As the crazy, coal brown smog of UB enters our apartments as we sleep you feel the need to get out of the city more than usual, however you leave behing the comfort of the central heating and mobile phone usage. In the last few months we have been away twice, not including a hike outside of the city that made me sweat immensely as we ascended and then turned to ice as we descended. Anyway back in October we got a bus down to Zulmod to stay in a Ger camp for the weekend, we managed to fill 3 gers, bringing with us our own entertainment in the form of Chinggis vodka and Sengur beer. On arrival we dumped our bags and went on a hike up Bogd Khan sacred mountain. There was a pretty easy track to follow with stop off points for lunch, rests and photo opportunity. As we climbed we did however loose a few of the others at each pit stop but i stuck with it and made it to the top where i saw the biggest Ovoo i have ever seen, there seemed it was a special place for Mongolians to climb to and make offerings to the gods. From the top you could see UB in the far distance, the wind really picked up up there and as you realise as soon as you stop you get cold straight away, so we began our long descent, much quicker of course but all you want is to be back in the warm Ger tucking into a plate of Sweevan. As we climbed down we crossed a couple of rivers, very frozen rivers that i insisted on having my photo taken on, as shown below, unfortunately there is no photo of my feet flying above my head and landing on my bum. Arse-over-tit i believe it’s called.
Back at camp we warmed up by the stove and opened up the beers awaiting our dinner of Mongolian noodles, never a delight unless you are in the countryside and thats all there is. After dinner we all gathered in one of the Gers and began a bunch of games, all of which inevitably get us drunk and embarassing ourselves. At bedtime as the temperatures dropped i really regretted forgetting my sleeping bag, there was a blanket as well as a couple of very, very thin 1inch thick matresses under the blankets, i had to sleep with 2 of the 3 mattresses on-top of me as well as wearing all of my clothes and hat, in the middle of the night when the stove had gone out i reallly suffered, it was icey, icey cold, so much that when you get up in the morning you discover that your deodorant and creams have frozen. This i have to state was October.
The next trip out to the countryside was a few weeks ago, we had our VSO Christmas party in Terelj, just for the day. Just over an hour out of the city you can find a variety of Ger camps where you can stay or just spend the day. So the majority of the VSO volunteers and some of the staff headed out there to enjoy the blue sky and sun. We rented 2 gers and as usual there was booze involved, mulled wine was heated on the stove and although i dont like red wine i did have a couple as they are very warming. Once we had warmed up with the wine we divided into a couple of teams and had a couple of improvised tug-of-war games, the rope that wasnt a rope snapped a few times and we thought that was that, however it was doubled-up and the games began. Now its very difficult to play tug of war on snow, as its icey snow, it is inevitable that someone will fall over and we all did everytime as well as being dragged down the hill. We couldnt find a perfectly flat piece of land so one team was always a bit downhill giving them the advantage or as i said being dragged on your bum down the snowy hill.
So after the games ended and we were all exhausted a few of us went out on a horse ride. Now i have never been around horses in my life but this was my second ride in Mongolia and i have to say i really love it, it seems like the only way to travel despite the bum pain. We rode for about an hour and it was clear that the Mongolians as truely at home on a horse, they ride effortlessly and full of joy. I was full of joy but it was not effortless, my horse had a thing for one of the other horses and did whatever he did, so whether i tried to giddi-up the horse or not he didnt care and just copied the other. He also forgot i was there i think, he would go between trees with very low branches and under things, i had to duck alot, my feet were bashed against tree trunks and against other horses. Despite all of this i really loved it, the country is so beautiful and as i said travelling by horse seems to me to be the purest way to travel.