Gobi Desert, Mongolia to Central Mongolia
20.06.2009 - 26.06.2009
Gobi desert, Mongolia (near Khongoryn Els)
Sitting here in the ger waiting for lunch... just returned from a good camel trek in the sand dunes,
followed by an extra hike up to the top for some spectacular views.
My camel (Shai Jr) was great - very well behaved (good thing as I didn't have a clue what I was doing!). Last night we had the usual Chinggis vodka, while playing a round of Texas hold 'em, Lucy was the big winner (beginner's luck, I assume).
I just got out of the shower - and while it is really nice to finally be clean (especially after the 2nd camel trek of the day went through a sand storm, not to mention Shai Jr wiping his nose on my pant legs!), the conditions of the shower (basically a tin can with a door and intermittent cold water) certainly wasn't worth much more than the T2000 (about $1.37) it cost!
Central Mongolia (near Arvaikheer)
Just set up tents in a very crowded field, back up in central Mongolia about 75k north of Togrog. Had to fight for a parking space.
We said goodbye to the sand dunes in the Gobi this morning & the nomad family whose ger we stayed in (couldn't find any of the children to pass out the candies!), then drove up near Bayangiin Nuruu to check out the petroglyph carvings depicting goats and hunters with bow & arrows, several thousand years old - and out in the open field, not in museums or national parks...
Now we're about to toast to the Summer Solstice and pray to the Ovoo at the top of the hill for a night w/out strong winds!
We've stopped to set up lunch in a nice open field (with yaks!) outside of Arvaikheer.
Matti and Shai volunteered to cook shakshoka, an Israeli dish... better be good b/c I'm starved! Arvaikheer is a small town roughly 200km SW of UB, and the first real sign of civilization that we've seen the past 7 days.
Stopped there to refill on petrol and do some shopping (of course, the only purchase was another bottle of Chinggis. Oddly, several different brands named Chinggis to choose from...).
Central Mongolia (near Naiman Nuur)
We're now stopping at a nomad family's ger about 25k south of Naiman Nuur (Eight Lakes) for the night. This wasn't planned, as we were supposed to camp in tents, but no one's complaining as the rain is starting up. As most places we stop, we greeted the kids here with candies...
and lots of pictures (the one of themselves they love to see).
The ger we're staying in is particularly nice; it is not on the "typical" tourist circuit and thus decked out with more authentic rugs & animal skins (with the mandatory bowl of yak milk/cheese on top of the stove, of course).
And the family's ger had some homemade vodka brew ready for us to sample (after, we decided we'd stick with Chinggis).
Its 8:30 PM, and we just set up our tents somewhere near the first of the 8 lakes - but not sure how close. We set off this morning 10AM on a 3-day trek to reach Orkhon Khurkhree waterfall beyond the 8 lakes.
We were told the total distance over the 3 days would be 15k - probably lost in translation, b/c would couldn't have hiked less than 10k today alone! My feet and shoulders are feeling like someone took a baseball bat to them - I haven't trekked this distance in a long time, and definitely not w/ this much weight - I must be carrying 70lbs.! Then there was the crazy terrain... snow-capped mountains (in late June!) looking over lagoons in volcano craters make for spectacular views,
but crazy huge rocks/boulders all down the side of the mountain, basically jumping from one to another & with that weight was sure I was going to fall and/or break my ankle more than once. Then hiking through the valley & hopping between the rocks in the river (where I was sure I'd fall in), never once coming upon a clear path/trail until the last 2k or so.
Anyway - I'm not loving this! And our guide is really not mature enough for this - she had to be asked more than once to slow down, as some of the group was well out of sight. Of course, it didn't help when she got upset after being asked to slow down, but hopefully she'll get over it tomorrow.
Well, it soon became apparent after setting up the tents last night that we were in fact, lost, which helps explain why Zaya was getting upset. She took off after making dinner up the side of the mountain to try and spot the lake, but came back unsuccessful. After breakfast this morning, we spent some time discussing our options - whether to continue down the same river bank or go over the other mountain, etc. - and Zaya isn't exactly a take-charge kind of person, so the group consensus eventually was to continue down the bank. Really nice views of a lake after a couple kms, but not one of the 8 lakes we were looking for.
Had to cross a river at a point w/ no shoes - luckily not too wide since the water was freezing and rocks underwater ultra-slippery.
Finally got to a point where we were feeling really lost & considering backtracking to the start, but Shai & I scouted up to the top of a mountain on the other side of the bank & spotted a ger camp of in the distance further downstream. After hiking there, with the guide talking with the family, proclaimed the site was where we were supposed to end up for lunch tomorrow! But she didn't even realize/recognize until after speaking with the owners of the camp, meaning we were doubly lucky to find the place. The group voted to head (via van) to the site near the 8th lake to camp for the night where we were supposed to have ended up today (11k by foot, 50 by van). I personally didn't see the point, as we arrived near dusk already, and the lake was still ~ 3 k away, but everyone except Matti and I decided to go see the lake regardless of the time & hiked over. Matti & I set up the tents w/ the help of a baby sheep hanging around.
It was really fun spending time playing with the kids here also - they are running around wanting to be spun around and have endless energy! When the group came back (in the dark), they reported that the 8th lake was nothing great, just a lake - well, glad I didn't bother! We ate dinner with the family - a big bowl of animal inner organs.. the liver was edible, but when I tried the intestines I had to spit out- rude or not!
Central Mongolia (near Khuislin Naiman Nuur Nature Reserve)
I'm sitting with the Israelis outside the ger at the camp; we're teaching eachother useless Hebrew-English words like schos (cartilage) and tchor (hemorrhoids). We hiked through a nice forest back to the tourist ger camp from yesterday (still don't understand why we left in the first place!), and then met up with Bayr who had spent the past 2 days driving around the lakes and fishing. We headed a bit more north into Khuislin Nature Reserve where everyone did some laundry in the river. For dinner tonight, we're going to have goat - as in pick-out, kill, cut up and cook. Pretty disturbing to think about, but its how they survive around here... so when in Rome...
Bayr dragged the goat, took a hammer (same one we've been using for the tent pins, I noticed) and 2 swift blows to the skull (hopefully this is the humane thing), flips it over & knifes it in the belly while the other hand holds the mouth closed. Proceeds to pull out the heart, then talks to his buddy while waiting for the goat to die (as soon as the legs became limp) -- let's just say this wasn't the first time he's done this...
Dragged the goat into the ger, next came the skinning and disassembly of all the organs, legs, etc (blood splattering everywhere - so I guess its not a big deal when I asked "Won't it be messy inside the ger?", and Zaya saying "No!", as in, "Why are you asking such a stupid question?").
Afterwards, all (and that means all - with the exception of skin & fur) of the goat is put into a big pot with hot rocks, vegetables & salt/spices & a bit of water; sat on a fire to cook for 45 minutes.
Then, after the tradition of passing the hot rocks to eachother - feast!
There is another group here at the ger camp that just showed up - we were exchanging trekking stories & come to find out that the first lake where we were supposed to stop at but never reached, is actually only 1 hr trek from the point we started from 2 days ago?!?
Tsenkher Hot Springs, Mongolia
I'm about to turn-in for the night here at the Tsenkher hot springs - yet another adventurous day we've survived... After breakfast - bread w/ jam & dry biscuits again (won't miss that after this trip), drove to see Orkhon Khurkhree waterfall, which turned out to be no water at all, but a cliff with a puddle lake at the bottom. Even so, still really nice views.
Next drove to Tovkhon Khiid monastery hidden deep in the Khangai mountains - very scenic place, located in Khangai Nuruu National Park.
It wasn't the easiest drive to get there - bouncing around in the van while winding around trees on the road. While at the monastery, heavy rain started coming down, then switched to hail, so Zaya cooked in the back of the van & we ate lunch inside. Then the adventure began with the drive back - the van normally has held its own, but the terrain we were in was pure mud - a couple times the group had to get out & push (so much for the clean clothes from yesterday)...
and built makeshift bridges from fallen logs. We stayed out of the van while Bayr maneuvered down a steep hill - the van was sliding/fishtailing all over the place, gaining speed & everyone held their breath as the van headed toward a large tree... then at the very last possible second the tires gripped, Bayr gained control & steered the van within inches - literally - of the tree. We all thought for sure it was going to crash and we'd be stuck in the middle of the forest. After a few more near misses & pushing the stuck van, we were on our way here to the hot springs, where we soaked away the mud and rain with a few cocktails - great way to finish a trip to the countryside!