Sunday, November 09, 2008

Mongolia : Day 5 (or Horses, Horses, Horses, Horses)

We awoke after a brisk night in the ger, having braved a few loud spurts of crying from Anochin, and a couple awkward early morning trips to the outhouse. (I think the brittle cheese cubes our hosts fed to us really did a number on our bowels.)

Anyway, Bolta was up and about very early, chopping wood for the family and then riding out to a neighboring horse herder to gather extra horses for our journey back to "civilization"--a town called Nalaikh roughly 20 km from our overnight stay. We were told it should take about 3 hours to ride there, and then we could take a bus back to Ulaan Baatar for the equivalent of $.70. Sounded like a good plan to us.

First, let me say that Bolta is a frickin' warrior. Here he is leading an extra horse back in the diffuse light of early morning:
From Beijing Dou

Second, I should point out that we are NOT warriors. Contrast Bolta with this repeat picture of us standing in front of the little house, all bundled up and taking pictures with puppies:
From Beijing Dou

From Beijing Dou

Between Bolta's beastliness and our wimpiness, you can probably guess how this horse ride is going to play out.

We started off pretty upbeat, believing ourselves to be hardy (albeit slightly inexperienced) riders. Here are J and me on our horses, Chestnut and Nelly Banana, respectively:
From Beijing Dou

And here's Justin on his horse, Milkshake (who, of course, brings all the boys to the yard):
From Beijing Dou

Our goofy grins betray our naivete at the difficult and painful journey ahead.

Basically, Bolta would hang out at the back of the team with our pack horse, and give our horses a whack on the bottom whenever they were going too slow or meandering off the path (which, as luck would have it, was very very often). Those of you who've ever ridden horses before know that the slow, lumbering pace is pretty comfortable, while the mid-tempo trot is very bumpy and hard on the behind. A full gallop on the other hand, though somewhat frightening for the neophyte, becomes much smoother and more pleasant. The combination of our horses' laziness and Bolta's Stick of Terror left us constantly bouncing and flouncing in a medium trot. Oh joy.

Here's Bolta and his Stick as we ride through a herd of cows and yaks:
From Beijing Dou

J's horse was (not surprisingly, according to J) the laziest (and fattest) of all, and constantly stopped to eat:
From Beijing Dou

It was also prone to wandering away from the rest of us (as was Justin's horse, although I didn't manage to get a picture of said wandering):
From Beijing Dou

Personally, I was relieved whenever J's horse would act up, because it would give the rest of us a slight respite from Bolta's beatings (on our horses, of course). J would even the score, however, by sneaking up behind me and using his reins to whip my horse into a painful trot. Grrr.

I should mention that it wasn't all bad. There were times when our horses would go into full gallops, and we'd yell with glee as we flew across the Mongolian plains. But that never lasted long. About two and a half hours in, Justin and I were dead tired, and Bolta informed us that the city should only be an hour or so away. What he didn't tell us was that he planned on trotting our horses the entire way, punishing our already sore bottoms. Seriously, at some point, the pain was so great and I had to use so much strength to prop myself up between trots, that it took every muscle in my aching body--and every ounce of concentration--to not just pass out and flop off my horse.

At one point, Justin and I tried to convince Bolta to take the horses back and let us just walk to Nalaikh, but he told us he needed to meet someone in town to help him ride the horses back. Meanwhile, J shows no signs of being in nearly as much pain as the rest of us. He concedes that he's willing to walk, but looks and sounds like he could do this for another three hours. Justin and I are puzzled by his sudden ruggedness, and I begin to wonder if there's more to Josh than I realize...

Finally, after four hours of riding, Bolta realizes that we can't hack it, and lets us dismount at the gate of the national park. Justin and I slide off and amble around with our legs spread, while J uses his remaining energy to do an Irish jig. OK, not really, but he wasn't having much trouble walking around. Justin mentions that he probably has welts on his butt, and I quietly think the same. J just stands there and looks around. Again, we wonder about J's hidden horseriding talents.

Meanwhile, Bolta hitches a ride for us with some strangers back to Ulaan Baatar directly. All we can think is "Sweet!" since, at this point, safety is a distant third on our list of priorities, after food and shower.

In less than an hour, we are back in our cozy room, deciding what to resolve first: our starvation or our stickiness. Somehow, J is already magically prancing around in his sweats (I swear, this guy is probably the fastest undresser in the history of modern man). We pick food. As we all get bundled up and ready to go out again, Justin and I notice J pulling his pants on over his sweats.

Justin: "Hey man, why are you wearing your jeans over your sweats? Why don't you just change?"
Josh: "Huh? Oh, I've been wearing these sweats under my pants all day."


Justin and I whip our heads around and yell simultaneously, "THAT'S WHY YOU WEREN'T IN PAIN!!"

He also had his long underwear, his precious long underwear, on underneath the sweats and the pants!

Justin gave him a good talking-to for not sharing his secret this morning, and I tickled him for acting so aloof when we pondered his superhuman stamina.

Later that night, after a meal at Ulaan Baatar's "Only Mexican AND Indian Restaurant!", we take turns showering, compare bruises and sores, and knock out at 9:30. Best. Sleep. Ever.


Justin said...


Florence said...

Marilyn: was the horses x4 part of your title by any chance supposed to be sung like the sleepless in seattle scene? :o)

M.dou said...

hahahaha, totally, flo! :P

when i wrote it, josh was like...what's with the horses? and i had to tell him, it's from sleepless in seattle!

but i figured maybe the girls who read our blog would get it. ;)

J.Dou said...

I just loaded the blog to see if we had any new comments, and Marilyn came and stood over my shoulder:
"Any new comments?"
"I just loaded it...hold your horses!"
I replied...

ho ho ho...

tamela said...

hahaha :) classic! yes, i experienced the dreaded horse-trot effect on a ride up in oregon. my horse was smaller than all the others so it constantly felt the need to catch up... i was so sore the next day i couldn't sit down, and that was after only riding for an hour! you guys are troopers!

your pics are amazing btw!! i love that one of bolta bringing the horses in the early morning, and that one of you two on the horses.

Shellcomber said...

oh man, you guys are too funny. i do remember my one and only time horseback riding on the beach. my horse did the same wandering and slow walking. the guide said it's b/c they know we're newbies who don't know how to ride, so they do what they want. i can't imagine enduring 4 hours of trotting...