My Mongolian Mustache Ride

It has been a long time since I have posted anything. I apologize, but when Kara does such a fabulous job of informing the public about our lives there is no need for my input. This week was different. I had a week off from school and decided to take a little trip around Mongolia with a mustache and a friend. I went to work on Monday, because we were technically supposed to be there all week and on the way home stopped in for my first haircut in Mongolia. I convinced the haircutter person I wanted her to shave my beard, but the power cut out just before she got to my mustache. I thought this was the perfect excuse to rock a mustache for a week (that and Kara would never let me keep it if I was to be around her).

So, the next day I went to meet my friend Jon at the bus stop at 7am. He was not there so I gave him a call and he was still in bed. Luckily, nothing in Mongolia runs on time as we got to the bus station at 8:00 just when the bus was supposed to be leaving and then sat on it for another 25 minutes before it left. The ride was uneventful, Lonely Planet said it would take 11 hours to get to Tsetserleg, Mongolia’s most beautiful aimag (state) capital. It only took 7 hours, a pleasant surprise, across some vast, snow covered and empty land. The bus dropped us of right in front of the hotel at 3:30. It was surprisingly warm, probably mid 40s so we decided to make the most of the afternoon and hike up the mountain directly behind the town.

The Buddhist shrine below the mountain we climbed when we got to Tsetserleg.

John scampering up to the summit.

John and I on the summit of Bulgan Mountain.

After the hike, we met up with a Mongolian girl we met on the bus for dinner. I got to practice my Mongolian and she her English. We ate the first of plenty of cheap Mongolian meals and she showed us around town- 4 restaurants/bars, 3 hotels, and a night club. We called it an early night with big plans for the next day.

The next morning we woke up and asked the staff about tourist ger camps and horseback riding. They said ger camps were closed and they would look try to set up horseback riding for the afternoon. Determined to prove them wrong we set out to explore the town and check out the lone ger camp in the Lonely Planet. After a bit of a walk in some gusty winds we found our tourist camp, however, there were only two gers. We figured we had come this far we mind as well check it out. There was smoke coming from one of the gers so we approached it. The dog outside let the owners know we were there and the came out and welcomed us in with milk tea and dried milk curds. They were very friendly and welcoming, but we began to get the impression they weren’t responsible for the tourist camp. Using my stellar Mongolian skills I asked if we could stay in the other ger tomorrow night. They agreed, we set a time and a price and I asked if we could see inside the other ger. The said they didn’t have them but they would get them. We didn’t think twice about that, said thanks and we’ll see you tomorrow. We returned to the hotel to find they had done nothing about riding horses so we went for another hike.

It was quite a bit colder and windier today, so we thought we would stay in the valleys so we hiked three miles up one valley over a low ridge and back down another valley. It was a good hike, nice scenery though it would have been had it not been all brown. All the trees loose there foliage, even the pine trees.

Me next to an ovoo (traditional ceremonial marking) on the ridge we crossed.

We returned to the hotel chilled to the bone and ready for another night out it Tsetserleg. A giant plate of meat and rice/noodles a couple beers and early to bed.

Now is when it starts to get interesting. We had a leisurely morning at the guest house, where we checked out and headed to the “ger camp.” We showed up and we welcomed again by the family with tea and milk curds. We had planned another good hike from the ger camp and we were eager to put our bags away and get moving as the weather was much nicer today. In the limited communication it became clear that the other ger we pointed too was not a tourist ger. Apparently, they didn’t have the key because another family lived there. Eventually, we met the other family, the father was more sociable and made more of an effort to communicate and we began to piece together what was happening. We would be staying in the family’s ger that we were in, that family would stay in the ger next door, and this new family would go somewhere else for the night. Confused? Me too. After an awkward hour or two we got out of there for another hike.

The hike down through the snow.

We returned from our hike to find the “ger camp” abandoned except for the kids, a ten year old and a four year old. They unlocked our (their) ger for us, then as Jon failed to build a fire, the ten year old came in and did it in a matter of minutes. After we warmed up, we headed into town for more greasy food and beers. We picked up some supplies for the cold night in the ger a bottle of vodka a couple beers and a thermometer and returned to the ger, a little later than we told the kids when we left. When we arrived the family was in our (their) ger, I don’t know if they were more personable or if it was us because of the beers, but we really hit it off. I spent the next two hours talking in Mongolian with the parents, with the help of my notebook and a dictionary and Jon played cards with the kids. We broke out the vodka and our host customarily though the first shot into the fire, then we past the bottle around until it was finished (don’t worry it was a small bottle). I’m not sure if I was chasing vodka with the dried milk curds or the other way around. Irregardless, it was two hours of the most cultural interaction and best language practice I have had since I’ve been here.

I slept like a baby in my sleeping bag; Jon, however, was not quite as warm and was up a couple times during the night stoking or restarting the fire. We slept in until 10, not surprisingly it is dark in a ger. The mornings interactions we a bit more awkward than the night before, but we said our goodbyes and we gave them so gifts: a thermometer we picked up for ourselves that the father was extremely interested in and a pack of cards for the kids.

We headed back to the hotel to see if they set up horseback riding for us and they did (sort of). We got a ride out to a winter ger camp, where we were put in a ger and given more milk tea, fresh milk, and cheese. We waited for over an hour as our “guide” rounded up the horses and got them ready for us.

A modern ger camp; notice the solar panel and satellite dish.

Jon prepared for a cold ride as the horses are brought in.

I haven’t ridden a horse for years (like 20) so this was going to be exciting; however, my horse was not nearly as excited. He wanted to take his time, no matter how much I yelled “chuuup” and kicked him in the ribs. Jon and the guide had to circle back regularly to make sure I was coming. I rarely got the horse to trot, but the guide did, either by taking the reins and trotting off on his horse or smacking the butt of my horse with with a twig. My horse liked neither, but he could defiantly move. I even got up to a cantor a couple of times. After we went down the valley to visit the guide’s friends we joined in moving some cows. They are slow moving and boring, so we turned our attention to the guides herd of horses. Jon and the guide rounded up the horses and brought them back towards me (as I was lagging behind). I did get join in and I must say “I should of been a cowboy I should have learned to rope and ride,” because it was fun.

Returning to the ger camp

Well, that about wraps up my Mongolian mustache ride, at least the fun part. Shortly after we got off the horses it began snowing and didn’t stop until we reached UB the next day. It made for a long bus ride. The bus moved slow due to the snow and repeatedly stalled out. I must have on the only heaters or the engine, because I was sweating for the entire 11 hour bus ride back. We got bored and broke out the GPS to see how far we were from home and then the thermometer to see how hot it was under my seat, over 100 degrees F. There is such a thing as too much information, which I hope I didn’t provide you with.

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