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 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.

A True Test Ride

A little while ago Jackie mentioned the possibility of a morning trail ride in Mae Rim (about 1/2 an hour if Lukas is driving) and TODAY WAS THE DAY!!  We headed out early this morning to the M-Place and had an amazing mountain-jungle tour organized by the Skill Center Chiang Mai.

My horse for the day was Dang.

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Dang means red in Thai.

We got all the horses ready and all the people ready and headed out for a trip through a beautiful tropical forest – bamboo and mango trees galore.

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This picture does not do the beauty justice.  This was magical.  Much more vibrant than the picture portrays.

We stopped at the top of the mountain (some would call it maybe a bit more of a hill) for a much needed snack of fried chicken and croissants with ham and cheese and steamed sweet corn.  All provided by Khun Ning – thanks Khun Ning!

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Lukas was familiar with the route and at times would have Ning and I ride ahead and once we’d cleared the path he’d yell at Jackie that she could gallop and she and her horse would gallop up the trail to catch us.  It was so impressive!

There were also many branches to avoid along the way and Lukas mentioned (maybe more than once) how handy it was that I’d managed to learn to bend down and touch my toes while riding so I could dodge these branches.  And he was right.

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Towards the end of the ride we came to a place that could have been right out of The Chronicles 0f Narnia – if The Chronicles of Narnia had been set in the tropics.  We came into a bamboo forest where the sun was shining through and making everything all glowy.  There were also mango trees and the horses were snacking on mangoes – their fill of mangoes.  Horses can eat a lot of mangoes.  We eventually moved on and ended with both Jackie and me (Jackie leading, thankfully) galloping to the end of the trail.

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It was a wonderful day.  A huge thank you to Jackie for a wonderful gift!

 

 

A Saddle

I’ve had 4 more lessons since my last post.  I’ve managed to touch my toes when Lukas says.  I’ve made Lola trot and gallop without Lukas’ assistance and I’ve made some jumps – some small jumps.  With no hands or saddle.

Today I got a saddle.  Pretty excited about that.  I feel like an angel who has earned her wings.  I’m was so anxious that I had two dreams about it last night.  The first wasn’t so bad, I dreamt I overslept.  The second Jackie and I were chatting while we were waiting for Lukas to assign us our horses for the day and we see Lukas walk up with two elephants.  Not sure what that meant.

We saddled up our horses – or rather I mostly watched the horses get saddled up.  Today I was riding Mario.  He’s a little less sensitive than Lola and since I’m totally inept that’s probably good.  We walk the horses to the paddock and get on.  I discover that my saddle has no horn.  I wanted a horn.  I wanted to hold on to the horn for dear life.  Today we galloped, we trotted, and we walked.  We did a lot of walking.  We also did some little jumps.  For the most part Mario and I followed Jackie and her horse around.  I didn’t mind that at all.

After our lesson, Jackie and I rode through the back part of the neighborhood that the stables are in.  Early on, Mario and I had a bit of a battle to see who was in charge.  I might have won, but it’s just as likely that Mario decided I wasn’t worth the fight.  I then learned how to remove the saddle and the harness and how to care for the horses after they’ve been worked.

Lots of confidence built today.  Plus, I rode for a whole hour.  I think that brings my total riding experience to about 3 hours.

1st Horseback Riding Lesson

I figured it was a good idea to give horseback riding a try before I committed to 14 days in the saddle.  I just happen to have a friend in Chiang Mai, Jackie, who rides and she arranged for me to take lessons at the Skill Center Chiang Mai.

Before I rode I watched Jackie ride.  Jackie is basically a pro.  Her horse is very tall and she made him jump things.  When it was my turn to ride I was very relieved to meet Lola.  She’s 1/2 Thai pony and 1/2 Arabian and much smaller than Jackie’s horse.  (unfortunately her personality is much bigger than Jackie’s horse.)  Lukas, the trainer, got Lola ready and says it’s time to go.  I notice there is no saddle and I’m a little distressed by this.  But because I don’t want to seem like the total noob I am I don’t ask why.  I just go along with it.  Lola does have a harness with handles.  I figure handles are good.

We get out to the riding area (I’ve since learned that it’s called a paddock) and Lukas expertly assists me in getting on the horse.  He gives me instruction on how not to look like a rag doll while riding.  (I’d only been on 60 seconds and was already showing my lack of skill.)  Now that I know to hug with my heels, to leave my knees relaxed, and to not lean forward like I’m on a bicycle I’m ready.  We spend the next 15 minutes doing yoga on horseback.  Lola trots, I hold up my inside arm.  I hold up my outside arm.  I don’t think it’s possible, but when I’m told to hold up both arms I do.  I twist my body so I can touch her tail with my left hand.  Then I do the same with my right hand.  Then Lukas asks the impossible.  While Lola is trotting he says, “Touch your left hand to your left foot.”  I think, I process.  I am skeptical, but I try and I get really close.  Then it’s time for right hand to right foot.  Less thinking and less skepticism and I am almost successful.  Then things get ridiculous.  Left hand to right foot?  I look at my right foot.  I look at my left hand.  I give it a go.  I almost get my hand to my knee.  The other side goes just as well.  We do a few more circles and then I give Lola a hug and hop down.  My legs don’t want to support my weight and they surely don’t want to walk.  They were exausted.

1st lesson done.  It felt like a success and I was convinced that I could manage hour after hour for 2 weeks.

 

Why Mongolia on a Horse?

When we found out in late 2015 that we’d be leaving Thailand and returning to America one of my first thoughts was that I hadn’t seen enough.  I hadn’t done enough.  Why didn’t I travel more?  Where did I want to go?  Where had Michael been that I hadn’t?

I started with a list and asked myself if I wanted to travel there.

  • Mongolia – Big YES!
  • Sri Lanka – Would be nice.
  • Northern India – Maybe
  • The Philippines – Maybe
  • Bangladesh – Big NO!

Since time was an issue and money was an issue and Michael’s travel schedule was an issue it had to be just one and it wasn’t too difficult to figure out which one it would be.  I have friends who traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to St. Petersburg through Mongolia.  That sounded amazing.  I started researching it.  Could we make it work?  Probably, but I’d be traveling alone and I felt like a train trip by myself could be really lonely.  So I looked up other ways to see Mongolia.  How would I enjoy seeing it on my own and when would be the best time?  The when was pretty easy.  We knew we’d be returning to America mid-July.  We’d originally planned that I would stay in Thailand for a few more weeks while Michael and Sam attended to other business in America and then we’d meet up in Colorado.  Rather than stay in Thailand I could head to Mongolia, but what would I do there?  Google to the rescue.  I had dates and location and Google gave my an option I’d never considered.

Horseback riding across Mongolia.  (Not all of Mongolia – it’s a really, really big place.)

There are several outfits that you can work through and they all sounded good, but one appealed to me more than the others – Zavkhan Trekking.  They accept all levels of experience.  I rode a horse once at camp when I was 12 or so.  There was no hard and fast itinerary.  I’m a fan of the “we’ll get there when we get there” approach.  The dates of the trek were almost perfect for my schedule.  Two days later would have been better, but these were very doable.

It seemed perfect, but there was one more thing to do before I signed up.  Take a horseback riding lesson.