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!
Love the Cowboy and Indian picture. (You should feel really proud of that caption, Jim.) Have you two gotten really big, or are the horses really small?
I was rather happy with the caption. And yes, the horses are small, which was a good thing since when we finished my shoe got caught in the stirrup and I ended up falling off. Now trying to cope with a sprained wrist while schlepping around this big bag!
Very small subset of Americans who can talk about “galloping across the Mongolian plains.”
Nice touch with the “Cowboy and Indian” label!
My first caption was Two Cowboys. And then I thought … Hey …
I just knew Jim wrote this entry as soon as I saw the title.
Mark officially objected to the title. And in fact when I was getting ready to post it I realized I was accidentally logged in as Mark, so I had to redo the post to make clear that that’s my humor (humor?), not his.
Well, I officially love the title. I can hear you saying it as if you’re right here with me.
I wish I had a video to watch of you galloping across the plains on that little horse! Captions: priceless.
Thanks Janet – we are really enjoying this part of the adventure, for now at least! I, too, would love to have that picture; it was exciting and exhilarating. I’m glad, though, that no one has a picture of me getting off the horse on the second day, catching my boot in the stirrups, falling off, and spraining my wrist – not nearly so much fun.
Sounds like you had an exciting time. This is one place I know I will never get to. I was able to enjoy it through your stories. Take care of your wrist. Hope it heals quickly so Mark doesn’t have to do all the heavy work. Poor Mark! Ha ha.
The idea of so much quiet and time to just read, and notice tiny flowers sound’s like Nirvana..
Not just nirvana – it’s ger-reat! Seriously, this has been just quite what we were hoping to find. And so far at least we’ve found it. I suspect Siberia will have lots of quiet time for us, too.
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