Sunday, July 31, 2005

Savannah's P.O.V.

Russia! What do I say about....Russia?!? It was definately a nice but drastic change from Mongolia.
I'd say that this country has definately taken a hold of Ammon! These women have got him wrapped around their pretty little fingers! I mean Ammon.......staying behind to shop?!!? Unexpected but cute. We now have to walk far ahead of him for two reasons. First to avoid the ever present trail of drool and so that he looks like he isn't taken already! I guess he just has a new found love for shopping, hah.
The driving here is still crazy like everywhere else except that they drive 100 km/h, which doesn't seem that fast but to us it seems like we're riding in a rocket!! Even after passing a big accident with three cars involved they keep right on speeding in the rain not having been affected at all!
From Irkutsk (Ammon says yeah, another spot on the "Risk" board seen) we went to Baikal Lake for a few days and stayed on Olken island, half way up the west side of the lake, in a cute little town called Khuzhir. Baikal is the deepest and oldest lake in the world and holds 20 percent of the world's fresh water and, interesting fact for you, if all the fresh water disappeared except for Baikal's it could support the whole world's population for the next 40 years! It holds the same amount of water as all the Great lakes combined. Crazy! Anyways the island was a really nice place for relaxing, laying out a towel and sun tanning for the day. Swimming was also one of our options but after only dipping our shoulders (COLD!) we decided to leave that to the crazy skinny dippers and stick to the sun tanning!The lake is gorgeous and is even more peaceful because there aren't any boats or loud motors, only a couple canoes and kayaks passing by once in a while! The water is so clear and blue. We should get some good pictures out of it.
Today we walked ten miles along the Circum Baikal Railway. It seems like a long way to go but it's just a picnic in the park now! Mom says it seems like something coming out of a movie walking along the railway with a beach side view of the never ending waters. Baikal truly is massive but I could never imagine getting sick of it. It's still beyond me how people can manage to get smucked by a train!! I've never understood that.
Russia has been really nice so far, nothing like Ammon threatened it was, and we're heading west to Tomsk (by 30 hr train) tomorrow morning.
Over.... and out

Sunday, July 24, 2005


We have arrived safe and sound, after 37 hours on the train, in Irkutsk Russia. The Mongolian and Russian borders took a total of 6 hours to cross. Thank goodness we could stay on the train and play cards!! I am still losing miserably at Jerk. I can't believe that I am actually here in Russia. As a kid this was unheard of!! after all it was behind the Iron curtain as was China. It's sure different from Mongolia. Traffic, roads, pollution, Blue eyed people and for all you alcoholics out there Vodka everywhere! I think its cheaper than water, same thing in Mongolia. Ammon's in heaven with all the beauties here. We are thinking of getting him a Russia bride to join the trip. We'll keep you posted on events.
Love to all Maggie.

Friday, July 22, 2005


If you haven't read Ammon's post yet close mine and come back once you've read his!!! If you think Ammon's post is a bit bazaar I wouldn't blame you! He speaks the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (for once). Mongolia has definitely been the most adventure filled country yet. These people really don't have a space issue considering I have seen 30 people crammed into a minivan. The Gobi really is in the middle of nowhere! I have a great tan since I've been out day and night in 45c. Then again the weather can change from being blazing hot to a down pour, lightning storm within minutes. The roads are really zig-zagged and bumpy but it's all good, I love 4x4ing! The horses are great and so co-operative for the most part. We're always racing each other across the endless meadows. My butt sure took a good pounding! Baby animals are sooo cute and great fun to hold. From calves, piggys, lambs to even a lonely wolf cub!! I love the gers more than any guest house or hostel. I wanna take one home and live on the beach. One of the ladies let us milk her cows. It was so funny because we had 8 people working on one cow and only filled the bottom of the bucket while the lady had hers practically full in the same amount of time. I some how managed to squirt myself. What a dummy, oops. I watched a sheep get killed, skinned and gutted! Actually I couldn't watch the entire process! I have never felt so nauseous before. I had to sit down, keep my head between my legs and hope not to barf everywhere. Wow, I sound like a wimp! I can't believe there was a little girl watching and she had no problem at all! I did however enjoy my dinner. I don't see why everyone doesn't like mutton! I find it to be quite appetizing. (Savannah: She's nuts!!) The poor sheep got tossed onto its back, had a small slice in its stomach then the guy reached down and broke the aorta with his bare hands in order for it to internally bleed to death (to prevent spoiling the meat). The goats are another story though! It takes two sets of hands to do this chore. One man grabbes the horns and the other nails it on the head with a hammer. Sometimes it can take more than a few times to accomplish. I've seen up to a dozen sheep and or goats get killed in one sitting more than once. Future really is a funny guy even though his jokes are terrible, which makes him even more funny. His car is a new model Toyota minivan which makes the fact that we trashed it in the desert even worse. Still, it was never more than a "tsk, tsk" at the biggest problems we ran into! We got stuck in the sand more than required. The sand dunes were great fun. I was simply covered in sand by the end of the day. I just can't wait to go sand boarding! We drank from a spring which, now that I think of it probably wasn't the best idea considering there were horses and cows around and toads and frogs having a merry time swimming in it! Good thing water purifier was invented. Camels are really bony but hey, how many people get to say they've ridden one let alone get taken down by one! I swear it must have taken karate lessons. I was walking beside it and the next thing I new I was on my butt in the sand. At least it wasn't a horse, instead a squishy footed camel and sand to land on. Savannah and I laughed ourselves silly. I was actually considering eating the lizard, Fear Factor style! I'm sure they would have been tasty but not much meat on 'em. It's funny to see people on the sidewalk with scales! " Oh, I wonder how much I weigh today! How convenient." Only $0.05 to do! I don't think they would make much doing that. Ha, maybe it is like a Mongolia version of having lemonade stands! I'm going to miss this place when we leave. Then again Russia...... That sounds pretty cool. Plus I really, REALLY want that stamp. Having a blast and I'm not planning on coming home any time soon so you guys are gonna have to come meet up with us!
Breanna ;)

mom's input

I love this country and my kids despite what they may say. Yes we have had a crazy past 8 days in the Gobi Desert. We have laughed so much while reliving the adventure. This is what travelling is all about, having this kind of experience and living to tell about it.
During our ordeal my job was to keep the troops spirits up, their minds off their troubles, while keeping them busy solving the problems at hand. This I think I did quite well. First I reminded the girls of how much they really know about surviving ie. How to find food, tie knots (to keep Chewy (the camel) from escaping), build fires, use a compass (so Future could find us again), how and where to find water which we had learned just days before (which the girls did). The next step was to send them off in search of things we might need. They came back with plenty of lunch if we needed it. Lizards, we were actually thinking of all sorts of ways to prepare them and looking forward to it! Anything other than Mutton sounded delicious. Having the camel tied up beside us was actually very comforting. Chewy had all sorts of useful possiblities if our situation turned into a long term event. After every thing was prepared and we were starting to get bored the cards came in very handy. We were very lucky that the weather had changed for us as well, it became cool and cloudy 30c instead of the 45c we had been boiling in the previous days, and what are the odds of us breaking down right near camels, the first and only we saw all day!
Shean we have been spending many hours fantisizing about food! Oh to have vegetables, fruit, spaghetti or pizza!!! or something, anything cold to drink would be amazing, since they don't understand the meaning of cold here except in the winter at -40c.
Malcolm and all my crazy brothers, and nephews we really have found your heaven on earth here in Mongolia. The 4x4ing is amazing with thousand of miles of terain for you to get stuck in and oh don't forget the hours of repairing you trucks!
What makes Mongolia so great really is, the people. I am convinced that the less you have the more you share, with each other and complete strangers. I think we could all learn a lot from these good natured and crazy humoured people. I really hate to leave here because we have had such a good time and met so many special people. Although like Ammon I am looking forward to another stamp on my passport.
love to all. Maggie the mom
p.s. I am soooooooo excited that skylar is going home to the states as I write this. I will be able to sleep at night again.

They're trying to kill me!! Hah.

Well, I have to say that after watching Ammon get to the computer, crack his knuckles and go at it like a pro. I don't know how I'll ever out do him.
Yes, that week was quite intense, indeed. But attitude and humour always pulls things together.The entire camel incident was hilarious!Being stranded in the middle of a desert isn't all that comforting so what better idea than to keep your mind occupied on catching and hearding a dozen or so camels?!? The intense and exciting feeling of capturing a half wild camel with a tow strap and leading it with a shoelace are far beyond the imagination. As Ammon mentioned previously the shoelace came in quite handy! Use what you've got on your back or in this case on your feet! After a good hour we conquered our camel, a very angry one at that. That wasn't even the beginning though.For having so many rumours of smelling and spitting they don't.....yet. Although ours did start foaming at the mouth, then again it was a very, VERY unhappy camel. I did figure out a little detail about these creatures that I never knew before. They have a nasty, ninja side kick which Bre so kindly discovered. HAH! She got completely wasted by a camel!! All I saw was the camels leg fly out to the side and then I looked back and there Bre was, in mid-air right before she landed on her rump. Oh man, too much!! I have to admit it was the funniest thing that has happened on the trip so far. Also I felt kind of bad for making the camel pull our van since I could've sworn it was about to give birth. But we soon retired it and called it Chewy, our first pet. Then along came Norman and his other 14 or so lizard buds. As you probably noticed we had a lot of time on our hands to sit.......and wait. By the end of the trip, when things started getting messy, Future had convinced himself that Ammon was Jesus, with his long hair and beard, so he started taking back all of his jokes!
I swear these people are trying to kill me:
-Get us stranded in the middle of a deserted desert with NO food and only a little bit of water.
- Getting lost in Tiger Leaping Gorge with NO water in the blazing heat.
-And I'm not sure if any one mentioned this yet but we were in a small tin boat, that had a broken ore, a small leak, no lifejackets and yes, that's right a thunderstorm coming right for us while we were still in the center of the lake! All mom can say is " Oh, what are you fretting about?" Ha, they're all crazy I'll tell you!! Lol
It's unreal and you should all be here with us! So get moving!
Over and out

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Naadam festival, Gobi desert

I still love this country. Don't let the rest of this blog make you think otherwise.....
Naadam festival, the biggest and most important couple of days every year for all Mongolians. They go crazy. The only problem is that when you get right down to it, it feels like a small town fair with goofy costumes. It was all good fun but I just had to shake my head and laugh. We only went to the first of the 2 days (The 3rd day is technically part of the holiday but nothing happens. I guess they're all just too hung over to work so they take it off.) as we had seen horse racing up close on our way back into town the day before. The opening ceremony was great (but where do they get off mixing ballroom and rap dancing at the same time????) as was the wrestling, archery and fireworks (which obviously come from China and they don't care about annoying anyone as they are going off in 4 different places in the middle of the city at midnight). Most of the 2nd day we spent relaxing and getting ready for our trip to the Gobi desert.
Baagii, our previous guide, hooked us up with a friend (named Future) that had a minivan and was willing to go. Unfortunately Baagii couldn't join us and give directions (it turns out that Future had never been there before either).
Having spent the last 8 days driving nearly 1800 km down to the south Gobi and back, we all have a much better understanding of the concept of "barren wasteland". At times you are driving on the world's biggest gravel field with absolutely nothing around you as far as the eye can see in any direction. At other times you are driving through (or getting stuck in) sand with half buried horse skeletons. It's like the middle of nowhere meets the end of the world.....
In all it was great and a great adventure; ice valleys, giant sand dunes (the Khongoryn sand dunes stretch for over 100 km, are up to 12 km wide, and can be as much as 800 m tall), dinosaur bones (and eggs), camels and a van that didn't want to live.
Things were a mess right from the start. Day 1, couldn't find a place to stay so stayed with the park ranger. Day 2, rolled into town well after dark on fumes and promptly got stuck in sand right in front of the closed gas station. Fortunately some locals were around to help push us out and point us in the right direction so we could go kidnap the gas station attendant from his house and make him give us gas (this was not the only time we had to do this either!). Day 3, again no place to stay so we were on the floor in the back room of the museum. Days 4-6 were okay but it was 45C out and we were roasted alive. Day 7, the accumulated beatings to the van finally took their toll and it died in the middle of nowhere. Okay sure, everywhere is the middle of nowhere but when you are used to seeing maybe 6 other cars on a good day, this day we saw absolutely NONE. What are the odds??? So what was our solution? Why, catch a camel and get it to pull us of course! What started as a stupid joke turned into the funniest thing ever as Bre, Savannah and Future then ran off to catch a camel with Future's shoelaces. I still don't know how they managed but the next thing I know they've got an extremely pissed off camel tied (by the humps) to the front of the van and are trying to get it to pull us to safety. We got a total of 100 ft before giving up. We needed a few more camels but they knew better than to stick around and be put to work. So what next? Tie the camel to a little bush and have Future run off to find help (we could see a couple of gers a few miles off in the distance). Mom then sent the girls off to run around catching lizards as an emergency dinner source (they caught 14). We also still had the camel in case lizard tasted bad (good thing we had already seen the sheep slaughter and were prepared to repeat...). Future came back some 6 hours later on a horse with a little kid in tow. Apparently he had run all over the country side looking for a ger with someone around (and breaking in the roof and "stealing" rice from the ones that were empty) and finally found someone home. The camel finally became useful as we had it porter all our stuff along with the horse (including the spare tire) out to our new home. Another night on the floor, this time in the storage ger. Another bowl of mutton soup had us thinking twice about letting the lizards go.... I love this country but if I have to see (or smell) one more plate of mutton I think I will die. Savannah will agree with me on this one (and as we have eaten the most food so far on this trip we are in the best postition to judge), Bre seems to like it (but she still thinks McDonalds is gourmet) and mom will tell you it is not bad (but she just pokes it a few times, takes a few bites, stirs it around a little and passes it off to me under the pretense of "fattening me up" but really just to watch me suffer through 2 helpings). Anyway, found another neighbor 2 miles further on that could help Future patch up the holes to keep our oil in (this took all night).
Day 8 (the final day) we had a long way to go to get back to Ulaan Baatar so we pushed it as far as we could. Had to continually stop for various new injuries to the van along the way. Everything possible seemed to be wrecked, right down to the key being broken off in the ignition (honestly, how the hell except for an act of a vengeful God? I knew mom should have paid more attention in all the monasteries...). The weirdest thing was that Future was still joking the whole way and would simply look underneath the hood and the latest disaster and simply say "tsk, tsk, I deserved that one for that last joke about Ammon". I suppose being a newly graduated doctor and having a mechanic brother gives you that kind of confidence... After travelling all day (12 hrs straight) we finally hit the paved road for the final few km limp into town when the brakes finally seized and we were stranded. Of course the phone service had to cut out at exactly the same time (again, what the hell?) . Future had to keep pushing it though and stopped just short of starting the van on fire. In the end Baagii came to rescue us with a taxi and drive us to the hostel (which only had 3 beds, despite our reservation. Again, what the hell?). We finally got our bags and everything sorted out at 4 am last night. What a trip!!!!!!
As I said before, I still love this country. It's the people out here that our so great. The little kids are the cutest things ever. If I lived here I am sure I'd steal them all (which wouldn't be all that hard since people are so friendly and we had kids just come along with us for a ride to show us the way all the time). Where else can you just show up and ask anyone for a place to stay and a meal with no notice or compensation? They have the craziest senses of humour too. Love them all.
We are heading to Russia on saturday. I am honestly totally terrified of going back there. I am so traumatized after my last visit. I came out so destroyed, I hope I survive this one......

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Northwest + Central Mongolia

Wow and wow! This country is awesome. If the food wasn't so bad it might just be my favorite (at least until the winter hits). I have loved every bumpy, dusty painful second so far. The "red-neck McCall's" would absolutely love this place.
We've just arrived back in Ulaan Baatar after covering a very rough 2000 km in 13 days. We took off with another group (in another jeep) consisting of a couple from England and Scotland, as well as a Dutch lady. Fortunately for us (especially Bre) they brought a guide along so we could get some translations. Nobody speaks any English out of the capital.
It's like the wild west out here. The towns (if and when you find one, they are very few and far between) have just a few thousand people and are just dusty strips of road with a combination of Russian jeeps and horses parked outside the little shops.
Most of the country is just open grassland. As nobody owns any land you can just drive anywhere you want and the "roads" are nothing more than dirt tracks. I don't know how they figure out where they are going because there are no signs, no distances marked, nothing. Just other tracks leading off toward a different valley or over a different hill. How is it that when you have all the space in the world to drive on they play "chicken" with the oncoming cars to the very last second and will just randomly introduce turns into the road?
Bright sunshine all the time, sunsets are sometime after 10 and it is light until almost 11:30pm though we are almost at the same latitude as home. Must be a freak timezone.... Afternoon thundershowers almost daily have also added to the entertainment.
Like I said before, the only problem is the food. They seem to only have potatoes, carrots, rice, mutton and beets in the countryside. They just mix them up a little into different meals. Dumplings, soup, stew, etc. It's okay but mutton sucks and there's something about finding horse hairs in your food that turns me off..... Had some really good smoked fish by the lake which was heaven for all of us. They also have some dairy products available. Horse milk, fermented horse milk, sheep yogurt, and dried milk biscuits, all of which are incredibly sour, even for us and we really like sour stuff.
After 3 days of very rough and bumpy roads (pushing 10 hrs of driving a day) we got to Khovsgal lake up in the northwest. Apparently the 2nd oldest lake in the world, it must also be one of the most beautiful. The water is clean enough to drink and it is surrounded by white pebble "beaches" and endless meadows. Great for horseback riding, which we did for one day. Finally a horse with a brain!! Even the horses are good in this country!
We've been staying in "gers", the mongolian traditional "tents" with local families as well as more tourist oriented ones. There isn't a lot of time to go into it all but we've seen sheep and goats slaughtered, milked cows, ridden horses a couple of times, seen vultures on the road, fields completely covered with locusts (one step and hundreds jump away) or frogs, sand dunes, monasteries in secluded valleys and some of the most amazing scenery ever.
Tomorrow is the start of the Naadam festival in the capital. It is by far the biggest event of the year for Mongolians and the city is just packed with people. The 3 oh so manly events are wrestling, archery and horseback riding with competition lasting 2 days. On our way in today we stopped by an outer town that was having it's Naadam horse race a day early just for a look. We drove out into the middle of the field and then drove beside the horses as they were in full gallop across the fields. We got busted shortly after but we got a great look first.
Bre and the guide from the trip are getting along really, really well so her new boyfriend is helping us to arrange a trip to the gobi without the tour company. We'll leave right after the festival and will be gone for another 8 days I guess.
We'll try and get more pictures up after we get back from that and have some time. Right now we have a lot of organizing to do before all hell breaks loose with the festivities....