Published: August 14th 2012August 14th 2012
Blog July 1 - 3 Train ride Dalian to Beijing to Ulanbaataar
On July 1st we woke up to a sunny and blue sky day. I decided to make breakfast: pancakes and hash browns and juice to finish all food in Kyle's fridge, after eating we got to work. I sew Kyle's backpack while he cleaned up packed and downloaded movies music shows for the trip. It was a fun and busy day. I rode my bike to Annie's apt. to leave it there and on my way back I realized I had no money on my phone so could not call a taxi so instead I walked to bus stop and took the local bus for supposedly 1RMB but the driver gave me "foreign" price of 2RMB! When I got to Kyle´s apt. we finished packing I took a shower and we sent last emails by 4:00 we were out the door heading to the Qing kuai
. With two very light traveling backpacks (mine was the lightest I have ever traveled. Three pants /shorts, four shirts,one sweater and one raincoat, sneakers and sandals and well of course underwear and socks), we were set up for a 40 day adventure
in the Gobi desert in Mongolia and the Altai mountains in Russia!
We got to Qing kuai and of course was overpacked and had to go to the other track. It left at 4:30 and we were standing most of the way except at kfq I got a seat. Kyle lend me a NF science book about the brain and oh my I already have fallen in love with the book! We got to Dalian and wandered off through streets full of people it was a busy Sunday. We decided to eat chuar, a version of BBQ which included grilled chicken and beef on a stick, grilled corn on the cob and for desert Mc. Donald's ice cream. We wandered off until about 6:30 when we headed for train station bought apples and I had to use the toilet or WC how they called it here. Finally we were sitting on our softbed sleepers and talking, reading, listening to music and watching shows. We were headed to Beijing to pick up our train tickets and Tuesday morning our Mongolian adventure would begin. The 12 hour train trip went pretty smoothly. We shared our berth cabin with a Chinese couple who spoke good English and were super polite. We slept all the way and woke up at around 5 in the morning.
July 2 Beijing
We arrived to Beijing at 6:00AM and headed to find out hotel through the hutongs (alleys*) of the area near Beijing Railway Station after some confusion,doubts and asking a guard we were on the right path to the hotel. Our hotel called Zhongshan hotel was located inside a hutong* and had non-English speaking Chinese staff. We managed to get our room after waiting about 20 minutes. Finally in the room we settled our backpacks and tried to connect with the wifi Internet, but we failed. We asked the hotel staff and they said the internet work with a password and it was our passport numbers. We thought that would be amazing techy and hard to believe that those Chinese girls with poor English could do something like that, but we tried giving the benefit of the doubt. And guess what?! It did not work so we settled for not having wifi in our room and decided to go find a place to print papers and get free wifi to confirm the rest of the trip. After a nap and a shower we headed out to find a bakery for breakfast. We ate some garlic bread, buns, and cheese bread; with our stomachs filled we were ready for the next stop the Hongqiao (Pearl) market for things for our trip and souveniers. We started with the electronics and after some bargaining we each got what we wanted A small case for my camera, earphones for Kyle and some USB charger for our trip. Then Kyle bought some tea to take home to Canada and this took quite awhile to get the ladies to agree on a good reasonable price. I got three crappy combination locks all for 30RMB which is good but they are really bad quality. Then we were on the look for sports strap for my glasses so that when we do rafting my glasses stay on me and if I fall they will not be lost. We found them but the good ones were 55RMB and to be honest they were too expensive so I tried my bargaining techniques and man was it hard the lady selling them would not let go so I walked out and came back finally she said 28 but I only had 25 so she settled and I got them! All it takes is self assurance, patient and a secret talent!(according to Kyle I have it well developed!)
And so we took the subway to Dengshikou to the office of CITD travel company to pick up our train tickets. The building was sure the biggest one in the area. We got the tickets, we are going to Mongolia! We started walking heading towards a big mall and stopped because we caught a free wifi signal so desperate to get some Internet to sort our the rest of our trip we sat down on a bench and use the wifi free signal to check email. Luckily we could confirm pick up from Khongor guesthouse at Ulanbaataar train station and got the receipt and itinerary for train tickets from ULB to Novosibirisk and kind of confirm Altay mountains tour. So we headed to the mall. It was a beautiful day blue skies and sunny but very hot so we decided to chill inside the mall. Kyle drank a bubble tea and I drank a lemonade and started walking around the mall we were amazed at how expensive Chinese malls are ridiculously expensive and worst of all tacky. We ran into a kodak shop and ask if we could print and use Internet it also was expensive but at least we had the paper needed so another errand for trip done. After this we had pretty much an afternoon of doing nothing walking hanging out chilling etc. We started walking towards a big pedestrian road full of touristic sights, shops ,restaurants and a touristic stand. We decided to stop and ask for a massage place and a Peking duck restaurant. The lady said there were about two but were vey expensive, we kind of knew that because the area looked wealthy, rich and modern. We asked about an acrobatics show and there were two at 19:14 pm so we bought two tickets and decided to head for dinner aiming a Peking duck restaurant and then an evening of acrobatics. We decided to walk however it was far away and did not quite make it to aiming restaurant so we decided to go eat at a Korean BBQ place. It was delicious beef.,chicken, veggies and sweet potatoes and a beer in hand great dinner. We started to head back towards the theatre and midway decided to take train it was so packed but eventually faster. Just as we got to theater my tummy began to ache I had bad cramps and had "to go" badly thanks God bathrooms were pretty clean I would have died instead. The show started and my stomach felt better . It was amazing the acrobats on the wire riding a unicycle doing jumps and tricks. Then some men jumping across hula hoops that were raised in the air, doing cartwheels and my favorite a woman laying down using umbrellas to twirl twist with feet and arms it was incredible. Some people from the audience got called to perform there was this one guy so funny had to go under and over a rope the same way a girl acrobat did in the end it was a trick and the whole audience burst out laughing. The show ended and we decided to head to a beer hutong alley for some drinks. My tummy was upset and I drank a lemon tea while Kyle drank his and mine favorite Asian beer Tiger from Singapore /Malaysia. We found out the pub had wifi and used it finish our trip confirmations. Altai emailed to confirm will send invoice later. Khongor will pick us up at Ulanbaataar train station. Train to Novosibirsk was confirmed. We were ready for our summer 2012 adventure to begin! We emailed each others families and others and Kyle downloaded Facebook and his VPN and I played games we talked and chilled. It was time to head home our feet were tired, sleepy eyes and we had to sleep well for our 29 hour train from Beijing to Ulanbaataar. On our way to subway we rushed to try to take last train but unfortunately it was past the time so with luck found a cab who took us to our hotel using the meter and it was only 25 RMB pretty good for Beijing taxis at night. We tried to get a massage but had no luck the place was closed and so we headed back to our hutong hotel for a goodnight sleep. I showered, Kyle charged electronics we left everything ready so that we could get ready fast, get the free breakfast and walked (5 min.) to the Beijing Railway Station. We fell asleep and woke up at 5:30 to get ready for our train.
And so the epic 29 hour train journey from Beijing to Ulanbaataar had begun on July 3rd 2012 at 8:05 AM. We got to the train station fairly easy after a quick breakfast and 5 min. walk from hotel. We bought some water, juice, cookies , snacks and instant noodles for lunch and were all set waiting to board our train K23 to Ulanbaataar! We sat on a full packed waiting room and saw many western tourist and when most of them stood up and walked to a line that was our sign that it was the train to ULB so we grabbed our backpacks and stood in line. We got a hardsleeper with four beds. We hoped that no one would come to use the other two beds and to our luck we had the entire room to ourselves! We slept some more during the morning to rest from the previous day in Beijing. We played cards a few games like crazy 8's (version of UNO), speed and I taught Kyle how to play Rummy, who turned out to be a great player beating me all the time! Then we read and played with iPods and ate snacks. Slept a few more hours until finally we got to the last Chinese city where they checked our passports to exit China and changed the tracks of the train. We got to Erlian at around 8 o clock and gave our passports for immigration and had to wait like 3 hours in the train station to get legally checked out and leave China as well as for the train to change tracks. We bought some fruits, tea and tea bottles, water and juice, noodles and snacks for the ride and wait... Oh we also drank four beers with a woman and her son from Canada who were very nice and the woman was telling us about her travels to Machu Pichu, Cuba, India, and Asia. Then another man came and joined the conversation and when we said goodbye he said something awkward to both Kyle and I. He asked if I was his wife and if we were going to marry and then he looked at me and said you are so nice and pretty and said to Kyle you should marry her when I saw you two I though you were married I forsee the future believe me! We just looked at each other and smiled and laughed and even blushed a little! An hour later we got to the border of Mongolia and China! We stopped at a little town called Zamiin -Uud the passport control for Mongolia. We gave our passports to the Mongolian official a very stern serious and uptight woman and waited for like an hour and at 1:40AM the official was back with our passports stamped. We were in Mongolia for real and about to start an amazing tour through Gobi desert! For now good night see you soon Ulanbaataar !!!
Blog July 4 to 25 Mongolia
It's July 4th at 8 o clock in the morning and the train has been moving through Mongolia and the desert all night the sleep on the hardsleeper was hard the bed was not comfortable and we left window and fan open and it was chilly really cold and also dusty so we had to wake up in the middle of the night to close window and turn off fan. We arrived to ulanbaataar at 13:50 PM. Our train arrive right on time and our driver from Khongor guesthouse was there to meet us. He drove through the Ulanbaataar traffic streets and in 25 minutes we were in the guesthouse. The manager of the gusthouse, a Mongolian man with good English was super hospitable and friendly and quickly have us our room key showed us around and suggested a couple of places to eat and where to exchange money. We were settling in when Kyle realized we had left the solar panel in the train. I panic and so did he! We looked everywhere and it was nowhere to be seen. I went to ask the manager if he or a driver could take us back to train station and he said yes. I stayed dealing with booking a tour for the next day, getting train tickets to Russia and emailing for the thousand time Elena the lady from Altay tour in Novosibirisk in order for us to pay. I arranged train tickets to be delivered to the guesthouse and a tour for the next day with the good news that we would be sharing it with four other people and it would be cheaper and we would be saving at least half price. I emailed Elena and she send me the invoice and memos for tours. After an hour or more Kyle came back soaked wet it was pouring and with no solar panal what a dissappointment. Well we chilled talked read and the manager knocked on our door saying we had a phone call. It was the train supervisor they had found the solar panel! Immediately Kyle wrote instructions and headed out to look for it. He came back we thanked the manager and headed out to dinner and some exploring Ulanbataar. We wandered around the streets navigating ourselves without a map and found a little Brittish pub to eat. Kyle order chicken and fries and I ate chicken and pineapple. It was good and cheap and the waitress in spite of her lack of English she tried her best to help us. We went back to guesthouse and crashed for the night. I used the computers to pay for the tour in Altay and then had a terrible stomachache and I was in pain. It was almost midnight when I finally slept. A long day and days were ahead of us :-)
July 5 The journey has begun!
Today Feliz dia de independencia mi Venezuela desde Mongolia. We woke up at 7:45 AM but stayed in bed until like 8. We were tired of a bad sleep during 29 hours on train and wanted to stay in bed, but a tour around Northern Mongolia and the Gobi desert was waiting for us. So Kyle went to take a shower testing hot waters had to wait a long time since it was a shared bathroom and there was a line. We packed and charged our electronics and as soon as Kyle got out of the the shower I got in. We were ready by 9 AM. We headed out on a jeep Russian style very cool, but with only a tiny window on the back and it was stuffy steamy and hot! We met our fellow tour companions two ladies from Taiwan and a couple from Belgium. Our driver a Mongolian man and our tour guide a small young friendly Mongolia girl. First stop the market to buy food for the 19 days, water and snacks oh and toilet paper because bathrooms are pits (literally a whole on the ground with sometimes a door or not and no toilet paper and if there is toilet paper it is the brown hard rough kind). Next stop petrol station. I had to go to the bathroom and this was my first experience using a pit. Worst than in China! A little room with a door about 20 meters away from petrol station it stink and was full of flies! After this stop we headed out into the road. Leaving the city was hard and there was traffic like in any other big city. We saw our first taxi usually Mongolians hitchhike and don't pay so taxis are not common. Then Kyle noticed something really cool strange and incredible! Some cars had the drivers seat on the right and some on he left. We had never seen anything like this in one same country it was awesome! Way to go Mongolia! No wonder the lonely planet guide says and warns that traffic, driving are among the worst in the world here in Mongolia and pedestrians should be very careful. We drove through a dirt road and then a paved road admiring the scenarios green grasslands and some short and small trees as well a short hills and mountains. I slept most of the way Kyle slept some and in-between we talked had snacks and read the Mongolian guide. We stopped for a little break a ger camp and the guide explained to us about the ovoos
tradition which is a collection of stones rocks scarves and other objects to say a prayer and ask the gods for things. You are supposed to get three rocks and walked around it three times asking praying for something or if you drive by you should honk three times. I collected my three rocks and ask and pray for my country my family and Kyle and me. Then we continued our journey along beautiful landscapes until we got to a Mongolian little road restaurant were we had lunch. I order lamb dumplings which turn out to be good and more like an empanadas then a Chinese dumplings and way to big to eat more than two. The guide ordered milk tea typical from Mongolia made from cow, horse, yak, camel or goat milk it was way to salty and fatty to drink. Again I took a trip to the pit with the other women of the tour and on my way out I got a piece of wood in my finger ouch! We headed again to the road stopping in a lake river for some after lunch break. A nice scenary and I wish I could lay on the grass under a tree and sleep for awhile,but we were there for short and again hit the road. I was getting carsick all the moving of the jeep the dirt road was pretty bad and driver did not make it any better. Finally around 5:00 PM we got to the ger camp unfortunately it was a tourist ger camp and we wanted some more authentic Mongolian stay but it was nice and ok. The name was Amabayasgalant khiid
where one of the oldest and biggest monastery is now there are only 200 monks living there but before there were nearly or more than 2000. We dropped our bags and went to explore the grasslands of Mongolia. We went up some stairs to see a buddha and stupa and then went along the mountain like for a hour up up a hill to see a beautiful view. Along the way we saw moths, butterflies, crickets singing a very strange beautiful flower and many little bugs. It was beautiful and when we reached the top it felt so close to the sky so close to my dad in heaven it was magical. The green grasslands, the animals grazing, the bugs flying crawling or jumping, a fresh cool breeze of clean air and a blue open sky and all through the horizon was green a feeling of peace, calmness and freedom which I love! We headed back down around 7 o clock to eat dinner at the camp. We had some tea and dinner was a veggie lamb soup it was ok but not my favorite. After dinner we jet relaxed and read wrote our day journals entries and at night lay on the grass and saw the beautiful clear sky full of stars. It was a great first day!
Today we woke up at around 8 o clock had toast and biscuits for breakfast and went to see the inside of Amarabayasgalant Khiid monastery
. It was a huge monastery that used to be the home of 2000 buddhist monks, but now only 200 lived there. The architecture was a mixed of Chinese, Russian and Mongolian style with bright colors of gold and blue on the ceilings and decorations among the walls. The main temple had an altar in the center where the monks would pray and around the outsides there were some kind of round metal bells that tirned and rolled when people prayed, We went through smaller temples and altars and noticed that there were 4 women gods and 8 men gods. Also the guide told us that in Mongolia there were two Buddhist groups the red hats, which were for the past lives and the yellow hats, which were for the future lives. After aout an our tour, we settled up and started the drive. Along the way we had a couple of stops because the other jeep had a tire that was not spinning when the jeep was moving so our driver had to help the other driver, we stop for lunch at the second most largest city in Mongolia: Erdenet with about 200,000 people. We ate at a noodle fast food place, I ordered fried noodles and Kyle steamed and fried lamb dumplings these were so different than the ones I ordered. It was ok people don't come to Mongolia for it's food. Another four hours on paved and dirt road and finally around 5:45 we got to camp. I realized I had left my raincoat in the other ger camp and ask the guide if there was a chance another Khongor group would go there and keep it for me. She gave me a hopeful look and I knew that now had no rain gear and will have to buy one in Ulanbataar on our way back. We played some cards crazy 8's ( I won) speed (Kyle won) and went for a walk. We rock skipped in the river and learned how to make a rock skip in the water first it has to be rounded and flat and you have to throw it at a 45 degree angle and not too high but aiming far. I got about two or three skips with rocks. Then we saw a herd of sheep and goats which kept running away from me and some wild horses. We headed to dinner more blah food and tea. We started playing rummy but stop to go for a walk and watch the sunset and take some photos. It was incredible (even though a bit cloudy) the air and breeze was coo and the night sky was blueish with some paintbrushes of pink purple and orange. When we finally headed back to our own ger it was about 9 PM and there was still light outside. I had to go to the bathroom so I grabbed wipes, toilet paper and headlamp and went out to look for a spot this time I had to go into the woods because thee was no pit in the ger camp. We played some more rummy and Kyle won with a very good play and we got ready for bed. We were almost asleep when a random freaky Mongolian man open our ger door mumbling something in Mongolian. I who was awake saw him and tried to wake Kyle up and shush the man. After a few other Mongolian words and my "we do not understand" he went away but kept us awake for a awhile. We locked our belongings and Kyle set up a noise "alarm" by the door and we fell asleep.
We woke up and had breakfast the usual bread and jam with tea. We left the camp at around 8 o clock. It would be a full day of dirt roads bumps and uncomfortble driving in the jeep. Around mid day we stop at a little town for lunch and this time we order goulash
which is lamb rice French fries or salad. It was ok but full of fat parts of the lamb. We walked around rested for bit befor we knew it was time to board the dirt jeep and drive through roads to Moron the largest city in Mongolia about 200,000 people but really nothing to see there. Moron (
spelled Maroon in mngolian) consisted on one main big street with markets, stores, restaurants and it looked like one of the American wild west towns, with men walking in traditional Mongolian dells
with cowboy hats and some even riding a horse around town. We got there around 4 o clock and our guide went to buy some food for our meals as we all wandered through the main street. We tried to buy some post cards with no luck. And the drive started again. This time it was more entertaining as we passed some trucks stuck in the mud and one had fallen and it was turned sideways both drivers were laying on the grass as is nothing happened waiting for someone to stop and help. We finally got to our ger camp another tourist with warm showers electricity and a mini restaurant and lounge area. It was in a small town called Khatgal
. We played some cards then I took a shower, I had to choose the one and only one that had no water yes me! It did not turn out to be so cold but a bit refreshing. Then we went for dinner just same Mongolian tourist food blah. Kyle went for q shower and I was in charge of charging electronics. I read for a bit the neurology and brain book and then Kyle came and we played some rummy. He won all the rounds seriously he was pretty good. Then we played a couple of rounds of crazy 8's to boost my self esteem since I am better at that game. At around 11 pm we went to our "private " ger yes we got lucky and had our own and decided to put our beds together and make a big bed. The night was beautiful almost a full moon and shining it's white light and a few stars laying on the night sky. We spotted the Big Dipper and a few other stars and then I saw one shooting star. Laying on the grass in Mongolia seeing the stars and moon shine upon us was one of the best things of the trip. It was a long day but in the end we were rewarded with a beautiful night and great company.
Horseback riding along the Khovsgol Nuur lake and national park.
We woke up and had a continental breakfast omelette toast and tea and got ready to ride horses for 20 km about 6 hours. I wore my long trekking pants, a sleeveless tshirt and my sweater (it was chilly) and my small backpack with 1.5 lts.of water and some snacks, toilet paper and wipes and my sweater. We started the ride in Khatgal in our ger camp. The horses were all wild Mongolian horses. Short strong legs, a head about the same size as other horse breeds and lots of fur and hair on the mane. Two of the horses were a little bit more wild and those were the ones given to Kyle and the Belgium guy. My horse was a brown one very peaceful and calm and it's name was Urum. Our two horseman guides were Mongolian and they both wore the traditional Dell Mongolian silk robe with a silk belt around the waist, leather boots and one of them wore a cowboy hat the other wore a western style baseball cap. We all got clothes pant wrappers that we tied around our legs and had more or less the same job as boots. So off we were on horses to ride along the hills and mountains of Khuvsgol Nuur
and towards the lake with the same name. I was on the front of the horse line with one of the Mongolian horseman. I felt so confident and secure and happy to be riding a horse it was as if I had been riding forever. We rode through some dirt roads and grasslands and started up hill.It was a blue sunny sky day kind of warm but as we started going up the hills, mountains and up north a small cool air and breeze blew and brushed our skins. So after a few minutes we stop for toilet break and I decided to wear my sweater. The scenery was pretty much the same green grasslands and hilly areas and along the horizons we could see a line of evergreen tall trees which indicated the beginning of the taiga forest. We rode for about an hour and a half along hilly mountains and eventually we started to go deep into the forest. We climbed kind of like a mountain of dirt and rock to see the beautiful Khovsgol
lake from the top. We continued to ride along the forest I was among the first horse riders and Kyle was ending the horse line. My horse was very calm and all it wanted to do was eat grass and would not go through water, mud, logs or humid areas. Along the way we saw a Mongolian horseman riding with a couple of Mongolian and foreign (our guess Brittish) children All dress in dells and with British equestrian hats. They all seemed like very elegant and professional serious riders in spite of their young ages. We all had to stop and let them gallop and trot first so we would not keep them from going fast. We kept going for another hour along the forest and by midday we got to a grassland area where a bunch of Eco-tourist ger camps and hotels were. There we tied the horses to a wooden fence and decided to have lunch. Kyle and I walked towards the lake a little farther away then where the rest of the group was eating and found a spot by some rocks by the shore of the lake. Lunch was a pepperoni (or at least that was what it looked like) and cheese sandwich and a tuna sandwich (which I did no eat). We talked a little ate our snacks and headed back towards our horses for the last part of the ride. We continued riding along the forest in a single line of horses because it was pretty narrowed and at the same time steep. Ocassionally the horseman would let us trot but most of the time it was walking. We reached the end of the forest and arrived to a flat land near some gers and some yak herds who were all refreshing in the lake and eating grass. We tied our horses on trees and had about 15 minutes breaktime. We ate some apples and I attempted to give my horse Urum a piece jut it was useless he would not eat it. We got on our horses and continued the ride to our ger camp by the lake. Most of this ride was flat occasionally a small hill. We were walking bordering the lake and we could almost feel the cold water because of the soft cool fresh breeze blowing. We reached our ger camp at around 5 o clock and settled in rested for a bit played cards and decided to walk towards the lake. It was all grasslands and pastures with herds of sheep, a few horses and cow and yaks grazing and walking and shitting. We were walking trying to skip the mud and wet grass areas when all of a sudden Kyle said watch it ... And well you probably know what happened next considering how clumsy I am.. Yes I fell in the mud and both my feet were completely soaked in mud (and probably animal shit!) so we walked to the lake and I had the oportunity to test the waters and clean my feet. What can I say?! The water was pretty darn cold I put my feet and hands to wash them and they felt so cold I thought they would freeze! We walked back to our ger and ate dinner, can you guess the menu? ha ha lamb and vegetable soup. We played some cards but I totally passed out before 10 o clock!
Second day of horseback riding Khovsgol lake
We woke up at around 9 AM well I was roaming in bed since 7 AM it was very cold and the fire was not on all night. One thing I have learned is that the northern you go the coldest it gets and Mongolia is pretty north and even though days are hot nights can be very cold. We had breakfast toast and jam and tea and got ready for our second day horseback riding. The horses arrived at around 11 o clock. These were different horses owned by a different person. They were much more tamed and calmed than the ones of the day before. Again we had to wear long pants comfortable tshirts sneakers and bring snacks and water. Lunch was a picnic lunch of sushi (not very appealing. So we got our horses and were ready to ride. My horse was white with a bush of messy mane. His name was white in Mongolian and very calmed. I got on the horse just like a professional amazon horse rider. We started walking along the grasslands by the lake. I again was part of the lead team with the Mongolian horseman. We then headed Ito the forest and the vegetation began to change from small bushes of grass and very few trees to tall evergreen and other kind of trees, tall grass and the weather became cooler and more wet. We walked or trotted along a grass dirt trail kind of uphill until we reached a top of a cliff where we stop for a little break. The view was amazing mountains on one side and the enormous Khovsgol lake on the other. We took the typical panoramic photos and drank some water got on our horses and were again riding uphill along a kind of forest trail. After an hour or so we stop for lunch. We found a little spot away from horses and flies and on the shade to eat peacefully. I ate some of the sushi but it was not a good meal and ended up eating with Kyle some graham crackers and jelly candies. Our guide gave us some strawberry very creamy wafers they were actually pretty good and I ate two. At this point I still had a headache from last night. I think the trotting made it worse accompanied by heat of the sun and a couple of head bump I has entering or exiting our ger. We got on our horses and continued our ride. We started to go down the way we arrived to the lunch spot and at some point the horseman turned left and we got into a forest area. The guide was trotting stopping every 7 or so minutes and we were all in pain at this point it was better to gallop. I was again on the lead of the group with the guide by my side. Whenever there was an open space of flat grass I tried to gallop and my horse was better this time it would gallop for a few minutes but when I got excited the horseman told me to slow down and I had to stop. We reached the top of a hill and the horseman told us to get off our horses and walked down hill because the trail was dangerous and there were some wild horses around. We passes some really beautiful and very mongolian some had a very long mane covering their eyes. they were all grazing eating and walking around but seemed quite calmed to me but well I guess the sight of horses trotting around their area would have scared them and want to run too. We walked for quite a distance, I was at the end because my shoelace was untied and I did not wanted to stop and get too far behind and also my horse wanted to eat grass all the time. I managed to get to the downhill safe and without falling even though I stumble and trip a few times hut not a major fall. We got on the horses and this time trotted and gallop a little more. My horse was galloping really fast with the horseman coming along my way and showing me a thumbs up for how well I was controlling and riding my horse! And to be complimented by a Mongolian horseman on riding a wild horse I most have been riding it pretty good! We got to a ger camp where the horseman lived and he introduce us to his wife neighbor and middle child a girl like 12 years old. The house was a log cabin very small with two individual beds on each side a wooden shelf with a tv and a sound system on it and some drawers where I predict they kept their clothes. In the middle of the room there was a small table that served for living room and dinner and two or tree small stools. The floor was covered with rugs as carpets very Mongolian designs. On the far end of the room there was a kitchen with a shelf for utensils, a big pot and pan; and four or five thermos for milk, tea, water or other drinks. In the middle was a fireplace used for cooking and heating purposes. There were two clothes lines one near the beds for drying clothes and another one on top of kitchen with some meat being dried. They had two other children and had a smaller ger next to the cabin where we think the childrne slept. There were some scrolls of Mongolian paintings and some kind of rugs hanging on back wall as well as pictures of family members and a photo of the horseman with two foreign children maybe 5 years ago. It was a cozy little home. The wife made some milk tea with fresh yak milk. She boiled the milk in a big cauldron and then after crushing tea leaves mixed them with the milk being boiled. The first to try he tea was he horseman and we were told that in Mongolia the first cup of tea goes to the man and well the man in the group had to brag about it! We drank milk tea from yak milk and had fresh bread and yak butter with sugar. We said goodbye and thank them in Mongolian Bahirlaa
(thank you) and left on our horses. We got to our camp after like 15 minutes and settled in rested played cards and went for a long walk. We passes a few herds of cattle, sheep and yak and some foreigners riding horses. We walked past the lake along a dirt trail and I found my heartshape pebbles actually three of them. We went to the little convenient store bought snacks and my aloe vera juice the one my mom buys at home in Venezuela and we sat on a little bench and table to eat them. We headed to our ger camp because it was getting colder and dinner was almost ready. Dinner was lamb sausage and a salad and fries. We took showers with warm water and played some cards and were ready for bed.
Relaxing day reindeer family
Today was what the tour company calls a "relaxing" day AKA a day were we did nothing and saved them some bucks! Well our day started around 10 am after the usual breakfast tea toast and jam and some Mongolian cookies which have the shape of three of the four suits of a deck of cards (hearts, spades and clovers). We then chilled and played cards and read and catch up on our blogs, it was certainly an easy morning. The day was warm and sunny with blue skies and some fluffily white clouds so we decided to do some laundry since we would have to air dry it. We went to get a big bucket of clean water and a smaller one. It was an easy chore and we did jot had lots of stuff dirty since we are traveling super light. We picked two trees for the clothesline and in an hour our clothes were all hanged and drying. Then we played some card games and ate lunch which was the worst lunch we have eaten so far, spaghetti noodles and sausage and fish with tomato sauce urgh awful! At around 2 o clocking the afternoon we got into the Russian jeep to go see a reindeer family or tsagaan
which is the Mongolian name. Tsagaan ethnic
groups are one of the minority groups of Mongolia and there are about 15 or 16 of them. They live in the north of lake Khovsgol
near the Russian border and they raise reindeers and live in ortz
which are sort of like a native American tepee. They live up north because that is where reindeers habitat is. It takes about 12 hours to get up there so to book a tour to see a tsagaan
family is very difficult. Nevertheless tour companies managed to let tourists to see them near Khovsgol lake
western and southern shore. Some tsagaan families have become very business people and during the summer they move their ortz and families to near the Khovsgol lake
in order for them to make money out of tourists and so tourists can see them. They are known as "biznes tsagaans"
and they charged tourist a fee of 5000 tourgit
to take pictures and even more if you want to see a ceremony or a traditional ritual plus they have arts and crafts for sale at expensive prices. So this explained I can proceed to describing what we saw. The ride was not too long but into the mountains up north. We could tell right away they were not the authentic tsagaan because their ortz
was very close to the road and they had a few of them and some other modern tents where they slept. Also many of them were sitting by blankets full of crafts for sale. We paid the fee and met one of the shamans
of the group a man maybe in his late 30's very serious and stern face, however he invited us to go in the ortz
and offered us some milk sweets and bread. The ortz
was small with some small beds all covered with furs and wool blankets where they sleep. A central area with the fireplace or cooking stove and a small stool used as a table where he offered us the sweets and some reindeer furs hanging from wall, an eagle or hawk feather headband used for shamanistic rituals and some kind of drums also for shamanism. The guide was translating for us some answers to questions we had. He told us that shamans are usually passed father to son and that they perform rituals for illness, medicines and religious or spiritual events. We then went to see the reindeers, there were two or three does and four deers. They had opposite front back legs tied so they could not run. Apparently their horns are sacred and we (foreign tourists) could not touch them, but a bunch of Mongolian kids and adults were touching them so I guess it's just for foreigners the rule. We also notice some of the older reindeers were breathing really fast almost like hyperventilating, probably because up in the northern part of the lake near the Russian border the air is different and they are not used to summer and warmer temperatures as well as less air. We left after a hour and we felt really sad about the situation of the reindeers made me mad to see these "bizness tsagaan"
use the animals that give them fur and food. The rest of the day was slow and relaxing. Played some more games ate dinner and went to bed early after two days horseback riding we were exhausted and the next day promised to be a long day driving in the old steamy and hot Russian jeep.
It was also Nadaam, the big yearly Mongolian sports festival. We had asked the guide if we could stop at Moron to see the NAdaam festival and she had agreed to it. So the drive along the bnumpy and dirt road began. We drove along the lake, passing by the reindeer camp, passing Khatgal and along the largely flat but bumpy road all the way to Moron. Being the largest city in the region, it had the largest festival events.
The first stop was area a kilometre or two from town. It was were the horse riding event will finish and with luck wi¡e would see the winner! The area were filled with people, cars and horses. Some places to buy food and drinks and some ger kind of restaurants to eat tradtional Mongolian food. A couple of carnival games like ring toss and balloon dart were there set up by enterprising individuals, mostly drunken men trying to impress others. It was strange to see many of the people were dressed up, the men and boys in traditional costumes, the girls and women in pretty but usually modern dresses, in spite of being a very outdoorsy activity. A few men were stumbling around drunk.
There are 6 races, each 25 km, differing by the age of the horses, the stallions were first and last were the foals being ridden by young boys maybe of 8 to 10 years old, but very experienced riders in spite of their age. While waiting a teenage boy came up beside us along the fence and tried to pick pocket Kyle unsuccessfully. After realizing this we locked our backpacks and were very cautious of this teenage boy. After over 30 minutes a big line of cars came from the direction of the racers predicting the oncoming racers. Over 25 racers in total, the first one came into sight well ahead of the two nearest him.Kyle spotted the winner long before the crowd did. The winning rider who was galloping towards the finish line was probably about 8-9 years old with all the other riders within a few years of that. The first one crossed the line to the cheers of the crowd and was chased by a group of about 15 men riding horses not in the race, but in a celebration mode. After some minutes, the other horse riders crossed the finish line one by one , some closer to each other and some far away from each other. The last racer was slightly older at about 11, and was harassed by some older boys who ran onto the course to taunt him. I was the only person cheering for the last boy to finish the race.
We then headed to see the wrestling in the national stadium.When we got there we found put the wrestling wasn't to start for a while. But there was archery on the back of the stadium so we went to watch it. First it was four older overweight men taking turns hitting the targets using wooden bows. The targets were about 40m away and were a set of rubber cups set up on the ground stacked on each other 3 high and about 15 wide with the majority black but the middle 'bullseye' ones were red. They would each take turns shooting the dull-tipped arrows at the targets hitting about half the shots on something. 3 people were at the end collecting the arrows and resetting the cups trying to avoid getting shot.They were all pretty accurate and msot could hit or get closer to the target. Then came the young women who were really not on target and missed the rubber cups by a fair distance.Next came the older woman, who were a bit better and last came the young men who were almost as good as the older men.
The wrestling which took a long time to start, was to be held in the middle of the field. So we walked to the bleechers and took a seat right ont he front. Almost all the men were in uniforms or traditional costumes of the robes and the distinctive hat and pinted elather boots. Once the wrestling started the men came out in columns each wearing approximately the same costume with different colours. They wrestled on the grass until one of the touched the ground. Up to 3 matches went on at the same time. The matches lasted anywhere from 30 seconds with one flipping the other onto his back or the stalemates took up to 3 minutes often ending when one knee touching the ground.
It was getting lateand we still had about 4 hours of driving before we reached our ger camp, so we left after the second round.We came to our ger tucked away in a little peaceful valley near Shine-Ider with a little stream passing through.
We slept at a small ger camp in a very small town called Shine-Ider
, it was literally in the middle of nowhere. It consisted of four gers for tourists and one ger a little farther away with some tents, a little corral and some yaks that belong to a Mongolian family and to make extra money built these gers to rent for tour companies. The place was pretty far away from any form of city and it had a small stream along the bottom of the mountain where the gers where. We explored a little the area, saw some yaks, went to test the temperature of the stream water and then headed back to our ger for some card games, reading and relaxing. I past out soon after dinner and & Kyle did too. We woke up very early to have breakfast (again bread jam tea and biscuits) and get ready for a long drive to our next stop White lake in Arkhangal
province. The road was a typical dirt rock road probably made by cars and jeeps that passed here and there was no road and this is how it started. It was windy and curvy, full of batches and depressions uphills and downhills of rocks and dirt. We passed a couple of jeeps with flat tires and one has fallen off a trail. We tried to sleep but whenever we were starting to have a deep sleep a bigger batch depression or rock would be in the way and we would jump bang crashed and constantly move up down left and right. We passed a city called Tosontsengel
along the way and ran into another Russia jeep from Khongor that had two girls going on our same direction. We stop for food, drinks and snacks at Jargalant
. Another characteristic Mongolian city with dirt roads, men in horses and motorcycles and people walking or driving old jeeps. A typical wild wild west city in he US one would say. We bought snacks, juice and candy oh and toilet paper and baby wipes for the bathroom and headed back to the van for another couple of hours driving through dirt roads, rivers, streams and rock paths. We got to our ger camp at around 3 o clock ate lunch and chilled for a bit before we got to explore the area, the place is famous for hiking, trekking, swimming and fishing on the lake and horseback riding, as well as for a large amount of flying bugs specifically flies and mosquitos that are around the shore of the lake. We were just there for an hour and I was already annoyed. This area is in a national park called Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
and the lake is called Terkhun TsagaanNuur
or White lake
. We then put on our bathing suits, shorts, tshirt and sandals and went up the hill which literally took us 10 minutes if there weren't so many annoying bugs it would have been shorter. We took some pictures of the view from above and it look amazing kilometers of fresh water and along it's sides grasslands and small mountains and hills. It is a great summer place to camp hike and swim and lots of local Mongolian tourists had their jeeps or cars parked along the shore of the lake with tents and gers and families were enjoying a perfect summer day. We the decided to go for a swim. We got to the shore and wandered along the sand for a bit until we found a spot with no seaweed or algea. We found one and put our things on the sand which was fairly cold and wet slowly into the water. it was a greenish brownish blueish mix of colors with little fish swimming by algea floating on the surface and big round pebbles on the bottom. The water was cold. We walked a little deeper literally I was almost wet to my belly button and well Kyle still had a long way to go to get his bellybutton wet. I started to count to three but stopped at two when I was about to go in. Finally I just said 123 and in I went! The first splash was freezing ice cold water but then it got better of course when we got our of the water all I wanted was a warm shower and/or ger camp had none! So just for the sake for saying " I swim in a lake in Mongolia" I did it and to be honest it was not bad at all specially after three days of no shower ( well I had a airplane shower hehe). We walked back to our ger to get changed before a big storm came it was thundering and lighting everywhere and the sky was gray almost black with strong and cold winds blowing. We read and wrote on our blogs for awhile until winds and storm passed and the went for a walk / hike up some mountains and saw a rainbow and later on the sunset. The air and soft cool breeze blowing was so nice to feel. It gave me a tinkle of nostalgic and homesickness but Kyle immediately sense my mood and gave me a big warm hug and I tell you that hug on top of the mountain was one of the best and most caring hugs I have ever received. We walked down to our ger and put up the fire sat lay down read wrote on iPods and played cards. It was a nice evening together.
Horse ride And volcano
We woke at around 8 AM and had usual breakfast, got ready and waited for the horses to arrive. It was a sunny blue sky day warmer than other days but a nice temperature to be outdoors. At 11:30 the horses arrived, this time they were so different calm or as some people called them lazy and very slow, mine was among the slowest ones and it was as stubborn as a donkey so I decided to call it "horkey." we started the ride following the White lake and continued along the mountains. Our guide was at the front leading the way and a very young boy probably 16 years old was our "experienced rider." He was very inpatient and wanted to do everything his way ( I guess teenage boys will be teenage boys everywhere in the world.) We rode for about 2 hours going over hills, roads and valleys. We finally got to a rocky valley which we were told used to be volcanic area. It was completely full of rocks with fungus and liken growing on them. From the distance I sighted what look like a mountain but with the peak removed, I immediately recognized it as a volcano. It was the Khorgo Uur volcano
. It was thousands of years old and now was inactive. We headed in that direction through tall grasses and bushes and very few small trees. We reached the foot or base of he volcano and tied the horses to some trees and started to walk up the volcano to the crater. It was a steep trek and with lots of tourists. Kyle was leading the way and I was behind. The first meters were ok and I was tagging along and climbing at a good pace, but after maybe 500 meters the hill became steeper with big steps going up and I started to feel dizzy, out of breath and exhausted. It remind me of Cuzco and Machu Pichu and when I had altitude sickness (even though Kyle assured me it wasn't more than 2,000 meters (which is nothing compared to the 3,500 m of Cuzco). So I stopped to drink water and catch my breath but felt weak my legs were shaking and my heartbeat we beating very fast. Finally I had to sit down and breath out of a bag and drink water and calm my heart. It was a nice feeling to see lots of Mongolians stopping and asking how I was feeling. One woman gave me a bag to breath in. Another one offered me her water and another one used her fan to give me air and the left the fan to me.I managed to feel better and reached the top of the volcano and it was so worth it no matter altitude sickness rain or sunshine it was amazing. Kyle went around the volcano's crater and then went down to the crater's epicentrum. He said it was rocky and slipper, but very cool to be in it. He even took a rock from the crater. We walked down and rain started to fall it was heavy thick and hard rain, but by the time we go down it had stopped. The group was already down and had been waiting and eating dumplings so we quickly ate ours and started to head towards our camp because a bunch of thick heavy very dark gray clouds was coming our way. We rode back through the same path or valley, pass a dirt road and up a hill and by the lake. We arrived back to our ger camp and rested for a bit, played some cards and walked up or climbed or trekked the mountains behind the camp to watch the sunset.We hiked up first through some rocks and saw the many had fungus and liken on them and growing seaweed which Kyle explained was a symbiosis between the seaweed and fungus on the rocks. We walked up a little higher not much to see a rainbow by the lake. It was gorgeous and the sun was setting so the sky had tones of blue gray orange yellow red and pink it was true a natural beauty! We hiked up a bit more and got to the mountain's peak. We started to head down because rain was going to hit us very soon. So we started our way down walking and occasionally skipping down the hill. We ate dinner and played some card games and went to bed.
We left at the ger camp by the White lake In Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
national park at around 8 AM to head to a hot springs around the same area.
As everyday the ride was bumpy, winding and very uncomfortable and the jeep which as I said before was an old Russian model had only one back window and it did not open properly so it was stuffy steamy and hot. We rode most of the morning passing a few her camps and small towns, one very small called Ikh Tamir
and about midday we reached Tsetleg
a small dusty city which is famous for natural beauties for hiking and camping. We stopped for lunch and one of the few restaurants in the city was closed. We asked why and the response was it is Saturday, we found no logic in this since Saturday is usually a day when people go out to eat and tourist see cities oh well we assumed that this was part of their Chinese heritage the so called " china logic = no logic" we went to another restaurant the only one opened but it was packed and we had to wait about an hour. We wandered around the streets and saw many Mongolians on horses going to markets, and many car-meat shops selling lamb, goat, and other meats right from their trunk with no health or sanitary precautions. We went in a western kind of supermarket and bought some drinks, candy and other snacks. It was time to head back to he restaurant for lunch. We ate fried lamb dumplings they were good and remind me of Venezuelan empanadas and made me hungry for a empanadas de cazon or one of platano y queso. We headed back to the roads and off to the hot springs. We reached the Tsenkher
hot springs a very up high class ger camp, with hot showers, a small hot tub pool, an artisans craft shop and many very nice looking gers,also there seemed to be under construction a ger that could be used as a cafe or dining room. We went to explore the hot springs about ten minute walk from camp. The path was al grassy and muddy and along it was a small stream that was leading to natural hot springs. The flies and bugs were really annoying at this point not even bug repellent could get them away. We then reached a concrete/rock built wall kind of like a reservoir this were the hot springs. Some pipes connected the hot springs with the ger camp water pipes and we realized that their hot water was truly natural. As we got closer to the water we could smell sulphur a really disgusting kind of smell and we could also feel the warmth and heat of the water. We got really close and put our hands in the water and ohhhhhhhh it was boiling, scorching hot! So hot that nothing could survive there. We saw a bunch of dead flies floating near the edge of the hot springs. I leaned down on squats and took off my glasses and put my head really close to the water so inhale the water vapor and clear my nasal path. It truly worked but the smell of sulphur was really strong so I did not last too long. Then we went back to our ger camp and relaxed in the hot tub made of natural warm water. The water felt hot at first but was you got in longer it became comfortable and very relaxing. The warmth made the skin of my legs and feet smooth and soft and believe me I needed some relaxation after three days of horseback riding, trekking, hiking and riding that le Russian jeep. We got out and felt dizzy apparently hot water makes the blood reach your brain faster and when you are immersed in hot water you feel relaxed but when you get out the the blood starts to rush into the brain at a normal pace and it takes some time to stabilized it. We went back to our ger and as we were playing cards and our door was open we started to hear some horses neighing around really close to the camp. We peek out the door to see one of the largest herds of horses we have ever seen! They were all grazing the tall green grass around the ger camp. We even had one horse walk right by our door! We took showers warm and cozy and did laundry, played some games, read and napped and even went souvenir shopping and went to bed completely relaxed!
We left Tsenkher
hot springs at around 9 AM the guide said it would be a not so long drive and we did not need to rush. So we woke up and packed our clean clothes from doing laundry the day before and I took a second cozy warm shower (2 showers in a row awesome!) and had breakfast. We headed out on the old Russian jeep towards Ogii Nuur
a beautiful landscape full of wild life, natural scenes and a 20 meter waterfall. The road was windy and bumpy all the way. We saw some ravens, vultures or eagles swooping by trying to find a marmot to eat and devour it. We also pass a canyon and river were we took the usual tourist panoramic photos. Along the way we met with a couple of Khongor guesthouse jeeps with other tourists. We got to the ger camp at around 2 clock and had lunch the usual some rice veggies and lamb. Then we decided to go to the waterfall. It was about a 10 minute walk on grasslands and very muddy. We got there and I walked around the top rocks to the highest point where water starts to fall. I saw a couple of marmots, little rodents that look like mouse and some butterflies. The water was cold but a refreshing cold one that you could tolerate and swim in it. As I walked through the rocks of the waterfall Kyle took my picture. We saw that a bunch of people mainly Mongolians were down swimming, wading and walking around the bottom of the waterfall so we headed to look for a path down. The path was mainly rocks and dirt very steep with a few flat parts. As I am kind of clumsy Kyle was leading the way and I was following. We reached down not too long took the path and went to check the little lake that formed by the waterfall. It was cold but I managed to go in almost to my knees to take the respective pictures. We walked around a bit and when it started to sprinkle we decided to head up. Climbing up was harder. I had to use both feet and hands to make sure the rocks were stable and also some were a bit wet due to the rain plus I had to use my arms to pull myself at some points. I managed to climbed to the top successfully and as soon as we put our feet on the top thick wet heavy rain began to pour. We ran for about 200 meters and it stopped so we were able to walked a fair distance without rain but a few minutes later it began again wetter heavier and colder we ran all the way to our camp and stood behind our jeep to wait for the wind and rain to cease because it was the rain was hitting us really hard. A dog came to join us in our shelter to shake and sprinkle water from his fur on us. We managed to get to our ger quickly after that. The rest of the evening was spent reading, writing in our blogs, chatting and playing cards. After dinner we went for a walk towards the mountains and Kyle climbed some steep and high rocks to get to the top I chose the grassy easy trail. We went back to our ger and another day was gone. Tomorrow should be a long day of driving all the way to the ancient capital and oldest monastery in Kharakhorim
Kharakoram and monastery
We woke up early to have breakfast and get ready for our daily road trip this time the destination was Mongolia's ancient capital Kharakoram
. We stopped at a rocky formation like a mountain where basalt rocks were formed this formation was passing the waterfall. We drove about 300kms on dirt and paved roads it was pretty bumpy and an uncomfortable ride we got to our ger camp, a very nice one midday and had lunch there. We then headed to the oldest monastery which now is restored and converted into a museum.It is a huge monastery complex with small temples in it and Buddhist buildings and monuments it is called Erdene Zuu Khiid.
From he outside it looked like a walled city with four main entrances basically north, south, east and west, each entrance had the traditional Chinese arc roofs and some paintings on it on red gold blue or green. The first building we entered looked like any other Chinese temple only that inside it had been restored into a museum and had some objects from the ancient Mongolian dynasties and from the time of the Chinese and Russian era. Then we entered a couple of small temples where there were the Buddhist red hats and yellow hats gods, red hat buddhists is the area of buddhisim that talks more and worships the past, ancient lives and errors mistakes or actions a person did in his past. Yellow hat buddhisim is the opposite they worship the future of a persons life. We continued to see other temple little rooms with Mongolian ancient paintings, objects and Buddhist gods and worship objects. The last building was a ger where Mongolian monks were sitting around it and people would come to them to ask for worships, dead future, pray or other rituals. We walked out of the monastery through possible the south door and about 500 ams to see a turtle rock which is from ancient times and is a symbol of of long life in Mongolia, we headed back to the jeep just in time before a huge black dark gray cloud burst on us with rain. The guide dropped us and the group at the history museum of Kharakoram
to see some expositions while she went food shopping for our meals. It was an interesting museum and very modern. It had maps and photos and objects rocks from the different periods of the Earth and also showed us a tomb from ancient Mongolian times. The museum had an area where they assembled a model of a tomb and also showed us on a computer screen in a 3D model how they make tombs and the different ares. It was pretty cool! .
We headed to our ger camp for the evening. For dinner we had Mongolian BBQ which is cooked very different than a western BBQ. First they boiled the main organs of the goat, mutton or lamb and they clean them to eat them as delicacies. As we watch this action my stomach was grumbling and I had nauseas just seeing the organs made my sick. After they did this they clean very well the pot and put some coal, veggies and meat inside to boil and cook and then put some cardboard boxes on top to make pressure and sealed the pots lid to cook it properly. We waited like an hour before it was ready by playing cards and reading and writing on our blogs. BBQ was ready and we were all sitting on a long table kind of like a banquet. There were veggies (potatoes and carrots) and the meat which was all bones and it was better to eat it with our hands. For dessert there were some chocolate cookies really good. We met a couple from London who would be sharing the jeep ride with us to the Gobi desert. They seemed quite nice and friendly and easygoing travelers. The guy was originally from the UK and the girl from Sri Lanka but both live and work in London.
To my surprise it was Mongolian folk concert time! An old man who spoke very good basic English appeared dressed in the traditional silk robe called Dell
with the traditional hat on and three instruments. One was a transversal flute all made from real wood from Mongolia. The other was kind of like a big harp made from wood and horse tail strings and my favorite one was kind of like a violin with two strings made from horse tail hairs and it had a horse head on the top of it. This one was called horse guitar. He played the horse guitar first and sang a traditional Mongolian folk song. It was a rapid tempo and sounded very happy music. Then he played the arp one and some Mongolia parade songs and then he played the flute. After he explained the gumel
singing which is made with the throat, nose, and stomach guttural sounds. This was the one that my aunt and uncle Ely y Leo told me about and I was eager to listen to it. he started with a Mongolian folk song singing with his throat and then followed to sing with his nose and stomach. It was truly impressive how he could make a melody out of guttural sounds. Then he did some spoon trick singing or music where he would tap his head, forehead, nose and hands with a silver spoon and made music out if it. This evening was a truly Mongolia experience and now I have a signed cd, and some videos and photos of the man playing folk Mongolian songs. We headed to our ger to relaxed for the night
We embarked for the Great Gobi desert today. We woke up at around 8 AM and were told by our guide that we could stay in the camp and relaxed while the other group was taken to the bus stop and our new companions saw the monastery. We were so happy to just chill and relax by ourselves in the ger. We had breakfast and went into our ger to pack and get ready. When we were done we snuggled in our sleeping bags and watch a tv show called Eureka. It's a science comedy kind of show really cool episode with animations and traveling in time, by the time the show was over it was time to finish getting ready and leave for the Great Gobi desert. We got into the jeep and picked up the other couple at the monastery and were on our way to the Gobi. The ride was of 360 or so kms and only 30km on paved road, a long and painful boring ride was waiting for us! The ride began and it was pretty much like any of the other rides. We saw how the landscape began to change from hilly mountainous to fewer mountains and hills less trees and lots of grasslands and dirt. About midday we stopped kind of in the middle of nowhere to eat a picnic lunch of fried rice with lamb and noodles and some cole salad without the mayonnaise. The ride continue for about five more hours and through bumpy, rocky and muddy paths. We got a first glimpse of the Gobi desert and it's scarce vegetation and magnificent camels. We got to our ger camp at around 5 o clock and went first to explore and see the old monastery Onglin Khiid
that was destroyed by the Russian communist and many monks lost their lives or had to run and hide as farmers to escape the communists. It had been restored and a new small temple was built on the ruins of the old one. We walked and climbed some mountains to get to the ruins and see the whole area where the monastery used to be. We went to our camp and had dinner played cards and had a sneaky cold shower late at night (we had to pay that is why it sneaky because we did not pay and that is also why it was a cold water shower but at this point any shower is awesome after four days of no shower!).
Gobi desert sand dunes and Flaming cliffs (dinosaur fossils found here) Bayanzag and Khongoryn Els
We woke up early and had breakfast and packed up to head out to the famous Flaming cliffs, Bayanzag
a dream for every paleontologist, archeologist and even scientist. It was another day of long driving in the old Russian jeep through poor roads and lack of infrastructure so the drive was winding, bumpy, rocky and very uncomfortable. We reached the Flaming cliffs at around noon and the guide gave us a simple and quick explanation of where to go and what to look there and said to meet her back at the rest areas for lunch at 2:30. So water in backpacks, sunblock on we were ready for a day in the flaming cliffs to look for dinosaur fossils, eggs and other. We started our walk around the main area and saw many rock formations and cliffs of more than 30 meters high. We were told there was a dinosaur bone and egg someplace in one of the cliffs, but guess what we could not find it. Instead found one soft, smooth and white heart shape pebble for my heart pebble collection from Asia. Then we climbed a few boulders and cobbles and took silly and funny photos. We walked all the way to the last cliff and started to head back, but through a different way. We walked down one of the cliffs and started heading back climbing hiking through the sand dunes. It was difficult at first and a lot of work for the calves and lower leg bones and muscles but in the end it was fun, cool and exciting to have done it. We ate lunch at sone tourist rest camp area and headed towards the sand dunes of Khongor Els.
We arrived to the dunes about mid afternoon after a long drive of bumps, dirt, rock and rain and simply stay in our ger letting the rain pass playing cards, chatting and reading.
Sand dunes and camel ride
We woke up early in our Gobi desert ger camp very isolated. Only about three other camps surrounded ours but they were a far distance from us. We had the usual breakfast, can you predict the meal?... Yes toast and jam and tea. We asked our guide for some water and a bucket to do laundry and did all respective laundry chores, by noon all our clothes was almost dry! It was about 32 degrees Celsius and very dry with almost no humidity.
The camel lady arrived to camp with her herd of wild Mongolian camels and we were ready for our camel ride, though we did not expect it to be so short and dull! Everyone had already chosen a camel , but me so when I arrived one of the men of the ger camp showed me to one camel which the guide said was the wildest one! I was a bit nervous and asked if there was a tamer, but they said no so I held my grip and let my fear went on and climbed on to it. It turned out the the camel lady was going to hold my camel and I was going to hold the camel of the girl from the UK on our group. The guys, Kyle and the UK guy were going to ride their camels on their own. It seems that riding a camel is quite hard and you have to be strong and brave and apparently neither the UK girl nor me were like that. Nevertheless we enjoyed he "kiddie camel ride" which turned out to be for just one hour and a half back and forth from our camp to the sand dunes (about 1.5 KM). The ride was ok with the woman pulling my camel and yelling "chu" for her, mine and the other's camels move. (* "chu" means to go or move in Mongolian). So we headed on our camels to the dunes of sand riding tall big flurry soft camels. When we got to the sand dunes the woman got off hers and took a picture of the four of us ( Kyle, me and British couple) and turned around to head back to our camp. We got to camp a d got off camels to take photos with them and eat lunch. After lunch it started to rain and it was pouring! So we played cards while the rain passed. Finally around 3:30 we got ready to explore and climb the sand dunes. We started the walk through mashy grasslands full of wet grassy and muddy areas with a small stream of muddy running across and making us have to jump it
. We got to a point where everything was so muddy and wet that we stopped caring not to wet or get mud in our sandals. We got to the sand dunes and looked up they really look majestic and impressive. Kyle started to head up to test the sand and path while I took pictures of him climbing. When he got tot the top I started my climb. It was a long, steep, slippery and sandy path that was already built by others who had climbed it and that made it easy to climb. I struggled a few times sliding through the sand and tripping but I managed to get up and climbed all the way to he top, it was about 150meters tall! We sat for a few minutes and took pictures breath the cool clean air before we continued our sand dunes exploration. The top of the sand dunes was steep but the sand at the top was hard and it was easy to walk through it you just had to walk sort of like a penguin for you to balance and not to slid. We continued our hike up occasionally stopping for pictures and for me to catch my breath. We got to a point were all we could see was sand dunes on every side. It looked vey cool the way the sand curved up and down creating depressions and cliffs. We were already about 200 meters up but we wanted to go to the highest of all dunes 300 meters tall. So we walked a few more meters until we got to the trail, but decided to climbed trough the back as the sand was harder and not too steep. There we saw the British couple and sat with them to chitchat for a few minutes, it was almost 6 PM and we wanted to keep hiking up before dinner so we continued our hike up. The sun was still shining and it was pretty darn warm at 6 PM and my skin was getting a bit tan no wonder people say the sun in the northern hemisphere is a lot more stronger than in the tropics I being from Venezuela and loving the sun was getting sunburned and exhausted by the heat! We finally reached the highest peak of the sand dunes 300 meters up. The air was cooler, the sun shined upon us and we could breath the fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun on our skins it was a peaceful and relaxing moment being at the top of the highest sand dunes. This would be another memory of my life in Asia that I would always remembered and cherished another accomplishment done! It was already 7 PM and we needed to be at our camp for dinner at 7:30PM so we started the descending. Going down the sand dunes was quite fast and fun but we had to be extra careful where we stepped because contradictory to going up where hard sand was better and more stable, going down on hard sand was quite dangerous because you could go really fast and fall down the high sand dunes so we opted for a softer path of sand where we could still go fairly fast downhill but have some stability and grip on our feet. We got down the sand dunes to a desert like area full of sand, dirt, rocks and grassy small bushes with several plants that had thorns (to keep water for survival) and it was already 7:35 PM and we still had about a 30 minute walk to our ger camp. We passed a few other ger camps, a herd of horses and camels grazing and drinking water from a stream until finally we reached our camp. Dinner was already served (fried noodles) and tea and after some "quick airplane shower" we ate our dinner and pretty much were done for the day, tired after an afternoon of sand dune climbing we went to bed.
Yolyn Am Ice canyon and Dalanzadgad
We woke up and had breakfast got ready and starred a very bumpy winding drive along the sand dunes towards the southern Gobi near a city called Dalanzadgad
to see the Ice canyon known in Mongolian as Yolyn Am
. As I got a really hard bed the night before, and every night that we stayed at a ger camp. I slept most of the ride in spite of the rocky and bumpy road I managed to sleep through most of the drive to the ice canyon. Our driver drove into a national park gate and the guide paid the fees and we drove into the park. We stopped at a gate where tourists could walk the 12 KM of the ice canyon by following the river. We agreed with our guide and driver to meet us up at 6:30 PM at the other side of the canyon. So we got water, snacks, cameras and sunblock and started our walk along the river and canyon. The day was sunny and warm around 29 degrees Celsius with a soft cool breeze blowing and blue sky with small long white clouds it was a perfect day for a walk in nature and so we were going to enjoy it. As we were walking we saw many grasshoppers jumping and moving really fast along the grass and a couple of butterflies and tiny birds flying by, but what we saw the most were some little gray brownish rodents called marmots that lived in burrows and eat fruit or small insects and ran from burrow to burrow whenever a human got close to them, a few were brave enough to let me take a photo of them with me really close to them. The canyon was not that big it was about 20 meters tall and the width depended on the area where you were. The beginning and ending was wide with he river or stream running through the middle and other parts were very narrow where on both sides there were rocks and your had to climb a bit to pass because if not you would fall in the stream and get wet. The narrowest part was where the mass of frozen ice was and in there you could actually feel the cold air and the temperature decreased to about 15 degrees Celsius. Kyle and I both decided to wash our heads and hair in he stream and wow did it feel good?! Yes it did! Water was very cold and because the wind was too it took awhile to get our hair dry and the soft cool breeze blowing against our skins made us shiver and get cold. As we were walking and taking pictures we would stop a few minutes to enjoy the view and occasionally climb a small rock or two. We observed that the little stream was most of the time about the same width along the canyon, however we started to noticed that in some parts it will kind of die completely and there will be the rocks and pebbles of the stream bankbed but after maybe 15 meters the stream will start again, we finally stopped to look at this and try to explain what happened and we realized the stream was flowing underground when it was dry on the surface. We thought it was pretty cool. We saw a few tourist during our 12 KM walk most of the were following a guide or tour group. We reached the end of the canyon to come to a dirt road of about 2 KM long until we reached the main road. We drove to our next ger camp in a city called Dalanzadgad
and rain started to pour really hard. The city was just like any other Mongolian city with unpaved roads and if they were were paved they had lots of holes and little or big black water ponds. We drove for about half an hour while the driver and guide called the guesthouse to locate the place where we were staying. Finally around 7:30 we got to the camp and dropped our big bags in the ger and got a towel and change of clothes to go to a bathhouse (in Mongolia due to the lack of clean fresh water in most cities downtowns there are stores with four or five stalls of showers, with hot or cold water, for locals or tourist to rent a room and shower.) It was almost a week without a shower and we certainly needed one. At the end of the day it felt awesome to go to bed cleaned. Thank you water you are the most precious neural resource!
We woke up in Dalanzadgad
around 8:30 and had he usual breakfast and got ready for a drive. The weather has been really crappy for the last two days and it was cloudy, gray and with a large probability of rain. We left the ger camp and went to drop off the British couple in downtown market who would stay in the city to take q flight to Ulanbaataar later that evening leaving us the van to ourselves. By the time the driver filled he tank of he jeep with gas and we dropped the couple in the market it was pouring. I managed to sleep most of the way until we got to some random Mongolian city to eat lunch. After that the drive continued along bumpy winding and rocky dusty roads for hours. Finally around 4 or 5 we got to small ger camp in the middle of nowhere, but completely packed with tourists from China and US and Europe plus us two and we spent the night there. At first we had a very big ger to ourselves but due to the large number of tourists we had to change ger. We ended up sleeping in the family's main ger. It had two small individual beds each on the sides, a small dresser with a mirror and a few beauty and hair products which obviously where the wife and daughter's. Next to the dresser there was a small sink with a water bottle upside down and a bowl with small tube this water dispenser system we had seen it in other ger camps it was a way to use water in a prudent way. There was also a big freezer for mostly the meat and some bags of food most probably potatoes, carrots and dried meat and noodles hanging from the ceiling. At the end of the ger there was an old tv, radio, DVD and sound music equipment connected to a battery by cables which where connected to the solar panel outside of the ger. There were a couple of cabinets with drawers for the clothes and a girl's backpack for school. In the middle of he ger there was a rug with Mongolian designs and a small table with two stools where he family usually ate dinner. I started to realized how this family lived and hey actually had a good life the only thing that was truly missing was pure fresh clean water but other than that they had a house, basic electricity, they grew their own food (some veggies and goats, lamb meat), had clothes and a mean of transportation (jeep, horses and camels) and had an income because they rented their gers for tourists like us. They lived a healthy, humble life. We ate dinner, played cards and watch the sunset as we took photos of camels with the sunset on the background.
and Tsagaan Suvraga
white stupa or painted desert
Baga Gazyrn Chuluu
last day in the Gobi desert
We woke up at the usual time ate breakfast and headed out for the last day of touring and sightseeing in he Gobi desert and in Mongolian steppes and grasslands. First we stopped at an area that Mongolians called the white painted desert. It is full of cliffs and an archeology and paleontology sight where here has been found dinosaur eggs, bones and other fossils. The cliffs were about 20 meters high and on the horizon you could see an area of flat lands that had some kind of texture resembling a sand dune only that they were white and rocky. This is the reason why Mongolians called it white painted desert. The long drive continued towards the city of Mandalagov
where we ate lunch at a small Mongolian family restaurant where we ordered milk tea stir fried beef with veggies for Kyle and I order something quite similar but in the end it turned out to be a Mongolian version of Korean BBQ and it was good!!! Then we continued the drive towards the ruins of another old Buddhist temple destroyed during the Russia communist control. Known by heir Mongolian name Ulsan Suvraga
and Tsagaan Suvraga
was a small temple only about 30 monks lived here was built along some rock formations that kind of hid behind trees and rocks. There was only left a few walls and structures. As a sign of respect and to cherished buddhisim and heir Gods, Mongolian people that visit the ruins would create some pilars of rocks and tie a blue scarf around it and wish or pray for all they had in their life. As we climbed to the top of the rocks I could feel a peaceful, calming kind of positive energy. After this we went to see a cave called wolf cave and oher rock formations and a very small fresh water spring, called eye spring because it was a hole the size of an eye drilled in a rock where supposedly water was under because rain filled it and due to a rock lid that Mongolians put on top to seal it the water did no evaporated. It was cool but a little touristic invention. We drove tonour ger camp a small one and spent our last night in the Mongolian Gobi desert.
Last day in Ulanbaataar, Mongolia
Our last day in the Gobi and a very long drive to UB started early in the morning. The road was very bumpy and winding and more than one time I flew from one sid eof the jeep to the other. Once even hitting my head on the roof, flying to the other side and landing flat n the floorof the jeep! The scenery was the same, flat grasslands, snad and dirt roads and occassioanlly a few gers or small houses. We arrived in UB in the late afternoon, after eating our last Mongolian lunch (we were so grateful for this!) got ourselves and our clothes cleaned up, before setting off to do the myriad of chores, largely to prepare for the next segment. There was a problem with the next tour so by the time we resolved it, it was late so much had to be postponed until the early the enxt morning. We walked around the streets of UB and into the State departement store and I got myself a new rain jacket for Russia and we headed out to eat dinner aiming for a good Western place. We had pizza for dinner relishing our last and only western food of the trip.
Train ride from Ulanbaataar to Novosibirisk
July 24 came and our truly last day in Ulaanbaatar and Mongolian territory. We woke up early took a shower and got ready for our day. We divided the chores and errands list and headed out. I went to the post office to mail post cards to our families and to an internet cafe to print the itinerary and booking of hotel and tour in Russia. Kyle went to get money for last errands in Mongolia and Russian Rubles and to get food for train, toiletries and batteries. We met up at 10 AM in the Khongor guesthouse to pay bill of the tour, check emails and pack for the train. We needed a book to read so we headed out the door of the guesthouse to find a book and a few more souvenirs, we bought a Mongolian men's hat for Kyle, a few scrolls, a camel stuff animal for my nephew and a few other gifts and since I did not find a scarf for me I got a wool/ felt pair of Mongolian mittens for the winter in Dalian next year. Then we divided to try to get a book Kyle went to the state department store and I went to an English book store. He found one quickly but I had to walk a bit and then run to the state department store to the ATM and get money because the small English book store only accepted cash. I had to run a mini marathon to get the book about Genghis Khan that the British couple had recommended because we were just about to hit the time to go to the train station. Finally with book in hand I rushed and ran to the guesthouse. We took one last hot/warm shower got ready packed and check one last time emails and took a taxi to the train station. We were running out of time and there was a lot of traffic, but the driver managed to cut out some traffic by taking a different route and we got to the train station about 40 minutes before train departed. We walked around found our carriage number 4 and our room and realized we were on the bottom beds...perfect! We set up our bags and stuff and at 13:50 PM the train from Ulanbaataar started moving. We were on our way to Russia! The train ride was quite calm and relaxing. First thing we noticed was that the train was modern with a tv in the room and electricity with outlets to charge electronics which meant we could use our iPods and charge them before arriving to Novosibirisk. Second thing we noticed was that the train was a Russian train and everything was in Russian meaning cyrilic alphabet. Luckily we had in our iPods a cyrilic dictionary and keyboard and we sort of could translate and figure out a few words. Third thing we noticed was that the women staff of the train were old Russians and very stern, serious, cold and unfriendly. They asked us for our passports and my anxiety began! Kyle had his visa stamped, but I as a Venezuelan was told I did not need a visa or invitation that I could simply go to Russia any time for tourism with my Venezuelan passport nevertheless I was nervous and anxious because Russians are known for being extremely meticulous calculators, cold and control freaks and I was afraid some kind of problem would evolve. Anyway they did a quick check of passport and train tickets and it was ok to go. After a few hours the Russian woman from the train passed out Mongolian and Russian immigration cards to fill. The Mongolian was English and Mongolian so it was easy, the Russian immigration form too, but the problem came when we got the Russian declaration form all in Russian. We were clueless!!! Kyle tried to use his iPod dictionary and keyboard to type the questions and words on the form, but we could not find anything. Finally we saw some western European group and asked them how they had filled their form and luckily they helped us. Phew! a first puzzle was solved! At around 8 PM we got to he Mongolian border and the train came to a stop and a bunch of Mongolian guards and security and immigration staff bordered the train. A mongolian woman asked us for passports and forms and when she saw my passport she stared at it and was looking for the Russian visa. I panic, but managed to control it and simply showed her the name of Venezuela on my passport and said I am from Venezuela and do not need a visa and it was fine. Phew another little scare! We were at the Mongolian border for an hour more or less and around 9:30 the train continued it's path to Russia. At around 10PM we got to the Russian border. My anxiety became bigger and he stomach ache and diarrea that I had became even worse that I had to take an antidiarrea and analgesic for the pain. First a bunch of security staff bordered the train then then immigration staff. A tall white blonde and very strong serious looking man asked us for our passports and forms. He looked at us and at our passport photos with detailed to make sure it was us then he continued along the train to get other passenger passports. After a few minutes he was gone and now we heard security staff and drug dogs board the train. Surprisingly they just sniffed the mongolian passengers and did not care about the western tourists. After about an hour and a half finally we got our passports back with the Russian entry stamp! We were allowed to enter Russia and were in the country. The train kept in the train station of the Russian border for about 2 more hours and finally at around 1:30 AM it departed and continued it's journey. We had passed the Russian border successfully our adventure had started!!! We went to bed happily and excited about the next portion of our trip.
We are in Russia!
We slept all morning and woke up at mid-morning to have a oatmeal cookie breakfast with tea and play some cards, read and worked on our blogs. Mid-day came along and it was pretty much the same. Ate instant noodles and had some snacks play some cards read and chitchat. We looked out the window at the natural scenery to see lots of evergreen or conifer trees and the start of a true taiga forest with some small bushes and short trees on the other side of he train we could see the huge Lake Baikal, largest and deepest lake in the world. It was not that beautiful from our windows we could see brown waters and some sandy and rocky shores. We then ate instant noodles for dinner and we had a quick "train shower" and went to bed.We woke up the next day around 9 AM. We were supposed to arrive to Novosibirisk at 7 o clock night time so we took our time to eat breakfast, take naps, play cards and rest. Around 4 o clock we ate our last train meal, Chinese instant noodles and drank some tea. We then decided to take a¨train shower¨in the bathroom, so we took turns staying in the room guarding our stuff while the other showered. We finally got to Novosibirisk at 7 PM and our Russian guide and translator and driver waited for us. They gave us a quick tour around the downtown area, Lenin statue at Plaza Lenina, and some banks, supermarkets and churches and monuments. We reached the Altay office an hour later to arrange everything for the tour. We were introduce to our trekking guides, a Russian very fit and hard core man, names Sasha or Alexander and a woman named Larissa. There we got some trekking gear, poles, rafting suits and others and left some of our souveniers and clothes in the office so we did not carry so much in our backpacks. At around 10 o clock we walked to the bus and an hour later the bus was driving towards the Altai Republic in Siberia.