Two days out in the middle of somewhere in a traditional Mongolian ger at the wonderful Tuul Riverside Lodge. It was beautiful – isolated, incredibly quiet, beautiful in a unique way. And traditional. As long as “traditional” includes an attached western toilet and shower.
Heavy down comforters to keep you warm in the cold Mongolian nights. An outdoor sofa/bed with great view for sitting and reading. Someone to come in at 6:00 AM to start a fire in the wood stove while you’re starting to wake up. And a beautiful dining ger filled with heaping plates of local, traditional food (who knew that pizza was traditional Mongolian?) that you didn’t have to prepare or clean up after. You know, that kind of traditional.
It all started comfortably enough – a driver picked us up at the hotel for the 90-minute drive out there, wherever there was going to be. After maybe 30 minutes, though, he turns off the main road and quickly stops at what is just two ruts where a customized truck is waiting – the kind of truck that doesn’t need fancy “roads” to get where you need to go.
Thus we started off across the fields and hills and streams to the camp, interrupted only by one little flat tire. Once the tire was replaced we were back on the road – OK, no one would call it a road, but back on the ruts – and into camp, maybe 20 almost entirely unoccupied gers along the Tuul (rhymes with Brule) River.
Then it was pretty much two days of pretty much not much. Certainly no Internet, and running water and electricity just a couple hours a day. A lot of reading – Mark’s working through a biography of Mao, while in preparation for Russia I finished Nicholas and Alexandra, Robert Massie’s great biography of the last Tsar and his wife.
We did a few hikes high up into the hills surrounding the camp where even in June there are patches of snow. When we asked the sweet and helpful camp manager Mr. Enkh-Amgalan about hiking trails he waived his arm toward the hills as if to say “Trails? What do you need trails for?” So off we went, making our way through fields and up and over hills. The flowers were amazing – just tiny, delicate little things, rarely more than an inch or at most two above ground, little miniature things that you don’t notice until you notice them.
Did I mention quiet? There was one other couple here when we arrived – a Swiss couple working with international aid agencies in UB – but they left Monday morning so we had the place to ourselves the rest of our time. When a plane went over at 30,000 feet it sounded loud. The flapping wings of birds flying nearby were loud. Cows in the far distance were, well, not loud, but audible. Everything else was quiet.
The highlight was riding horses on Monday after breakfast. It just seems as though that’s what you’re supposed to do in Mongolia, so out we went; the camp’s first horse excursion of the still-young spring we were told. Beautiful, peaceful, and exciting. Mostly walking and trotting, but near the end I encouraged my horse to take off across the prairie, and off we went. How often do you get the chance to gallop across Mongolia?
One more time than expected, it turns out. After dinner the camp manager told Mark that the owner back in UB wanted to talk to Mark on the phone. I didn’t even know they had a phone. Apparently the problem was that they’d had big storms in UB and she was concerned that the truck couldn’t make it through the fields and streams. Would we be willing to take horses back to where the car could pick us up?
On Monday we had to pay to go riding; on Tuesday we were doing them a favor. Sweet!