Well, driving in Mongolia is an adventure if you haven’t already figured that out from our previous posts and today continued to make that case. After waking up this morning we ventured over to the other ger to have breakfast. Our guides had bought a number of items at the store and we assumed that we would be snacking on this again, but we were told that instead the camel herder family would be providing us with breakfast. You could hear Doug’s dismay. We were served a healthy serving of rice porridge with smoked goat ribs. Doug suffered through it successfully, as did Lynn, but neither were excited. So, we supplemented it with cookies, nuts, and dried fruits. Overall, not our favorite breakfast but we survived.
We packed up our day packs and headed into the desert with the rest of the crew. We were told that the first stop on our agenda would be to visit an area that few locals know about and no tourists had ever visited before. This put us on the edge of our seats, literally. About an hour in we appeared to approach a 3 story canyon. Our driver, Otgoo, approached it, turned around, then approached it from another angle. Otgoo had done this in the past in order to get us the best views for picture taking but in this case Otgoo was set on finding the correct route into the canyon. We laughed thinking this was all a joke until the Otgoo drove over a steep sandy cliff. We made it about 15 feet before the van careened to the right at a 75 degree angle. With us squealing in the back seat, he stopped the car, suggested we exit, and we quickly did while making sure we were out of the vehicle’s roll path in doing so. With us safely out of harm’s way he expertly navigated the remaining portion of the cliff while we followed on foot in awe and respect. Who knows what would have happened if we ended up with a tin can van. The canyon itself was quite stunning with a series of striations along the walls which we viewed on foot while the Otgoo navigated the van through the dry river bed. The rock formations even featured an archer’s bow and a camel that Doug was quick to pose on.
After having our fill we hopped in the van and headed off to the nearby mountain to do some more hiking. This mountain, we learned, is about 80 km from China and is readily mined for gold. On our way we passed by a camel watering hole. The useful contraption, in the middle of what most non-herders would consider nowhere, consists of a trough with a well. Water from the well is easily poured into the trough with the help of tall pole and bucket attached to a rotating pole and counterweight, which Doya was willing to demonstrate. This water, while excellent for camels, is quite bad for humans because of its salt content. Don’t worry, we didn’t try. After the brief stop we headed for the mountain by van up Mongolian roads. In Mongolia, roads can be anything, which our Otgoo has shown us. They tend to favor paths that already have tire marks but don’t let this limit them. Instead they sometimes opt for a road less traveled option by heading up dry creek beds or venturing through the Gobi forest which was also new to us. The Gobi forest is a desert with trees that are bushes at this stage due to overharvesting in the past. So when they cannot be avoided, they can be run over. And if you are lost, just drive the van onto the tallest nearby mound to get your bearings.
We arrived at the mountain and chose to have lunch before beginning our hike. Thanks to our handy, dandy portable stove we were able to boil water for our individual ramen packages. Otgoo also make us fish salad consisting of canned peas, corn, mushrooms, tuna, olives, and an onion. It was a nice serving of vegetables which we are dearly missing. With our bellies full we headed into the canyons surrounding this mountain. The canyons themselves were made from red clay or volcanic rock (we aren’t sure which) with a number of colorful stones contained within it. Standing on top of the canyons offered a picturesque view of the surrounding plains and mountains. Every so often nature would gift us with various treats. We saw a camel herd grazing, a series of gazelle herds running, various lizards navigating the sand, and birds soaring overhead. Traversing the canyon itself proved troublesome due to its brittleness with most of us losing our footing at least once. This didn’t stop Doug and our guide from having a canyon race, however. And yes, Doug won, but our guide said she would have won if he was her age.
Exhausted, we all hopped back in the van for the hour long drive back to the camel herder’s camp where everyone promptly decided that it was nap time. About 1.5 hours later we reconvened to have a longer camel ride. We have not yet gotten over these camels. They are just so goofy looking and Lynn equated riding one to riding a dinosaur. While on the ride, Doug was able to control his own but it turns out that his camel liked running every now and then which gave Doug quite the scare. In one instance the camel took off far too fast for Doug’s liking, but after a few quick pulls to the reins Doug was able to get the camel under control while simultaneously impressing our camel guide.
Windswept and a bit shaken, we headed into the herder family’s ger to learn more about The Artist who is also the head herder of this herd which so happens to be the largest in all of Mongolia. The head herder drew both us and Nolene beautiful sketches of camels and gazelles for us to take home. While he was drawing we also looked through many pictures he had taken of the surrounding wildlife and people. All the pictures were stunning but the portraits especially so. It’s no wonder he won the competition that he submitted them too. We were told that there would be a concert next but in our ger so we headed there next in anticipation. It turns out that the “artist” and his “deputy” (one of his support herdsman) are musically talented as well. Mongolians’ skills know no bounds it seems. They treated us to a series of English, Russian, and Mongolian songs which has us all swaying in our chairs.
The evening ended with us feasting on more tsuvaren, with homemade noodles this time, and playing some rounds of Hearts with our fellow travelers. It turns out that Doya loves playing cards, but not Hearts. We think it’s because she lost so many times.
Daily Walking Mileage: Maybe 5 miles, maybe.
- Camels can drink 70 liters of water and typically go between 3-7 days before needing more.
- Camels have four udders.
- There are so much gold in the Gobi mountains that people can find up to 2 kilograms of it just by digging. Because of this we saw a number of man-made holes piercing the canyons on our two treks.
- Herder family children do in fact go to school. During the school year they will stay with relatives or friends near the city center where they will do their studies. During the summer they will be back with their parents helping with the herds.