At last we are out in the Mongolian countryside! This is the Mongolia we have been longing to see. We had an early start out from Ulan Bator as we had a 10/12 hour drive south. Thankfully we stopped quite a few times along the way. One was to have lunch on the steppes and another was to visit a family ger and have fermented mare's milk! Yum. Actually I did not mind it at all but Karen hated it and discreetly passed it on to Felix before he was given his. It was great just to be sitting with this family in their home. The stop was not planned at all. Our driver just pulled up and we all went in. No money was exchanged and it would not have been accepted. It was our first glimpse of the famous Mongolian hospitality. We just turned up and they instantly gave us something to drink and eat. I felt like I was a Lonely Planet writer!
After our detour we went to a ruined Buddhist monastery that was surrounded by amazing rocks and views. Ah, the views. We could write a whole blog on the views that we saw all day, everyday. You could be looking out of the van window for hours and see no sign of human activity. It is probably one of the last places on Earth where you can say that. The last port of call before stopping for the night was an underground water source. Locals believe that if you dab your eyes with the water it will help your eye-sight. Good for me then. It is also where Karen inherited her new nickname from our driver. "Full moon eyes"! with him saying she did not need to put any of the water on her eyes. That night was our first night sleeping in a Ger. It felt so cool to be in one. As there is no tv, or any kind of distraction for that matter you are forced to sit and interact with each-other. It was brilliant. A Ger is a social building and I think we can learn a thing or two from the Mongolians when it comes to society, etc. So that concludes our first day of 14 out on tour. As we moved almost everyday, we will write a few days at a time.
For the first 2 days of the trip I had to keep repeating my silent mantra 'I am tough enough, I can do this' over and over again as I bumped along the road-less route, in an old Russian van that stank of petrol, for hours on end.
Being the only girl in the group I didn't want to be the one making a fuss so I suffered in silence even though my green face probably gave me away. Girls, traveling to the Gobi is hard work. VERY hard work. No loos, no showers, no electricity, hard beds, no pillows, no privacy, no comforts whatsoever. And yet, after a couple of days all these things paled into insignificance when compared to the natural beauty surrounding us and the adventure we were all having. We saw more horses than human beings, hordes of camels, sheep and goats but only a handful of vehicles. The sky was a magical blue and stretched out for miles on end. Being in such proximity to a bunch of strangers quickly forces you to build ties that usually take weeks, if not months to form. We were lucky, the people we went with turned out to be great.
From an American underwater archaeologist (hiya Bob), to a sixty year old Spanish guy who had us in stitches telling us about his travel escapades without even uttering a word in English, to Felix, a Canadian who had all the gadgets we could hope for and more. (We even had a gadget with a 911 button that we could press to summon a helicopter led rescue if we needed one!) He impressed us all by camping out instead of staying in a ger for the duration of the trip, braving the wolves, rabid dogs and god knows what else out there. He did have a close shave once whilst doing his business. As he was squatting with pants round his ankles he heard heavy breathing, turned round and came face to face with a black dog that had nearly barked the ger down a few hours earlier. Luckily the dog was in a friendlier mood this time and just sat curiously eyeing Felix. Still rather him than me!
We often stopped for lunch in tiny villages inhabited by a few thousand people. We would obviously be the star attraction and kids took great pleasure in saying hello.
On our third day out we visited the Bayanzag Cliffs in which many dinosaur bones were discovered. They even found 2 perfectly preserved skeletons of two dinosaurs killed in mid fight over here - how brilliant is that?! We hunted around for fossils ourselves and we were convinced we'd found a few - take a look at our pictures and see what you think!
A day later we arrived at Yogi Am, an amazing canyon which is a big glacier for most of the year. We were lucky when we went as it wasn't frozen over which meant we could hike along it, a nice change from the bumpy van. Up above us we noticed huge birds of prey circling the skies looking for the tiny Jerboa (gerbil like creatures) but none of them struck.
By the third night sleeping in a ger became easier. We got used to the loud snoring, occasional barking and even the smell of dung that was burnt to keep us warm (yes, cow dung which we had to shovel in the stove!). At this particular ger I met the cutest little girl ever. She came running up to me as if she knew who i was. Check out my Facebook profile to see the proof!
By day 4 we were heading towards the Gobi sand dunes. They actually only cover 4% of the Gobi desert. The landscape changes dramatically which really surprised me. Far from being a barren sandy desert the Gobi is very colourful. Lots of shrubs and even some trees grow there making it possible for all the animals to survive. Half way through the trip I had the worst meal ever. Mongolian food is infamous for being quite bland but this particular meal took it to another level. Just look at the photo and judge for yourselves. Put it this way by day 10, Felix and I were comparing the quality of fat we were eating as opposed to meat! This particular meal was fried noodles with ''meat'' (i.e. fat and lots of it!). Yuuuuummmmm.
As Karen mentioned earlier though, all the hardships were well worth it. Seeing the huge dunes confirmed it. Our gers were right in front of the biggest ones and some of our crowd went straight up them. Karen & I went up the following day to watch sunset. It took us about an hour to climb up them. It was tough going but once we were at the top we forgot all our aches and pains. It was just magical being up there watching the sun go down. We were alone and from the views we had, we could have been the last 2 people on Earth. I know we are going to see some amazing sites on this part trip but this will live with me forever.
(It was such a magical moment, we were surrounded by complete silence and wherever we looked we saw these beautiful dunes coming to life, exploding with the orange and red colours of the setting sun. A truly moving sight!)
Earlier in the day we went on a 10 minute camel trek. 10 minutes I hear you say? Well, 10 mins into the trek, Jose's camel slipped and fell, promptly throwing Jose off it's back. We were all spooked by this especially as the camel started hissing and making weird noises. We all felt that walking around in the Gobi with no mobile connection and the nearest hospital 2 days away was a bit fool hardy, so we made an executive decision and aborted the trek. We have been on camels before in Morocco and they are fine but this felt a little shoddy. We had wild camels running with us risking us getting trampled if we fell off and our guide just left us to it. Jose had us in stitches again though, telling us that when the camel landed on him, it started spitting at him! He wanted to punch it but refrained. So that concludes our Gobi excursion. Words really don't do it justice. Neither do photos or video clips. It's not easy getting there but it is well worth it. So we suggest you get there pronto as it will not stay like this forever!
Bye for now and sorry if this entry was a bit too long!
Paul & Karen xxx