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The Rambling Family

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Gobi

Flaming cliffs

In our bouncy jeep we drove about 3 hours across the scrubby Gobi desert steppe this morning to the village of Bayan.  We happened to arrive during their Naadam festival!

This is a purely Mongolian thing.  Naadam means 3 men’s sport or something like that and consists of a 20 km horse ride from “way out there” back to town, archery, and wrestling.
Well I was excited to see this because the main national Naadam happened before we arrived, and this was a surprise. To bad the wind was so bad!  It was blowing so hard it pelted us with stones and dirt!  Zoe stayed in the car most of the time. We did all venture out to watch the kids ride in on their horses.

The competitors for the horse racing are traditionally 12 year old boys, but we noticed a couple girls too. These amazing kids!  Most were bareback or rode a blanket, some barefoot, and all were hot and dusty and tired.  The crowd, however, only cared for the first few racers and then seemed to cheer more for the horse and the owner (Dad, I assume) while the kid got shuffled off to the side after their wild ride.  By the time horses number 15 and on were riding in, the place had cleared out except for us and a few stragglers.  In fact, from the wrestling court 100 meters away I could still see some horses coming in about an hour later!!  With NO ONE at the finish line.

 

 

By then the wind was so super bad.  I was hunkered down under a canopy waiting for wrestling to start.   Avi was hanging out with Grandma… One of the guides he befriended back at the dunes.  She took him to the ger restaurant and to play some games and then over to join me watching wrestling.  
The wrestlers wore little blue undies and a shirtless set of sleeves.  That’s it!!  And they were being pelted hardcore with wind blown debris.  You wouldn’t have known.  They still played out the matches.  One guy would walked to the ref,  flap like an eagle, have his hat removed, then dance/ flap toward the crowd, hit his thighs and bum and proceed to wrestle.  This was on the ground!  Not soft grassy ground.  Hard, stone and sharp-rock covered ground.  The first guy with a knee down lost.  The winner of each bout would return to the center court and do another ceremonial flapping bird dance and get his reward: some hard cheese from the judges tent.  Most guys tossed some at the air, the flags, the tent, and one guy brought his to our canopy and handed it out to everyone.  Avi loved it, and was mad when none of the other winners did the same. He and I braved the wind to watch all the bouts.

 

The place cleared out a bit as a new group of kid horse riders were heading out of town for their race. We decided that was enough for us and drove to the flaming cliffs, which were even more windy.
The cliffs were tall and red and crumbly and so windy it was scary.  We attempted the hiking trail on top for a bit, but when Zoe got an eyeful of sand we booked back to the van. Bahggy took us down below instead and it was much calmer.  We messed around for a bit finding little caves and checking out the rocks.  Avi had super fun pushing rocks down slopes.  Zoe was again weary and we ventured to our ger camp for the evening.  
The flaming cliffs are a type of badlands and this is supposedly the region most dinosaurs have been found.  It was slightly unimpressive though.  I guess this type of rock formation dots the landscape for hundreds of miles around, but that’s it… Dots.  The actual cliffs were big but not super big.  I felt the badlands of South Dakota or the painted desert in Arizona were more impressive with more vast area of formations.  Here, the badland areas quickly gave way to scrubby rock-covered ground but we could see other cliffs patch up in places.

 

Near our ger camp there was a nice patch of badland cut into the flatland.  We had more fun messing around there than at the actual flaming cliffs a few miles away.  Our driver started feeling bad – his heart was racing and he took some aspirin- so we decided to take it easy and stay at the gers. 
For 20,000T we had a couple single beds in a ger for the night.  Folks on a fully-guided tours get this included as well as food, and there was a French couple there fully guided who got angry when asked if we could share their ger.  The family running the camp just let us have one of their own gers and they crammed together in a smaller one. We verified with the English guide that the situation was fine with the family, because it was an option for us.  We just thought if they had a spot available we’d stay inside to avoid the wind.  The guide assured  us they were happy for the business.

Zoe and Avi had a lot of fun at that ger camp playing with their kids, chasing the goats, and sharing their school workbooks with the other kids.  It was a fun place to stay as the family was fun and welcoming and we even got to watch them butcher a sheep.

I bought the little toy ger this old man made with sheep wool.

Yep.  That’s the floor we’ll sleep on later.

 

Turns out the wind calmed.  We had a great evening and even the next morning exploring the little cliffs around the ger camp.  It was awesome!  The kids found cool rocks and a raw chalk chunk. The best though, was that Bryan found some actual fossils!  This was one of the main reasons we came here, and the kids were stoked.  They even tested them to make sure they were real by putting the fossils on their tongues!  We read an article by Dr. Scott the paleontologist about it, and weird enough,  it worked!!   

Fossils stick to tongues

The fossils are like Velcro…it’s quite odd.

A huge outcrop of raw chalk!

 

In the afternoon we drove back to Dalanzadgad.  It was only an hour and a half, but being in a hotel is a world away. First thing: showers!  Then some TV and a walk around town to see their sad city park… which did have cute dinosaur statues on the pillars.

Tomorrow we are off to Ulaanbaatar and on to a homestay.

Dalanzadgad city

 

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Sand in every crevice

Driving in the Gobi  is rough. Our Russian jeep has no seatbelts so it’s just super bouncy as we rumble along the dirt roads.  Most of the way isn’t even an actual road but a collection of jeep tracks all heading the same direction.  Bahggy the driver speeds along the flat areas and then suddenly slows or stops when a ditch comes along that needs navigating.  It’s wild and tough,  but today both kids amazingly fell asleep for part of our 4ish hours from the mountains to the sand.

The desert isn’t all sand.  In fact it seems that most of this portion is just rocks.  There is a thin layer of wild onion growing in the gravel which gives the plac a greenish look across the miles.  But really when you look at the ground it’s either gravelly rocks or just dirt and sand.

Eventually the huge rocky mountains gave way to a range of sand dunes out our left window.  It got bigger and bigger until the dunes made up a gigantic mountain range if their own and the ground changed into all sand with clumps of prickly shrubs. 
Bahggy stopped at a ger camp – a collection on 4 gers where tourists can pay to stay- near the dunes but not right at them.  The kids woke and were so excited about the animals these folks herded: camels!  After some confusion about where we could or couldn’t camp we figured out an awesome plan. From the ger camp owners we hired four camels to take us and our gear out to the dunes, drop us off and return tomorrow morning to pick us up. The ride was about 2 km.  Zoe got her own camel, Avi road with Bryan, and I was on a camel in the back, followed by another camel carrying our stuff. We each had to carry the rope harness from the camel behind us to stay in line behind the kid guiding our first camel.  It was awesome!!

 

Zoe and I laughed so hard at the last camel because she kept rubbing against my leg unless I was scratching her fuzz head. Camel heads are big, too!!  It started to hurt my leg. We called her Sheila. Then my camel started rubbing in Zoe.  It was so funny.   We walked along the scrubby area and down a sizeable sand bank into a muddy creek and then up the other side until the scrub turned into sand.

 

Camels stink.  They are cute and all but they fart all the time, poop down their legs and have horrid breath.  At least these ones did; might have been their desert diet.  When we arrived at the dunes,  we wandered over a few small dunes to a nice flat spot with a bit of grass. As soon as we got there Sheila started rolling around like a dog scratching it’s back and farting all the while.  So funny and nasty.  It has now become a family joke that camels make the “pppbbbttt” (fart) sound, and anyone who also does so is like a camel.

 

Our day and night at the dunes has been my favorite time.  There were dunes of all sizes for the kids to play, shady spots and a cloud cover so it wasn’t unbearably hot.  We ran around, dug for water, built castles, climbed to the top, ran down, and got full of sand.

 

The kids have been amazing on these long bumpy car rides, and it was so fun to spend time just running around playing.  We stayed up until dark, and after, playing our Uno card game in the tent and looking at the incredible star display. 
Just after we got to sleep a motorbike came zipping around and Bryan went out to see what was happening – we are so far from anything it was weird!  Well,  our driver was worried about us!  He sent the camel herding kid out with an English speaking guide from another tour group to check on us.  It was a lady we would come to call Grandma!  I guess Bahggy was scared of the wolves in the area. He said they are wild and bad sometimes, and called them  “Zombie wolves”!!!  We were fine and Grandma wasn’t worried.  It was cute and funny that Bahggy was that concerned.  He is a nice guy. 
A wind storm came through at night, though. It was strong and pulled out one part of our staked tent fly.  Easily fixed, but there was so much sand flying about that when I went out with the headlamp it just absorbed all my light.  I could only see a few feet around myself.  Felt very odd to be so dark. The storm got quite strong so as to really bend down the tent,  but it held firm! 
In the morning it was still breezy but not knocking us over anymore.  The camels came to get us and we rode back to the ger camp. Bryan got to be his own camel train and led our pack camel by himself while I pulled Zoe’s camel and the guide pulled Avi and I. He really wanted to ride his own but was too little.

 

Dark clouds and thunder grew, and just as we returned, the rain broke free and drenched us.  It was cold!!  And fat drops! We ran for the van and waited out the storm.  
Later Bahggy drove us down to the BIG dune – 300 meters high – and Bryan and I attempted to scale it.  I gave up about half way, but Bryan made it further.  Still not the top though, it’s huge!!  Avi slept in the van and Zoe waited with him.  She was tired and it was sunny and hot and windy….very desert feeling today.  
When we got back to the ger camp the wind was picking up again and we needed a nap.  Had Bahggy drive us out near the river we crossed on the camels, and drop us off with our junk.  Both kids had fun playing in the river – more like a creek trickling through a riverbed – they floated stuff down and got their feet all wet.  It was super shallow.  Kind of grossed me out since we saw our camels pee and poop in it and there were a bunch if camels upstream slurping water.

 

The herders let their animals range free.  There are no fences or anything, but the animals are rounded up in the evening. 
After we tired of the river, we set up the tent and took a long afternoon rest!  It was still so hot and windy when we woke. This is the oppressive desert I expected.  We lucked out with such a mild day yesterday.  Zoe spent the rest of the afternoon reading in the breezy tent.  Avi and I explored the river again, but got so much sand in our eyes. We had fun tucking low behind sand banks to avoid the bluster and walking  in the creek.  He also loves to climb dunes and watch all the sand that falls behind him.
Bryan rested in the tent too, he has been having digestive issues these last two days.  Though he did wander around and find some pottery!  I wandered for a bit and found a bit of a sheltered spot, so we moved the tent and got dinner ready without much sand in it.  
The evening was wonderful again.  The wind died down a bit.  Zoe spent hours playing in a sand dune that had a large beetle population.  She built them a hotel and waterfall and spa.  Avi dug holes and ran around and spent some time getting fun jumping pictures with me.

 

We watched the sun set from a dune perched above the river and the wind calmed. Had a great night sleeping in that spot, and Bahggy drove out to get us in the morning.

 

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