I’m not done with Mongolia yet! But I think this will be my last post – I acknowledge that there was a terribly long pause since my previous post. Now where were we? After our horse- and camel- riding days it was back to the jerky UAZ, bouncing around to the Bayanzag area.
Our first encounter of the tourist camp was a large…elephant. Then we saw the tortoise. Essentially the camp was run by a family who wanted to use mud/clay to build houses instead of the traditional ger for stability as the winds in this part of the desert were insanely strong and persistent, but found out that it got too warm to stay in. So they reverted to the ger. The tortoise house housed a sort of bar, which we sought respite in that afternoon as our ger was unbearably warm. I ordered a carton of orange juice which turned out to be warm as they had no fridges. They sold alcohol which I imagine to be warm as well. When we arrived a group of Korean girls had just showered and were preparing to leave. I don’t know how they could stand piling on the inch-thick makeup in this climate and geography. Kudos to them for keeping well maintained.
And yes you read it correctly – there were showers. Granted all the parts and fixture seemed rather haphazard – the toilet bowls were all of a different brand, the doors never fit into their frames and the taps were all disparate – but hey, running water, modern sanitation and a SHOWER (with heated water). This was the most luxurious place we stayed in the desert throughout the trip. I wondered if the majority of travelers from Singapore stayed in places like this throughout their tour as we had heard many tales from our compatriots that they never had issues with showering every day, which was initially mind boggling to us. Coming here, we realised that was indeed possible.
Anyway as I was saying, it was so hot I started squatting outside the toilet for the shade and the cool factor – then up the dusty road a MPV drove past and came back. A guy ( I suspect they were Israelis) came up to ask me if we sold water here. I told him sheepishly that I was a guest and pointed to the tortoise house. There is actually no point at all to this story save that I think I really look like I’m meant for a lifetime of labour and servitude.
Gonna skip the chronology for a bit and let you take a look at the camels that surrounded the camp in the morning and you can’t hear them here but they were positively BELLOWING. It was such a strange sound – have you ever heard a camel before?
Otgo already identified the photoshoot point so this was really the most touristy destination we visited. There were a bunch of tourists riding their road bikes around this area. I can’t imagine.
That night, we took a really good shower to wash off all the sand and sweat of the past 3 days. I was reborn twice in 6 days!
The morning after we made sure to wear cooler clothes as we prepared for the vomit inducing drive up north (一路向北, Jay Chou song). Saw an incredible gathering of camels, horses and sheep/ goats at a drinking trough along the way. I think that was quite quintessentially Mongolian.
And now I must tell you the most unbelievable story. So throughout our trip, our driver and guide never replied on any GPS or even compass – we just assumed the travelled the same route every two weeks. But came a time when we realized that they stated ducking their heads down to look at the horizon, the shape of the mountains and the tracks in the ground and discussing a lot more than usual. We finally drove to a family’s ger and presumably asked for directions. They pointed to somewhere behind the hill and 15 mins later, we showed up at our host’s house for that night. When we asked Otgo later, he said that the host had actually moved just last week and hence they couldn’t find the ger and had to ask for directions. We asked how it was that we knew where to go – Otgo replied that Mongolians will look at the mountains in the far horizon to get a sense of where to go. It must be a genetic trait of a nomad, we thought.
This family had a lot of cows and they lived together as husband and wife (the girl was 20). The baby was being brought up by the girl’s mother and staying elsewhere. By the way, this ger had no toilet shack. We could just walk really far to pee – making sure we were small enough for the eye not to see. Or walk far enough to somewhat stay out of sight behind a slopey mound. But the problem was that the wind was so strong that our pee was actually whipped around and not very…sanitary.
The next day we had to say goodbye to our whirlwind adventure – but it was not over yet! At least, it comprised a full day of driving back to Ulaanbaatar. We passed by a beautiful valley which was great for camping and climbing (neither of which we actually did).
Our last meal in the outdoors; the end of dusty and sandy vegetables.
That’s it for Mongolia! I wonder when I will ever experience anything like that outside of this country that defied all expectations and perception of mine. Where to next?