Getting started, crossing the desert and one happy Naadam
06.07.2009 - 27.07.2009
By the time we have arrived at our last Asian destination of this trip, we were happy to accept the fact that the easy way to travel in Mongolia is by an all included organized trip. Having no normal / reliable public transportation and endless distances between different sites, makes it reasonable to travel with private driver. A local guide on top of it (that cooks for you as well) is an indulgence, but after spending 3 weeks with our lovely guide Zutla (we are misspelling her and the other Mongolian name on purpose to make it easier to pronounce it properly. But anyway you try to say it – it will not sound like the original…) – we think it was the best decision ever to have her on board.
After the 2 days delay on our arrival to Ulaan Bataar we’ve spent our first day there by quickly organizing our tour around the country:
Duration – the remaining 20 days we have left;
Direction – an elliptic loop that started south to the Gobi desert, up to the central areas, north – almost until the Russian border and back to UB just in time for our flight;
Most complicated mission - finding partners for our trip in order to share costs and enjoy the company of a larger party.
In other words, we’ve spent our only free day in UB by approaching (not to say “attacking”) any possible foreigner we’ve met and asking him to join our tour (not to say “begging him to be our friend”…).
By 9 pm, after wondering the streets like crazy, we were mentally exhausted but we’ve proudly gathered a big group of 7 people (almost 9 if it was up to our guest house manager), and finally we had a bite to eat for the first time that day…. (Great all you can eat Mongolian barbecue. We’ve earned it!)
From right to left: Patrick from Switzerland, our loyal partner from the first organization stages to the last day of the trip (also known as the “Mammoth”), Wouter & Willemijn from Holland, who saved us in any every logistic-challenged situation and unfortunately left the group earlier (also known as our own private “McGuivers” from the Dutch army) and Shirley from the UK (missing Sebastian – her boyfriend from France) who were the last to join the group, but never gave us the filling that they are part of the it (also known as the honeymooners).
Getting really started
On the next morning we’ve met our tour guides and drivers, and not less important – our 2 soviet-designed vans (7 people meant 2 cars unfortunately). Our tour would not have been the same without these friendly 4 people and unbelievable 2 vans (we are counting them almost as living creatures… after riding for 3500 km in them we got very attached….): “mama” Zutla; “yep maybe” Mongo; “Jigme, Jigme, Jigme”; “wouw” Uurna; The grey Uaz; The Austin powers.
The 2 Uaz cars. First model made in 1965, still in use and produced (Jigme's one is 2008), with apparently no change at all from the original design. These cars can "climb" up hills with inclination of more than 45 dgrees and drive through rivers, with no problems. A true soviet-semi-wild-tank!
The Gobi desert was our first destination, and as such, it was the first place to witness the vast plains of this country: endless territory with no human signs of life, wondering herds of animals and no bushes/ trees (major challenge when you need to have a toilet break!). Driving away from UB the paved road ended very quickly after living the city and the land became less and less green as we moved south.
The main attractions of the Gobi desert are all around the Gurvan Shaikhan national park
Fleming cliffs (Bayanzag)
These red cliffs are the area where many dinosaurs bones and egg fossils have been found since the 1920’s (including the ones shown in the national museum of natural history in NY). Today you can’t see much of where or how the excavations worked, but surprisingly, in a small ger nearby they show you some bones and fossils. Just like that…
This was our first major stop in the Gobi and our first “shower” (dripping water from a barrel…) too. Unfortunately, 5 minutes after our shower we were caught in a sand/dust storm, so in a minute we were covered by more dust than before the shower. We call it our sand scrub shower.
Ice canyon (Yolyn Am)
In the middle of the desert there is a canyon which is deep enough so that the sun doesn’t heat its bottom. So, most of the year a part of the stream in this canyon is covered by a layer of ice. In the middle of the desert! In July! We want to import this concept to the Negev!!
Wouter and Patrick on their heavy duty of taking pictures.
While eating dinner at our camp next to the ice canyon, a herd of yaks suddenly appeared in our vally. Things happen suddenly in Mongolia all the time…
Sand dunes (Khongoryn Els)
Out of nowhere, a huge area of sand dunes rises up in the Gobi (most of this desert in not sandy at all). I (Shiri) spent the day there by riding a camel (2 humps!! But actually my camel’s humps looked like they had a flat tire. ) and climbing the 300 m tall dunes.
Andre unfortunately spent it in bed, suffering from what we think was a kidney stone.
Sunrise on the sand dunes
Andre and friends, celebrating Naadam
Naadam is the national festival in Mongolia and we were lucky to attend it in Dalanzadgad, the capital of the south Gobi province, where we could see all the events: It consists of challenges such as horse racing for children, archery (bow and arrow) for men, women and children and wrestling (that is the national sport).
A 10 years old girl, amazing archer!
Wrestling legend tells that one year a woman won the Naadam wrestling contest, so they changed the shirt to be opened and easier to identify woman, since wrestling is a man-only sport.
Wrestlers being presented by their coaches
The volture dance before the fight
Someone will win
The “culinary highlight” of the Naadam turned out to be what we called “the strawberry-gorgonzola ice cream”. It was supposed to be a strawberry ice-cream, but it had a strong taste of stinky/ gone bad cheese that until now we are sure it had some gorgonzola on it start-up!