A few days in the Mongolian steps

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
Elstei ger camp

Flag of Mongolia  , Ulaanbaatar,
Sunday, October 3, 2010

We arrived at Ulaanbataar early in the morning, around six o'clock so we did not have that much sleep that night. At the station we were welcomed by our guide for the coming days, Neke. He is a very friendly guy, about 35 years old and on his last guide tour of the season with us. He brought us the bad news, our Ger camp had moved into winter mode, so there are no showers or normal toilets available as they close the water down to prevent the pipes from freezing. The only sanitary option was a shed with a big hole in the ground under that. We were not too pleased to hear this as we kind of counted on having a shower the moment we got off the train.

Neke arranged a stop at one of the hotels in Ulaanbataar so that we could freshen up in the bath house. The bath house was the spa of one of the hotels in Ulaanbataar. They had to open the doors as we stood on their doorstep at seven in the morning. After our shower we were on our way to nowhere. The Elstei ger camp, about an hour's drive outside of Ulaanbataar. The roads were bumpy and there were big holes in it everywhere. After half an hour of bouncing around we left the paved road to drive onto the unpaved dirt roads. These were actually more comfortable than the paved ones. We drove through the Mongolian steps leaving all of the civilized world behind us.

After a bit we arrived at the ger camp. There were about 16 gers placed in two orderly rows. In summer they have much more, but they took down most of them for winter. The grounds were a bit white of frost, and the scenery was not as remote as I would have expected. Behind the camp there was a big power line spoiling the landscape, and on the other side a row of telephone poles disseminating into nowhere. Modern comforts seem to have catched up with nomadic life. The ger has 220volt power, but no other heating than the wood burning stove in the middle of the tent. There is a small sky light at the top of the tent providing natural light. The door is positioned at the south side, as the cold winds come from the north.

First point of action after dragging our bags into our ger is making fire. Neke got some wood and papers and lit the stove and soon the tent was comfortably warm. We rested a bit before our lunch as it has been an early morning for all of us. We got up around five, but Neke had to wake up at three to be at the station around six.

After lunch, that was served in the restaurant building of the camp, we headed out for a hike towards the Genghis Kahn statue. The statue is only an hour and a half north of the camp. It's a very big Genghis Kahn on a horse. The statue is placed on the location where he found the golden whip, and supposedly stopped his wars with the rest of the world. But our hike was not over paved boulevards or like in the American state parks with nicely lined hiking paths. We made our way through the steps over the glooming hills and sometimes through sandy desert like bits. When we reached the top of the first saddle between the hills we saw the statue in the distance. On the hill to the left we saw a Shaman temple rock. As we continued we heard the drums coming out of the hundred tree woods, a small patch of trees in the valley. There are Shaman priests living there who have their rituals for the people every day. Visitors are not appreciated there, so we kept safe distance.

As we reached the bottom of the valley the statue had disappeared from sight again, only to rise up bigger when we reached the top of the next saddle between the hills. After a good two hours we reached the gates of the statue and squeezed ourselves though the bars as we did not want to walk another 500 meters to the entrance gate. The statue was indeed big, about 40 meters high including bottom. Below it there is a little museum and a bar. This would of course mean a normal toilet, so we went in to the museum where Neke gave us a short tour. In the entrance hall there was a huge boot made by the students of the art academy. In the basement we found a private collection of Mongolian historic artifacts, mostly knifes and swords. And on the second floor we found our savior, a small restaurant, with restrooms. First we headed up the statue, as you can walk up the horse along its neck from where you have a nice view of the surrounding landscapes. And after that we treated ourselves to a drink and a visit to the loo.

On our way back we walk an easier road along a dirt track. Here we don't have to dodge the horse poo that much. We made it back just in time for sunset and dinner. After dinner it was pitch black around us, except for the lights of the camp site. There were gorgeous views of the night skies and you could even see the milky way belt with the naked eye. We were tired of a long day and retreated to our ger, where we lit the fire and enjoyed a good night of sleep.

Morning came early and our ger was freezing cold. Supposedly someone should have come around five in the morning to relight the fire. But no one came and our fire died. We tried to relight it ourselves, but we had no paper to get it going. When Neke came to get us for breakfast he got some papers and relighted our stove. More people had come to the camp site, a Mongolian family moved in to the ger next door to us, and we were told that more people would be coming during the day. The camp was getting busy for winter season, and they decided to reopen the restaurant and get some waiters. Yesterday our guide had to be the waiter, the kitchen help as well as our host. Not really in his JD I suspect. But still Neke remained friendly and tried his best.

He likes talking English and gets a lot of practice from his job as a tour guide. But he is not so good at listening, he rather hears himself talk. He asks the weirdest questions, like, how long was your longest phone call, how many SMS messages do you send, did you ever get drunk, and more like those. He is quite obsessed with his cell phone, and keeps going on over the fact that there is cell reception in Gobi desert and up on the hill north of us. We just keep on smiling, and pretend that we are interested in those facts.

After breakfast, and a visit to the hole in the ground, we went for a ride on the Mongolian horses. The horse guide gathered some suitable horses for us. I got an older merry, which we named Pu-Pu-O-O-vent, after the Hawaiian volcanic outlets, as the horse was constantly farting. Linda got a horse that looked like a big donkey, that we call Truffle. We mount our horses and head out into the open steps. They are not really up to any walking faster than strictly necessary, but it was a nice ride. After half an hour we stop somewhere to rest a bit. Here we meet another couple from Hong Kong that is coming from a home-stay at one of the ger settlements in the neighborhood. They stay at our camp for the coming nights, so we all ride back together.

Back at the camp we have our lunch. I did not write that much about the food in the camp. We have a Russian and Mongolian cook that prepare our breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is not really my cup of tea. Lots of potatoes, and soups with hearty fillings. I was hoping for Mongolian BBQ, but so far no luck. Anyhow, after lunch we play a game of archery with old fashioned Mongolian bow and arrow. As I walk to our ger to get our camera, I see that our Mongolian neighbors have lit up their BBQ and are roasting some meats. They invite me to taste some ribs, and of course I cannot refuse. I feel rescued from the soups and potatoes. The ribs were great, and Linda and Neke joined us as we sat around and chatted a bit with the family. They spoke excellent English as the husband has studied tourism in the US. They were just in the camp for a night with the family. After the ribs we played archery a little, together with some of the kids from the family. We also played some rope skipping.

Back in our ger we relaxed for a bit, the sun was out and it was quite warm outside, we did not need any fire now. When we opened our door to go to dinner, we noticed that the family had gone home already, and their ger was now occupied by an Australian family from Beijing. The man was working for the Australian embassy over there and they were on a short trip to Mongolia.

Before dinner we played a game of ankle bone. Neke came to explain the rules to us. The game is played with the ankle bones of sheep. The bone has four sides, called camel, horse, sheep and goat. With some imagination you can see these in the sides on the bones. The bones are used as dices in a game where you have to move your bone across a mat. After the game me and Neke went to get some more wood and this time some coal as well. According to Neke coal would stay warm longer for the night. We lit the fire and Neke threw a whole bunch of coal on top of the fire.

Dinner was same old again, soup, salad and some deep fried pastry filled with mutton. But as the restaurant had opened up a bit more, we could order a beer to go with our meal. After dinner we walked outside in the pitch black night. We tried to make photos of the night skies, but this is quite difficult to do. When we came back to our ger it was hotter than a Turkish sauna, absolutely unlivable. There was no way of stopping the fire, so we had to open the door of the ger to let the cold air in. We played some songs on our laptops and sat in our chairs by the door where it was slightly more bearable. After an hour or so, the temperature was bearable again, so we went to bed. Tomorrow we leave the steps for Ulaanbataar, where we can shower again.
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Mam on

Dat was even afzien

jeroenandlinda on

hahaha nee hoor viel best mee, was een leuk avontuur!

Janna Gerritse on

Ik vind het erg mooi wat jullie allemaal laten zien.En dat jullie zo genieten ,ook je moeder geniet er erg van.Ik wens jullie nog een goede vakantie toe,en fijne dagen met je moeder cq schoonmoeder

jeroenandlinda on

Thanks, we are having a great time. and there is still a lot more to come.. :)

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