Back from the Steppes of Mongolia

Trip Start Jul 24, 2006
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9
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Trip End Jan 07, 2011


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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Well, here we are again. Just got back from our 3 day trip to the 'ger' camp. We had a guide and driver, so we didn't exactly rough it! In fact the camp was a rather more sanitised version than I'd imagined, but the actual views and atmosphere made up for it.

We arrived in Ulan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia early on Sunday morning. It certainly was nice to have a hot shower again - those long train journeys are great for anyone who's not too keen on soap and water. There's a tiny stainless steel sink in with the loo and that's it. Of course, there's no sink plug, either, and just to make sure that you don't waste too much water the you have to keep pressing the tap upwards from underneath otherwise the water cuts off. Even washing your hands is more difficult as you need to stop to put the soap on and then not release the tap whilst trying to rinse both hands!!

Arriving at 0730, I thought the traffic was quite bad - until we had to leave UB on our trip at 1100 the other day! Cars swapping lanes everywhere, pedestrians trying desperately to cross the road, dodging between cars, trucks etc. Somehow, I think half the drivers must be seriously colour blind because even when our light is green to cross the big juinctions, the cars still appear from nowhere! Anyway, after spending the rest of Sunday just getting to know the local area and get some laundry done, eating normal hot meals again etc, we were ready for our next adventure.

I never realised what a vast country Mongolia is. I know you see films of Genghis Khan and his warriors charging across the steppes etc. but just getting to the camp we were staying at took 5 hours on the road. Pete and I were both shocked and impressed by the terrible traffic getting out of the city, but we were soon to be amazed and worried to death by the terrible state of the country's 'roads'. We often complain in the UK and Canada but this was 100 times words at least! Quite a lot of the time we couldn't even drive on the actual road as there were so many huge potholes or areas where there was no tarmac left, so we spent a lot of time on dirt tracks which run alongside the actual road. At one place, there are about 5 parallel tracks, so you could almost have a race!

Another major obstacle of course, is the huge number of cows, sheep goats and horses which all seem to think they have priority over motorised behicles. The closer we got the more there were - sometimes accompanied by a herder on horseback but often alone. I'm not sure how anyone ever arrives where they're supposed to be going as we only saw about 2 signs the whole way! However, we arrived safe and sound on Monday afternoon in our 'Ger' camp. Once we were installed, and had found out where the essential facilities were, i.e. the loos etc, Pete and I left our guide and went for a walk to soak in the atmosphere and marvel at the hugeness of the scenery.

I thought the views in Canada were vast, but this seems even bigger. There are mountains all around, not too high but high enough to create an impressive background. However, it's the fact that everything in between seemed to be part of nature - there were only the tents, no other man-made buildings at all. The fact that there were no trees, just grassland with a few small bushes renders the view even more striking. Every so often we'd catch sight of a falcon, or even cultures and cranes as well - there were a few small birds, as well but mostly there were these huge birds, and the occasional carcass to add to the atmosphere!

In a way, the ger camp was a bit disappointing as it had a lot more facilities than I'd imagined. There was a washroom each for men and women and 3 dining rooms! Although from the outside, they had the form of a large 'ger' or Mongolian tent, they weren't in fact tents. However, we did get to meet one of the nomadic families and visit their tent. It was very cosy and welcoming.

To be continued...!
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