Ulan Bator, Mongolia
Ulan Bator, Mongolia
The border crossing was a little interesting to get into Mongolia. As I was still struck down with the demon spawn of some god awful disease, this was not a fun time for me. We arrived at the Russian side 2 hours before they were able to process our train. Luckily, we were able to get off the train and wander around a little. The Russians eventually got their act together long enough to process us. It took them 90 minutes to process around 50 people. The train was eventually allowed to roll into Mongolia where the exact same process repeated itself. The whole thing took roughly 9 hours.
That in itself was bad on its own wasn’t the worst part. As we were travelling in an ancient train, where the toilet drains right onto the tracks, we were without toilet facilities for most of this time. For many passengers, this was a mild discomfort, but for me, it was agonizing torture. My satanic parasite forced me to the toilet every thirty minutes. I was in excruciating pain and had to go and ask our poor guide to let me off during the immigration process to run to the closest facility. Not the best day for me.
That aside, Mongolia is incredible. As soon as we crossed the border, people were completely different to the surly Russians. They would smile at you and would try so hard to help you out if you needed it. They were so friendly that it was like a breath of fresh air. We also felt that we had officially crossed out of Europe and into Asia proper.
We arrived into Ulaan Bataar fairly early so we had the entire day to check it out. Our first stop in Ulaan Bataar was the Gandan Monastery. It was a bit of a challenge to find and crossing the road here is quite the challenge. Think frogger. The monastery itself is beautiful and it looks exactly like temples in Thailand or Indonesia. After that, we made our way to the natural history museum to check out some dinosaurs bones and eggs. More dinosaurs have been found in the Gobi desert in Mongolia than almost any other place in the world.
That night, we took in the Tumen’eh cultural show. It was a bit touristy, but still very entertaining. One of the highlights was a guy that could throat sing. It sounds halfway between a growl and a chant. It is a very unique sound. For dinner, we had to try a Mongolian BBQ. When in Rome.
The next day, we left the metropolis of UB for the wilds of the countryside. As soon as you leave the capital, the landscape becomes more sparse and empty. The road also quickly deteriorates into almost nothing. We got our first glimpse of a yak on the way. They are one ugly creature. We also got the chance to hold eagles that are used for hunting.
We stopped at a monument to Genghis Khan that was built in the middle of nowhere. Why the Mongolians would spend who know how much money to build a massive statue in the sticks is beyond me, but it was truly impressive. It was about 100 metres tall and made entirely out of shiny stainless steel. It depicted him atop of his horse. You are allowed to climb up onto the horses head, which provides a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape.
Our reason for coming out into the countryside was to spend the evening in a traditional Ger camp. A Ger is a tent that the Nomadic peoples of Mongolia live in. They are surprisingly spacious and comfortable. Our camp was nestled in a beautiful green valley surrounded by towering cliffs.
We really wanted to go horseback riding while we were here, but it didn’t look promising. Our tour guide said that the herder releases the horses to let them graze and it sometimes takes him a long time to find them again. He eventually found them at around 5pm and we all saddled up and rode off into the sunset.
Sounds romantic, right? At first, it was. The scenery was stunning and the sun was going down in a dazzling display of colours. Then it all went a bit pear shaped. We arrived at another camp just as the last rays of the sun were setting. Our understanding was that we were going to leave the horses, well ponies really, at this camp and the van would come pick us up and take us back to our camp. This turned out not to be the case.
We were told to get back on and we were going to ride back the same way that we had come. We were having lots of fun still, but the issue was that as soon as the sun sets in Mongolia, the temperature drops about 15 degrees and we were not prepared for that. It was also almost completely dark and our driver had informed us that there were bears and wolves in the area. Our little ponies ran the entire way home. I felt quite bad for them. I thought mine might keel over from having to lug my carc************* way. We eventually arrived back at our camp with massive smiles plastered on our faces. It was exhilarating.
As we were settling in for a night’s sleep in our Ger, we discovered that we had a little visitor. We called him Stuart Little. This little mouse was exceptionally brave, I tell you. He obviously hadn’t heard of Joel’s murderous streak when it comes to rodents. Luckily for little Stuart, Joel was feeling slightly more benevolent than usual, so he got to live to squeak another day. Around 2:30 in the morning, I wished that Joel had been feeling less compassionate.
I was having a wonderfully comfortable sleep when I was woken up by something falling on me. I instantly felt four little legs scurrying up towards my face punctuated by a squeak or two. I hollered for all I was worth and chucked my blanket clear across the room. Normally, mice don’t bother me too much, but being woken up suddenly in the middle of the night by a mouse intent on pooping on my head tends to make me less than ambivalent towards them. I eventually dozed back off to sleep when low and behold that little @%$@$ did it again. Not amused.
We were all very sad to be leaving the Ger camp. It was so lovely, well, minus one little rodent. On the drive back we stopped off to try a local specialty, fermented mare’s milk. My stomach was still on the fritz so I abstained, but Joel dove right in there. He said it wasn’t half bad, but if he had to drink anymore than he did it would probably make him violently ill.
Mongolia was truly magical and we wished that we could have spent more time there, but we are equally as excited to get to China where we get to see Jason!