Oh my, where to start? Possibly with a warning that I'm going to talk about poo and toilets in this entry. Probably a lot. Just so you know.
So! After our slightly disasterous hike from my last blog we sensibly decided to do stuff with tours or at least a guide from then on. We found a budget tour agency and decided to do a little 2 day trip with them to kind of test them out to see if we wanted to go with them for our bigger trip up to Lake Khovsgol in the North West. Tours like that are cheaper if you have more people to share the cost, so in the office we managed to convinced a retired American couple, Dave and Michelle, to come with us.
We went to Terelj national park, which is the closest nature reserve to UB. It's famous for its interesting rock formations. We stayed in a ger opposite Turtle Rock, which really did look like a turtle! We went horse riding for an hour, which was not brilliant. It was like a pony ride at the beach, we were just led along on ropes for 30 mins down the road and then back again. But Matt had never ridden a horse before and was really scared so I suppose it was a good intro for him. He hated it though. We also went for a walk but didn't get very far because we discovered wild strawberries and spent rather a long time picking and eating those. They were teeny tiny little things but had twice the flavour of normal strawberries. You just had to be careful not to pick one that had bugs in it! The next day Matt and I climbed Turtle rock, which was good fun and had stunning views. We also went to see a mini Nadaam. Nadaam is the main festival in July in UB and consists of horse racing, wrestling, archery and ankle bone throwing (random, I know). We had of course missed the main one in July in UB, however they apparantly do mini ones all over the place during the rest of summer! So we saw the start and end of a horse race where all the riders were under the age of 11 and hardly any of them bothered with saddles, despite racing 25k! It was pretty cool. Then we went back to UB. All in all a nice safe two day trip. No getting lost. Yay.
A couple of years ago Alex lived in UB for 5 months as part of a study abroad program and she stayed with host families here. We met up with her host 'brother' - Danska, who was very sweet and took up out to a club one night. There were so many attractive people in there it was unbelieveable! They must have had some kind of 'No Ugly People' policy because seriously... I did not see one unattractive person in there. I felt very out of place! We also went to visit Danska's family and were fed so much I thought we might die.
Dave and Michelle were planning a big 35 day trip around Mongolia with the same tour company and the first part of the trip was up where we wanted to go so we decided to go with them for the first 5 days of their trip, basically to get to the lake, then seperate. We had got on very well with them on our little trip, played a lot of cards, had some laughs, so we thought it was going to be great... WRONG!
We set off in our Russian van, me, Matt, Alex, Dave, Michelle, and Pancho - a random Korean guy who they'd found who also wanted to do their crazy 35 day trip, Sereg - our stoic Kazak driver, and Chimghe - our translator/guide.
After driving for more of the first day we arrived at Monastary, which was really cool. The Monastary itself was nestled in a valley and felt really ramshackle and spooky, and then behind it were these massive new Buddha statues up the hills. However things rapidly went downhill from there. Firstly (too much information warning!) I got my period. I'm sure I do not need to go in to detail, merely to remind you that toilets in Mongolia are literally just holes dug in the ground with a wooden shack over them. If you're lucky there's a door, and if you're REALLY lucky, there's some kind of lock. Yeah. I was not so lucky. Squatting in the dark and attempting to navigate tampons whilst not falling in the hole and hoping no one else needs the loo is the least fun experience in the whole world. Ever. And I mean ever. Now I don't normally get PMS or anything, but my goodness I nearly killed Matt simply because he was male and would never have to go through what I was suffering. I also cried a bit. Okay a lot. It was like watching myself go crazy and not being able to stop it. Hormones are scary things!
Aaaanyway. So then Chimghe, our guide/translator/cook, comes in with our dinner. Only she only brought in 4 plates. So we were like, "umm, what about the rest of us?" She then appologises profusely, says she forgot and though she only had "four childrens" not six and said she'd bring some more food. We thought she'd come back with 2 more plates. Nope. She came back with bread and a sausage. So we shared the rest of our food.
This was the beginning of a short and slippery slide down in to badness.
The next day we drove again, for the whole day, and stopped and a beautiful little ger camp by a little lake. Where heaven smiled upon me, and they had fixed a toilet seat over the hole in the ground, and had doors and locks! Like I said, heaven! Alex and I did a little bit more horse riding as there were some Mongolians there with a horse and Alex speaks Mongolian so asked if we could ride it. She went off with the guy on his horse and her on hers and like did herding and stuff. When it got to my turn we went round behind the trees and the guy starts making kissy noises and waggling his eyebrows. He was like 17 and clearly not a fan of washing. Suffice to say he did not get lucky.
The next day we again, drove all day and ended up at a boring town with a fantastic name, Moron. I am not kidding, that's its name. By this time however, Dave and Michelle had decided that Chimghe did not speak good enough English to be their guide for the 35 day trip (which was fair enough, she was the worst translator/guide ever) so they phoned the tour company back in UB to ask them to switch guides. They then, in their infinite wisdom (okay I say them, it was mostly Michelle), decided to ask Chimghe loads of really difficult questions and get annoyed at her when she couldn't answer, to "show her why they needed to switch guides". This of course just made the whole trip really awkward, especially when she got the phone call from the company saying "we" wanted to get rid of her. She cried in the car. AWKWARD!
The next day we set off for Khatgal village, the starting point for trips around Lake Khovsgol, our intended destination. However before we went there we decided we wanted to go and see the Deer Stones which were near Moron, because we had read about them in the Lonely Planet and thought they sounded interesting. So we drive off, after a little while we see the Deer Stones... We carry on driving... We told Chimghe "hey stop, those were the Deer Stones!" she just goes "no" and we carry on driving. Yeah after about 20 minutes we stop, turn around and go back to what we had correctly assumed were the stones. Like I said, worst. Guide. Ever.
The Deer Stones were amazing, they're ancient burial stones carved with deers and other images. They're so we preserved despite just being in the middle wof nowhere with no protection, or information centre or anything. Just a little notice board with some info, and the stones. Amazing. So worth seeing.
I could also put in another toilet related story here, but I feel that might be WAY too much information, and you probably don't want to know. But it was kind of funny.
Then we carried on to Khatgal and by this time were so sick of Chimghe and Michelle we decided to bail on the tour a day early and get off at Khatgal and make our own way to the lake, which was definitely a good choice!
We organised a 2 day horse trip up to the lake and back through our guest house in Khatgal, only on the day we were supposed to go the horses and guide just never turned up! So we decided to postpone, and go the next day. Which was a good choice because it turns out there was a mini Nadaam that day! This time we saw wrestling. Matt is into martial arts and stuff so he asked the guy who ran the hostel (and was running the Nadaam) if he could have a go, thinking he'd just show him how Mongolian wrestling goes. Instead he got signed up for the competition! He didn't make it more than 2 minutes into the first round before his opponant swept his legs out from under him and he was out. Bless him.
The next day the horses and guide finally showed up so off we went! Our guide was called Bilghe and liked to call himself Bill Gates... Hilarious. He also decided I was his wife. Yeeeeeah... Am I like Mongolian men's type or something? Who knows? Anyway, this time the horses had comfier saddles and we weren't led, so it felt like proper horse riding. We rode for about 8 hours up to the lake, which was absolutely stunning. Crystal blue water, so clear up close. Surrounded by forrests and hills. Just, stunning.
We stayed with a Mongolian family, not sure if they were Bilghe's family or just his friends. Of course this meant they offered us stuff to eat and drink. Which is fine until you remember the kind of thing Mongolians eat and drink. Fermented yak butter, anyone? Yum...
We only had 2 beds between the three of us (me, matt and Alex,) and Bilghe slept on the floor. He kept saying that Matt and Alex should sleep in one bed and "my wife you sleep here". I did not trust him not to climb in with me in the middle of the night so I begged Alex to let me share with her and then Matt had the other bed. Apparently I hog the duvet. Oh well, at least I didn't have a surprise visit in the middle of the night.
The next day we rode back to the town, by which time our knees, ankles, arses and Matt's groin were in serious pain. But all in all a fun trip with beautiful views.
We then tried to figure out how to get back to UB. Our options were bus back to Moron, then 10 hour bus to Erdenet and then a train back to UB, or a 20 hour bus bck to UB from Moron. Yikes. However we discovered there were a geroup of German girls going back in a van with a driver they'd hired. However they only had one space left. Supposedly, I still think they could've fit at least 4 more people in the van! So Matt and Alex shoved me in with them and we went our seperate ways, to race bck to UB!
My journey back took 3 days, stopping to camp twice. However I didn't have a tent so I slept in the van with the driver. The german girls were lovely and we had a great time. We saw a massive flock of eagles sat by the road. We watched our driver pour a load of water down a hole in the road to make a ground squirrel come out. We got to know each other VERY well by all sqatting next to each other by the side of the road to pee... Fun times.
However Matt and Alex beat me back by 8 hours, because they had found a car going to UB and hitchiked essentially instead of getting the bus. They had alse eaten Marmot. And got a flat tire. So I'm really not sure who had the better journey back...
When we got back to our hostel here we found that there was STILL no hot water, despite it being almost a month since it went off. So that was nice. But it was okay, we found Ralph, who had just arrived and was staying in a different appartment building (same hostel, confusing) which did have hot water and so went and showered at his place. Oh my goodness. After 10 days, that was the best and most needed shower of my life. Wow.
Today we got our train tickets to Irkutsk in Russia for next week. We had to wait till Ralph got here to get them which meant that the fast train that only taes 1 day was all sold out, so we'll be on a slow train that takes 2 days. Which doesn't mean much after 10 days in the wilderness really...
This evening we went to a traditian performance of music and dance, it was so cool. They did throat singing, which is really strange, and did loads of other dances and songs and stuff. There was a contortionist too and I was unlucky enough to be sitting next to Ralph, and therefore had to listen to all the dirty jokes and comments he was making about her and her, er, abilities!
So that's what I've been up to. We have one week left in Mongolia, we'll probably do another kind of excursion so that Ralph can see some of the countryside too. We're also enquired with a few companies how much it would be to drive a tank and/or fire an RPG. So that might be fun if it's not too expensive!
Umm, I promise I'll try not to talk about toilets so much in my next entry?
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