Itinerary and Happenings in the Mongolian Countryside

Day 1: Drive to Khustai Nuruu National Park, hike to find wild horses called Przevalskii and see the Natural Museum. Stay in a ger Camp.

Day 2: Go to Kharakhorum, explore the Erdere Zuu Monastary which is the first big Buddhist center, damaged in the 1930’s. Arrive in the ger camp.

Day 3: Explore Orkhon Waterfall, home of the yaks, go horseback riding around the area. Sleep in the same ger camp as day 2.

Day 4: Drive to the Elsen Tasarkhai Desert, hike, go camel riding. Stay in a desert nomadic ger.

Day 5: Drive back to Ulaan Baatar.

I am going to take portions out of my journal for this entry as I have little time to send this to Ray to post since I am currently in China and my blog site is being blocked. After all, who knows what my blog will incite the Chinese to do! I’m not sure if I’ll be able to blog after Ray arrives, but i will do my best to try to get around this. If not, I’ll update after Ray and I explore a few cities in China.

Day 1: When we arrived in the ger camp, Sharon and I took a walk to a lake that will soon be dried up completely. The background was incredible. I kept thanking God for this glorious land and that I’m able to be here with this nomadic family. After we walked back to the camp, I peaked into the family’s ger and they immediately invited me into their beautifully decorated ger. I was alone with them for a while and learned to play a game akin to rock/paper/scissors. I watched the grandmother make some mutton soup and she insisted I have some. It was delicious, but I knew that the guide was preparing some tofu veggie soup in the next ger and I shouldn’t keep eating! Javi and Sharon finally found me in the family’s ger and joked that they thought I went out looking for a ger Catholic Church. Later in the evening, we played a horse racing game made from goat ankles, where depending on which side the ankle would fall on, it would be an ‘animal,’ such as a camel, goat, sheep or horse. If you get all four animals or all of the same kind of animal, you could move your horse on the race track (also made from ankles) four spaces. If you just got one horse, then you’d move it one space. I’m tired, and I am writing this by candlelight, so I’m going to head to bed. I plan on waking early to hike around the mountains before we head to our next location.

Day 2: I am writing this entry from the Russian van we are driving in. It is risky driving through the countryside in Mongolia. There is no flat main highway throughout the whole country, instead it is like offroading the whole time. People have just created dirt trails through the mountains, rocks and hills. Sometimes, when we go through a river, I wonder if the car will make it. Actually, I’ve wondered if the van will roll over one of these times and we’ll all break our necks before we get to see the country side. I’m glad I’m currently sitting in a seat facing the back of the van because I just turned to talk to Baisa, the guide, and watched the van lean 45 degrees down a hill and plummet toward some goats. I’ll be lucky if I can read this writing later. I think the next Jeep offroading conference should be held here. Earlier today, we went to Karkorum Monastery, the oldest monastery in Mongolia. We spent a few hours exploring the different buildings. Mongolians have 500 different gods. I saw a figure of one of the protector gods and it terrified me. It was a woman god that apparently married a devil, then she got pregnant, killed her husband and ate her baby. You could see the baby’s feet in her mouth. A common Buddhist signature is displaying gods wearing a crown of skulls, symbolizing the five bad elements in a human: jealousy, ignorance, greed, anger, theft. i think it’s interesting that in Mongolian Buddhism, they always refer to the yin/yang and these elements that are bad in a human are seen as a balance in humanity, whereas in Christianity, we don’t believe a human should have these elements and should spend their life trying to rid them. One of the most interesting moments I had in the monastery was when I walked into the temple and saw monks during their ceremony, chanting, drinking salt tea, crashing cymbals and smelling the strong scent of incense. I love that every religion tries to use all senses for meditation. It’s interesting that a family chooses a child to be a monk from the moment they are born. It is rare that a monk will leave the lifestyle the parents chose for him.

Later in the evening, we arrived at our ger camp where we will stay for a few nights. We created a bonfire and sat around the campfire for the evening, talking and drinking vodka. Around 11pm, I went to bed and the rest of the group (Sharon, Javi, Albert and Jason) stayed up. Around midnight, they came into the ger and I woke up because of the commotion. Apparently, one Mongolian guy was running around crying, with a broken finger. The bone was sticking out and I am very happy that I only heard about this and did not see this! He was about to beat his wife, a common ritual, when the brother in law broke his thumb before he could do it. I somehow doubt that this finger breakage will stop him from beating her again.

Day 3: This morning I woke up around 8am and stayed snuggled in my blankets for an hour until breakfast because it was so chilly outside. It’s difficult to use an outhouse when it’s this cold! The outhouses here are different from ours at home – we have seats, but these have four precariously held planks with a hole in the middle, leading to a deep, smelly pit. I actually prefer these because you don’t have to touch anything. The one here past this waterfall ger site is not as nice as the last one because the door has long been broken and you just lean it against the wood of the outhouse. It’s far enough away not to make a difference, but it doesn’t have a roof either so now when it’s drizzling, it’s fun getting wet! When I stand in the outhouse, the top piece of wood comes to my chest area, so if I see anyone approaching, I can stand and let them know, I’m in here, stay away!

This morning after breakfast, we rode horses until the early afternoon. Mine was rather unruly so the reigns had to be held by the guide. This afternoon was so picturesque: waterfalls, walking through rivers, galloping through the mountainside and taking in this scenery.The guide had his fun with me — he would just look back and say ‘chu’ which is what Mongolians say to make a horse go fast. I would just nod and smile and we’d gallop so fast I had to stand on the stirrups to gain strength and stability and not fall off. At one point, the others had gone ahead and Albert’s horse was tired and not listening to him. The guide got off his own horse to help Albert out; however, the horse stepped ahead of us and then turned his head as if to say, ha, I’m loose and started running away. I quickly gestured to the guide to take my horse and he galloped off to catch his. It was funny seeing this horse run from him in the distance. I kept walking through the fields until he caught the horse and came riding back to me with both.

I washed my hair this afternoon. Baisa boiled some water and poured the water from the tea kettle over my head.

Day 4: Last night was phenomenal. Jason, the Irish guy, found some friends he traveled with in Moscow in a nearby ger. So, we went over to their ger in the evening, drank some fermented mare’s milk, or aigrag which is their type of beer and had some vodka and apple juice, sang songs together and shared travel stories. A Spanish guy traveling for 2 years, brought a ‘backpacker’s guitar’ and we sang songs. At one point we went around to each person and made up a verse to a blues song. Javi made up a song about my anniversary and then they all said a cheers. It would have been the perfect anniversary if Ray had been with me.

After lunch this afternoon, we had another one of our famous discussions, where it’s five against one. Guess who the odd one out is? It’s funny, sometimes I thrive on these discussions and sometimes I feel so alone and feel like I’m always being persecuted for my beliefs. Nonetheless, I really enjoy these people. I find happiness in sharing in our different cultures and love seeing the connections with how people have made decisions about certain policies because of their life experiences or their cultural histories.

This afternoon, we rode camels through the mini gobi. I always feel bad riding on an animal’s back, even though I know it can carry a lot. The camels have wooden sticks running through their noses to control them and their noses bleed. I feel sad for them and even sadder when I see the camels constantly crying. I know it’s a natural reaction to the sand blowing in their eyes, but it still makes me sad to look at these bloody noses and their tearful eyes.

After camel riding, a few people wanted to go climb the mountain, and I wanted to go as well, but wanted to be alone in my thoughts so I went at a different time. I walked through a herd of goats, and a herd of cows, before two of the group caught up to me. I then turned around because I wanted to continue my meditation and didn’t want to hear people talking for a little while. It’s so peaceful here, the goats crying, camels whining, horses whinnying and dogs barking to protect us. I just feel so calm. I keep looking to my left at the mountains and to the right at the desert and am grateful to be here on this adventure.

Day 5: It was a long ride back, but we kept ourselves entertained with our debates and played some great music that we could sing to. In the evening, we are headed out to karaoke and to do some dancing. I’m really excited about finally getting out.

Last day in Mongolia: Wow, last night was amazing! We went to a club called Strings and danced to a live band. It was great fun and I forgot how much I miss dancing. I’ve got to get back into it. I loved that there were some older Spanish people in our group of 12, so I could do some fun Spanish dancing last night. As it turns out, the club was filled with prostitutes, so some interesting stories came out of that night. I’ll try to post them soon.