We woke up a little after sunrise to a very unpleasant but probably overdue surprise. Lynn’s nose had decided that the air in the desert is way too dry and to show its disapproval began bleeding. It took about 20 minutes of nasal spray and tissue stuffing to get it to finally stop. We then joined the others for a breakfast of clotted horse cream, bread, and sausage. Lynn had thirds, Doug stopped at one, which he really pushed himself through to be polite. The amount of gamey tasting milk products at every meal has really started to wear on him. Even to the point that he tastes it throughout the day between meals. Gum would be really handy right now.
After breakfast we packed up our now, finally, dry laundry, loaded up the van and headed off further into the desert. We stopped after a quick drive at the local Nature Museum for a tour of all the types of rocks, plants, and animals that call the Gobi home. The museum was pretty neat, and helped us know what to look out for over the coming days. Lynn and I were amused by the astonishingly bad taxidermy throughout, at least we hope it was. Running into a snow leopard with one eye on top of its head and diagonal slanting face would truly be terrifying.
After the nature museum we hiked up into another valley that is usually covered in ice, but again, it being the end of summer, it was just a nice creek instead. At one point Lynn dropped accidentally knocked the camera cap into the creek just before it turned down a series of waterfalls and some quick rock hopping by Doug saved it.
We climbed back into the van and headed towards Dungnee Valley which we would drive through to pass through the mountains to the town on the other side. The “road” through the valley is actually a riverbed, with running water in it and that, at some points, is only just wide enough for the van to fit between the two cliff walls on either side. The roughness of the van splashing up and down the sides of the river also caused Ganchimeg, our interpreter, to get a little car sick – luckily Lynn had plenty of Dramamine to go around.
After making it through the valley without real incident we headed across the open plains of the desert to Bayandalai, a tiny desert town, where we stopped for lunch in a restaurant/someone’s living room. The town itself did not look very hospitable as it was mostly dirt roads and falling down concrete building with trash blowing between them. This is normally where a “though” sentence goes that would talk about the redeeming qualities of it like “the food was really good” or “at least they had clean bathrooms” but unfortunately neither of those were the case. The food was previously cooked in giant batches and then reheated for us and the bathroom was a hole in the ground in a shed across the street where someone had mistaken the wall for the hole.
After lunch we continued our drive south and stopped for a coffee break, which I think was just a convenient reason to stop and admire the wind swept sand dunes we had just come upon. It was far too windy outside, so our guides set up a stove in the front seat of the van and heated water for everyone to have some tea and coffee while the rest of us got out and took pictures.
We continued on across what was now unarguably the desert on unmarked ruts through the sand and dirt that I guess were meant to pass for roads. After another hour or so we arrived at a camel herder’s camp where we will be spending the next two nights. There were several gers for us to divide up and in lieu (pun intended) of a bathroom there are lots of dirt mounds you can choose from to hide behind. We dropped our bags off in the gers and went to meet the camels.
Camels are truly ridiculous creatures. We had both seen them before at zoos but never really up close and in person. They are really massive animals, with more curves than they know what to do with. When they have been undereating, their humps get droopy which just makes them look even sillier and they seem to always have an attitude that they think they are better than you. One of them kept blowing kisses to Lynn, either that or making faces at her, and they all smelled like farts. So of course, we wanted to immediately ride them, which we were given the chance to do.
Some rugs were thrown on between the two humps, one our guides got them to kneel and one by one we mounted our camels. Instead of bridals they all had ropes attached to a bolt of wood pierced through their noses, which sounds horribly painful but they didn’t seem to really mind. After we had all saddled up we rode around for about 10 minutes before the smell got the best of us and we called it enough.
We retired to one of the gers for a while where we played cards with the guides. We cycled through a couple of games before settling on Mas (sp?) which was a team game and proved hilarious because the three tourists don’t speak any Mongolian and two of our guides don’t speak any English. After a lot of rounds of sign language, grabbing each other’s cards, and jokes that transcended language barriers one of the herder family brought us in dinner. Horray! It was goat meat again with vegetables and rice. This was not made more appetizing by the smell of the ger we had been in for the past few hours where goat fat was hanging up drying on the wall. If anyone is a vegetarian they should really think long and hard before a trip to rural Mongolia. I drowned my dinner in chile sauce, which was a nice change of pace in flavor and we all split a jar of strawberries in syrup for dessert.
After dinner we headed outside to watch the sunset which was really amazing. It had been cloudy the whole day but we finally got some blue sky just in time to make a nice contrast to the gold of the desert floor as the setting sun shown on it. The mountains that we had just come from were in sharp detail in the background as the shadows of their ridges accentuated every valley.
With the sun finally set, we got some help moving a stove into our ger and setting it up so Lynn would be warm, and we headed off to bed.
Daily Walking Miles : No idea…maybe 3? A lot of the day was spent in the van.
- The Gobi is loaded with mineral wealth, with copper, gold, and coal deposits. It sounds like the country is currently strip mining and exporting to China as fast as they possibly can, much to the dismay of the local nomads who live in the desert. (that one’s less fun of a fact)
- Mongolian camels are two humped, and cry for the moms when they’re hungry which we can hear from our ger
- The language is very hard for westerners to pronounce. It sounds like a mixture of Russian, German, Chinese, and guttural phlegmy sounds. We have been spending all week just trying to pronounce thank you and be understood.