Aaaarggghhh the gers on fire!!!

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Where I stayed
In a Traditional Ger

Flag of Mongolia  , Central Aimak,
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Early start as today we were taking our first of Mr Kim's famous tours to the 'Gorkhi Terelj National Park' approximately a 1 1/2 hour car ride away, to stay with a local family in a ger (a large round tent with a wood burner in the centre of it, no electricity, no running water, no toilet).  We had no idea what to expect and what would be in store for us when we eventually got there.  Just before we left, Mr Kim summoned us to his office and began...'this trip, very difficult, you know. We have easy life, very, very lucky, you know.  Life is not as easy for some...' Oh shit!  Nowhere to plug in the portable foot spa then!  

We left the UB Guesthouse at 9am, with our driver for the next few days and en route took in some sights on our way out of Ulanbator including the 'Black market' & 'Car market', apparently you can get anything there including being pickpocketed, with Andrews paranoia we decided to give that one a miss.  Shortly after getting out of UB though the scenery became beautiful, huge snow covered plains that were home to wild horses, yaks, camels, sheep and cattle, lone shepherds on horseback rounding their herd and hawks circling the skies looking to prey on the many perished carcasses that littered the landscape.  We arrived at the park at 10.30am.  The mini bus had to endure some skillful and imaginative off road driving as we approached the ger deep within the park - I've never done a reverse 3 point turn up hill in deep snow before, it was the only way that we could navigate some of the hills! 

Arriving at the camp we were introduced to the family hosting us for the night, the son called Gana and his father, neither could speak much English.  After a short hike up the nearest peak we were treated to lunch of mutton and noodle stir fry with fruit tea.  Then Gana and his father saddled up the horses for our horse riding trip. Mongolian Horses are far smaller than we see in the UK, USA or as to put it in the fathers term "Arab Horses Big but small distance, Mongolian Horses Small but big distance". Of course Andrew got the bad tempered horse which was kicking out but I got the nice placid horse as confirmed by Gana (Not horses temperaments matching their riders again, surely.. Des and Jane will recall the horse riding on the Old Man of Coniston where Andrews horse was simply Lazy and did nothing but eat, drink and be stubborn!).

We made a tentative start, riding horses in very deep snow was a new one on us, and also as the bridalwear consisted of bits of string tied to bits of leather. The party consisted of Andrew, myself, an 8 year old boy, a dog and a wolf.... Picture the scene. The wolf had been found as a pup abandoned and starving in the mountains and was fed by Ganas father and 'domesticated' it is apparently the best guard against other wolves attacking (which is common in these parts apparently).    We climbed steeply into the mountains surrounded by trees, buddhist monuments and amazing rock formation. The scenery was breathtaking. We finally embarked upon a steep descent towards a single Ger, a wood and manure built stable and an animal pen which housed a raging bull. Very solitary living it took 45 minutes to get there with no sign of mankind or accommodation along the way.

As strangers we were greeted by 6 dogs running amock, something the horses were not keen on. As our guide was already at the foot of the slope tying up his horse, my horse just stopped and couldn't be budged. Andrew's horse did not like the barking dogs at all and reared, bolted down the hill and began kicking out at the dogs. Gana stepped in just before Andrew had a serious injury and peace was again resumed albeit with Andrew a little sore in the nether regions (at least he had a wooly hat as head protection nothing like safety first). We had arrived at Ganas older sisters house who came running out of the Ger to greet us. We were promptly ushered inside where we sat on the only two chairs in the place. We were given Tea and Nibbles how hospitable! Then we tasted what was on offer, I had one sip of the liquid and nearly heaved, then watched Andrews face contorting into some strange gurn. We dont know what it was and Andrew drank more out of respect but I couldn't find it within myself to drink more. We think it was "airag" which is fermented milk of mares (female horses).

Ganas 4 year old nephew began to play shooting games with both of us whilst Gana and his sister dissapeared out of the Ger. Whilst they were gone the game got more and more animated culminating in the 4 year old throwing himself on and off all the beds and he banged his head. We thought 'shit the bed'. Shortly after Gana reappeared with what at first seemed to be a pile of Jumpers in his arms. When he turned around it was a small calf (apparantly only 4 days old). how bizarre. So in a small tent the calf was released for the 4 year old to rugby tackle and wrestle to the ground. They told us that the calf slept with them otherwise it would die in the cold.

We began our trek back to our own Ger. My horse began skidding all over the place yet somehow managed to keep upright. We had to dismount to get down one section, unlike the horse I fell many times with Andrew screaming at me to get up before the horse stands on me. We decended the mountain to Gana's extensive array of Mongolian folk songs. He asked us to sing otherwise he would make the horses bolt. We told him we couldnt sing so with one word and a crack of his whip Andrew's horse bolted and he screamed a bit like a girl. Gana again told us to sing, Andrew immediately came out with 'three little birds' by Bob Marley... Why? Similarly I couldnt think oif anything to sing but with Andrew shouting "sing before we die" I recited the National Anthem.

When we got back to the Ger we sat down to have a beer at the timber table and chairs recalling one of the best and most bizzarre days of our lives. Then one of the horses kicked out at another horse and knocked it clean over. We were shocked and horrified as the horse could not get back up. It tried four times. Gana and his Dad were out collecting the dead cows (lots of animals have died due to the very cold winter this year) in a truck to 'dispose of them'. Andrew went over to see if the horse was ok and was soon joined by Gana. The harshness of mother nature was too much for me as I couldn't bear to see what was happening. Gana started kicking the horse and made Andrew pull its tail as hard as he could to try and make the horse get up. Andrew was lifting it. Apparently it took 3 of them over 10 minutes to get the horse up using some of the cruelest methods imaginable. Andrew said its bone was visable out of the skin so it was really bad. Although Andrew said it was horrible he said the family probably knew that as night was falling if the horse didn't get up it would probably have died that night. It was a really strange thing to witness.

Andrew says he will add his 'thoughts on the day later', he was a bit weird and scared me as he said the place was so amazing he was nearly crying. I always knew he was odd but he is getter odder.

We settled down for Mutton, cabbage and boiled rice with a very cold beer by candle light (obviously there was no electricity). Andrew lit the fire and got extra wood as he had done jobs for the family chopping wood, rounding up the horses and putting them in their pens etc. The people who went the day before said the fire went out and it was so cold that they thought their eye lids had frozen together. They didn't sleep. Andrew got the final instructions to empty one plastic box of coal on to the fire at 10pm then another at midnight then add wood every 1 / 2 two hours. I went to sleep in the nice warm tent.

At about 1am I woke unable to breath the Ger was fall of thick black smoke and the temperature was the hottest I have ever experienced. I had no sleeping bag or thick clothes on and could not bear the heat I have no idea what he was playing at but I honestly thought the ger was alight and burning to the ground. No doubt Andrew will add his side of the story in his update later.
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Vic on

Erica...Grandma Blacksheep would have been proud of you. x

Gregg on

Well Badu, looks like all the donkey rides in your youth paid off.

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