Marvellous, mad Mongolia

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Well Mongolia... where to start? We've just spent two weeks going round the country in a jeep – of which only about 6 hours was spent driving on roads - and staying in the ger tents the nomadic family still use.  There were 5 of us on our trip as we joined a French couple, Max and Anneline, and half-German-half-Dane Patrick who we met on the train from Russia, plus our guide Soko (that’s the closest we could get to pronouncing her name) and our legend of a driver/mechanic/marmot-barbecuer Gana.  It’s been a fortnight of extremes; we’ve had blazing sunshine and massive hailstorms, climbed sand-dunes, volcanoes, mountains and cliffs, ridden camels, horses and a lot in the jeep, and eaten, urm, actually mostly just mutton.

We’d arrived into Ulan Bator on the train and despite all the horror stories we’d heard about UB but we really enjoyed ourselves there and didn’t have any problems.  After a night in town we then started our jeep trip driving a few days south to the Gobi desert.  We stopped a few times on our way down and saw some amazing limestone rock formations and red cliffs that felt like they should have been somewhere in Arizona.  Amazingly in July in the Gobi one of our stops was to a deep canyon that is full of ice!  Sarah got rather over-excited about this and went sliding on it resulting in some pretty spectacular bruising.  We also visited Khongoryn Els sand-dunes and managed our Lawrence of Arabia moment camel trekking up into the dunes – which was a lot easier than when we returned to the highest part of the dunes on foot later that evening, although it was worth it for the sunset.

Whilst we were stopping at one of the only towns around it was also the World Cup Semi-final that Germany were playing in and Patrick being German we thought it only fair to find some way of watching it and cheering on Spain.  We managed to find an Irish  Pub (what else) that would be showing the match even though it was on at 2:30am Mongolian time but had to be dropped off at 11pm.  It then turned out that it was 'Black Wednesday’ when no alcohol is meant to be served so having arrived at 11 they couldn’t serve us until 12.  Except that the bar was technically meant to close at 12.  And so we found ourselves watching the semi-final in the middle of the Gobi in a lock-in and having to hide our beers whenever someone knocked on the door in case it was the police.  They didn’t raid us in the end so we were able to watch the whole match before walking back to our ger through the sunrise, avoiding the packs of dogs.  This was perhaps topped only by the final which we managed to actually watch in a ger that had a tiny, noisy diesel generator sat outside; just enough to power the satellite, TV and beer fridge.

After the Gobi we stopped overnight in a Arvaikheer town where we were able to catch the local nadaam festival, an annual festival with Mongolian wrestling, archery and horse riding.  The wrestling in particular was brilliant; they start with an eagle dance and the only rule seems to be that you can’t touch anything other than hands or feet to the ground.  We also tried the festival drink, airag (fermented mare’s milk to those not in the know).  The pictures probably give a good idea of how much we liked it.

After that we then headed up north to Orkhon waterfall and then on to the stunning Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, or white lake.  This was another complete change of scenery as we went from desert to alpine meadows covered in edelweiss, forests and mountains.  The Orkhon waterfall was pretty cool (although no Devil’s Lip pool Mel & Steve), especially when we shocked the gathered Mongolians by going swimming in it.  It’s the first time we’ve ever had a round of applause for getting in some water!  We also followed in Gengis Khan’s hoofprints and went riding there but of the 7 of us that went out 4 ended up coming  back walking, including the ‘guide’, after the horses bolted.  Our downfall here we are also blaming on Gengis Khan, but as in Gengis Khan vodka the local Mongolian vodka.  The national nadaam festival in Ulan Bator was going on which is a national holiday, which appears to mean drinking lots of neat vodka in gers, or so Gana led us to believe.  In Mongolia you have to do everything in threes, including your vodka shots, which made for some pretty green faces in the jeep the next day.

The white lake was beautiful and a great place for swimming, some more hiking (a little harder than we’d anticipated at 2000m) and riding with some better trained horses (great gaucho moment Phil).  Whilst we were there marmot season also started so we had to try some if only to witness it’s being cooked (veggies look away) as they cut its head off, stuff burning hot rocks down the inside and then blowtorch the fur off.  Novel, although in comparison to the rest of the diet, a culinary highlight.  The food wasn’t disgusting to be fair, just very boring.  Despite being surrounded by wild thyme, spring onions and mushrooms none of this is used in Mongolian cooking, nor are any spices or seasoning that we could tell. We ended up rebelling one evening and went mushrooming ! (Debs & Isa you would have been proud!)

Having been staying in gers for two weeks with no running water or electricity (we won’t go into the toilet situation), getting back to Ulan Bator meant hot showers, flushing loos and huge steaks for supper.  Bliss!  Mongolia has been completely mad but stunning and really good fun.  Patrick, Max and Anneline - thanks for a fab trip and the great company (we think that we might have been the final and therefore permanent winners of Ars*hole)!  Next we’re off to Japan for no doubt a complete culture shock!!
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Marion on

Wow..... this part of your trip looks amazing..... made me want to leave the kiddos behind for a minute and jump on the first plane! Looking forward to your next adventure xx

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