Monthly Archives: July 2011

It makes you wonder how we found each other…

Back for part two of this week’s adventures…

So Tuesday morning Chris and I hit the road on a bus to Darkhan, a city about 3.5 hours north of UB. We were headed off on our great kayak adventure, a three day trip that would carry us from Darkhan to Dulankhaan, about 30 miles in total as the crow flies. But in the boat? Ehh, that’s a good question. We weren’t sure just how long it would be…and Google Earth showed us a rather curvy river…but what the heck, why not?

In Darkhan, Saruul, my interpreter, met us at the bus station to bring us to lunch at her family’s home. I hadn’t met her family before, so this was a great little window into her world, and they were wonderfully welcoming people…it was really nice. Initially we intended to take a car from there to the Orkhon River but Saruul’s dad told us that this time of year we would be just fine jumping in the Kharaa River. The Kharaa runs along the edge of Darkhan, so it made for an easy spot to start, though admittedly we didn’t know how much time it would add to our trip (in hindsight: 20 extra miles of paddling).

Anyways, Saruul took us to the river to send us on our way. She hung out while we inflated the boat, drew a crowd, broke our hand pump, fixed said broken hand pump with duct tape, and finally set off on our way.

Here’s Saruul with Chris and his helper:

And part of the crowd we drew (the naked children just loved the weird whities):

Day 1 was fairly uneventful. We passed heaps of Mongolians picnicking by the side of the river, had many photos taken of us (the weirdos in a blow up boat), and paddled along on our way.

One odd thing that we noticed as soon as we left the people behind was that the animals were incredibly curious about us. They stared. Really. One cow strained his neck looking so far over his shoulder at us that he lost his footing and tumbled to the ground. A group of two horses chased us for a few miles down the river, staring as we passed then running to catch up. The goats and sheep looked like they were watching a very slow tennis match as we paddled by: all their little goat and sheep heads followed very very slowly as the fools ambled by.

Keeping a watchful eye:

Happy fools:

The fool’s paddle:

Oh and we caused a stampede! The horses didn’t mind staring at us, but they did not like our yellow monster of a blow up boat floating towards them. So they freaked:

And, finally, on Day 1 we passed lots of poop. I mean, LOTS of poop. All different animal poop varieties floating past us. Gross. The river was our drinking source. So we pretty much clogged our filter on the first pump and were left with a tired filter and hopes of not pooping our pants (as of the time I am writing this, neither one has pooped his/her pants on account of the river water, so I think we’re in the clear – thank you trusty Katadyn Water Filter). But yeah…lots of poop:

And then we camped. We found a lovely little perch full of every type of insect you could ever imagine, and we decided that would be our home for the night. Good thinkers, we are.

Day 2 repeated itself much like Day 1 with the exception being that instead of being on the water for 14 miles, we would spend 32 miles paddling through Mongolia on Day 2. That’s a lot of miles in a blow up boat. But we did it and maintained happy little faces for most of the day. We also managed to paddle through the middle of a herd of cows crossing the river; they didn’t seem to mind, but we surely did when we realized that we had taken half of their flies with us. Dammit. But then we found a wonderfully secluded little spot to camp for the night, pulled up the yacht and pitched the tent. Chris cooked me a gourmet delight of ziti with tomato sauce and half-cooked onions and garlic. I kid you not, it was delicious.

He went off to fish for a bit; I drank my wine, read my book. Sunset rolled around, and that’s where things got fun. All of a sudden he started saying nice things – really nice things – to me, and I thought surely he must have heat exhaustion, but no, the next thing I knew he was standing in front of me saying more nice things, and then he was on one knee in a pile of sand and rocks, and then I thought holy crap! and yep, then we were engaged (duh, I said yes, yahoo, ARE YOU CRAZY, OF COURSE!). And happy. We were happy.

And then we chilled the champagne in the river of shit (the man brought champagne in the blow up boat – yet another reason I love him):

And we popped it:

And drank it:

But really we drank it in the tent because we were, once again, surrounded by so many goddamn bugs and they were NOT going to rain our parade. So into the tent we went, and then we saw the most beautiful full moon followed by a horse fight outside of our tent. Really. Three horses wandered over to the field we camped in, and began to fight. And then they left. And we thought that things couldn’t get weirder.

And then Day 3 rolled around. Up early, we ate some breakfast and hit the river. We weren’t sure how far we had to Dulankhaan (it depended on how curvy the river was), so we figured best to start early. Well long story short, we arrived to Dulankhaan – or at least to as close to Dulankhaan as the river would take us – at around 1 or 1:30. And then we were floating on, moving farther and farther from the town without ever having seen any semblance of a town. Crap. So we found a little beach, pulled up the boat, and decided that everything was great; we would spend the afternoon by the water, then make our way to town just a mere three miles from our beach.

We’re idiots.

We swam, we cooked, we enjoyed a relaxing end to our trip. And we were engaged and in schmoopy love, what the hell, let’s enjoy more time by the river!

Idiots.

So we decided to leave our little spot at 4:30. From what we knew, the train back to UB left Dulankhaan at 8pm at the very earliest, but most likely it was more like 9 or 10. Right, so we’re so smart, we’ll play it safe and leave at 4:30. So we pack up our crap, deflate the boat, and by God we can already taste the cold beer that awaits us in town before the train leaves.

And off we go, me and my Sherpa:

We cross the desert:

Only to discover marsh…and more marsh…and about a hundred bazillion gazillion bugs. More goddamn bugs. And then – AND THEN – we discover that our little idyllic perch on the shore? Yeah, it’s an ISLAND. And we have already deflated our boat. And remember, our pump is broken or if not broken held together by duct tape? Right. So we swore a lot in unison, I refused to help decide how to get ourselves out of this mess (a la “YOU got us into this!”), and ultimately we decided to inflate our boat once again and kiss goodbye any chance that we would make the train that evening.

So inflate the boat we did:

And then we paddled…and found shore that we were certain was on the mainland.

And then we walked down the train tracks until we found town. It was hot, and we were idiots. We had water…some water…but remember the clogged filter? Well it’s really hard to pump, so we had less water than we normally would have, and town was about three miles away. Great. Just great.

Anyways, here we are on the tracks like a couple of hobos:

And then we wind up in Yeroo, a town we didn’t realize we would come to. We ask the train guys if we’re in Dulankhaan, and they say no you’re in Yeroo, keep walking for about a mile. We ask about a train to UB, and then say, again, Dulankhaan is over there. So we buy some water and wander away, but not before we stop to remark that there is a passenger train at the station that seems to be the train that we might want to be on? Surely we’re on the right track (literally)?

Idiots. Really big idiots.

Cold water in hand, we set off for Dulankhaan, about a mile down the road. We get there, ask the train guys at that station if we’re in the correct town and what time the train to UB leaves, and they say, “there’s no train to UB here, you have to go to Yeroo to get a train to UB.” We were JUST THERE. So we don’t believe them because what would people who actually work on the railroad know about trains? We keep walking and finally find someone in the tiny little town who, again, instructs us that we must return to Yeroo to get the train, but we must hurry because it leaves SOON. So we schlep all our crap back to the next town over, back to the same mini market to buy another cold bottle of water, and back to the SAME DAMN TRAIN STATION WE HAD WALKED THROUGH AN HOUR EARLIER. And we ask the same person about a train to UB, and they say, “Of course, that train comes through here; it leaves at 10.”

So at long last, here we are, the weary idiots, waiting to board our train at Yeroo:

We did it. We bought train tickets, ate a can of corn for dinner (really), found our crappy beds on the train, and made it back to UB.

And we were happy.

And we’re getting hitched!

Terelj camping and boy those arts sure are manly

It has been a busy week of vacation from work, so I have much to catch up on…

Last Friday I played a bit of hooky from work, but not really hooky in the sense that everyone I work with is on holiday until at least August 18th, and if my job here is to work with the Mongolians, it made little sense for me to go sit at work to work…with myself. Or at least that’s how I rationalized it.

So anyways, Chris, Becky and I took off Friday morning to head to Terelj, the National Park outside UB. We made good time getting there and were wandering about by the river at around noon. Terelj is a wonderful escape from UB as it is accessible by bus yet still feels a world away. Our afternoon was spent walking around our campsite by the river, fishing, swimming, building piles of rocks, and swatting at bugs (or hiding from them). All in all it was a great little getaway, a perfect hooky day from work.

The next morning we hopped in a microbus to take us back to Terelj. I say “hopped,” but really there is nothing so graceful as a hop in Mongolia, so in reality we crammed ourselves into a micro alongside 22 other people. Right. It was a tight squeeze. Oh, and if you can’t picture a microbus…think 12 passenger van but with less leg room. But off we went, bouncing along until we almost got to Nalaikh, our destination for the afternoon. I say almost because we stopped just outside of town, some business dealings went on, a woman handed a plastic shopping bag out the window and took 10,000 Tugrugs (less than $10) in return, and off we went. And what did she sell? Yeah, about that…she sold a goat pelt and some goat innards. Mmm, mmm, mmm, Mongolia you are a treat.

So our afternoon included a barbeque at our friend’s house, delicious food, good company, a lovely night.

And then next morning? We took in the manly arts. This past week marked Naadam in Mongolia, so each town had its own celebration. In Nalaikh, we were able to see the opening ceremony, some singing and dancing, a helicopter fly-by (turns out they do have helicopters in Mongolia), and lots of manly men wrestling in itty bitty undies. Swoon.

The next day was Naadam in UB, but we didn’t have tickets to the opening ceremony. We went to the stadium nonetheless to enjoy the festivities, drink some airag (fermented mare’s milk, believe it or not it’s tasty), eat some khushuur (fried muttony dumpling things that are the traditional Naadam food), see the archery, and simply enjoy a day of merriment in Mongolia. Oh, and we had some friends from Denver in town for two nights, so Jessica and Maarty joined in the fun. It was SO nice to see familiar faces from home all the way around the world in funny, funny Mongolia. We loved their visit!

And that was that, our Naadam in Nalaikh and UB. Luckily for us, it only marked Sunday and Monday of my week off, so sit tight, there is more – much more – to come…I’ll be back with another post soon!

Reunited and It Feels So Gobi

He’s back, he’s back, he’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaack! Woot woot, yahoo, hip hip hooray!

Right so late Thursday night my knight in shining armor returned to Mongolia after far too long gallivanting around the globe. It was glorious, wonderful, what in the world was he thinking leaving for so long?!

Not being one to ease into things, I had us scheduled to head off to the Gobi Desert early Saturday morning on a train with some friends. The train trek was about ten hours and most of it looked just like this:

We had a nice little area to ourselves, or mostly to ourselves I suppose I should say, as across the way we had the company of a ten year old girl and her five year old brother. No parents in sight, although the ten year old did quite the job of tidying their space, rationing the brother’s allotment of Coca Cola, and slowly but surely easing her way into our dice game (which, admittedly, we were playing for money – though we didn’t charge her to play, how kind we are).

Some others from our journey:

Anyways, ten hours later and right on schedule (that is the first time in eleven months that anything has happened on schedule), we arrived to our destination and were then faced with the task of arranging our driver/ride/place to sleep/entire getaway. It’s how things work here, and shockingly so, I have become used to it…sort of.

Driver procured, off we went for a “15 km” journey to the ger camp where we would spend the night. Well evidently it’s easy to mistake 15 for 50, so our drive took quite a bit longer than we thought it would, but sure enough we arrived at the ger camp and to bed we went. We had an early wake up call ahead of us.

Fast forward to 4:45 AM. RISE AND SHINE, it’s time to see the sunrise.

So rise and shine we did, but we were a bit too slow because we watched the sunrise from the microbus windows, not from the energy center as we should have, but so it goes, such is life. It was a beautiful sunrise nonetheless.

(The Mongolians all greeted the sunrise with their hands outstretched, so of course we did too)

Here’s a beauty: two boobs in front of a couple of giant…

So now it’s just after 5AM, the sun has risen, he we go, let’s seize the day. Right. Away we went, and we accomplished all of this before noon (when we finally let our driver go for the day, and feeling like we had lived three days before noon, we set off for lunch). So here’s a glimpse into our day:

Next stop after sunrise: ring the giant bell…

At the Energy Center…

Getting energy…or so they say:

Standing in line because that’s what everyone else was doing…

Next stop, some caves…

And then, AND THEN, the camels! This was the most magical part of the day, and it took place at around 8:30 in the morning. Camel rides at a local herder’s ger, followed by camel milk (surprisingly delicious, tastes like sour yogurt, thicker than cow milk, maybe some particles floating in there, mmm, mmm, mmm) and bread in the ger.

And that wasn’t all they had to offer. While we sat in the ger with the herders, one of them kept sharpening his knife. Well it turns out he was sharpening his knife in preparation for lunch, so after our milk break we went outside to see them kill lunch. Really. And it looked humane? As one who watches all those gruesome documentaries that chronicle where our food comes from, this was dreamy. American slaughter houses? HORRIBLE. Mongolian sheep killing? Dare I say? Beautiful.

So what they do is flip the sheep over, relax it a bit, and then make a small slit in the belly. The herder then sticks his hand inside the sheep (while it is still alive!) and pinches the aorta long enough that the animal goes to sleep, doesn’t struggle one single bit, not a sound is heard, nor a drop of blood spilled. The animal is then transported inside the ger to be turned into whatever Mongolians turn whole sheep into (that could be a lot of different things). And that’s that.

And that was our entire day, all before noon. Whew.

Anyways, the afternoon was spent in the park waiting for the train station to open in hopes of changing our tickets from a Monday night return to a Sunday night return. At around 4pm, we ventured there and surprisingly enough, it worked! And we were happy:

So back onto the train we went for our overnight journey home from the Gobi. Quick trip, yes, but wonderful, worth it, and EXHAUSTING.

At least I was exhausted. Chris seemed to have other ideas, because not two hours after we got back to our apartment in the morning, he was ready with the kayak to head off on another adventure.

So off we went to Gachuurt, a little town nearby. We arrived around 2pm and spent the rest of the day floating down the river. It was beautiful until the exhaustion and the clouds set in, but luckily we managed to arrive home at 7pm, just before the skies opened up. I say luckily because Christopher would NOT have had a happy lady on his hands had we not. Suffice to say I was tired and the final hour or so of our float involved some boat re-inflating, some walking, some marsh crossing…I was TIRED.

But we did it, and it was fun. And Chris cooked me dinner once we got home. It’s great to have him back.

As for this weekend, tomorrow we’re going camping in Terelj, the National Park just outside UB, then Sunday is Nadaam (the festival of manly arts) in Nalaikh, another neighboring town, then Monday in UB then maybe Tuesday we head off kayaking again. What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Until then…