Day 18 – Mongolia to America

Up at 5am – or rather awake – finally got out of bed at 5:30a.  I was picked up at 6am for my 8:55am flight.  My route was Ulaanbaatar to Tokyo to Denver to Colorado Springs.  I’ll be picked up by my friend, Sherilyn, and spend the first week with her while I’m waiting for the rest of the family to arrive.

The flight from Mongolia to Tokyo was a bit rough.  Turns out Mongolia Air leans towards the bare bones side.  There is only one working toilet for all of economy and the line was 15 deep for most of the flight,but I got where I needed to be so not too many complaints.  I arrive in Tokyo and need to get my ticket for my next flight at the United counter.  It doesn’t take long to remember why American airlines aren’t my favorite.  It takes way too long and by the time I’m done there are 20 people in line.  Once I board my flight I discover that there is an entire class of 6th grade Japanese students and lucky me I’m on the aisle blocking two of them in and they really, really liked to get up.

Eventually we all make it to America.  I arrive in Denver, go through customs, recheck my luggage and make it through security and board my flight to Colorado Springs.  I make it to Colorado Springs, but my luggage doesn’t – at least not when I do.  It arrives about 6 hours later and is delivered to the door.

Day 17 – The Biggest Horse Statue in the World

I was up at 7am to get ready for an 8am ride to the Chinggis Khan Statue Complex.  This is the largest horse statue in the entire world.  It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.

We toured the museum (four of us horse riders were on this excursion) and then made our way up to the observation platform.  The statue is impressive, but there’s nothing else to do there so we headed back to town.

We were dropped off at The State Department Store.  The first thing to do is eat.  I go for mutton dumplings.  I’m running out of time for Mongolian food and it turns out I like it.  After lunch I try to do some souvenir shopping.  I run into some friends from the horse riding and we finalize plans for dinner.  I head back to the hotel to rest a bit and then it’s off for my last dinner in Mongolia.  We eat at a really good Mongolian restaurant.  Again I have mutton dumplings and a salad.

After dinner I head back to the hotel to finish sorting my luggage.  It’s hard to get to sleep.  I’m nervous about flying and nervous about what’s to come, but I finally fall asleep at 1am after setting two alarms fro 5am.

Day 16 -Back to the Big City

Woke up at 6:45a.  We ate breakfast and broke camp.  We needed to be on the road by 10am to be sure we got to the airport on time.

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Group photo just before our drive to the airport

The drive took us over passes and through valleys.  For a long time there was not a road to be seen.

We arrived at the airport about 2:30p.  Our flight was at 5:30p.  It was the only flight for the day which meant the airport was pretty much empty.  So we wait for the employees to arrive.  Once they do, we weigh our luggage and carry ons to be sure we are under our allotment.  We are.  We also become aware of how much we stink.  It’s time to board which means it’s time to say goodbye to the drivers and the translators.  They will make it back to Ulaanbaatar in the vans.

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Boarding for our return to Ullaanbaatar

We arrive in UB about 7p and head to dinner.  We have a great Indian meal and then head to the hotel.

At the hotel I say goodbye to Jenn, our trip leader.  I won’t see her again before I fly out.  Once I get settled in my room the only thing I want to do is hear from my family.  It takes a while to get connected to wifi, but once I do I send messages to everyone and then I hop on a hot shower.  A hot shower is amazing!

It’s difficult to sleep, the room is hot and there is a lot of street noise.  I keep checking for messages on Facebook and finally hear back from Michael and Aly.  I fall asleep about 2am.

Day 15 – We’re So Popular

Woke up at 6:45a, but since there were no horses to ride I took a while to actually get up.  I read a bit and listened to 3 seperate mobs of sheep as they were shepherded through our camp ground.

After breakfast we had a lazy morning sitting around the camp fire – reading, napping and chatting.  As we were just hanging out we had several visitors drop by.  Two boys who live in a nearby ger brought us milk and yogurt.  We gave them chocolate and fruit cocktail in trade.  Then two ladies dropped by with more milk.  We gave them noodles.  Two guys on a motorbike stopped by and had a seat near the camp fire and they were soon joined by another neighbor.  We had a return visitor from last night and then another man rode up on his horse.

Since we’re good hosts we cooked for them (by we I mean the Mongolian guys).  Because we had enough milk to share they prepared tea – bortstea (dried meat tea).  I wrote down the recipe as it was prepared.  The first thing you have to do is make milk tea.  I don’t have the recipe for that, but I’ve got the rest.

Over high heat (like the flame of a campfire) –

  • one handful of mutton fat
  • whatever cooking oil you have on hand
  • one handful of flour
  • big spoonful of butter
  • 1 big cup of rice
  • milk tea
  • handful of salt
  • a few handfuls of dried pulverized mutton

Melt one handful of mutton fat and if you need more fat then you can add however much oil you have on hand.  Once the fat is hot add a handful of flour.  Stir viciously.  Then add butter and stir more.  Add some milk tea and stir.  Add a handful of salt and stir.  Add a few handfuls of dried pulverized mutton and stir.  Add the remainder of the milk tea and stir.  Add rice and stir.  Put the lid on and let it simmer.  Add water as needed and add more salt to taste.

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pretty sure a savory tea you eat with a spoon is really soup

This was served to all our guests, the translators, drivers and any of the riders who wanted.  I think I counted over 20 servings.  It was quite good – and heavy.

After we ate we spied more visitors.  Two small girls were very nervously approaching.  They were holding hands as they crossed the field and stream.  Turns out they were the 4 year old twin daughters of one of the herdsmen who was visiting us.  They were welcomed with chocolate.  Another guest arrived by motorcycle.  About this time I started worrying that we might run out of provisions.  One by one the guests leave.  Many of them had been with us for hours.

After lunch there was time for us to bathe in the river and then it was time to pack up camp.  Lavaa’s, brother lived somewhere between where we were currently camping and Murin, where the airport we were flying out of the next day was located, so we were headed to his ger.  He didn’t know we were coming.  We were truly traveling off road and off the map.  There were frequent stops for directions and a few u-turns, but eventually we make it.  Our van arrived just after the one Lavaa was driving, but we got there just in time to see Lavaa greet a young boy in a very heartfelt way.  It turns out his wife and youngest son are spending the summer with his brother.

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Once we’re out of the vans we enter the ger and are served milk tea and bread with clotted cream.  Then we set up our camp.  We prepare our dinner and eat and spend a few lazy hours hanging out while it rains.  We also have the opportunity to milk a yak.

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it’s really hard to milk a yak

We spend the rest of the evening playing mass in the ger and being offered what seems to be an endless supply of Mongolian vodka.  (thank goodness it’s weaker than the stuff from the store.)  We had an amazing evening and I’m feeling like I could live this life, but I’m also aware that this is not real life.

Headed to bed about 11:45p.

Day 14 – Happy Trails

Woke up at 7am this morning.  I was really, really tired.  I think last night’s evening ride wore me out.  I had a dream last night that I was waiting on my horse for everyone else to catch up and I waited and I waited.  Then I realized I wasn’t sleeping, or at least not totally.  I was kind of in between sleep and wake.  I happened to brush the side of my tent and got my bearing and went back to sleep.  Breakfast was at 8am and by 9am we were on the trail for our last morning ride.

Today we only had a two hour ride.  We were riding the horses so they would be close to the rest of the horses so when we released them they could easily return to the rest of the herd.  After our ride, we let the horses rest, then we removed their saddles, bridles and leads and let them go.  They didn’t even look back.

Once we watched the horses reclaim their wildness we took off for town.  Our first stop was Tsooj’s house for lunch and a little sniff of something.

It was time to say goodbye to the wranglers.  Their job of wrangling horses and us was over and they have just a few days until it’s time to start preparations for the next trip.

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Adya, me, Dondov and Tsooj

After our farewell, it was time to drive to the night’s camp and make dinner.  We said goodbye to Nara when we said goodbye to the wranglers so we were left to fend for ourselves.

We spent the evening chatting around the fire and didn’t make it to bed until after midnight.  Good thing there’s no early morning expectations tomorrow.

Day 13 – In the Toilet and Across the Steppe

Up early at 6:15.  Wandered over to the toilet – because it’s what you do – and fell in.   With both feet.  Kind of sunk in to the mess.  This meant an early morning bath in the cold river was necessary.  Not the best start to my day, but things could only get better, right?

The rest of the morning went as usual – sleeping bag fight and all.  There was one difference – my allergies were so much better.  My eyes weren’t gritty and itchy.  Nara’s sunglasses plus my regular schedule or drugs seem to have done the trick.  (fingers crossed they keep on working.)  For the rest of the trip I’ll be borrowing a pair from Pat & Larry.  They aren’t quite as fancy, but they will do.

Today’s ride started on a forest path then we went over some hills and through some valleys.  Eventually we came to a place where we could canter and gallop ending headed up a hill.  I managed what I’m certain was some pretty awesome trick riding – accidentally, of course.  My right foot came out of my stirrup and I came out of my saddle.  It felt like I was doing the splits, with my right foot pointed straight up at the sky.  Adya, the wrangler who was supervising us, saw what was going on.  He didn’t look so impressed, he looked a bit more worried.  But I pulled myself back into my saddle and got a big thumbs up and a smile form Adya – which I’m pretty sure translates to “job well done.”

No one else saw this amazing feat and there are no pictures, but I did draw a picture in my journal that I can share.

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head not to scale

We made it to camp around 1p and luckily it was a bright sunshiny day.  I needed to wash my pajamas, because of falling in the toilet fully dressed.

We had dinner at 7p followed by an evening ride for all who were interested.  This was probably one of my favorite rides of the trip.  We got to do a bit of everything and there was a lot of different terrain.

When we got back in we were ready for a bit of beer, luckily someone had remembered to put a 2 liter in the fridge.

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11:10p bedtime and almost dark.

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Day 12 – Going Glam

Up at 6:40a this morning.  Did all the usual and was on the trail by 9am.

Nara, the cook, loaned me a pair of sunglasses today.  Super fancy glasses with gold and rubies.  I didn’t get a picture of them and I didn’t see myself in them (no mirrors), but I am certain I was looking good.

We got in from the ride and had a restful evening around camp.  The sunglasses worked like magic pollen barriers.  My eyes were so much better tonight.

I didn’t journal very much this day and the pictures are few, but I did get a pic of the afternoon rainbow.

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