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....


At 9:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you mean RED NECK McCall's?
Just because we like to drive 4X4's and run over helpless trees and stuff that does not make us red neck's. Oh by the way I got myself a new car, Well actualy its a Jeep. I took it up to the Rude Weekend 4 days after I bought it and it ran great. so Mongolia sounds like a prety cool place, wish I could have been along for the 4x4 trip. Hope that you are having fun on the next leg of you Mongolian adventure.
love Malcolm

At 8:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ammon you do an amazing job of describing the events and crating the imagery to go with the stories. It's great to read the commentary, and I often do several times, like this one. I'm sure that I'm not alone in my appreciation.
Maggie, so how bad is the food? and what could you just kill for right now, other than a pepsi.

Love and Bear Hugs always Shean


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