“The tiny five-seater, war-torn Russian jeep was already occupied by five sweaty passengers.”
Okay, only a togrog millionaire, but the thick stack of new currency made Mom giddy nonetheless, but all Bree could do was say, “Baagii’s worth a million togrog,” and giggle childishly at her own cliché.
Central market, Ulaan Baatar
The vehicles arrived late, something we’d rarely experienced in China.
“Ulaanbaatar had been replaced by open fields and rolling hills very suddenly, vanishing as quickly as it had risen out of dust.”
A small herd
A rest from the horses
Mother Nature created a cloud masterpiece in the sky, the biggest easel known to man.
Ammon eating smoked fish
There was no plumbing that we could see, only an upside-down bottle of water.
Big cricket. Bimba
So much free land
“You must always go around clockwise three times,” Baagii explained as he jumped out, shaking his wet hands to dry them. “For a safe journey. It’s like a shrine and it is symbolic of the open sky and Tengger, the sky spirit Genghis Khan prayed to before he came to power. Also makes good reference point,” he added, admitting that he knew this ovoo.
From the moment we first stepped into our old Russian van and joined the small convoy, I knew we’d be in for an exciting two weeks.
Tonight our accommodation was not a ger but a wooden shelter with a couple of rooms. Our family shared a room with four metal-framed beds, the ceilings so low that Ammon was forced to lower his head in order to stand.
Not the first nor last
Lava tubes of Khorgo volcano
Ammon giving Savannah lessons
Little ones selling fermented mare’s milk. “Do you want to try our local drink, airag?” holding out a plastic bottle full of white liquid. “It’s mare’s milk.”
Baagii, and drivers relaxing
Yaks in the freezing fresh water
View from Amarbayasgalant monastery.
Ammon attempting to milk a cow
Dinner being prepared
Bre is not doing well with the lesson
how to dismantle a sheep 101
red horse tails, Ulaan Baatar.
“One year a woman won, but women aren’t allowed to compete, so now they bare their chests to make sure they are men.”- Naadam festival wrestlers, UB.
Nadaam women’s archery competition, UB
Selling Fermented mares milk
An angry camel
“Looking skyward with my arms outstretched, I inhaled deeply and filled my lungs with the freshest of air.”
Savannah loving it! White Lake
Savannah and Bree – White Lake
Late sunset, White Lake
If only these friendly folk knew that when I spent a night in their home, it was literally my home too.
Erdene Zuu monastery, Kharkorin.
Erdene Zuu monastery, Kharkorin. Baagii explained that Buddhism was brought to Mongolia by the Chinese when they ruled the country.
Future and Bre. Yolyn Am canyon,
“The six-inch-diameter hose located near a few gers and buildings in the open desert was used as the small community’s water supply and wash site.”
“We all jumped at the opportunity to wash the twenty-eight layers of Mongolian grime off the limbs we could expose without stripping down.”
I’d be worried, too, with all these six year olds riding around like pros. Mongolians must learn to ride before they can walk, and it’s obvious that they really love their horses,I thought, thinking back on twenty-odd mounted kids between the ages of six and ten we’d seen practising for the Nadaam Festival.
A lovely scene
traditional Mongolian musicians
An Ovoo, sacred rock pile.
“Bree. Bree! I have to pee.” “Well, go then! What are you waiting for?” “Eerrgg,” I growled, stomping my foot. Searching my brain for a good excuse, I finally remembered the one that should do the trick. “Don’t forget Travel Rule #3!” and then whisper/shouted, “Buddy System!”
We spotted the occasional group of children along the way, playing in the fields with a sibling or two and often accompanied by a herd of goats.
Our Ger for the night
A sweat goat
One by one they were led from the pen and whacked over the head with a hammer. The job took two men, one to hold the goat between his legs and keep it steady while the other delivered a clean hit between the horns to crush the skull and knock it out.
looks like a real road, but isn’t
Our crazy guide Future
Aside from the beetles leaving zipper-like tracks in the singing sands, Khongorin Els dunes appeared to be completely untouched.
“These sand dunes stretch across 100km (62mi) and are up to 20km (12.4mi) wide. Some of them reach heights of 800m (.5mi),” Ammon told us before slipping his guide book back into his baggy, cut-off shorts.
Crunching grainy bits between our teeth, we returned to the lower edges of the dunes where we’d left the camels and found a curious hole our two guides had dug. They explained they were letting the camels have a drink and showed us the little pool of mucky water sitting in the bottom.
“These are Bactrian camels from Asia. Asian camels are a lot rarer than the one-humpers that come from the Middle East Ammon explained. – Sand Dunes
Future and a couple of guys from the museum dragged in some rugs and laid them out to cover the hardwood floor. It was intriguing to know that I was sleeping amongst long-lost dinosaur eggs and wild, fossilized beasts.
Dinner by candlelight on the floor with a roof over our heads was exactly the comfort we needed after a long, stressful day.
Now we were stuck right in the heart of that sea/desert, surrounded by the burning cliffs. We all crawled out of the minivan and took our usual places. Mom jumped into the driver’s seat and moved the seat forward so she could reach the pedals, while the rest of us positioned ourselves at the rear of the van with our hands flat on the burning hot, hatchback trunk.
“That used to be lush vegetation out there,” Mom said as she surveyed the huge red valley. “Yup! And seaside property, too, complete with dinosaurs,” Ammon added.
“Look what I caught!” she announced excitedly when she finally came back, holding out her hands to show us. The lizard’s head was slightly oversized for his skinny body.“C’mon Norman,” I said, quickly naming the lizard, “let’s go find your friends.”
“The camels were laying on their bellies with all four knees buried in the sand.” – Sand Dunes
“Yeah, I catch camel,” Future said. “No way,” I said. “I is professional. I know it camels,” he said. “This fuming camel was about to become our personal tow truck.
Once the tow strap was wrapped around the camel’s two humps in a figure eight, we tied the other end to the front bumper. “Is impossible,” he said
“We left the van there in the desert after loading our gear onto the backs of Chewy and the horse.” – Gobi Desert
I turned back every so often to watch the van get smaller and smaller.
“When we walked into our very first traditional ger I half-asked half-stated, ‘This is really what they live in?'”