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A ger to far in Mongolia

The weather was totally unpredictable.  One minute hot blasting sun and gorgeous blue skies with huge fluffy clouds, then up over the mountain comes a big dark giant and WHAM, you get hail!!  My God, HAIL!!   There we were, alone  in the valley  (the jeep would go far up ahead and wait), soaked to our bones and freezing!!  The horses wouldn’t even move, they just jammed up together with their butts to the wind.  Then, ta-da, sun again.  It was crazy.  The guides wore those long jackets with a sash (dels), and boots and they didn’t seem phased at all by the weather or, for that matter, anything, just singing, smiling and laughing.  You wanted to smack them sometimes.

The scenery made it all worth it.  I have never seen sky so close, clouds so big, grass so green… And the flowers!!  Billions and billions of them in purple, blue, pink, yellow, orange, red, and every size and shape… It was breathtaking.  Really, the most incredible thing here, and the reason I came, is the utter lack of people and signs of people.  There are no fences or electric lines or houses or cars or planes or roads or signs or sounds (except for the incessant singing).  Now and then there is a clump of gers and the livestock associated with them.  We had the occasional horsemen come by for a smoke, a chat or a sip of vodka.  Speaking of horsemen, these are supposed to be some of the best in the world.  I don’t know, I can’t tell, but surely these are some of the toughest people I have ever met.  The horses are really small and damned bouncy if you ask me.  They generally trot.  If you are not a horse person, that is the extremely uncomfortable gait between a walk and a gallop that just about knocks your teeth out.  You are supposed to sit up in the saddle using your thighs and, well, you can only do this for so long (not to mention the thighs are already shot from peeing out in the wild).  Of our group I was the only experienced rider, and must say, by the end of each day (seven hours), I was walking like Yosemite Sam.  Oh yes, and speaking of peeing, this was the other great challenge for us girls.  The inception of “penis envy,” I’m sure, was  women in the wild.  Please imagine open steppes, nary a grass clump to be had, and try to see us finding an inkling of modesty or privacy… impossible.  When you could find a “toilet” by some gers it was a wooden shack with a hole and two pieces of wood over the hole for your feet.  Personally I preferred the open. It smelled better. 

Needless to say, by the end of four days we were pretty darned sore and smelly (a mild word) so we went to a hot springs. Or should I say pure heaven on earth? This is why I love to travel: the extremes.  One day ready to die, the next blissfully soaking in a hot springs, hot showers, toilet seats, a good meal and a bed.  Then, back to the jeep. Now, I can’t say as the jeep is much less bouncy than the horse.  There are few paved roads in Mongolia, mostly  dirt tracks zig-zagging around vast open spaces. I have no idea how the drivers know where they are going.  I don’t think they do, really, they just head off in a direction and eventually get somewhere.  But bouncy just doesn’t describe it; we are talking hours of huge pot-hole, rock, river-rutted, spine wrenching, teeth jarring, whip-lashing, flip-flopping around the back, hang on for your life, packs on your head, whoop-it-up-you-might-be-dead-any-minute kind of bouncing.  Mostly it was a lot of fun, and, amazingly enough, eventually I could even sleep through it. That’s pure exhaustion. 

We dropped off Joris in Tsetserleg and Carmen and I went on to White lake.  It’s called that because we tourists can’t possibly pronounce, much less spell, the real name. (Here it is just for fun: Terkhin Tsagaan Nuur.)  We stayed two days there, slept in a simple ger (a welcome rest from tent camping) and cooked over the stove (still with no toilet, shower or running water, but hey, it felt like the Hilton).  The gers were great; round, portable, warm and some quite homey.  They have four seasons of gers; depending on the number of layers of felt.  They all have a wood stove (oops, I mean cow poop stove) in the middle, small beds, a few brightly painted dressers, a table, two very teeny tiny chairs and lots of photos.

Also you will find cheese hanging around and pictures of the Dalai Lama.  These are really friendly people and there are all sorts of rules on how to enter the ger, where to sit and, of course, you have to take and try everything that is offered to you; I have even done snuff now… wow.  Somehow, my stomach  survived, I did not break anything and the ol’ bum just went numb.

The last night of the trip the we spent on another lake and it was actually warm enough to swim.  Everything was perfect until the flies came: Small white fluffy flies in huge swarms, I mean thousands, and they are all attempting to land on you to lay their eggs and then die.  What a brief, annoying life huh?  Really, was it necessary for Noah to count two of ALL the creatures?  I think not.  So, we sat around to watch a truly exceptional sunset, covered with our sarongs like Muslims.  Lesson: nothing is ever truly perfect and therein lies the perfection (sigh).

It was a bit of a shock getting back to the hustle and bustle of Ulaan Bataar, but great to get a hot shower and a pizza with nary a blob of mutton on it.  As ever, it is the extremes, the bittersweet comings and goings, that make travel so wondrous. Mongolia was everything I’d hoped for and nothing like I’d imagined.  Just the way I like it. 

Happy trails to all my fellow planet surfers and best wishes for miraculous adventures, big, small or smelly.

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