Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mongolia : Day 4

Well, the care package was certainly a pleasant surprise and a welcome distraction from the Mongolia travelogue, but the show must go on...

Going through pictures, I just realized I missed an important event from day 3:

Justin had stepped out of the room for a second, and I was in the middle of changing when he knocked. As he came in, I jumped onto the superbed, wearing only my long underwear, flailing and dancing around. Thinking quickly, he realized what a uniquely blackmailable sight he had before him, and whipped out his camera, which is apparently designed for exactly this kind of quick access. Unfortunately, for him, I'm quick on the draw with my dances too. I've had plenty of practice stopping a dance in mid-motion, which I promptly did. Marilyn saw an opportunity of her own, and tackled me to try and tickle me.

Even after she relented and went back to packing, I was still laughing so hard that I had a hard time rolling over and getting up.

Good times, good times. Justin got the full experience traveling with the beans.

Anyway, if you're still reading this, and there's a good chance I lost you with those long underwear shots, on to day 4.

Day 4 started bright and early with some peanut butter, nutella, and banana sandwiches as we waited for our driver to show. Our hostel had some arrangements with local independent tour operators, and we had chosen the "small Japanese car with English speaking driver" since we didn't need an SUV or Russian Jeep (we passed a few during the day, those things are freaky). Apparently some other tour lets you drive a tank around; if I had one regret from Mongolia, it's not paying the big bucks to commandeer a tank. I'll just go ahead and say it (sorry Justin): Justin's big regret is not wrestling a Mongolian man...

Shortly after 9, our driver, Tushik, pulled up. We had thus far found Mongolians to be extremely gregarious and welcoming, and Tushik was no exception. We loaded our packs into the back of the car and set out into the Mongolian pseudo-wilderness.

We drove for a while, Justin riding shotgun and chatting happily with our driver, me and M in the back alternately dozing off. (Something about being in a car just puts me right to sleep. You might want to remember that the next time I'm in the driver's seat). The city, its outskirts, and the small mining towns along the way faded into the distance as we entered Terelj National Park. As we passed through the gate, our driver told us, "Normally, you would have to pay an entrance fee, but since you do not look like foreigners, no fee." We all gave a rousing cheer in honor of our Asian faces. Looking like a local causes me some trouble in Beijing; the parents at my weekend job sometimes want a foreign face to go with their foreign teachers. Unfortunately for them, I don't count. Some companies even pay ABCs, and other native English speakers of Asian descent, less than they pay white or obviously "foreign" teachers. This time, however, our Asian faces saved us 9000 tugrug (about $8usd). Booyah...

We had only been in the park a few minutes when we passed a couple camels tethered on the side of the road. "Camels!" I exclaimed (as my alter-ego: Captain Obvious), and our driver swerved off the road and screeched to a halt. We all piled out of the car to have a look. At a safe distance, of course, since we'd been warned about the full range of a camel's spit. As we gaped at the camels, a man came up and pulled one of them to its knees. He motioned for one of us to mount it. Justin and Marilyn seemed a bit camel-shy, so I went first. It was here that Justin's quick access camera came in handy:

It all happened so fast that the look on my face here is mostly disbelief, as in "wait a I on a camel?" Plus, I had just gingerly put my hand on its hump (its hump...its lovely camel hump...), only to find it surprisingly...hmm supple is the word that comes to mind, but the usage is quite awkward.

Off I go...
From Beijing Dou

The camel warrior returns victoriously from his first camel campaign
From Beijing Dou

M was up next:
From Beijing Dou

From Beijing Dou

And Justin had to go next, since we'd endlessly tease him if he didnt:
From Beijing Dou

From Beijing Dou

This is what the view from up top looks like:

The whole experience was actually quite pleasant. The camels didn't smell nearly as bad as we had been told, and the camel's hair was actually quite soft.

We rolled back into the car, and headed on our merry way.

"Do you want to climb cave?" Our driver asked us a few minutes later as we passed an outcropping of rock with a small cave inside. "Sure, why not?" So he put the car in reverse, and backed up to the rock.
From Beijing Dou

Next up, Turtle Rock.
Oddly enough, turtle rock is a large rock that...looks like a turtle. Here, an intrepid explorer approaches the mighty turtle:
From Beijing Dou

Not sure what's going on here, but it looks exciting.
From Beijing Dou

After turtle rock, we had lunch in the spare bedroom of the turtle rock snack shop. M had tasty chicken soup, Justin had a beef and mutton tail soup with pieces of dough, his favorite Mongolian meal of the trip, and I had pan-fried lamb and beef, which I cracked a tooth on. Nice...(Going to have that fixed tomorrow. Beijing dentistry might be worth a post, we'll see.)

After lunch, we headed up the road to a Buddhist monastery halfway up the hill. Although Buddhism took a big hit in Mongolia during the Soviet communist era, now that Mongolia is democratic, it's coming back. As we made our way up to the monastery, we were led by a spunky black dog. Halfway up, another dog came and tried to lead us and the two dogs got in a bit of a growling match.

In between us and the monastery? A large ravine that we had to cross old-school bridge style.
From Beijing Dou

From Beijing Dou

Over the ravine, and up the stairs...
From Beijing Dou

Halfway point celebrations:
From Beijing Dou

We were too cheap to go inside. So we took a few pictures, enjoyed the view, and then it was time to head back down.
From Beijing Dou

After the monastery, it was time to head to our host family's tent. We had decided we could save money by sending Tushik home and riding horses back to civilization. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Since we had wanted to stay with a Mongolian family in a ger, our guide, Bolta, offered to let us stay with his family for the night so we could leave together the next morning.

Here we are, outside the ger:
From Beijing Dou

Yes, that's a satellite dish in the background. We spent a good part of the night watching some Mongolian-dubbed Luke Wilson movie, which IMDB now tells me was "Henry Poole is Here".

We met Bolta's wife, Ambolta, and two-year old daughter, Anochin, who was cute as a button. But, after Tushik left, our only way of communicating with them was by charades. So we decided to let her and her daughter enjoy the afternoon without having to awkwardly stare at some foreigners. We'd have plenty of time for that after dinner. Before he left, Tushik told us we could climb up the ridge behind the ger, so we decided to give it a go.

The ascent.
From Beijing Dou

Upon discovering two dead trees on the ground.
From Beijing Dou

I told Justin I'd give him a dollar if he could climb to the top of these rocks. He failed. I'll give him an A for affort.
From Beijing Dou

Justin dubbed this rock "The Nose".
From Beijing Dou

After a couple hours of scrabbling around on rocks, we got a bit cold and decided to head back.

Back at the ger, we watched Ambolta make dinner, a traditional Mongolian dish called Tsuivan. She rolled some dough out into what looked like tortillas, partially baked them on top of the stove, then cut them into small noodle-like pieces. Then she stir-fried some beef and vegetables, added some water, placed the noodles on top, and then covered it to let it steam. It was delicious. While Ambolta was making dinner, we played with Anochin. She was quite taken with The Book, which caused some trouble when we wanted to look up Mongolian words and phrases in the back. One time, Anochin started crying because we were using the book, and her mom gave her one of the chocopies that we had brought as gifts. And everything was okay.

Here she is keeping a close watch on The Book.

M tried to teach her football, but she just wanted to throw it, not kick it. We also accidentally taught her how to hit people with a water bottle, hehe.

After dinner, we sat around watching a dubbed Korean drama, then Luke Wilson. Bolta came home eventually, and we all hung out for a bit. Generous host that he was, Bolta offered the three of us a strange white square. Then he made a bullhorn gesture. must be a cow product. But it's a powdery white square. Cognitive dissonance alarms went off like crazy! We all took tentative bites. It tasted like a cross between dried sour yogurt and beef. Hmmm...Justin and M snuck their squares into their pockets. I finished mine by trying not to think about it as I took big bites out of it.

Somewhere around 8:30, we started nodding off, so they set up a futon and mattress pad for us. Justin had brought some kind of high-tech mummy bag, and Bolta and his family got a huge laugh out of him climbing inside of his bag and standing up to change his pants while still inside of it. Eventually we all went to sleep. I'm pretty sure I gave them a poor impression of Americans with my incessant snoring.

And so ends day 4 of our Mongolian adventure. Whew, what a write-up! Stay tuned, M gets to write up the crazy times: the horse ride back.


Florence said...

my gosh.. i laughed in glee when I saw the camel pics!! How that must have felt for you guys.. to ride a camel haha. I woulda been scared man. And josh: love your description of the hump as "supple" haha.

tamela said...

oh my goodness the beans' adventure factor is way out of control, riding camels, staying in a ger, and playing with way-too-cute mongolian children... how fun! can't wait to hear about the horse ride!

Jared said...

Did they make you pay to ride the camel?

J.Dou said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to write. They didn't say anything beforehand, but we could kind of tell it was a camel stand of sorts. So after we were done, we awkwardly asked our driver, "So how much should we pay him?" It was 2000 tugrug a person, a little less than $2 each.

Best $2 I ever spent.

Justin said...

if only they had mongolian-man wrestling stands...

Shellcomber said...

Wow, I didn't even know they had camels in the cold regions. Your camel and ger adventure looks so fun!