July 19, 2015: Morun, Mongolia
What a beautiful and peaceful country this is so far! We spent the first two nights in Ulaanbaatar(UB), getting settled and exploring the city a little. Everyone has been super friendly and honest so far- nothing too fancy or frilly, just functional. Not so much materialism is definitely refreshing.
Two days after arriving we too the bus from UB to Morun- 14 hours long! Getting the tickets, with a free- for- all pushy, body- checking line-up, having to buy a second set of tickets, super cool kids traveling on their own, pit stops at increasingly sketchy latrines (you have to pray the boards don’t break, and definitely don’t want to linger…), double hump camels, gers ( Mongolian yurts), yaks, cows, and goats crossing, drunk vodka man kinda hitting on mom showing her eagle hunting videos, and Steve running off the bus to projectile vomit ( I think it was the Mongolian yogurt), are just a couple nostalgic memories from the day to sum it up..
After the long bus ride (on paved roads) was so hard on Steve and Mom decided not to travel to the West, as it would be at least a 2-3 day drive on dirt roads one way, and instead we decided to spend some more time touring North of Morun, in the Taiga/ Khovsgol Lake Region. So today is a planning/restocking/resting day and then we will head North tomorrow 🙂
July 25, 2015: West Taiga Reindeer Camp
Day 2 at the reindeer camp. I don’t think I have ever been to such an isolated community. After 15 hourS of flying to get to Ulaanbaatar and a 14 hour bus ride to get to Morun, we took a 13 hour rough van ride on wild roads to Tsaaganuur, followed by 2 four to six hour days of horseback riding through rough rough terrain ( my horse slipped on a boulder and fell once, luckily there was a big boulder for me to bail off the horse). It feels so isolated here- no cell service, internet, shops, tv… A world before globalization where you only know what is happening in your immediate surroundings. Time definitely drifts by slowly here, with no urgency to get anything done- a nice change from the pace of the outside world.
So the van trip from Morun to Tsaaganuur was quite the trip – one of the roughest “roads” I have ever traveled on (and that is coming from a tree planter). It felt like we were constantly riding through what we call “de-ac’s” on bush roads , as if someone had tied a plastic pop bottle filled with pebbles to the leash of a dog chasing a rabbit, with us being the pebbles being tossed every which way. Pretty exhausting to be clenching the seat ( no seat belts) for 13 hours, a good arm/ neck strengthening session..
We spent the night at a locals house outside of Tsaaganuur- with beautiful open countryside full of goats, cows/ yaks, horses, dogs, and children roaming freely. The next morning we had our first real taste of Mongolian ‘timelessness’, as the tour operator Sara likes to say. Woke up and ran and packed everything to go by 10 am, then waited around until 3:50 when the guides, other travelers, and horses were finally ready to go. There is no rushing, especially in the morning in Mongolia. And so, 7 tourists, 3 pack horses and 4 guides (14 horses plus 3 baby horses) headed northwest from Tsaaganuur. I was nervous riding at first, but quickly got the hang of it- the horses here are quite calm and friendly, almost like a large dog that you can ride.
We spent three hours going up river along the grasslands, followed by 3 hours up rocky and muddle terrain through the forest. We camped just as the tree line was ending on a rocky slope. The next day we got a bit of an earlier start…11:30 , and quickly did the remaining 4 hours through Taiga to get to the Tsaatan Community and family we would be staying with in the West Taiga area.
What a unique and magical place..teepees for houses, schools, and military barracks, friendly reindeer, and tough beautiful people. We are spending three nights in the teepees and two days for visiting and exploring the area. Got to sample reindeer milk in the tea, dried reindeer cheese, and even tried a small piece of reindeer meat (chewy). We even got to ride the reindeer:). They are such gentle and curious creatures- really neat to see how the herders coexist with them. Such a different lifestyle- no electricity, no plumbing, no telephones, but everything you really need.
July 27, 2015: Tsaaganuur Community/ Visitors Centre
Back in the big city again. After running dangerously low on food, it is quite the treat to be able to munch on something other than oatmeal and instant noodles again, even if it is just pickles and apple sauce… On our way out of the Taiga we stopped by the local preschool for a ‘baby nada am festival”, where 3-5 year olds sang, danced, cried, and were strapped to reindeer for a 100m charge/ race, quite the crazy festivities. We took 2 days to get out, it poured all night while we were camping and half the group did not have waterproof tents. Mom ended up in the two person tent with Steve and I at 5:45am, quite the bonding, a three way spoon with me in the middle. But, made it through and hiked the ~ 20 km to get back to the ‘big city’ of Tsaaganuur (Steve rode the horse, but mom and I were too cold and had to walk to stay warm, not to mention how much horse back riding hurts your tailbone and knees when you are not used to it). Tonight we will stay here at the visitors centre, then head to Khosvgal tomorrow:)