I stopped and we watched them for a bit. The nomads of the area do not fence their animals, but rather let them roam freely.

Crossing back over the river, I thought there was a better spot where I could run and then jump. Danny told me it was too wide. I took a run and then jumped right into the edge of the river! I had almost made it, but ended up splashing myself in the face. Danny jumped after me and made it with no problems. I was quick to remind him of the length difference between our legs.

River crossing to see the horses

On the bike ride back, my bike started slipping between gears. There was no shifting of gears to start, but the slipping was super annoying. It hadn’t been a problem on our way from the camp as it was slightly downhill. On the way back, however, it was slightly uphill.

Danny biking

Halfway back the frustration wore me down and we walked for a bit. Danny said he would ride it back. We exchanged bikes and Danny struggled with the bike the rest of the way.

Back at our ger we watched some “Dark Tourist” on Netflix. At 1:00 pm we were supposed to go for a horseback ride, but it was raining like crazy. We rescheduled our ride for 5:00 pm and ate lunch.

The rain continued so we watched some more Netflix until 5:00 pm. It was still raining, but not as badly. We returned to the restaurant and asked the lady if she could check the weather to see if it would be better in the morning. The forecast showed that it would be raining until 9:00 am which was when we planned to leave. We decided we might as well go then with the bit of rain not knowing if it would be worse in the morning.

We drove up the road to a camp of three gers where a nomadic family lives. The man had the horses ready for us. I got on a horse whose name I couldn’t pronounce. Danny’s horse was named Hungar. He lived up to his name by wanting to stop for grass the whole time.

Apparently we weren’t very in control to start as our guide took the ropes and led us. My horse kept trying to return home. We rode up a bit then turned around. He let us go on our own then as the horses were good with going back.

We went up to a trot and I remembered the one other time I had actually ridden a horse at a family friend’s house when I was around 10 years old. She had taught me how to post. I got used to it after awhile. The guide asked if we wanted to get up to a gallop and I said, “Sure”. Danny was comfortable at the current speed as he had never actually ridden a horse before. The guide and I went for a gallop and I remembered why I always loved horses. I had a wonderful time. Danny was grateful to get to try out riding before our nomadic tour which will have a lot more riding.

The guide told us that he is nomadic and his current location was his winter home. In the summer his camp was 100 km south. He owned 700 goats and then some horses. We returned to his ger and rounded up his goats. By then it was really raining and my hands were freezing.

Our horse back riding guide

We thanked him and returned to our own camp. Now when we get settled back home I want a horse, a cow, a goat and maybe chickens. Although, I am scared of chickens.

For supper we had the same meal as our first night: roast with mashed potatoes. We had a lot of cups of tea to warm up from our horse ride. After supper, we returned to our ger for bed.

Day 178: September 6, 2018

Danny did not sleep well last night. He woke up at 3:00 am convinced someone had opened our door. He turned on the light and no one was there. It was a noisy night with the storm raging outside.

We had breakfast at 8:00 am then paid our tab. It actually wasn’t as awful as we thought it would be: $611 CAD for three nights, with all meals included. The girl working there was very sweet so we made sure to tip her well. She is from Ulaanbatar, but has worked at the camp since July. Her English was very good.

We packed up and drove back up the track we had taken the bikes up to see if we could cross the river with the UAZ. I even drove for a bit until I stalled it. When we reached the river we decided it might be too deep for the UAZ. The water level had increased quite a bit since the previous day from all the rain.

We drove back to the camp then took the track out. We thought we followed the same track we took in, but the lake we had passed was further south when I looked at the GPS. We were on a major track so we decided to just keep driving. Eventually, we ended up back at the highway, a bit further east than we had entered.

We drove back into Ulaanbatar and stopped at a car wash to clean off the UAZ before returning it. The car wash I found on GoogleMaps gave an ultra clean. They cleaned the exterior and interior super thoroughly. It took over an hour and only cost $15 CAD. In the waiting room, we spoke with a colonel in the Mongolian army. The base was in the neighbourhood. She asked us about our plans in Mongolia and was very nice. Another lady also spoke to us after the colonel left. She had gone to school for English tourism.

When our vehicle was finally ready we drove straight into the traffic of Ulaanbatar. What was supposed to be the last five minutes of our drive took 30 minutes because of traffic.

With the rental car back, we walked as fast as we could to our Airbnb to meet our host knowing we were going to be 20 minutes late. Our Airbnb is an apartment that is spacious, but not as nice as the photos.

We made ourselves grilled cheese before walking to the State Department Store to pick up groceries. Then we chilled a bit and started laundry. Danny made pasta for supper and I chatted with my parents before bed.

Day 179: September 7, 2018

I woke up this morning and FaceTimed Jacklyn while Danny made breakfast. He then talked to his parents for a bit before going to book me a massage at a nearby spa. He also wanted to go to the State Department Store to look for some waterproof shoes.

I walked with him to the grocery store to get supplies to make fudge. When I was going to head back to the apartment, I realized Danny had the key. Luckily, we were in the same building so he was able to get wifi and see my message. We met up and I headed back to the apartment.

I started doing some research on our Southeast Asia portion of our trip. We finally made the decision that we won’t do tours in Vietnam and Cambodia. We will just do our own thing. It will take more work to plan, but we can fit in what we want.

I updated our expenses which currently have us at par overall. Danny was talking about how much money he will have left at Christmas and it’s making him nervous and feel like not going to South America. I think I’m more nervous about having to stay home and find a job. I would like to put off that portion as much as possible. We still have a couple more months to figure it all out.

We decided to go out for supper to a restaurant that had Georgian food hoping to satisfy our khachapuri cravings. We had a nice salad, a baked liver, potato and cheese dish which Danny enjoyed more than me. Then the khachapuri came out 20 minutes later. It was very disappointing. Everything was slightly different. There wasn’t enough cheese in the middle to cook the raw egg properly. The dough was different and the cheese wasn’t salty enough. Oh well, what do you expect.

We returned to the apartment and Danny called his sister. I read for a bit then fell asleep.

Day 180: September 8, 2018

We slept in then had yogurt for breakfast. Danny went for a run while I called my parents. I always feel like my parents should be waiting for my call and when they don’t answer right away I don’t understand what they could possibly be doing. Apparently they had guests over so weren’t looking at their phones. I ended up calling their landline with Skype and they finally answered as I was leaving a message.

After the call, Danny walked me to my massage. It was meant to be a 60 minute massage, but ended up being almost 90 minutes. I must have been really tight. It was a deep massage which was really nice.

I walked to meet Danny at the State Department Store after my massage. He was chatting with a young guy who had approached him on the street and asked to chat. He had walked down to the main street just to find someone with who to practice his English.

We did some shopping then went to find a vegan restaurant that was supposed to be really good. It was closed on Saturdays. Instead we went up the street to a Korean food restaurant.

Back at the apartment, I watched some Netflix and made pizza for supper. We watched some travel shows and HGTV while we had supper. After, Danny searched acreages back home to see what we could get for the budget we are thinking. We will see what happens. There were some awful ones and then some good ones as well.

Our alone time is over and we meet up with our tour group tomorrow for our GAdventures nomadic living trip. This trip is something which Danny and I have been most looking forward to. We will be heading out to live with some nomadic families.

M

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