Well, a bright and early start was had! At roughly 5 a.m. this morning, we woke up ready to pack up all our thoroughly dry clothes from our laundry the night before only to find out that roughly 10% or so were actually in that state. Unfortunately we didn’t really have a choice in the matter because our ride was due to pick us up at 6 a.m. so we started the processing of packing it all up in its mostly damp state with the intention to lay it out once again as soon as we could. Our sweaters we intentionally left out so that they could dry during the long drive ahead.
We arrived in our hotel lobby at about 6:05 a.m. to startle the bellhop asleep on the sofa with a blanket over him. We’re sorry! About 10 minutes later, our van arrived with the driver and our translator, Ganchimeg. We hopped in the car and off we went. Before leaving Ulanbaataar, a few stops needed to be taken care of. First we ran by a guesthouse to pick up a fellow tourist, Nolene, who we learned is from South Africa and manages a lodge in Zambia. We also stopped by the company’s office to collect sleeping bags for the various stays ahead. By 7 a.m. we were headed out of the city south to the Gobi Desert.
We drove for about 1 hour before reaching a small town on the outskirts of the steppe. Ganchimeg and the driver had the intention of finding a small store to purchase water for the ride, but no one seemed to be open so we gave up and continued on our way. We drove another 30 minutes over bumpy dirt trails, in the middle of open fields, through various herds of sheep and cow before reaching a paved section of road in the middle of nowhere. It seems as though the rest of the road was under construction. We drove another 2.5 hours before stopping in the small town of Mandalgovi, for lunch were Doug got a beef and pepper stir fry with rice and Lynn got tsuivan with egg, a Mongolian dish consisting of stir fried meat, noodles, and a small sampling of vegetables. During this time we were also showed a map of where we currently were and where we would ultimately end up that evening and we weren’t even halfway.
So we drove and drove and drove through a lot of country that looked like west Texas – dry, no trees, and hills off in the distance. Obviously not a lot happened in these 5 hours but we did giggle at the road signs. One looked like a boomerang indicating a curve in the road. Another looked like a Star Wars Tie Fighter – we still haven’t figure that one out yet. In addition we added to the many uses of our Japanese handkerchiefs – sun shade and eye blocker, both handy for sleeping on long car rides as it turns out.
We finally reached another town, Dalanzadgad, where we met our Gobi driver, Otgoo, and our Gobi van along with our Gobi tour guide, Doya. By the looks of the vehicles in the parking lot, you either need a Toyota Land Cruiser or an old Russian army van to get around in the Gobi and we had the latter. After transferring our belongings from one vehicle to the other we headed off, or we thought we were heading off. Instead we were heading to Mongolia’s version of Cosco which appears to have rock concerts in their parking lots on Sundays. We set out to collect snacks and other provisions that we would need for the next 6 days and managed to fill an entire cart with various items ranging from butane lighter cans (for the portable stove), cans of pickled fish (for breakfast?), and Aloe Drink (just because).
After stocking up, we were told we had another hour drive into the Gobi to a valley that we would hike before meeting the horse herder family we would be staying with that evening. As we drove, our driver pointed out The Three Beauties, three mountain ranges off in the distance which are comprised of the East Beauty, Middle Beauty, and West Beauty. We arrived at the valley and started the 1 km trail that would normally lead to ice but we just happened to be visiting in the 2 months were it is all melted. Instead we were greeted with a small, very cold waterfall. On our way back out we were sure to stop off at a part of the trail that offered some of the freshest air around and there were even signs guaranteeing it though neither of us really noticed a difference. During the hike we were also thoroughly amused by the small hamster looking rodents running around with twigs in their mouths. These ground squirrels, it turns out, were building nests inside various holes in the valley walls.
A short drive from there we arrived at the horse herder family’s home were there were gers set up for our stay that night. The horses and view were just beautiful, nestled in the crook of the surrounding mountains. While we waited for dinner we had the opportunity to watch the family milk the horses, which we honestly had never heard of. To do so, they would bring a baby horse nearby so that the horse being milked would be more calm, thinking that it was the baby feeding. We also took the opportunity to hang our wet clothes out in our ger so we didn’t end up with stinky, wet clothes. When dinner time rolled around we were offered mare’s milk which tasted very yeasty and not at all good, but we appreciated the chance to try. Doug admitted later that he threw up in his mouth multiple times before managing to get it down. Dinner itself consisted of homemade cheese and meat and noodle soup.
With our tummies full, we headed to bed but not before our stove was lit. And something new happened here. The horse herder family, it seems, uses dried horse manure in their ger stoves instead of wood because of the lack of trees nearby. Yes, it is correct, we fell asleep to the smell of burning horse poop.
Daily Walking Mileage: Maybe 3 miles though we cannot be sure with all the bumpy roads.
- A lot of herders this days use motorcycles instead of horses to gather their herds since it is a lot faster. It looks very silly seeing motorcycles in the distance shooting bursts of sand into the air.
- If you look around at the various hills of Mongolia, you will see ovoos. Ovoos are small structures built from wood or rocks from the surrounding area. Ovoos are from the Shaman tradition and Mongolians will visit them when they would like to make a wish. They will walk around the ovoo three times while throwing rocks into a pile and make their wish when it is completed.
- Step counters don’t work too well when you are driving off road in old Russian army vans. So our mileage these next few days is guesstimated the best we can.
- It is our 1 year wedding anniversary!