ain't noway am I paying that amount for a flipping ger
20.06.2009 - 24.06.2009
The trip out into the countryside had its high points and a few low points. Overall, it was a great experience.
The first day consisted of a 5-6 hour drive over both paved and dirt roads. There were times when I thought my kidneys were going to be jarred down into my back pockets. Our driver Tend was knowledgable and as careful as is possible on the roads that we travelled. For point of reference, there are very few road signs and most base their direction on landmarks. Do not leave home without a driver!
We also had along the guesthouse owner's daughter, Monica. She is 20 and currently studying tourism at the university in Ulaan Bataar. Her english is pretty good but she tends to mix today, tomorrow and yesterday but eventually we figured out the limits of her english and worked within those limits. I am embarassed to say that both Anthony and I filled her in on some American slang but I also picked-up some Mongolian terms as well.
Our first stop was the ruins of a Buddhist monastery and temple that was built in the 1600's and destroyed by the Russians during communist occupation during the '30s. It is currently being rebuilt to some degree and the ruins somewhat protected. The landscape surrounding this area is semi-arid grasslands with granite outcroppings. About 5 km from the ruins are a series of small dunes. Anthony and I walked to the dunes the following day. On the frontside of the dunes near the highway is a tourist stop that has camels for tourist to ride and take pictures. This is strictly for tourists because there are no camels naturally occuring in this area. Nor do the nomads of this region domesticate camels.
On the third day we headed to the hotsprings for one night. On the way we stopped at the temple in Erdene Zuu to have a look. This temple is being re-established and has one of the larger contingencies of monks in Mongolia. I picked up a few trinkets and donated some money for the rebuilding of this temple because they do contribute to the surrounding community through education.
The ride to the hotsprings was bout 5 hours and mainly over dirt road. We stayed at one of the ger camps that had hidden fees and outrageous ger prices but at least the showers were hot. I telling you that a hot shower is an absolute luxury when you are out in the middle of nowhere and have not bathed in several days. The surrounding lanscape was grasslands with surrounding pine forests on the hillsides. The valley we were in had a series of streams running through it that had lots of aquatic insects.
On our fourth day we stayed at a nomadic herding family. We stayed in the tent brought with us and as a result did not have to pay any fees. The family consisted of four gers with each ger occupied by a couple and their childern. The women of one of the gers cooked for us out of hospitality which is custumary for nomads. I contributed onions and a jar of honey since these people do not have a lot and I did not want to be a complete hardship on her and her family.
The food was very different. The first meal consisted of homade noodles, mutton, onions, potatoes and yak/goat butter. The flavor was predominated by the butter. The remaining meals pretty much tasted much the same as the first meal. Needless to say, we did not eat large quantities.
Oh, when we first arrived we were given a cup of milk or at least that was what I thought it was at the time. I took a big mouthful and immediately realized that it was fermented mare's milk. The alcohol freaked me out and I was in the dilemma of insulting out host and losing my sobriety! I faked a drink and spit what was in my mouth back into the cup. I then waited a few minutes then went outside of the ger and poured the remainder out. Whew, everything worked out and American/Mongolian diplomatic relations were maintained.
Our 5th day consisted of 10 hours of driving back towards UB. We were suppose to stay at another park 2 hours from UB. When we got there the attendant stated that the ger fee was $48/person/night. At that point, I was tired, dirty and in no mood for, "let's take advantage of the westerner". I asked several times about the fee to make sure he was serious and that is when I lost it. I told him that was ridiculous and that we were not going to pay that amount. He then went and talked to his boss and then came back saying he was wrong that the fee was $15/person/night. At that point, I was still pissed and was not going to pay that price either considering that we had been told that we would pay about $10-15/night/ger. I then talked with Anthony and asked if he wanted to pay that amount or just go back to UB. He did not care either way but our driver felt that maybe we could get a better price at another ger camp close by but thay were just as pricey. Thus, we headed back to UB earlier than planned.
Well, that is a synopsis of our 6 (5) day tour of Mongolian countryside. We are now getting ready to get on the train to Estonia. We will be five days on the train so do not get worried if you do not hear from me for a few days.
Love to you all,