Day 11 – Reality Hits

Up at 6:45a feeling a little lonely and a little sad and a lot uncertain.

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6:45a. the sky looks brighter than I do.

We were off on the horses around 9am.  Today I rode Spike, Roy John is still healing, but should be ready tomorrow.   Started the day off bringing up the rear.  That was okay with me and seemed to be okay with Spike.  Pretty sure I could have been in some kind of sappy country and western music video – sitting on my horse and crying.  That could be a good title for a song.  I was missing my family, missing Thailand, thinking about all the goodbyes I’d said recently, and worrying about the uncertainty headed my way.

We stopped for a snack and my mood lifted.  During the rest of the ride we had several river crossings and did lots of trotting and cantering.  My hip wasn’t very happy at the end of the ride – had many pops and some pain while riding.  It could have been the fact that my stirrups were shorter than usual, it could have been the volume of riding.  Things seemed to be returning to normal after resting at camp.

I went to bed at 7:45p.  I wasn’t really tired, but I needed relief from the fresh air.  Not that a tent is a huge barrier to the fresh air, but it was better than sitting in the pollen filled out doors.  I’m currently taking any and every medication that is offered to me.  It’s a cocktail that is barely keeping things under control.

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why does the air hate me?

 

Day 10 – Briefly Bareback

Was up at 6:50a.  Breakfast was oatmeal.  Oatmeal was for breakfast everyday.

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Good morning!

Today was a rest day, we could choose to go for a ride or we could hang out at camp and just chill.  I debated taking a rest, but decided I’d paid to ride horses so ride horses I would.  I was on a different horse today – Twitter.  Roy John was recovering from a saddle sore on his back.

We stopped to visit a ger and had all the usual plus some fried cheese.  When we stepped out of the ger we found a volleyball and played a short game.

 

While we were away from camp another sheep had been acquired and dispatched.  We arrived just in time to get in on sampling some of the delicacies.  Today I had some blood pudding, liver and lungs.  Then it was time for a nap.

During the evening we gave bareback riding a try (these horses have some boney backs) and we tried out the Mongolian saddle (an acquired taste I think).

Dinner and bedtime followed soon after.

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10pm time for sleep

Day 9 – Playing with the Big Boys

I was up at 6:55a and did all the usual morning stuff.

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6:55a and that grass looks ready to kill

On the trail (I’m using that word loosely – mostly it was just fields) around 9 for a longish day of riding.

Today we rode over a pass, through lots of tall grass, through bogs and across open fields.  Something in this combination of terrain tried to kill me – for real.  I was itchy and hive-y and wheezy.  We took a small break just so I could get some diphenhydramine in me and see if it would postpone death.  It worked – thankfully.

I wheezed my way into camp, bathed as well as I could in the freezing stream and went to check out what else was happening in camp.

I’d been waiting for an opportunity to play cards with the guys.  They play a Mongolian card game called Mass.  I’d been introduced to it a few nights before by Saruul, one of the translators, and I was pretty sure I was ready to play with the big boys.

We played cards for a while then had dinner.  I’d obviously rallied after my near death experience because I managed to stay awake for an evening of chatting.

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What’s with the sun being up still at 11:40p?

 

Day 8 – Clean

Up at 6:50 and did all the usual morning stuff.  Getting much more efficient at everything – except the sleeping bag.

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6:50am view from my tent

We were riding by 9:30am.

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Early in the morning we came across a herder who obviously needed our help getting his cows and yaks where they needed to be.  At least it felt like we were helping.

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Mid-morning snack break.  The guys were very good at relaxing and chatting.

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Another bridge too cross – not every horse was willing.

We made it to camp and discovered rhubarb and that our tents needed to be set up.

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Looking rough and eating rhubarb

It was a short morning ride and intern Larry just didn’t have time.  After we set up camp we had lunch and then we were off to the hot baths.

The hot baths were amazing.  For the first time in many days I had all the pollen off me and I could almost breath clearly and I had clean hair!

After we were all clean we returned to camp, had dinner, and then those that wanted went for an evening ride (or as I call it a fresh coat of pollen.)

Back to camp and to bed about 10p.

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10 at night and way too bright

Day 7 – Picking Up Speed

I was up at 7am.  Had my daily fight with my sleeping bag and then ate breakfast and broke camp.

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7am view from my front door

We did a better job of crossing rivers today.  Seems like it’s water of unknown depth that the horses don’t care for.  We did come across some of that today and my horse chose to jump across instead of walk.  Sounds much more impressive since it was really just a bit of a hop, but I’m counting it as a jump.  We also did some cantering today.  For the most part Roy John only cantered when other horses were cantering, but I did manage to get him to do it once or twice.

We had to dismount to lead our horses across a bridge and since we were off we went ahead and had break time.

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Mongolia is a very social place.  These two guys dropped by to chat and see what was going on.

I took this opportunity to introduce my horse to my camera and taught him all about the selfie.  Because these horses are partly (to mostly) wild they aren’t so familiar with the beeps and whirs of technology.  To be sure he wouldn’t freak out when I took a picture I took a moment to show him what it was.  He wasn’t impressed with this picture.

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Now I could take photos from horseback.

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We’re all meant to be going the same direction and eventually we manage to get there.

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We had a little bit of a scare today.  We have a few spare horses with us, just in case.  One of them, The Eyeball, is a trusty little guy who will just walk along with our herd and not wander off.  Today we learned that he doesn’t always make wise choices.  We had another bridge to cross and it required us to dismount and walk our horses over.  This took a little bit of time and he got impatient and chose a different route.  Turns out that through the river wasn’t the best choice.  The current was strong and he was washed into the bridge.  He eventually made it under the bridge and we all held our breath to see if he would come out the other side.

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Tsooj clapping for The Eyeball’s appearance on the other side.

After that excitement it was time to finish the days ride and get to camp.  We had a one more river crossing.

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We got to camp as our tents were in the process of being set up and it was lunch time.  Sushi for lunch.   Since there is no mutton in sushi the men made their own lunch.

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Those bones are picked clean.

It wasn’t long before dinner.  We certainly didn’t miss any meals.

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Nara, our amazing cook

There were also chores to be done around camp.  Saruul is making kindling – or possibly toothpicks.

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Bedtime was about 10pm.

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10p view from my tent.

Day 6 – Covering Some Territory

After a rainy night I was up at 7am.  Packed up my stuff – rolled up my air mattress and my sleeping bag and then had my morning workout of forcing my sleeping bag into its stuff sack.  There was no end to the frustration this caused me every time.  It was oatmeal for breakfast and then the tents came down and it was time to get back in the saddle for day 2 of riding.

I skipped a few steps in the process.  While we’re managing our personal stuff the drivers and translators are managing their personal stuff and the food tent and all the other camp stuff that we all use – toilet, hand washing station, firewood, etc…  and the wranglers are managing their personal stuff and the saddling of the horses.

Today I learned a few things about horses, or at least my horse, he’s got a fear of big rocks.  At the same time I learned this I also learned that I can stay on when he’s spooked.  I also learned that he doesn’t really like it when the lead rope is dropped.  Something about something unfamiliar flapping around down by his head makes him uncomfortable.  I can’t say I blame him.  My final lesson for the day was that he’s not a huge fan of crossing questionable streams.  He did eventually cross it, but it took a lot of work on my part to get him to.

We stopped for a snack/lunch break at a local ger.  This was a pretty amazing experience.  All 15 of us rode up and were invited in.  They didn’t know we were coming, but were completely prepared to welcome us and feed us.  The family consisted of the grandparents and 5 grandchildren – at least that is who was present.  We were served milk tea (green teak, yak milk & salt), aaruul (dried yogurt), and fried butter (butter, flour, and sugar).  All were very tasty.  We finished with milk vodka (not as strong as vodka from the store) which is given as a digestive aid.  Milk vodka is served in a bowl that the host has filled and offered to the oldest (or most respectable) male in the room.  He drinks his fill and then passes it back to the host.  The host refills the bowl and then passes it to the next person.  This continues on until everyone has had a drink.  Then it gets passed around again.  We were told it would be perfectly acceptable for us to just lie down and take a nap, but we had ground to cover so were on our way.

We rode for a few hours more before we came to camp.  When camp was in view we saw the most amazing thing – our tents were up!  Larry, our intern for the week (he wasn’t really an intern, but he wasn’t riding so got to do work type stuff without getting paid), had set up our tents.  We were also greeted by the kids who lived at the nearby gers.  We were camped near a river and a bath sounded good.  So I went for a swim – a very bracing swim (bracing = short).  It impressed the kids, they wanted me to try diving, but the water was maybe 2 feet deep so I didn’t think that was a good idea.

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Dinner was vegetable soup and steamed buns. I also had a bit of the mutton soup that the men were eating.  After dinner we visited one of the nearby gers.  We were in search of milk and hoping to make a trade.  Once again we were drinking milk tea, but for food this time we had boortsog (fried bread) and  orom (clotted cream).

I’m not sure why I was worried about food on this trip.  So far there has been gobs of it and it’s all been quite tasty.

The family that lives at the ger we stopped at has one son.  He is 7 years old and quite the horse rider.

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The father proudly told us that he has retired 2 horses already because he gallops so much.  Everyday he gallops, gallops, gallops.  The boy told us that he had inspected our horses and that there were 2, maybe 3, that were good.  I’m assuming Roy John was one of them.

We headed back to camp and to bed at 10p.

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The view at 10pm from the door of my tent.

Zavkhan Trekking

Day 5 – Let’s Ride

I woke up bright and early at 6:30am.  Walked around camp, helped Haldi start fires, washed some dishes, and was ready for breakfast at 8am.

Jen, our tour guide with Zavkhan Trekking,  and Haldi, one of our translators, did a test ride of all the horses.  They then chatted about which horse would be best with which rider.  After all the deliberations were over, we were helped into the saddles and set off.   We each named our horses.

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Roy John

I named mine Roy John after my grandfather.  I spent a lot of time chatting with him.

Today was meant to be just an easy introductory ride.  And for most of us it was.  However, about 20 min in, Saruul’s (one of the translators) horse spooked and threw him off.  We all dismounted to wait for the wranglers to encourage his horse to rejoin the group.

We rode for about 3 hours, including a snack break.  We walked and we trotted.  I feel like my lessons paid off, but I also feel like it would have been good to manage a few more lessons.

We returned to camp just in time for a neighboring herder to herd his sheep in to camp.  One of our drivers and wranglers managed to identify the perfect specimen.

In no time this sheep had been slaughtered and was being prepped for dinner.  All things mutton seemed to fall under the purview of the Mongolian men.  I joined them for an afternoon snack of liver and heart.  It was tasty.

The rest of the afternoon was a bit lazy.  Lots of reading and napping happened.

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Dinner was curry and salad.  Then we spent some time chatting around the campfire.  Bedtime was about 10:40p.

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