Day 181: September 9, 2018
I made a breakfast of random items left in the fridge in our Airbnb in Ulaanbaatar. Russia and Mongolia really seem to enjoy their bologna wieners. I do not. Drenched in BBQ sauce they weren’t so bad.
We packed up and our host dropped by just before 11:00 am to check that everything was good. Danny went to shake his hand, but it was over the doorway so he stepped inside. Apparently shaking hands over the doorway means you won’t meet again.
We carried all our stuff 15 minutes to a post office near our next hotel. Danny had packed all our souvenirs into a box. Sending it home was exceedingly expensive.
Up the street we found our hotel and checked in. A board said there was a gym, but when we went to check it out there was only a closed spin studio.
I watched some Queer Eye on Netflix and cried. The show is just so happy. Danny was starting to feel like a caged animal so we walked up the street to a museum we had seen behind the car rental place. It was also closed. Nearby, we stopped at a coffee shop and I had a chai latte that wasn’t very spicy. We walked back to the hotel and Danny went for a run.
At 5:00 pm we met part of the group and walked up the street for a training session. We were taught a bit about Mongolian culture and the experience we should expect. Then we were given a safety briefing about horses, lightning and bugs. A lot of it seemed like it was to scare us a bit, but maybe also to prepare us for the worst case scenario: run away horse with slipping saddle.
After we walked to a Mongolian cuisine restaurant. Danny and I shared a salad and a meat and vegetable plate. It was very good. It seems like it will be an okay group other than a couple of people that may drive us crazy. There are still three other people to meet tomorrow.
Day 182: September 10, 2018
We woke up and went down for breakfast in the hotel. Our group met in the lobby at 7:40 am. There were four Toyota Land Cruisers with drivers waiting to take us to our first ger camp.
We were in an SUV with Jo, a lady from Scotland. Outside the city we stopped at a supermarket to pick up some snacks. Then we drove farther east.
Eventually, we took a dirt track off the main highway. We passed a little lake with swans and some sand dunes in the background. Up on a little hill was our nomad family. They have two gers and then three gers for us. There are five girls in my ger and four boys in Danny’s ger. The third ger has three other girls. We were a bit earlier than expected so the family was still making lunch.
We received sleeping bags and found our beds. They are a very thin mattress on wood. For lunch, we had a soup with cabbage, onions, potatoes and mutton. We also had a sharp yogurt.
After lunch, half the group went for a horse ride. Danny and I were part of the second group so we went for a little walk up the road then decided we had better head back.
The toilet at camp is a hole in the ground with four wooden slats over allowing you room to squat and do your business. There is some corrugated metal on three sides so you weren’t completely exposed. It is quite the experience.
When the first group returned we went out on the horses. The air was getting pretty cold. We rode to the lake and then through the sand dunes. My horse was black with a long mane. He seemed to really just want to run, but we went slow so I kept pulling him back. We stopped at the top of a sand dune, but it was raining and very windy so we didn’t stay long.
Back in camp, the other group was having a vodka tasting in the guys’ ger so we joined in. For supper we had khuushuur, a dough filled with mutton. Some of the group had ordered them at the restaurant the night before, but these ones were much better.
After supper, it was raining a bit so we all decided to just go to bed. Going to bathroom in the dark and rain was interesting. It was hard to tell where you were going in the pitch black with only a head lamp. I read for a bit and then went to sleep.
Day 183: September 11, 2018
I had an interesting sleep. I should maybe have worn a sweater because I was a bit chilly. I had to roll over quite often because my hips were hurting from pushing into the wooden bed. The five family dogs were also barking all night at something.
At 9:30 am we had breakfast: bread, clotted cream, milk tea (hot milk with some salt), rice with milk and yogurt. We split into two groups again for horseback riding.
The first group went so we all went for a walk. Danny made friends with a doggy that showed up early that morning. He came on the walk with us. A nearby family had two humped camels that we met along our walk. They didn’t like how close the doggy wanted to get. Once we reached the water at the bottom of the valley, we decided to head back cross country.
Next it was our turn on the horses. I got a different horse that was very obedient and easy going. We went up to the top of a mountain where there was a monument for bringing peace to the country. We took pictures with our host at the top then rode back down.
For lunch we had homemade noodles fried with carrots and mutton which was very yummy.
After lunch, we said goodbye to the family and drove five hours to our next nomadic host family. They lived 80 km off the main road. It made for quite an exciting drive. Our driver enjoyed going on his own path to beat the rest. Along the way we stopped to look out at a canyon and wait for the two lagging SUVs.
Our new ger camp is more in the middle of nowhere than the last. Our guide told us some information about gers. They typically point south so you can tell what time it is based on the sun’s location in the ger. It is tradition to enter a ger with your right foot which represents entering with a good heart. There are two columns inside supporting the centre of the ger. They represent the man and woman of the family. You are not supposed to walk or pass things between. There is a horse hair rope hanging in the centre that is given to a man and woman when they get married. It is looped around to look like the intestines of man so the family will never be hungry.
After lunch we were sitting outside and all of a sudden a blast sounded and items flew out the roof of the family ger. They had been cooking a sheep’s head inside a pressure cooker, it blew up and bones shot out of the ger roof. There was a huge mess inside the ger. Everything was coated in an oil and there were bits of meat hiding.
For supper, we had khuushuur, deep fried dough filled with mutton. After supper, we sat chilling with the group a bit before bed.
Day 184: September 12, 2018
I didn’t have the best sleep. It was cooler than the previous night even though I put more layers on. I snagged the only actual mattress in our ger for two nights. The other beds were similar to the last place with wood planks and a thin foam covering.
We had breakfast at 9:00 am: bread and biscuits with jam and clotted cream. After, we rounded up the goats into a pen. The dad and two daughters pulled the females by the horns and tied them in an alternating line.
The mom rounded up the yaks for milking. We all got to try milking the goats which was much easier than I anticipated. There wasn’t too much milk at this time of year. Typically they get 300 mL of milk per day from each goat and 1 L from each yak. This family also has sheep.
After milking all the animals were set free to graze. In Mongolia, the animals are not kept in with fences, but are free to graze wherever.
We got ready for a hike up one of the nearby mountains. It was hard to tell, but there were numerous tourist camps around us. Along the walk, we played the game “Rock or Cow Paddy” where you guessed which you were about to step on. We all climbed to the top and sat for a bit taking in the scenery.
Back at camp, a couple of us found a poo free spot to sit and read. Some people played with the frisbee Danny brought. The youngest daughter came to hang out and read some words from our books. She played with my phone for a bit, but I didn’t have any songs she knew and no games. She was a big ham with the camera though. We communicated mostly with gestures, but she did know a bit of English. She was eight years old and her sister who was also at home was 16 years old. They had two older siblings that were away in town for school. During the week, they stay in a boarding school and come home on the weekends. They were home these couple of days to hang out with us.
For lunch we had noodles with cabbage, carrot and mutton. Then we headed to a nearby Orkhon Waterfall with our host. The waterfall is 24 m tall and is Mongolia’s highest.
We got a beautiful view from the top then walked down a path to the bottom. The trees were changing colours resulting in a mix of green, red, yellow and orange.
At the base of the waterfall, our guide had told us people normally jump in for a swim. It was a bit too cold for Danny and I as we were afraid of getting sick. The two American brothers, Luke and Justin, however, did not have that fear and jumped in. We sat watching the waterfall. The host also liked having his pictures taken and you could tell where his daughter had gotten her humour.
Danny and I hiked back up and walked along the river canyon. We sat and looked out at the beautiful scene of the river and fall coloured trees.
Back at camp we chilled for a bit then went with the group straight out to the canyon for a couple of drinks. Nearby was a very nice looking toilet that we all thought we should take back with us. When the sun started going down we walked back to camp.
Nyamka, our guide was waiting for us. Once he saw our empty bottles he understood what had taken us so long. For supper, we had dumplings filled with mutton.
After supper we chilled in the boys’ ger, drinking and playing games. In one of the games we had to count to 15 with different rules each time: say nine for seven and seven for nine, say bop instead of eight, etc. When we hit 15, we would yell “Chinggis!”.
We went outside to look at the stars. Celina and I did some Irish dancing to warm up. Our group sang a song where each of us added something then did the same thing, but made a machine. We had a sing along of Bohemian Rhapsody then all laid down in a row to look at the stars. I was on the end and started to get cold so I went to bed. Everyone else soon followed. It was a fantastic evening filled with lots of laughter.
Day 185: September 13, 2018
We were up for breakfast at 7:30 am. A driver came to light our ger fire at 7:00 am so we were warm while getting dressed. I layered up more than the previous night and had a spare blanket so I was only a little cold at night.
For breakfast, we had deep fried dough (similar to elephant ears). They were delicious. We took a group picture with the family and thanked them.
Our drive our took us 80 km back to the main road. We stopped at Kharkhorin, the ancient capital of Mongolia. The Mongol Empire reigned from the 1200s to the 1700s. They were the first commonwealth and really brought about globalization. The idea of the Mongols being blood thirsty killers came from Manchuria who wrote the first history of the Mongols. One reason the Mongols were so successful was they were nomads that were constantly in motion making it much harder for enemies to plan attacks.
Inside the walls of the old capital city were temples built between the 1580s and 1620s. We entered them and Nyamka explained some of the statues. We were given free time and went to see the monks chanting in the active monastery.
We also saw the foundations of Avtai Sain Khan’s ger which was 40 m in diameter and had space for 300 people.
After, we drove up to a tourist ger camp for lunch: salad, soup, chicken and veggies. It was a nice change from the typical carb and fat heavy nomad diet though the portions were still huge.
We continued our drive and made a bathroom stop. Jo returned with a vivid tale of her journey to the toilet. She was sure a murder was soon to go down. Then we saw the “Gobi Gangster”. He had his hand in his shirt to conceal a gun we are sure. We drove off just before the shoot out started.
Our ger camp was about 15 minutes south of Hustai National Park. The gers were very nice inside and Danny and I actually got to sleep in the same one. We all rushed to take showers. Danny got a cold one, but mine was nice and warm. We were also able to charge all of our devices. Some nomad families had solar panels or gas generators, but we didn’t use them for charging our phones.
At 7:30 pm we met for supper: coleslaw, meatballs, veggies and fries. After, we all met in the brothers’ ger for drinks and games. Everyone came and we really enjoyed ourselves. Around 11:00 pm, Danny and I went back to our ger for bed.
Tomorrow we head into Hustai National Park then east of Ulaanbaatar to Terelj National Park to meet our next nomadic family.