Mongolia Part 5 – Nomadic Living – Terelj National Park

Day 186: September 14, 2018

We woke up at 8:00 am in our tourist ger camp and didn’t want to get out of bed. The mattresses and blankets were such a luxury compared to the previous night’s. Both of us slept very well.

Breakfast was served at 8:30 am: wiener, egg, bread and cookie. We then all got in our SUVs and drove into Hustai National Park. We were able to see our sweet guide from a couple of weeks ago and we are sure she recognized us. We all watched the video on the park and then drove in.

Around the fourth parking lot, there were some Takhi wild horses up on the hill side. We all got out and hiked up closer. We could see three, but figured there were more in the valley next to the hill. When we looked back across the road, the opposite hillside had a group of seven Takhi. We climbed back down then hiked up the other hillside to get a closer look. We were able to sit and watch them for a bit. There is something very serene about watching the Takhi.

Takhi wild horses

On our drive out of the park, we saw tons of marmots scurrying about. Back at camp we were served lunch: potato salad, vegetable soup, rice, fries and a beef stir fry. Then we headed back on the road again.

Our first stop was near Ulaanbaatar for some groceries. Our drive continued into Terelj National Park. Driving through, the landscape changed from rolling hills to rocky hills.

We parked at a hotel and our drivers helped us to carry our bags down and across the river. There was a bridge covered in metal sheets and some would pop up as you walked along. As I was walking across, with my hands full, one edge came up and I ended up sprawled across the bridge. I got a nice scrape and bruise on my knee. We did some quick first aid and put a bandage on it. Everyone on the trip was very prepared with first aid kits.

A group of nomads arrived with an ox cart to carry our things and a horse for each of us to ride. We said goodbye to our drivers and mounted our steeds.

Our group with our drivers

My horse seemed to not be happy from the start. After our first puddle crossing, we stopped to wait for the others and my horse kept doing odd things. I told the guide, but he said it should be okay once we started moving. It didn’t get any better. At one point, my horse and I did half circles back and forth for what felt like ten minutes. He kept wanting to return the way we had come. He wouldn’t even do a full circle or just stop moving. I felt like I was struggling with him the full way. Eventually, a nomad came and whipped my horse to get him going.

We arrived at the camp and I just wanted to cry. Falling down and then the crappy horse was a bit too much on me. We ate supper inside our ger of five girls. Then I went to bed fairly early.

Day 187: September 15, 2018

Breakfast was at 9:00 am, although our ger was up at 7:00 am because two of the girls thought breakfast was at 7:30 am. Breakfast consisted of bread, clotted cream and tea.

We had a free day so we threw around the frisbee a little bit. We decided to try a game of four on four ultimate, but it ended with a rolled ankle. The field had a few too many rocks, but it was a fun game while it lasted.

Nyamka brought out a bow with two arrows and we practiced some archery. None of us managed to hit the tiny target of piled wood.

Archery

The family had two dogs, one we named Hugh Jackman and the other Rebar. Rebar was the friendliest dog. He liked to chase the goats and sheep a bit too much landing him a two foot pole of rebar attached to his collar. It really didn’t bring him down though.

Rebar

Lisa, Danny and I went for a nice walk along the river. It was very beautiful with all the fall colours. When we returned to camp, there was a mommy kitty and three kittens. We sat petting them for awhile then chilled until supper time.

Me sitting with mommy and kittens

After supper, our host showed us how to make cheese. She boiled milk then poured some yellow milk (remnants of boiling yogurt) inside. Eventually, it started to separate and she pulled the liquid out then strained the cheese. After placing it in a cheese cloth, she took it outside and placed it between two boards. A rock was then placed on top and she let it sit there to get the liquid out.

Cheese making

That night there were more good times had in the boys’ ger before bed.

Day 188: September 16, 2018

Breakfast was at 9:00 am and included fresh cheese and boorstog (bread). In the morning, the view from the toilet overlooking the river was spectacular. To the left, you could see the family milking their cows.

View of the nearby river

After breakfast, we saw how they made butter. Milk was placed in the top of a machine that separated the milk and cream. I even helped turn it for awhile.

Butter making

Around 11:00 am we rode about an hour to a nearby nomadic family. This time, my horse was much easier to control.

We were served lunch when we arrived then were shown how they made vodka from yogurt. The yogurt was boiled in a still and the liquid was their vodka. It had a sharp yogurt taste.

After we sat in a ger and were shown how to make symbols with ribbon. It was very relaxing to do some crafts. The lady sewed them on to some cloth and made us cellphone holders.

Symbol making with ribbon

After, we took our horses back to our camp and I sat with the cats again. Mommy kitty sat on my lap then Rebar came over which she didn’t like. I tried to send him away, but he sat about a foot from my feet then he rolled around closer and closer until he could gnaw on my shoes. I could feel mommy rolling her eyes.

For supper, there was potato salad, rice, sautéed cabbage and sheep. After supper, we had some drinks and laughter then I snuck away for some sleep.

Day 189: September 17, 2018

We were up for breakfast at 7:30 am to prepare for our departure. It felt sad to be leaving our ger life behind. We loved the quiet and openness that the nomadic lifestyle holds. We mounted our horses and started our ride out.

Packing up the ox cart

Danny and I hung to the back so we could walk our horses and enjoy the scenery. My horse was awesome. He had a fast walk and was a great listener. Danny really became a natural at riding. Everyone commented on how skilled he looked.

Back at the hotel that our drivers had dropped us off near, we waited a bit for our bus. A sweet doggy had followed us up from the river so we gave him some love. The bus ride back to Ulaanbatar was uneventful. We arrived at the hotel and felt very out of place in our dirty, smelly clothes.

We dropped our bags in our rooms then went to a nearby burger place. It was a nice treat after so much mutton. We all noticed how loud it felt compared to being out with our nomadic families. What an adjustment it must be for the nomads when they come to the city.

We returned to our rooms, had glorious showers and put on fresh clothing. At 5:00 pm we went down to meet the group. On the first floor, the elevator doors opened then slammed closed on a guy exiting. The elevator then went down slightly and the doors would not open. We were stuck inside for a couple of minutes before someone came to pry the doors open.

We walked with the group to a theatre where we enjoyed some Mongolian singing and dancing. The throat singing was spectacular and I wish I had gotten a better video.

We said goodbye to two of our new friends after the show as they went to the airport. I think we all felt our hearts hurt a bit as our new family was torn apart.

We went for supper at a very nice place. We had a Caesar salad (stupid mustard on the chicken) and pizza. After supper, we went for one last drink with the group at a pub. Then we went back to the boys’ room for one last shot.

Finally, we said farewell to our guide, Nyamka. Danny and I went to bed so we had to say goodbye to two others as well. It has been hard saying goodbye to people we became so close with.

Day 190: September 18, 2018

We met the remainder of the group for breakfast then said goodbye to two others. Danny and I returned to our room and each called our parents while the other finished packing. My stomach was not doing too well. It might have been the change in food. I think we had gotten used to the mutton.

At noon we had to check out. I hung out in the lobby watching Netflix while Danny got a very nice haircut. At 2:30 pm we said goodbye to the brothers and took a taxi with the Australian girls, Celina and Beth, to the airport. We had a bit of a wait and spent the rest of our money on some souvenirs.

The flight to Beijing was under two hours. We arrived and said goodbye to Celina and Beth. We then switched terminals to pick up our luggage.

As we exited into arrivals, we saw our names on a piece of paper and met our guide for the next couple of days in Beijing. She is an interesting character. I think the only way for us to handle her will be for us to laugh.

Our guide, Catherine, told us some facts about Beijing. It stands for north because it was the northern capital. Within the city there are 22 million people and 6 million cars. It was about an hour drive to the hotel. Catherine made sure our room was acceptable then left for the night.

Our nomadic living in Mongolia was a dream. It was so different from other tours we have been on. This was more about the people and their culture and lifestyle. We grew very close with our tour group as well and it did feel like we were one big family. It was exactly the type of experience we were hoping for and not something we will soon forget.

Now we have about eight days in China to hit some of the highlights before our next adventure.

M

Mongolia Part 4 – Nomadic Living – East

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.

Our gers

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.

View from our walk

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.

Morning at our ger camp

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.

Camel

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.

Us with our host

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.

Canyon along our drive

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.

Goats ready for milking

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.

Mom getting the yaks ready to milk

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.

View from the top of our hike

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.

Playing frisbee

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.

Orkhon Waterfall

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.

Beautiful fall colours

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.

River canyon

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.

Temple in Kharkhorin

We also saw the foundations of Avtai Sain Khan’s ger which was 40 m in diameter and had space for 300 people.

Avtai Sain Khan’s ger foundations

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.

The Gobi Gangster (photo courtesy of Jo)

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.

M

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

Mongolia Part 2 – Hustai National Park

Day 173: September 1, 2018

We woke up and cleaned out the fridge of our Ulaanbaatar Airbnb for breakfast. Our host showed up around 9:45 am and offered to drive us to the hotel where we were picking up our rental car. It was very nice of him.

We arrived early so the rental car wasn’t at the hotel yet. We walked with the attendant to the garage and then back. He was a very interesting person. He lived in New York for awhile and then with his mom in Poland. When his dad got sick he came to Ulaanbaatar to take care of him. We received a free upgrade as the Lada 4×4 we had rented wasn’t available. This meant that we got a huge UAZ Patriot.

It took us awhile to get out of Ulaanbaatar. The traffic along the main road, Peace Avenue, seemed to be never ending. At highway speeds the UAZ didn’t seem to handle very well. There was a lot of play in the steering causing it to drift a lot.

About an hour west of Ulaanbaatar we took a dirt track south to Hustai National Park. There were three or four dirt paths so you could pick your poison. We reached the park after about 20 minutes and were greeted by a smiley young lady with a Hustai vest.

We were shown our ger which Danny tried to enter with his backpack on. The doorway was just too short so he got knocked back. Inside were three beds, a dresser, a table and a fireplace in the middle.

Inside of our ger

We went to the main building for a buffet lunch then asked if we could be taken into the park. Based on what we had read we needed a guide in our vehicle to enter the park. The girl who had greeted us said she was free at 5:00 pm to take us out. It could’ve been the language barrier or just a lack of organization, but everything seemed very confusing. I think most tourists must come there with a guide.

There was an information centre with an explanation of the park and the different animals. Hustai is world famous for being the only place with wild horses. The park covers 50,000 hectares. The wild horses or Takhi are the ancestors of domestic horses. Wild horses have 66 chromosomes while domestic horses have 64. The Takhi are indigenous to Mongolia. In the 1960s they became extinct in the wild. They were bred in captivity and then 84 were reintroduced to the park starting in 1992. Now, there are 230 Takhi living in Hustai. There are 33 breeding harems and 18 bachelor groups. The largest group has 13 horses.

We watched a short documentary on the park and then our guide hopped in the back of our UAZ. We headed into the park along a track that was not awful, but definitely had its bumps. We stopped at the first parking lot where a park ranger had a telescope out. Through it, we could see the wild horses up in the trees. He told our guide there were more just over the hill. She asked if we wanted to walk up there and we readily agreed.

The scenery was very beautiful: rolling hills, all greens, browns and reds with barely any trees. You could see out for miles. The weather was perfect: a bit of sun, a bit of breeze, not too hot and very few flies and no mosquitoes. The grasses don’t get very tall so it was very easy to walk anywhere.

Danny walking up to the Takhi

Over the hill in the valley we spotted a group of nine Takhi. I don’t think I have ever been so excited to see horses before. Our guide had binoculars to see them more closely as we were required to stay 300 m away. We took some pictures through the binoculars which made me wish I had a better camera.

The Takhi

The Takhi reminded me more of zebras without stripes than domestic horses. They are stockier and have shorter manes. I think I could’ve stayed out there all night watching the Takhi and enjoying the scenery. Around 7:00 pm we returned to the camp as it was supper time.

The Takhi

For supper, we were fed a cabbage salad, a plate with beef, rice and vegetables then pineapple slices for dessert. We had the staff make a fire for us while we were eating supper as we were worried it might get a bit chilly at night. We returned to a very warm ger. I read my book for a bit before bed.

Day 174: September 2, 2018

Last night it was raining like crazy. When we woke up it was still showering. We had breakfast at 8:00 am: a buffet with eggs, wieners, veggies, cereal and apples. We had planned to go out for a hike, but it was still raining.

In between rain showers, Danny went for a run up a nearby hill. Behind the camp he saw many golden eagles. They seem to be very plentiful here.

For lunch there was a buffet again. After lunch the rain had cleared so we asked our guide if she could take us out again. She said she would be free at 6:00 pm, but we could go into the park by ourselves as long as we didn’t go passed the last parking lot.

We drove along and saw the wild horses up on the hillside. There were also plenty of marmots ducking in and out of their burrows. We passed the park’s research centre and drove to the very last parking lot. From there we decided to go back to one of the first parking lots and hike to the top of a hill there.

Hills always seem to be so much closer than they actually are. There were tons of purple wild flowers around. You had to be careful of your step to avoid marmot and gopher holes. As we were walking we could see movement on the opposite ridge. Two stags were there that looked like a cross between our deer and elk with their long necks. They ran across the ridge and over to the other side.

Hiking up a hill in Hustai

The view from the top into the valley was spectacular. On the northern slope it was very windy, but hidden behind the rocks there was tranquility.

View over Hustai

The walk down was much easier. We returned to the UAZ and drove back to camp to rest a bit before heading out with our guide. In the parking lot, Danny lifted the hood to check on a leak. Immediately, three other drivers came over. They had all been checking out our ride since we arrived. Danny allowed them to gawk and let them look at the interior as well. The Mongolians really seem to love the UAZ although Danny just tells them it’s not as good as a Land Cruiser.

A man checking out our UAZ

At 6:00 pm we went to find our guide. She asked us to wait a moment because she had to deliver something. Her and one of the park rangers held hands and skipped away. It was pretty adorable.

When she returned, we started our drive into the park. She asked us why we had chosen to travel to Mongolia. We told her how we wanted to see the different lifestyle that is present here as well as the untouched land and openness.

We stopped at the first parking lot, but couldn’t see anything so we kept driving. At a further parking lot there was a group of wild horses. We were even closer than the last time because they were right down from the parking lot. We drove up a bit further and got a fantastic view of them. They didn’t seem to be too scared by the vehicles.

The Takhi at dusk

Up the road a bit farther our guide spotted stags up on a ridge and does up on another ridge. How she spotted them I have no idea as I had trouble just seeing through the binoculars.

We were unable to drive further up to where there is a Deer Stone. Our guide wasn’t quite able to explain why in English, but I had read that hiking wasn’t allowed during certain time periods. I assume it is due to the migration or breeding of one of the park’s animals. It did seem we were able to go anywhere within the parking areas without a guide. She was much better at spotting the animals than us though so we were glad to have her along.

The sun started dropping and it was quite dark on the drive back. At this point, we saw even more Takhi as they had descended into the valleys. In the daytime they stay on the ridges to catch the cool breeze then in the evening they move down into the valleys. We even scared a tiny little fox on our drive back. It turned into a very eventful drive.

Back at camp, our guide’s boyfriend was there waiting for her and said good night. We went and ate supper: salad, chicken, rice and vegetables. Back in our ger we had them start a fire and settled in for some sleep.

We are so glad that we received the recommendation to spend extra time in Hustai. It was a really incredible place. The scenery was amazing and the Takhi just added an extra layer. Tomorrow we go east of Ulaanbaatar to another ger camp. We feel a bit sad to leave such a beautiful place.

M

Mongolia Part 1 – Ulaanbaatar

Day 169: August 28, 2018

We woke up late and then had to get dressed to go get groceries. After getting into our Airbnb in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia late the previous night we didn’t have time for anything other than sleep. The State Department Store was just around the corner from our Airbnb and had a grocery stored located on the first floor with everything we needed. We bought way too much food, likely because we were hungry. It was very heavy and we were glad we didn’t have far to walk.

Back at our Airbnb, I cleaned the fridge because it was quite dirty. I always feel gross when a place isn’t sparkling. Just knowing that someone else’s dirt is there makes me feel uncomfortable.

We had cereal for breakfast and then hung out for a bit. Danny had found a free walking tour online that started at 2:00 pm. He emailed about it, but we hadn’t heard back. We thought we would go and see if it was still happening. If not, we could just do our own thing.

At 2:05 pm in front of the National Museum of Mongolian History, we decided no one was coming for the walking tour. Instead, we went inside the museum. It gave the whole history of Mongolia starting right from the origins of man. I very much enjoyed all of the clothing of the different tribes of Mongolia.

Traditional clothing of the Buryad people

After the museum we walked to Sukhbaatar Square where there was a large statue of Genghis Khan (referred to in Mongolia as Chinggis Khaan). Much to Danny’s disappointment, the statue was hidden behind scaffolding.

Sukhbaatar Square

We took some pictures then walked back to our Airbnb. Danny made plans for our free days in Mongolia before our nomadic trip with GAdventures. I did some blogging. Danny made pasta for supper and we watched some videos on Mongolia before bed.

Day 170: August 29, 2018

We slept in then Danny made breakfast. He went for a walk to check out a rental car company called Driving Mongolia we read about in the Lonely Planet: Mongolia guide.

Caitlin messaged me to ask what I was doing and her and Kaleen ended up FaceTiming me. They told me about our 10 year high school reunion that I missed back home. It is crazy that we’ve been out of high school that long already. I still feel too young, but when I think back to myself at 18 I know I’m more mature than that.

I ate lunch while Danny talked to his parents. After he told me about the car rental place. It was a bit more heavy duty than we needed and much too expensive. Instead he booked a 4×4 with Sixt, a European car rental company. The cost is still more than we were anticipating. He also booked some ger camps for us to stay in over the next couple of days. The prices of them were also much more than we planned.

I decided to take some alone time and go for a walk. I went to Beatles Square where a monument was put to commemorate groups of teens that would gather to sing Beatles songs in the 1970s which they smuggled in from Eastern Europe. There were a bunch of white tents set up with back to school supplies for sale.

Beatles Square

After I headed to the State Department Store. I tried on some clothes and actually liked the style. The clothes were not as cheap as I was expecting. They were similar to European prices maybe because the clothes are all imported. I also went and purchased us a SIM card for our time in Mongolia. At the first floor I picked up some items at the grocery store we had forgotten.

When I returned to the apartment Danny and I talked a bit about our plans for October to December. We haven’t even decided yet to which countries we should go. We had left it open on purpose in case we decided we wanted to go home. There are some days when we do just want to say, “Screw it, we’re going home”. At this point though, I think we’ve decided we want to continue or we would regret it in the future.

Day 171: August 30, 2018

I had an awful sleep; I woke up at 2:00 am restless so I watched some HGTV until 5:00 am. I still wasn’t tired, but decided I should try sleeping. Between my restlessness and mosquitoes buzzing in my ears, I still didn’t sleep well.

I woke up 15 minutes before my 9:00 am FaceTime call with Kaleen. We chatted for a bit then I had lunch and baked muffins while Danny went shopping. I did some research on Myanmar to determine a rough plan.

When Danny returned, we went for a walk to Gandantegchinlen Monastery where over 150 monks currently live. We walked around the buildings which didn’t seem like anything special. We decided to enter one of the temples, Megiddo Janraisig Datsun, and there was a 26.5 m high copper statue gilded with gold. What a surprise! We walked around the temple, spinning the prayer wheels then backed out.

Statue of Avalokiteśvara

We walked through the yard of the monastery. There was a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha in the flowers.

Shakyamuni Buddha

On our way back to our apartment we stopped at a market with tons of little shops of mostly clothing. Back on the street we weren’t sure which direction we needed to go. I was getting frustrated with the cars and honking. We ended up walking past a theatre and decided to start my birthday early by going to a movie. The only one I faintly wanted to see was “Christopher Robin”. It was in English with Mongolian subtitles. I actually really enjoyed the film.

After we walked back to the apartment where I made chicken, zucchini and tomatoes for supper. We watched a movie on Netflix that apparently is, “all the rage”. Then we got ready for bed.

Day 172: August 31, 2018

Today is my birthday! I woke up and ate breakfast while FaceTiming Caitlin. After Danny brought out a honey cake with a little bee on it. He got me a book and a nice pair of wool socks for my birthday.

Birthday presents

We did some planning for our Southeast Asia portion of our trip. We planned the route, researched some tours, budgeted out flights and started booking.

Around 3:30 pm we walked across town in the rain, through a closed amusement park to a bowling alley. When we went down to try to get a lane, there seemed to be none free. I may have been a bit upset about this. My birthday just didn’t seem to be going how I imagined.

Amusement park on the way to the bowling alley

We walked back towards our apartment and it really started to rain. Across the street from our apartment, we stopped for supper at an Indian food restaurant. We thought we would get enough Mongolian cuisine on our excursions. We ordered a basket of naan which ended up being an insane amount. The food was pretty good.

When we returned I called my parents to tell them about Ulaanbaatar and our plans for Southeast Asia. Then we went to bed.

Our time in Ulaanbaatar has been pleasant. We were happy to have our own space and be able to cook our own meals for a bit. The city life is starting to wear on us and we are looking forward to getting into the Mongolian countryside for a bit. Danny has planned for us to spent two nights in Hustai National Park, west of Ulaanbaatar and then three nights in a ger camp, east of Ulaanbaatar. Then we return to Ulaanbaatar for another couple of relaxing days before our nomadic trip with GAdventures that we are very much anticipating.

M