8th August

So it seems i left Mongolia 9 days ago and i havent left a post since then, it takes a while to process the departure, im not even sure i can process it now as im in la-la land in Bali, i travelled from UB to Denpasa Bali by train 1st to beijing, stayed 3 days with my lovely, incrediblly hosting cousin, then another train to Hong Kong, easily the weirdest place ive ever been then a flight to Bali. Now i am sitting here at a bar at my ‘Inn’ trying to write this blog.

So the first thing i noticed was when i got off the train in beijing i realised my limited yet survival level Mongolian would not be needed anymore and i probably would not be speaking to any Mongolians anymore and that made me very sad. The whole time in Beijing and Hong Kong i wanted to shout Zogcho and Totzo but knew it would get me nowhere. Also everything i experienced in those cities i wanted to tell my friends about when i got back to UB, but knew i couldnt, that made me sadder.

The hind-sight of having volunteered with VSO and especially in Mongolia has so far made me feel extremely proud, honoured and fulfilled i cannot express it with words, but you will all see that when you leave (those of you reading this from UB). I would not change it for anything, i know that the majority of the people i will speak to in my future will never understand what i experienced the last year and that i can only share it with a limited few, only they understand the joys and pains and pure freakiness of it all and i will always remember them and hopefully, or more certainly i will be able to reminise with them at a later date in another location. I have shared many experiences and maybe too much information with a selected few, they all know who they are.

25th August

Again, its taken me a while to get back to writing this. Im now in Kuala Lumpa airport awaiting my departure to London and with 5hours left to go for departure i have time to finish this blog.

Prior to being offered a place in Mongolia Asia was not my 1st option for travel, no offence to Asia but other places caught my attention first. But after a year and 4 countries later i have had the time of my life, especially the people of Indonesia, i hope their smiles and kindness keep me going when i get back to the rudeness and frowns in London. All this travel gives you a different perspective on life and people and what is important and this is what i really hope to take with me forever.

Now back to Mongolia, i promised to Y that i would write my top 10 things i’ll miss in Mongolia as well as the things i wont miss, ive had more than enough time to think about it so here goes.


1-People, people, people, the adoptive family you soon grow.

2-The countryside, every part of it, winter and especially the summer.

3-The feeling you get in the countryside of space, stars and endlessness.

4-Ikh Mongol, sad but true, its not the place but what it represented and all that was shared there.

5-Strangely enough the lack of planning and impulsiveness. As a mild OCDer i loved and embrassed how you can impulsively get away.

6-The hospitality of my co-workers and the effort they made to make me feel welcome.

7-Again strangely enough, although at first it was weird i got used to the staring, especially on the bus and the kids in the street. That fascination of who are you and what are you doing here.

8-Making it through a winter alive and unscaved, also the extreme cold when you are wrapped up warm is quite something. I loved that i did it but wouldnt do it again.

9-Hiking in the hills, however much i complained about it.

10-Sleeping/waking up/cleaning my teeth outdoors. Especially cleaning my teeth outdoors.

Wont miss/Bad

1-That winter pollution has got to go, for everyone that lives there something has to be done.

2-Seeing puppies in the winter that havent made it.

3-Violence to foreigners.

4-Falling over endlessly in the winter.

5-Just how damn hard it was somedays to get about/do work or just to face another frozen face day.

6-Sorry but the food leaves alot to be desired.

7-Poverty, its hard to see and harder to know you cant help it.

8-Being so far from family

9-Getting a job done, achieving a goal. I learnt however to let go and that eventually we would get there. Still it was a hard process.

10-Having to say goodbye to those you get close to.

All in all and as cheesy as it sounds its what i learnt the last year that i cherish the most.

Here are some of my favourite moments from the last year

Duya's Wedding

Hikes with K n C

Me in Space Narinteel

MN in Beijing

Waking in Khovsgol

Bonfire n vodka in Khovsgol

Camel ride in Sainshand

Terelj with K n C

NY eve

A spontaneous night in Terelj

This guys Serenity

Sunset time Gili T

Doing nothing Gili T

Every evening Gili T

The Royal cremation Ubud

Dolphins at sunrise Lovina

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8 days to go

So it seems like yesterday as well as years ago that i arrived in Mongolia, not knowing where i was or how on earth i was going to do my job for the next year. Now i am sitting here in the factory preparing to leave and to be honest it makes me feel sick. Ive met many people here and you get close fast so leaving is going to be hard, thankfully one friend will be leaving on the train with me or as she says ‘its her job to get me on the train’. So next Saturday we will board a train to Beijing to begin another adventure but with 2 big suitcases. Im pretty sure i will both cry as well as be sick on the train but c’est la vie.

So my final few weeks have been fantastic, partly because its been a busy time with National holidays but also because the summer here is incredible and well deserved after 8 months of winter. Maybe summer can only be this good when it is well deserved.

I wont go into detail of all the trips and adventures but they all revolve around Nadaam Festival as well as Mongolias only music Festival ‘Playtyime’, a rock festival which really isnt my cup of tea but we had a great time, it was hot, hot, beer was cheap and the setting was spectacular.

Other trips were twice to Terelj and also Nadaam in Nailakh, alot of sleeping in tents, Gers, climbing mountains, visiting Monasterys, BBQ on the hill, endless fun, basically getting dirty in the countryside, it was a great 2 weeks off work.

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Gobi Delights

I think that when you plan a trip in Mongolia a few days before departure, and when I say plan I mean buy train tickets and leave the rest up to fate; I think you have finally become accustomed to Mongolian ways and have relaxed enough to know that this is how the best things are experienced. So that is what we did on Saturday, we boarded a train to Sainshand, on the edge of the Gobi for 10 hours, sat back and took in the views, which didn’t actually change for about 7 hours!

Trans-Mongolian train

We booked the middle price tickets for the train a mere £14 return, a total of 22 hours on a train, we all had bunk beds in one cabin with no doors, around 50 people in a cabin, comfortable enough and a good way to get to know your neighbouring passengers who happened to be a brother and sister aged 10 and 5 who were travelling alone to Sainshand too and were being picked up at their destination. Obviously we were bemused by this and took it upon ourselves to make sure they did not injure themselves in those 10 hours, however the girl who was the oldest of the 2 was more of a grown up than any of us and seemed to be in control of the situation. We filled the hours with games and snacks and a few drinks; we were easily the noisiest in the cabin fuelled by our excitement to be leaving the city for the glorious countryside.

We arrived in the evening before dusk and within a few seconds a group of guides had found us and with our basic Mongolian negotiated a bed for the night and a guide/driver for the next day. We were taken to the usual ‘micro bus’ and told the camp was 15km away, not far at all but as usual and as expected it was not that simple, we first stopped at a petrol station, not to get petrol but for the driver to meet the other guides and exchange something in a plastic bag and to make some phone calls, next to the pump and with the engine on, 2 things we have always been told never to do. Then we headed off out of the town and into the countryside soon enough leaving the tarmac road and onto the sandy tracks, our first glimpse of Gobi-ness. After about 45mins we wondered what sort of 15kms took this much time, it turned out the next day we found out it was 43kms. Either way we were used to the bizarre-ness and took it in our stride enjoying the newness of it all, the herds of camels at dusk and the near collisions with giant haulage lorries that you come across somehow in the middle of a desert.

Good Morning Gobi

Our Camp at Dawn

So the guide, who by the way I highly recommend, took us to a ger camp, by this time it was dark and we didn’t know where we were or what our surroundings looked like, my favourite by the way as it makes that first glimpse of outside the ger at dawn all the more breathtaking, which it was. We awoke at 4.30am to go and see the sunrise and to visit the Hamrin Hiid or the ‘World Energy Centre’ and it appeared that our camp was surrounded by Gobi dunes and pink dawn sky; it was as always breathtaking and will stick forever as one of those truly beautiful, humbling experiences.

Sunrise & Seeds

We boarded the van and were driven pretty fast (as we were late) to a hill which was already busy with Mongolians all waiting for the sun to appear over the dunes, everybody was holding up their hands palms facing the sun to absorb the morning sun’s energy, so we joined them in what was stage one of our ‘Energy’ gathering tour. Following sunrise we walked around these monuments covered in years of rice, seeds and milk, all of which are offerings. These sites we visited are very important sites for Mongolians and especially Buddhists and it was an incredible experience, the next few sites were ringing of Bell, the ‘Energy centre’ itself a sacred site thought to bring energy to you, followed by the 108 caves and the Khamaryn Khiid Monastery. Strangely enough we met a Mongolian guy at the Energy Centre who despite me telling him i was English insisting on speaking to me in French, and we kept bumping into him throughout the day all the way back to UB on the train too. And later in the park an elderly man spoke German to us, both of which were quite bizarre.


Ringing of the Bell

Surrounding the 'World Energy Centre'

Lama at 'World Energy Centre'

'World Energy Centre'

'World Energy Centre'

Guantanamo Buddha atKhamaryn Khiid Monastery

We completed all of this before 7.30am and begged the guide to go back to the camp as we, I mean ‘I’ was soo hungry and no good what so ever without food in me.

After breakfast we drove to a local herders home in the desert, a Camel and goat herder and we all took turns to ride a couple of his camels, another humbling and great experience, the camel is by far the comfiest animal to ride and definitely more comfy than the van when crossing terrain. The herder then asked us into his home to drink camel milk and eat biscuits/bread; the milk was quite thick and a little bitter, like a natural yogurt and my favourite Mongolian dairy product to date. While we were drinking our milk a few other guys appeared and began sharpening knives on flint with their spit, which led our thoughts to the Mongolian desert being the perfect place to bury a bunch of foreigners, obviously this wasn’t the case and as we were leaving we saw said guy holding a live sheep with the knife in his other hand and we realised the sharpening was for ‘lunch’ we stayed and watched as the herder accompanied by our guide put the ‘sheep to sleep’, it sounds like an under-exaggeration but it really looks this way, the sheep doesn’t struggle or cry out, just goes peacefully and not a drop of blood is spilt.

Camel ride

Off we go

Rare white camel

Herders herd of goats

Drinking the milk

On our drive back to Sainshand we stopped off at Khar Uul ‘Black Mountain, a sacred mountain which is climbed only by men, well woman can climb part of the way so the 2 guys climbed to the very top and we waited a way down where there were very friendly goats and one who was extremely vain and photogenic, he even wore a prayer scarf as a dandy.

Khar Ull

The steep climb

Khar Uul

Dandy Goat

By 11.30am we had seen all that we wished to see and there really wasn’t much else close by so we managed to move our train tickets forward a day and we spent the afternoon in Sainshand park, sheltered from the hot sun by trees and played cards. Amazing what you accomplish in a morning when we wake up at dawn.

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Oh what country air does to us folk

So KK as usual puts me to shame with her blogging and has made me sit up in my bed on this lazy Sunday and write my next blog entry without a month or even 2 month break between posts.

This week was short yet long, on Monday morning all 27 of us volunteers and staff headed out on a bus to the countryside. The first thing i noticed was that we left an hour late due to the bus not arrving and i dont believe anyone said a thing, its just a  given that we will be late and the bus does eventually turn up and we do get to our destination, time is just irrelevent i think. So we arrived a few hours later at the camp after crossing dust heaps and holes and that was in the city. We went straight in for lunch and then settled in our wooden gers, luxurious to say the least, they had real mattresses, a fridge, sink, telephone and in the main building a sauna, showers and sit-down toilets, did u hear me correctly, sit-down toilets with flush in the countryside, my packets of wet wipes were never opened how glorious.

So i wont bore you with the conference details, it wouldnt be interested unless you are part of the 27 but we had a good time, we discussed all that needed to be discussed and good conversations were had by all. It was definetely bonding for us all, it reminded me of our original VSO training back in Birmingham however with its Mongolian quirks.

Our Camp

Our Camp

Quirk number one, although we were in a Ger camp you still encounter neighbours to the camp, around 11pm when you are sitting on a bench in a sleeping bag drinking and looking at the stars and 2 young boys ride up in the dark, bare-backed on horses and it was really dark and they were really young, now 10months ago this would have been a shock and bizarre but it was just what it was, we didnt even blink an eye however quirk number 2 was weird, one of the camp staff cutting the grass/weeds growing between the paving terrace stones with a pair of scissors, yep that did catch my eye, i thought there must be a better way, like grabbing it with your fingers and yanking it out by the roots, but that is the way it is done so c-est la vie!!

Guitar at Dusk

Jamming in the grass

Evening come together

Now i havent been in the countryside properly since the winter and now we are in June and summer is here with its dust storms and rain storms n all and living in the city you dont notice as much but the countryside has really come alive, i feel we ourselves have copied nature, we realise that there are only a few months of summer before winter appears again so we must make the most of it, come alive, grow and dance in the wind, we saw herbs growing naturally, an array or wild flowers, long grass, caterpillars, butterflys and a constant cuckooing cuckoo, everything that wants to make the most of our short summer months. However there was still snow, hiding in the woods by a stream like a monster reminding us that winter dominates all.


Snow in June


And of course the countryside would not be the same without the immense starry sky that again takes your breath away. As usual thank you to the Mongolian countryside for putting everything in perspective.

VSO Mongolia


The real VSO Mongolia

Thanks to AS for group photos.

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Signs of Spring

As usual its been a long time. The more time i spend here the more life becomes normal and i dont know what to write about.

Its kinda Spring now, except for the snow which we awake to everynow and then, this makes me sink to be honest, i think they are overdoing it, 6months of winter was more than enough. My winter clothes are falling apart and cant take anymore, holes are appearing in my trousers where i would prefer there werent holes and so i want to bring out the summer clothes and start making holes in them. Please, please, please bring us the Summer already!!! (However today we had great weather)

Signs of Spring

My work is as usual bizarre, im approaching the end now, just under 3 months to go and my plans have had to change so many times that now there is no plan, just go in everyday and take it a day at a time, there is nothing more i can do. To be honest my energy is decreasing but i push on through. We have had good news after alot of bad news though. The factory has had many financial problems and capacity has shrunk but we have at last made a sale with the outside world, yippeee. There may even be more to come, fingers crossed. I just hope that the sales keep coming, there is a complete lack of forward and preventative thinking here, each day is taken as it comes and there should be more looking forward and planning so big problems can be prevented but this is the way and you have to accept somethings.

Despite the lack of Summer we have been hiking as often as possible, i even went on a 2 day hike and camp. I was told it would be cold at night, -5, which isnt bad and that i would need a sleeping bag to deal with the cold. I dont have a winter sleeping bag but still i wanted to go, nothing was going to stop me i had made up my mind. So on a Saturday morning about 10 of us set off in a van to Mansushir, a monastery South of the city and the beginning of  hike trail up to Tse Tse Gun a huge Ovoo i had visited previously. It was pretty fricking windy and cold and we had our overnight ruck sacks too to carry. This was however the easiest part of the trip as there was a trail!

At the top, in the howling wind we had lunch, hiding underneath a big rock, i didnt even look at the views as the wind was so cold. I was wondering how i would ever make the rest of the trip and now was the moment to decide as only 4 of the others were going to conitnue on the walk and the rest were going to get the van back to UB. I decided to stay and begin the long walk back to UB ahhhhh!!!

The endless Boulders

A deserved rest


And so it began, no trails, not even flat ground but climbing over boulders for hours some covered in slippery moss, a few swamps to add to the excitement and then heading into a forest to find flat ground to camp for the night. There wasnt any flat ground but we found areas relatively flat to set up the tents.

The Camp site

We spent the evening cooking around the camp fire and chatting, getting burnt by sparks and swamped by smoke, but as it was starting to get cold hugging the fire was the only way to be. Finally we went to bed around 10 and i managed to sleep straight away, however i awoke needing the toilet, clambered out of the tent into the woods hoping not to encounter any animals, then went back to my sleeping bag and i could not sleep at all, even with 4 or 5 layers including yak trousers, it felt like i did not sleep all night because of the cold, i just lay awake waiting for dawn which came at 6am, i got up and everyone else was sound asleep and i tried to light the fire. This was my first ever attempt of making a fire but i was not successful, i thought i had seen enough fires lit to know how but no not a chance. I just had to wait for someone else to wake up and help me out, which happened about 30mins later. Finally the fire was going, we had breakfast, packed up the tents and set off again for another 6 hours, over boulders again,

More Boulders

Bananas or poo?

The distant peak where we had come from

thankfully no steep ascents until the end, the final hurdle to get to the city. We rested just before then went up in one go all the way to the top where we had lunch then the final stretch to the city and of course to the Irish pub for a deserved drink ahhh.

Descent to the city

The Hikers

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How many people can you cram in a Russian van?

So onto the 2nd week away, Hovsgol Nuur a lake in the North of Mongolia, surface area 2760Km2, depth over 200m and age over 2 million years old. How to get there, either fly or choose the cheap adventurous option, 2 days in a Russian van, we chose the latter. We began as we meant to go on nearly 2 hours late on a freezing Monday morning and with 3 seats missing in the back. This was rectified by stopping in the city somewhere to pick up a row of back seats from a building, obviously they didnt have to be attached to the van floor as the amount of luggage packed around them kept it from moving about. So now we had 9 seats in the back of the van and 10 people which helps when it is so cold that the inside of the windows are frozen solid and there is no heating, great just 48 hours left to go, better get comfortable!!!

Our Russian beast of a van

Off we went with a driver, 2 guides, 8 of us foreign friends and a random, or the stow away as we called him, for the 2 days we were in the van we had no idea who he was and probably never will know! Happily waving goodbye to the smog again we set off and a mere 4 hours later arrived just outside Darkhan for lunch at the Lotus cafe. A semi vegi cafe run by a VSO volunteer who presented us with our last vegetables for a week on a beautiful pizza and allowed us to use the last sit down toilet for a week, bliss. Another 5 hours later we arrived in Bulgan city for the night, we had a wander round the town which took a minute and as we were on holiday we headed to the local supermarket to stock up on wine, vodka and water, the 3 necessities, my wine was obviously for kalimotxo the popular Mongolian drink!!

Chinggis in Bulgan city

Bulgan City

We entertained ourselves in the evening with cards and games then awoke early the next morning to board the ice van again, ironically heading to an ice festival and thus began day 2. Now i cant really describe how we filled 2 days in the van entertaining ourselves but with the precious ever changing views, the name on the head game, sleeping and general gossip we did and it brought us to our 1st stop of the day for lunch in a lost, far away Soum somewhere!

After lunch we re-shuffled ourselves as we did everytime the van stopped and then began the van problems. Problem 1 the back doors kept un-hinging, not opening but when you are on a seat at the back of the van that is not attached to the floor you do begin to worry if you will at some point we lying on your back on the snow track in the middle of nowhere. Problem 2 flat tyre, now the speed at which they changed this tyre was amazing, the van was jacked up, wheel off, wheel on, back in the van. It may have been speeded along by the siberian wind that was thrashing through the land, it was icey!!!!!!!! There was a 3rd break down somewhere but i cant remember at which point but it involved having a poke around the engine which is located between the driver and passenger seat and involves taking out the passenger seat. Russian van drivers can fix almost anything wrong with the engine right there on the side of the road, i think they were built this way so as not to need a mecanic.

Driving through nowhere

A decent track

Road-side facilities

Our guides aka Batman and Robin

We arrived in Murun just an hour late, not bad considering at 5.30pm to greet another bunch of volunteers who had decided to fly up North, they looked considerably better than us. Then we stopped off at a mecanic i think to pick up a new wheel and then dinner in town. We boarded the van again at 8pm with 2 more Russian vans now in tow with the other volunteers and headed into the snowy dark wilderness and towards Hatgal the town by the lake. We had decided it was time to open the wine by now and i can proudly say that despite the bumps and bangs not one drop was spilt. However our adventure was not yet over as the track we were on every now and then would end with a huge pile of sand and we’d have to go off track in the dark and usually into snow drifts. I cant remember how many times this happened but it was many times and i began to understand why it was best there were 3 Russian vans to deal with it. Every 10 minutes or so 1 of the vans would get stuck in the snow and they are big vans so we all got out to push the van out of the drift it was stuck in, then the other 2 would have to get through, followed by a wander round with a torch trying to find some sort of track and then all back in until the next time. It was very funny and the starry sky, again was beautiful, despite how it sounds getting stuck in the snow hours from anywhere in the freezing cold not knowing where we were or if we’d have to sleep there, it was a thoroughly funny evening. By the time we reached Hatgal at midnight the novelty had worn off and we dropped some of us off in town at a Ger, their home for the week and the rest of us headed off up, over, down, under a mountain, who knows, for 45minutes to arrive at grandmas cabin, our home for the week. It was now 1am, grandma was asleep in bed, sharing with her grandson and also there were 3 or 4 uncles in tow, im not sure where they came from but there we all were. Myself and 2 friends took our beds on the floor between grandma and another single bed where the 2 guides slept. I think im not sure but the uncles may have slept there too around the stove as when we awoke 7hours later and sat up on the floor and they were still around the stove.

Looking my finest i quickly learnt how to change my underwear inside the sleeping bag while wearing thermals and pj bottoms. I washed my face in the bowl in the corner of the room using melted snow water, cleaned my teeth and sat down to breakfast of butz and salty tea with grandma and family.

Grandmas cabin

Our view from the cabin

Grandmas sheep being herded out

Grandmas inquisitve goats

Grandmas sheep

We made it to the Ice festival late of course, what is time anyway? and had a look around. I discovered that my Mongolian boots despite being warm where not for walking of ice, i moved like a snail for 3 days to try and avoid slipping over, i was walking on a lake, sounds bizarre buts its true we did actually spend 3 days walking about on a lake as well as driving on it of course too. It is frozen several metres down but full of suspicious cracks, i fell many, many times.

Cabins by the lake

Ice sculptures

Skating on the lake

More sculptures

The ice slide

Me on the ice slide

Standing on the lake

Folk on the lake

Fellow visitors to the festival

A magnificent man on a horse

Maybe father and son

It was also pretty damn cold, maybe not the coldest we have experienced but with the wind and also we never usually spend time outside, just between buildings. But here it was just lake and the odd Ger where they served the best frigging Hushuurs in the world i can bet. I ate 5 a day and i hate hoshuur, i think its the psycological, if you take 2 days of driving and breakdowns to get somewhere then even hoshuur takes great. The day was spent between watching certain events on the lake like family competitions, ice skating marathons, going down the ice slide, traditional clothing competition and then trips back to the Hoshhur ger to get warm again. At dusk though the real fun began in the back of a beer lorry opened up to reveal a stage where they had dancing competitions and singing, bad dancing and bad singing but you won a bottle of vodka so what the hell.

Watching the singing competition

Then there was a bonfire, all of which was on the lake of course, before the bonfire there was a shaman performance, quite amazing, then dancing to the usual suspects, Rhianna, Keisha and the Beaver i mean Justin Beiber.

Our night by the bonfire

The warm, much needed bonfire

It was a really great evening and best of all we were warm for the first time all day from the bonfire. But it didnt end there, we still had to get the van back to the cabin and anything that involves the van involves adventure. We had been driving over the mountains for quite a while when we started to slow down to a complete halt, um petrol baxgui it seems, we asked if he should get out and walk, we were told to wait, so we did and the driver found a canister with a thimble of petrol under one of the seats and off we went again for 2 minutes and again, slowing down to a halt, this time we did get out and walk, thankfully with the guide and we were walking to his grandmas house so he knew where he was going, turn left at the snow then straight on until you hit the snow etc. We only had those silly lights you get at the end of lighters to guide us but we weren’t too far away so we made it and straight to bed again between grandma and the guides.

Following day we were no fools, we knew the drill, 20minutes outside watching ice tug of war etc then 30minutes in the ger eating hushuurs.

Tug of war on ice!!!

Traditional clothing competition

More ice sculptures

In the afternoon we were dragged away from our ger to another ger in town to eat, wait for it, hushuur, then after to the town hall to watch wrestling. Our guide it seems was a wrestler and there was a mini competition which some of the whiteys got involved in also. It was very up close and personal, they fell on the audience frequently but it was also most atmospheric to be so close.

The wrestlers

Close to the action

We spent the late afternoon/evening hiking up a hill around the town then ate dinner at the ger in town, fried fish from the lake, yum, yum what a change from the mutton.

Hatgal from the top of the hill

Us girls cold on the hill

Then as we were being picked up to go back to the cabin we ended up back at the town hall where we had recently been to see wrestling and it was now a night club, well dance hall. Most of the people we had seen the last 2 days at the ice festival were now waltzing  around the hall or trancing around the hall, depended on the song. I had a few waltzes with a couple of locals, including an older woman in a beret who was a very strict dancer and didnt put up with any messing about.

Day 3 was spent on the lake and we so far had not really seen the extent of the lake, the festival is based at the Southern point of the lake and so we took a Horse sleigh ride around the mountain to the other side to see the vastness that is lake Hovsgol, the sleigh ride was really beautiful, bumpy and windy but quite an experience.

Horse sleigh ride

On the sleigh

Racing on ice

Our horse had bells and so it felt almost Christmassy. It wasnt a long ride but we enjoyed it and raced along with the other horse and sleigh along side, and again you forget you are on a lake and pray you dont break the ice but thankfully we obviously didnt. Later as the ice festival had already finished we amused oursleves by climbing another hill around the town, the one with an Ovoo, it was almost dusk and we lit a fire, drank vodka from a hipflask and made ourselves comfortable for the imminent sunset, however all of a sudden a man on a horse appeared from the other side of the mountain, obviuosly wondering what these white folk were up to and i guess from what we could understand he had thought we were setting fire to the ovoo, smoke had been seen at the top of the hill from the town and he had been sent up to investigate. We promptly put the fire out and then watched the sun set before heading back into town for our final evening in Hatsgal.

Ovoo on the hill


The next morning we awoke early again to begin our 2day drive back to Ub, we knew what to expect this time and i have to say i was looking forward to it. We boarded the van and went to the petrol station in the town, which was closed at it was 7am, but there was a second, also closed. We really needed petrol, the drive to Murum takes 3 hours and there is nothing in between so the only solution was to wake up the petrol station worker who thankfully lived in a Ger next to the petrol tank, he appeared 5minutes later in his reflective uniform and filled us up and we headed off. This time the drive was much easier and took no time at all as it was day light and we could see the tracks available and didnt get stuck in snow drifts. In Murun we stopped at the mecanic again, loaded up on snacks then the long, long ride to Bulgan city began. This ride had quite a few breakdowns, i lost count how many, in total the whole week 10, but this day held the majority of them; the seats come out, ice is kicked off the bottom of the van, we get in again, then repeat. The days drive was 14hours, we arrived in Bulgan city after 9pm and set out to find a restaurant, it was tsuivan again but this time with beef, it makes the difference, a few bottles of vodka were consumed with the guides and drivers, it was a nice evening getting to know them all. That night in the hotel we had the best nights sleep ever i think, usually  beds here are pretty hard but the hotel had comfy beds, no showers and communal loos but soft beds. I was quite happy not to have a shower as i was determined to complete the week without one and to truly appreciate my own shower when i got back home.

Now we were in the final day, again “the last camel carries the heaviest load” saying proved itself, we were up early at 7 but departed i dont remember when, but it was a few hours later. The van was missing in action, we believe it was at a mecanics but we kept being told it was in the garage, we hung out in the foyer of the hotel all this time and the other residents, all Mongolian took great delight in taking photos with the foreigners and us with them, there was an adorable little boy in cargo dungarees who had popped into our hotel room earlier, it is not only at work in the office that people pop their head in, it also happens in your personal hotel room, you have to learn to lock the door as there is always someone looking for their friends room.

Other hotel residents

Hotel foyer


Really crammed in the van

Crammed back in the van

Breakdown #10

Almost back in UB

Finally we left and before we arrived in UB at 7 in the evening we had several more breakdowns, played football with ice lumps and at long last got to my beautiful shower and sit down toilet, the perks of the city, but i have to say dearly missed the countryside and the real Mongolia.

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Never have i seen so many stars

This is the 1st of 2 blog entries about 2 separate trips to the countryside, one was work, one was play, both blew me away.

After 6 months of working on my project it was finally decided that we should go and pay a visit to the herders, the ones we are supposedly working with and helping to secure their livelihoods. I had so far seen the whole process of cashmere/yak/camel hair production, but i had yet to see the herders who supply the hair. It was quite an eye opening experience, especially as it was my 1st real trip to the countryside and leaving the built up developed UB with its tarmaced roads and sit down toilets.

The adventure began on the 21st February at 8am, well about 8.45, 2 VSO staff and 2 volunteers boarded the VSO 4×4 and headed out of the city onto the direct road to Arvaheer, a 2 way road and what was the only road we would be using for the whole week.

VSO team

Of course before we leave the city we pick up someone else the VSO intern and we waved goodbye to the big smog. After a few hours in the comfy 4×4 we stopped at a cafe along the road to have the 1st of many tsuivans or flour noodles with mutton, and to use the facilities (a squat toilet in a wooden hut in a field of -20 degrees). As many of you who know me and may be reading this blog know i am not too fussy about home comforts and especially toilet talk but what i saw will forever be engraved in my memory as the biggest pile of poop i will ever see, hopefully!! Thankfully it was the worst we saw and thanks to the cold weather the smell goes un-noticed. Well sorry about that but it is a big part of going to the countryside and during the 2nd week i have to say i quite enjoyed the beautiful views that squatting outside brings with it.

Roas side cafe

It took a good 7 hours to get to Arvahher the Soum centre for Overkhangahi, quite good considering, at times the snow drifts along the side of the road became the road but we made it in good time. We did not stay long there, we just picked up the technician from the grading laboratory and began out trip to Sant a neighbouring Soum (village) to meet with the 1st of 4 groups of Herders. As you may have noticed i said trip to Sant not road to Sant as there wasnt one, it was a dirt track over bumpy terrain for 3 hours with 4 people in the back seat and room for only 3. But the more uncomfortable the journey the more of the adventure.          A few oddities we saw along the track included a sack of hooves, followed by a sack of boots and sadly a dead baby camel, im not sure if the 2 sacks had anything to do with each other! There were a few risky moments too while charging up a dusty hill only to find that on the other side was a steep drop and then over another hill was a herd of horses stampeding towards us only 1o metres in front, i swallowed my heart and although it was a beautiful, magnificient sight it was terrifying to see them heading towards us with dust flying everywhere, obviously they parted and ran either side of us or else i would not be sitting here writing this blog!!!!

In Sant, exhausted after a long day we met our 1st group of herders for a focus group discussion. It went well, its frustrating not being able to join in as you dont really understand whats going on but you can feel the atmosphere and it felt ok. On a personal level it was great to see everbody in Deels and not regular clothes and i was surprised to see that most of the herders were women. After the meeting we had dinner Tsuivan #2!!

Sant Herders

Sant Herders association

We then drove back to Arvaheer where our hotel with toilet and running water was awaiting us, it was a meer 3 hours and not as much fun in the dark but with the dark comes the stars, so many frigging stars it takes your breath away. There are not many things i dont try and take photographs of for memory sake but this is one of those things that not only is it impossible to capture but also i will never forget the Mongolian nights sky.

Day2, again a long day we drove to Nariinteel 4 hours away, again without a road but the land around us was outstanding, just space and snow, mountain and the odd goat/sheep herd to clear off the track.

en route to Narinteel

We also saw a venue as they are called of vultures waiting on the side of the road for a car to break down and the inhabitants to die waiting for someone else to drive past and save them. We arrived in time for lunch Tsuivan #3 and then we proceeded to our discussion. It was a large group and was attended by the Governor, again it was great to see a female Governor. This time the discussion was not so peaceful, there was a lot of worry over pricing of raw fibre and although the herders wanted to support the National industry by selling direct to the factories they couldn’t guarantee it as the Chinese offer a higher price each year. However it was great to see them stand up for themselves and to know exactly what they want instead of letting the factories dictate to them.

Narinteel Herder women

Narinteel herders association

As usual i was fascinated by the deels and especially combined with fur covered Russian motorbikes (the modern day replacement for the horse), however as we found out they were just as interested in us and regularly took photos of us too, at the end of the discussion a group of teenage girls found us and insisted we help them with their English homework. It worries me when there are questions i don’t know the answer to!!!


Nariinteel temple

We were then rushed off to our accomodation for the night, we boarded the jeep and drove approx. 20metres away to the Governors building, it would have been quite the walk! It seemed us 2 volunteers were to be staying in a bedroom set up in the office building, a nice warm room with 3 beds, a pail of well water and a television.

That evening we had dinner in the same Ger we had been to for lunch, i cant really remember what we ate but there was mutton, maybe soup with special extra fatty pieces. Then back to our bedroom, it appeared we were given the only key to the building so no pressure not to loose the governors key. Now usually i sleep very well but this night for some reason i was awake at 2am but didn’t stir until 4am when i realised my friend was also awake, we decided that as we were not going to sleep anytime soon we would put on the telly and see what Nariinteel Soum had to offer at 4am for entertainment, it seems a Toni Braxton music video marathon!!! Then the inevitable happened, i needed the loo, or the wooden slats located out the back on the building. I was not too pleased with this but it had to be done, so i went outside and again i was transfixed by the night sky in all its glory. Once i came out of my transfixture i decided i didn’t want to go round the back of the building as i had remembered that was where a local dog slept and i couldn’t deal with that in my pajamas so i just went outside the building, obviously nobody was around, there wasn’t a single sound in the Soum but i was then worried that what i had done would freeze any second now and in the morning the Governor would know and id feel bad for peeing outside her important building so i went back inside and grabbed the pail of well water and threw it over the ground, a bit like flushing the toilet i guess. That made me feel much better.

Day 3 Mutton Butz for breakfast, this really was just too much for me so early, but you gotta eat so i did and off to Khairkhandulaan we went.

This was easily the biggest discussion group we encountered on our trip and they felt the same about prices. But it was also easily the most stylish of the Soums, i mean the Herders. Maybe because it was just after Tsaagan Sar but the Deels, chaps, boots, belts, hats and Russian motorbikes were incredible, the best so far as seen in the pictures.

Khairkhandulaan herders association

Khairkhandulaan herders on bikes

Khairkhandulaan herders

Khairkhandulaan herder on Russian bike

Khairkhandulaan herder

We were happy to go back to Arvaheer after and to the comfort of a hotel and shower. We spent the evening enjoying not mutton but the local chinese restaurant with another VSO volunteer based in town and then onto a new bar to meet all the Peace Corps. A lovely time as had by all and what a lovely town Arvaheer is.

Day 4 fried egg for breakfast, Yes!!! Never has an egg excited me so.

the road less travelled Bat-Olzii

driving to Bat-Olzii

driving to Bat-Olzii

Then off to the final Soum Bat-Olzii in the North of the aimag, as they say in Mongolia the last camel carries the heabiest load and getting to Bat-Otzii was the most difficult of the soums to reach, there was alot of snow, we got stuck a few times but we got there eventually. It was a beautiful Soum in the mountains surrounded by pines and trees and obviously a prosperous income from all the wood. Now what i didn’t get was how can such a beautiful place had such bad Tsuivan (#4), it was awful and dry and the cafe was freezing, just awful.

VSO in Bat-Olzii

Beautiful Bat-Olzii


The discussion however was good, much smaller and the 1st male Governor we had met so far as well as the 1st Soum to have yaks, due to the altitude. We decided after the meeting to drive back to UB as the awful cafe was the only cafe and above it was an equally awful hotel hence the decision to drive 7hours back to the city.

By this time i was relieved to be heading back to my apartment and my lovely bed, along the drive i saw my first caravan or herd of camels in the road, beautiful creatures, some were even blonde, they do however look quite uncomfortable when they run, not quite as elegant as the horses.

blonde camel drving back to UB


And so we got back to UB at 1am and enjoyed the perks of the city before starting over again in Hovsgol.

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