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The Rambling Family

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Mongolia

Back to the future

Returning to Ulaanbator from our homestay took another 2 day drive.  The first day we bumped and rattled along dirt roads for about an hour before bumping along a super crappy potholed paved road for another four.

We stopped near a rocky mountain area beside some sand dunes, and took the afternoon for a hike up and around Ovgon Kiid.  This mountain range is very different than where we stayed.  It’s a huge granite upheaval and, as such, looks like a gigantic pile of boulders.  Still arid, though, and really makes Bryan and I think of Joshua Tree.

 
 

There is a small buddhist lama (Tibetan) temple at the bottom of a steep valley that is almost a canyon. We walked up this canyon about 2.25 km – Bryan was using his GPS to guide us to some ruins we read about in our Lonely Planet book.  They include coordinates for all sights in Mongolia thank goodness.  
The kids were motivated after bouncing in the car all morning.  Plus, there was a small trickle of a creek to follow. They splashed and boulder-jumped over the water.  They were ever excited to find waterfalls (1 ft high) along the way. It was pretty and shady until the water petered out and the trail went up into the scrub.  Then it was hot and we took water breaks in tiny shaded areas under boulders or scrubby trees.
Finally the trail flattened at a high flat valley and we could see our destination.  Ruins!  And old monastery from the 1600s is still standing in ruin up here after being demolished in 1600 by a rival clan. It’s so neat and huge!  The walls themselves are tall and stone built, but there is also just quantity.  
We explored just a small part of what we assume was the main building as it was the largest.  Didn’t put a dent in the area. Zoe got a bit creeped out by the tall grasses and trees growing in the place, but Avi and I wandered deeper and got a bit trapped in courtyard after courtyard. Even we got a bit scared a a pack of wild horses whinnied in a creepy way. This place was cool and needs a proper excavation!

 
Zoe and I went in the tiny local temple at the trailhead.
 

 

Hot, dry and tired we followed the kids who got a burst of energy and ran back down the trail.  Our driver Sandeek took us a couple km away to a family with a guest ger and we settled in for the night. Got some boiled water for noodles, read some Harry Potter to Zoe, and Avi spent the evening covering Beautiful Puppy and himself with dirt.  It was a nice relaxing evening with a great view if the mountains and sand dunes.

Zoe created these “toilet bushes”  for everyone since there were no defined places to take care of business.   This is the FEMALE toilet bush.

Here is the MALE toilet bush.  Nice view.

Zoe utilizing the girl potty.

Avi’s activity for the evening was becoming filthy.

And playing with a desert toad.

 

In the morning we resumed our drive to Ulaanbator and watched the km click down one at a time along the roadside.  It was about 275 and took another 5 or so hours. In the city we hit traffic and, ugh,  just wanted to be Not Moving. 
The kids have been amazing in the car – Zoe sleeps or stares and occasionally does her workbooks.  Avi plays with his hands as airplanes or volcanoes and loves I Spy.  We also sing a rhyming song Zoe knows or snack… I’m so happy our kids know how to be bored,  and they did not complained once about the driving.!!  Other things, but not the drive.

fresh horse milk anyone?  Mongolian lemonade stand.

 

Finally at Golden Gobi guesthouse we finalized our transactions.  Ogie, the organizer who made the big mixup on our trip was not-surprisingly absent.  
First line of business was a shower!!!!  Ahhhhh it never felt so good.  
Once we were cleaned up we walked across the street for pizza and it was pretty good for Asia where it’s quite often horrible. It was also huge!  We spent the rest of our final evening in and out of tourist souvenir shops and outdoor playgrounds.  

some rides out front of the State Store – a huge department store in Ulaanbator.

 

This morning we woke early to get breakfast.  an egg on toast!!  No milk products!!!  My belly is happy. Then taxied to the aiport to return to Seoul.  It feels as though we have stepped back forward in time. Toilets, lights, Toyota priuses, and airplanes. 
Normalcy. I’ve never been happier to be finishing a vacation.  Not that it wasn’t fun, but exhausting and filthy which I never thought I would say I’ve had enough of.   
And Koreans.  I’ve never been happier to be crammed into an airport and jostled around by Koreans in my whole life.  The ajumas are already doing their “eh, buda” at Avi and pulling Zoe’s thumb out for us.  Ah, back home.

 

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Becoming family

The first two days we stayed here at the family ger were awkward.  We are sleeping on the floor.  They wake and the wife started prepping food while the husband leaves for a bit and returns to eat.  We usually try to get up around that time because after that they are both out of the ger for a long time milking the horses. 

I takes two people to milk a mare.  The husband (Zaya) catches it in a lasso, and holds it still while the wife (Zanda) milks it. The milk is disgusting.  But I can’t stand drinking any milk. It IS super creamy and raw so not processed at all except for straining it into another bucket.  The two little girls drink it by the bowlful.  They get about one large bucketful every morning and evening.

the wee one helping herself to some milk; its in various stages of processing in each of those buckets.

We spend the day out and about.  Packing our tent and lunch (we brought some freeze dried fruit and veg plus ramen noodles and bread) we venture up the side valleys. It’s really gorgeous high grassland.  We are at 6500 or so feet and well above the tree line, so the whole valley and mountainsides are covered in green or golden grass.  In the side valleys are cute little creeks flowing into the main river in our ger valley. We hike up these and find a spot to pitch the tent for the day.
The kids play in the creek, we read, we eat and nap. Hours pass and it’s been awesome.  We hiked halfway up one of the mountains one day, read the entire first Harry Potter, made grass boats and slept way better than at nighttime. 

We found some beautiful places to enjoy reading and playing and family time:

trying to get back quickly before that storm hit!


Back at the ger home, the wife (Zanda) just kept staring at me and I’m not sure if I’m to help or not.  Once I cut some noodles and it was obviously wrong.  She and I laughed which was good, but then I was at a loss.  I’ve tried to help but it’s difficult to know what to do.  There are only 10 bowls in the place and a few pieces of silverware, so if she has set a bowl of water on the stove I can do dishes but that’s it.  She did show me which shelf they go on. I’m at an absolute loss for cooking.  Their staples are meat and milk.  I can barely offer to add a dried poo to the fire.

The Mongolian kids mostly fend for themselves so sometimes I feel useful by playing with them and showing them how to color.  We are leaving a few coloring books here for them.  The little one who is two loves the dry erase maze book so we will leave that too.

what she does most of the day
Bryan trying to help churn the milk
 
The kids doing some workbooks
 
 
mmm… the pancakes were great
 
 

Anyway our turning point was on day 3 when Bryan offered to go to the market  with them.  Our driver took him, Zanda and the baby into town a half hour away. They bought veggies and coffee and candy and a brick of tea.  She was most excited for a container of laundry detergent though.  Bryan paid the bill.  Since then it’s been less tense.  May have been the market trip or just us getting more involved.  

Zoe and Avi join the other kids nightly to round up the goats and sheep.  They love it! They wander off to find the herd and push them back near the gers.  Then,  the baby goats are singled out and directed using whips on sticks and yelling into a little pen.  That is where they stay all night which keeps the mom goats from wandering.  I guess the sheep just stay near the goats because they don’t think to do anything else.  In the late morning the female goats are rounded up, singled out of the crowd, and tied head to head in a long row for milking.  There are about 20.  After that, the baby goats are freed, nurse and the herd wanders away for the day.

she took this duty so seriously

Zoe never missed a chance with the goats
 
This goat was funny and came to butt the door every morning and evening for some milk.  It was so nice, and Avi really bonded with it.  Guess they had hand fed it since it’s mom died when it was little.
 
 

 We have also played Uno every night, and slowly more family have joined in. First night just the 6 year old and our driver Sandeek, then dad , and by the third night (after the market) mom and even cousin Eddie joined in. He’s another extended family that lives in one of the other  two nearby gers. I was shockingly trusted to churning the butter ( oh the hideous smell) while Zanda got to play. By our final fourth night the whole extended family was in the ger laughing and playing.  It has  been fun and the perfect game to teach people who can’t speak a lick of English. 



The game brought us all together.  Zanda and I and Zoe had a blast also playing knuckle bones.  It’s their family game.   I can’t explain it quickly but it’s fun and is played with the knuckle bones from sheep and goats they’ve eaten.  I just barely lost.  Lots of laughs late into the night.

The next morning we were trusted to do some goat milking. 



Our final night was the best though.  We returned from our daily outing and they wanted to dress us up! the whole family – including the super nice grandpa from another ger came to help.  We were outfitted with their own personal fancy deel ( their traditional dress), and even jewelry and medals.  Women in Mongolia, by the way,  get a medal for each child they have. Then it was pictures!!  Lots.  And other fancy deel and winter deel and more pictures.  Just kids, just women, just olds, cousin Eddie… This was our name for him… He fit the description. We all had such fun!!  And they seemed so excited to play dress ups on the westerners. 

There were Soooooo many pictures and family combinations.  Here is a smattering:

our host family.  Zaya and Zanda and their two girls

Grandpa.  He was a hoot!

The girls

Winter garb!

Manly Mongol Men

check out my medals for having babies!

The fam again

Us and “cousin Eddie” with wife

Grandpa again!

The whole extended family that lived in the three gers

 That night we gave them our gifts.  We brought a new Uno, a silk, and a Swiss Army knife.  We also indicated we would leave the girls the coloring books and dry erase maze book, plus a cool Mongolian version of National Geographic Traveller that was all about Mongolian sights and in both English and Mongolian.  We found it in the seat back pocket on our Hunnu air flight to Dalanzadgad last week and found it fascinating.  They loved it and all the gifts. 

Then I was shocked when Zanda offered me her deel!!  I refused for a while but it was important To her. Our driver translated and said we were the first ever to homestay with them ( I could’ve guessed) AND we were the first foreigners they’d ever met.  It was so special.  So now I have a gorgeous green silk deel that she made by hand and I can where on special occasions.  Amazing! 

We were all up super late that last night playing cards and “chatting”.  Thank goodness our driver Sandeek can translate roughly. They had tons of questions about us and the kids and school and found us so very interesting.  

making some vodka for the special occasion…or maybe it was just vodka night.



We found them interesting as well!  At first it was weird but by the end we felt very much like family.  It was a bit sad to go but we were excited to get showers and use toilets and sinks and refrigerators again.  The simplicity of their life, though, is something to take with us. They have very little by nature or by choice. 

Our final morning we were finally trusted to ride the horses…a little….for a picture.


As we left on the 5th morning each ger household tossed a bowl full of milk in the air for us.  A ceremonial guesture to ensure a safe trip.  It was quite moving, especially I see grandpa run out not to miss us.  

 Zaya and Zanda road their motorbike up to the ridge crossing to say their goodbyes.  It was on honor! I gave them hugs instead I handshakes. They were surprised… Pleasantly, I believe. 


Mongolian Homestay

Staying with a herding family is fascinating and, for once, I’ve found a place I could NOT see myself living.

It’s like we’ve gone back in time to the days of Chinggis Kahn (that’s how they spell it).  Except they have solar panels to charge the lightbulb, cell phone and satellite TV.  So they have modernity, but wether by choice or lack of education seem to lack certain normalcies and hygiene I’ve seen everywhere else… Even in the poorest communities.  
I also don’t think they are poor.  Certainly they don’t own much but they also have absolutely no debt, live off free land and sell their sheep for quite a profit.  Its like they live impoverishedly in some respects, and again, we can’t tell if it is by choice or simple ignorance.

Regardless, it’s been fascinating.  We are sleeping on the floor in the main family ger – there are two others for extended family members. We spend the evenings and mornings with the family and choose to withdraw ourselves “hiking” for most if the day. 
The valley they live in is gorgeous.  Beautiful green and brownish grassland with rivers flowing through it.  Surrounded by huge grass covered mountains and large rocky outcroppings everywhere.  If you’ve ever seen the movie “Cave of the yellow dog” it’s like we’ve gone there but not during such a green season. Our kids love that movie, by the way.

Out Exploring:

 

 
Random things we’ve experienced:
  • They don’t brush their teeth much and most have a few rotten, especially the kids. 
  • They have NO vegetables in their diet. We brought freeze dried veg thank goodness. 
  • There are a few wild herbs and things like watercress and onion we have found that they could eat … Guess they don’t.
  • The wife spends her whole day milking yaks and horses, making cheese, boiling milk and other milk related things.  
  • They eat a heck of a lot of milk. I’ve never seen anyone drink water. And it tastes nasty – either it’s warm or soured.
  • No refrigeration.
  • They slaughtered a sheep for us (and them for later) by cutting a hole in its belly, putting a hand in and ripping its aorta.  The sheep didn’t fight until the deed was done.  It didn’t die quickly but was pretty calm. 
  • They leave the – brand new this year – TV on a lot. 
  • The kids are left to fend for themselves a significant amount of the day.  The 2 year old is naked most of the day while I’m bundled in long pants and a fleece.
  • The animals are half wild.  They wander all day to graze and are herded back toward the ger at dusk.  The only ones penned are a bunch baby goats, 2 calves, and 2 yak calves. The 4 riding horses are tied to a line, but the rest are mostly wild.  I would not say there is much animal “husbandry” more just dominance. 
  • When the wild horses are getting to close to the gers a kid is sent out with a coke bottle full of rocks to scare them farther.
  • There is one nice dog.  He deserves some love,  but got a big kick in the pants for fighting with the other dog we were told was dangerous. 
  • The ger stinks of spoiled milk and hanging meat because it is filled with both, plus two beds, a stove, 5 chests of bedding and clothes, and a kitchen shelf.
  • They don’t take their shoes off at the door.   There is goat poo on the linoleum that covers the ground.  I swept one day and got a look of confusion.
  • The baby devours the fermented mares milk beverage.  It took then two days to fully accepted that Bryan nor I would drink it because it becomes alcoholic. And it tastes like ASS!  Spoiled milk ass. So nasty.
  • I finally had to tell them to stop offering me milk because it hurt my stomach since we live in Korea where they don’t have milk.  I lied: it just tastes sooooo bad I don’t want any more.
  • We mostly eat meat or meat and noodle or meat and rice or maybe some packaged bread.  
  • They seem to have a huge lot of candy. 
  • They burn dried poo in the stove. It smells kind of sweet and nice.
  • They eat and drink from ten bowls.
  • There is no toilet at all.  We all just wander a bit and squat behind a rise or down by the river, or anywhere, really.

where the meat is stored, until tomorrow when its shoved under the bed.

making dinner
 
the homestead

one of three cows…and grandma gathering dung
 
Avi just loves cows.
 

fresh meat

bringing in the yaks for milking

Zoe showing you her toilet spot for the evening
 
the nice dog
 
 

    Mongolian transportation

    Let’s be frank,  transport in Mongolia sucks.  Did I expect it to be great? No.  But I did expect the time estimates from it tour company to be on target.

    Today we drove about 5 hours and are only halfway to our homestay. I was told  it would be 6 hours total!!  Either our new driver isn’t great or the tour company is vastly confused.  Disorganized too.  I had been impressed with her promptness at emails and all the trip prearrangement, but now I’m disappointed.  She called the cell phone at our “halfway” homestay to tell me she miscalculated the trip cost and forgot to include the driving to the homestay.  Then she wants me to pay the massive difference.  No!!  We won’t let it spoil our trip, and came to a compromise but it still turned me off of Golden Gobi guesthouse and tours. 
    Not only that but our flights were changed on us too!  Hunnu Air had emailed me just before we left that they changed our flight down to the Gobi, so I had that under control.  But we woke early in Dalanzadgad to catch our return flight – and gather our new driver to the homestay- got to the empty airport to find it was now going 4 hours later!  Crazy!!  For an airline especially.  
    I expected delays for vehicles driving on bad dirt roads and slowness of Mongolian service,  but I’m frustrated with the tour company and airlines for having such surprisingly poor customer service.  What I am happy with, though, is the view.  Mongolia is VAST!  It is HUGE!  Today as we drove, we saw gers dotting the countryside, a nice rain storm, green hills, and goats and sheep blocking the road….a fairly major road at that.

    Time for a rest stop!

    Road blockage

     

    Regardless, we had a great time at our halfway ger camp.  The family was so friendly and loved the kids.  They chased the goats, rode the horse, and played with the kids who lived there. The Dad loved Avi, too, and joked about us leaving him with the family.  He wanted to train him up to ride in the Naadam!  He had all girls.  It was so pleasant with that fam, that we were looking forward to the same at our 5 day homestay.

     
     

    Guest Ger.
     
     

     

    Well it hasn’t been as cozy.  The drive here took another 5 or so hours.  Which was wild.  I think our driver is trying to preserve gas too much.  He also didn’t seem to know the way very well, took us a longer route than we expected based on the map, and had to ask numerous people in one town where to go to meetup with a lady who showed us to the family.  Again, he is kind and I feel the tour company left him at a loss without all the info he needed.  
    I particularly chose Golden Gobi because they had good prices and were local run – meaning Mongolians own the business. The owner was also super quick and efficient at email correspondence and answering questions.  Another company I tried ” Ger to Ger” never even replied to my 3-4 tour requests!  I supposed I’ve learned that the Mongolian slowness and inefficientcy I read to expect in travel extends into business as well.   I wish I would’ve gone with one of the German run companies who still employ locals … If anyone could possibly be organized in Mongolia it would be Germans. A bit out of our price range, though.
    Our new homestay family is nice and hospitable but it’s obvious they haven’t had many (any?) other visitors.  They mostly stare at us.  Also, we are sleeping on the floor of their own personal home ger.  I was looking forward to some private space in our own guest ger as we’ve seen at all the other ger camps, but this is real life I guess.  Still, it’s a beautiful valley we are FINALLY here and the kids are loving the animals. We have 4 nights here so maybe the family will open up a bit. We may be the first foreigners they’ve ever hosted.   ***YES we are, In Fact we are the first foreigners they’ve ever SEEN ***

     
    Our valley in the Kangai mountains
     
    Avi’s favorite cow
    The kids helping herd the goats & sheep
     
    Moonrise over our home for the week

    Our bed on the floor for the week….the stove in the foreground, and buckets of milk in the back.
     
     
     

     

    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

     

    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.

     

    Gobi

    Our last night in Ulaanbaatar was rough.  Woke at midnight by Avi who had to go potty. He then came to sleep with me while Bryan went to the top bunk with Zoe.  Good thing.

    Avi woke again around 230 to throw up.  I quickly grabbed a towel for him. Poor guy threw up his whole dinner and lunch.  Woke up twice more for more vomit. Got him to drink some water and he fell asleep for a while until we needed to be waking.
    At 0500 and again at 0515 the alarm went off.  We packed last night but still needed to finish up.  I carried Avi out to taxi hoping he would stay asleep.  Sadly he didn’t, and felt nauseous in the car but didn’t puke.  At the aiport, though, as soon as we were dropped off he had more come up.  It wasn’t a lot and he gave me warning so I dropped my bag and grabbed a wet wipe for him to puke into. 
    Happy Birthday Avi. 
    Checked in for our flight and sat down to relax.  He was just resting on me and felt like vomit again so we ran to the bathroom where he went again. A nice customs agent lady helped us and got him a bottle of water and wrapped his shirt around his waste tightly which was supposed to help.  
    No luck.  On the plane he puked again in a cup before we took off and then promptly fell asleep.  Thank goodness!  It was a small prop plane down to Dalanzadgad in the Gobi desert.  Bryan and I made mental changes of plans on the way since Avi was so yucky.  But then he woke up after landing, ate a chocolate covered cake from the snack service and ran around with Zoe out front of the tiny one-room airport.  He said he felt great and wanted to camp.

     

    OK!  But where was our driver!?  Not here.  A nice lady called the Golden Gobi for us and eventually we found they were on their way… Quite late. 
    Turns out the Russian jeep needed repairs and it took longer than he thought.   So our driver Bahggy and his buddy got us in his buddy’s nice Subaru. We were taken to two groceries to get supplies and then the apothecary for some motion sickness drug for Avi just in case. He never puked again.
     Two days – two drug stores! My finger is doing well after I got a traditional Mongolian powder for it last night.  Like most of the world,  all the “over the counter” drugs must actually come over a counter from a pharmacist who helps you make the right diagnosis and choice.  Well I showed her my finger – which I shocked very badly with an extension cord at home on Friday just before we left Korea; so bad I had to use my left hand to remove my right which had clamped down to the electric current – there was a small but quickly turning puffy cut.  She handed me a tiny bottle which cost $3.  At the guesthouse, Bob told me that the directions said to clean it out super good with alcohol, clear the scab, and pack the powder from the tiny bottle into the cut and bandage it shut.  Alright!  It is much better today… so here in our tent I’ve just redone it hoping for more success in healing.
    Anyway, we did make it out here to the desert.  After waiting at Bahggys house for a bit, and having some milk tea and meat-with-rice with his mother, we were on our way in a super busted up, but nicely rigged old russian jeep-like vehicle.

     

    The drive was desolate.  We could see forever, lots if rocks and mountains of rocks, plus some gers out amongst the scrubby grass on the rocks. Up over one rocky pass, though, things got green and dramatic.

     

    This is Gurvan National pPrk and our destination was Yolyn Am, the ice canyon.  Enroute we stopped at a weird little museum filled with taxidermy.  Avi loved it, Zoe whined when she saw the display of an eagle with a rabbit in its talons. 
    We could drive close to the canyon but had to walk the final 2km.  It was quite pleasant and super funny because of all the pika running around. These are little rodents – like a rabbit and a groundhog but the size of a guinea pig.  They were hysterical carting big bundles of grass and zipping and squeaking about. Avi complained a bit about the hike until we merged with a creek he could jump over all the time.  Zoe did well watching the pika bit also got tired until we entered the narrow gorge where there was still ice!!  A few big chunks of dirty ice in the Gobi in August!!

     

    Hiking out was pleasant and warm as the sun came out from behind clouds. The kids were promised lollipops which sped up their feet.  
    Now we have driven down an adjacent canyon called Dungeree that gets almost as narrow, but we will go through that in the jeep tomorrow. It’s been a bumpy fun jeep trail of a ride and promises to get crazier.  For this evening we found a great grassy green bank and camped out. 
    There was an awkward moment when we realized our driver didn’t have food and expected to share ours.  I was told by Golden Gobi Tours that he provided his own and I guess they just didn’t fill him in.  Poor guy.  We shared of course!  It was just all quite awkward as he doesn’t speak much English either and thought the tour company gave us money to cover his food.  We will figure it out!

     

    Tonight we enjoyed some downtime around the tent, walking up the slope, checking out a small cave, throwing rocks in the creek, and Avi and Bryan went on another walk down the canyon! Started out a little rough here in the Gobi, but we are comfy and cozy in our tent and ready for some dunes tomorrow.  
    After a loooooooong drive. 
    Glad Avi is feeling well….and a big 4 years old, he keeps reminding us.

     

    Ulaanbatar

    Well our first couple days in Mongolia have been great.  Our flight from Seoul was only 3.5 hours long and uneventful.  The Chinngis Khan airport is small, so it was quick to find our ride.  

    I prearranged for a driver to pick us up from our guesthouse. We are staying at Golden Gobi guesthouse which is kind of like a hostel and hotel and guesthouse. The owners live there, and share the kitchen.  We have our own room with a double bed bunk, but the toilet and shower are down the hall.  Plus, there are all-bunk dorm rooms. It’s a busy place!!

    Check in was easy. After that, we walked to Sukhbaatar square where the Chinngis Khan, Kublai Khan and Ogedai Kahn statues are guarding the government building.  They were neat but we more enjoyed all the people renting bikes and skates and stuff.  People were just out and about at the park and so were we. 

     

    Dinner was noodles back at the guesthouse. We all slept pretty well there.  Beds are comfy enough. 


    Breakfast in the morning has been bread with butter or jelly or Nutella, or an egg; maybe some yogurt.  The owners Ogie and Bob are super helpful arranging tours with their friends and family all around the country. I emailed Ogie back and forth a lot before we came so our trips are prearranged with her. 

    On our first full day here we walked to the Gandan monastery.  It’s a large complex of temples and schools and monk residences.  The highlight for the kids were definitely the pigeons. We bought them each a bag of food from an old bird-lady and they spent a ton of time feeding them… Out front… By the temple….In the courtyard…Trailing birds behind us.   Zoe was picking them up and releasing them (a skill she learned in Java) by the time we left.


    Bryan and I liked the monstrous Buddha statue in the main temple.  It filled three stories!! Mongolian Buddhism shares it’s heritage with Tibetan Buddhism so there are many similar sights like prayer wheels and all kinds of protector deities. 

    The temples are wooden and multi tiered like many Asian temples, but the lower level is covered with dirty white stucco on the outside.  Inside, every surface is covered in colorful but super faded paintings or tapestries and hangings. In one room the red robed monks were chanting so we sat and listened for a while. Avi liked finding the dragons in the wall paintings while Zoe found their bound- parchment books interesting. 

    From there we walked back to the square we saw last night and visited the National Museum.  It was OK.  The history is fascinating!!! Zoe appreciated a lot if it – stone age tools, pottery, trinkets from Huns and Mongols.  Avi grew tired, though he thought the native-dress area was cool. 


    It was nap time back at the guesthouse before taking a taxi to the big market.  This was a huge open market with clothes and bikes and antiques and all the trappings to make a native ger (like a yurt).   It was cool.  Kids got some bracelets and one vendor lady gave Avi a ceramic horse he was ogling; it’s saddle is broke but he loves it. We also got some wool clothes and silk fabric. Cheap!


    …………

    Today we slept in and then wandered down to the city children’s park. It’s odd. Ulaanbator is trying so hard to be a city but some things just aren’t working.  There are fancy skyscrapers here, neat eateries, and other modern stuff.  But then there are tons of abandoned construction projects or vacant lots with a ger in the middle.  The roads are super nice and wide but some of the side streets are still dirt; the sidewalks and most other infrastructure is in disrepair. There are green spaces but the grass is all completely overgrown; we can’t let the kids run around in the park as there is broken glass all over the place.  There are fancy new homes built and also a whole hill occupied by colorful corrugated metal fencing dividing off properties for a single ger.  It’s just amazing to see how the modern blends with the nomadic tradition.  I don’t believe either is seen as better – just your choice.  In fact at the market there was a huge section of furniture sized for gers that are quasi-permanent in the middle of the city.  So, it’s nice and it’s not. 

    Anyway, the children’s park was not that awesome.  There are rides, but many were for bigger kids. Zoe was mad she couldn’t ride even the small coaster.  There was a fun playground and sand pit, though, so we had a fun enough morning. There was impending rain which has held off except for some sprinkles.  It has been a lot cooler than we expected. 


    This afternoon we walked to KFC for lunch and to hang out.  We went to a cultural show called Tumen Ekh at four o’clock then to the guesthouse for an early night.  The show was awesome!  There were a ton of super shiny colorful traditional costumes, plus really unique musical instruments like one that looked like a twisted black saxophone and another two stringed fiddles with a horse head scroll that was played like a cello.  The most amazing thing I heard was the throat singing.  A man came out and made a sound from his mouth that sounded like the deep horns we hear at temples. Then he sang like that and made other amazing high pitched noises too, but from his deep throat not his mouth.  Zoe liked the acrobat who could twist herself so much she stood her feet onto her head, oh and the last dance with huge masks that looked like Tibetan Buddhist creatures.  Avi fell asleep half way, but enjoyed what he saw and said he liked the dancing best.  It was in an odd building, like most places here, with no landscaping and overgrown grass everywhere. We stopped in earlier to check it out because it looks so run down and closed, but it was nice inside!  The show was definitely a highlight of our time in Ulaanbaatar. 

    For a fun evening we went back to Sukhbaatar square to rent a 4 seater bike.  The kids loved it and also rented a few singles for their own time around the square.  Bought some art from a few guys selling their own family’s work.


    Flying to Dalanzadgad in the Gobi desert tomorrow. It think we are a ready to be out of the city!

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