Day 3 started off as any normal nomadic day would— milking goats. This is where I discover, I'm not so good at it.
We pack up and head out for yet another bumpy ride.
We stop as we come across a large group of camels hanging out by the road. As we headed further south, I understood the term "Golden Gobi."We arrived in a magical area that felt like The Land Before Time. As you walk around this untouched land, you fully expect a T-Rex to appear from behind the hills. No wonder the Gobi has been a hot spot for dinosaur fossils. If I was a dinosaur, I'd definitively live here. There were condors circling above us as we walked around and I was hoping they wouldn't mistake me for baby livestock. This evening our guide and driver presented us with a bottle of Chinggis Vodka, which we were told we had to finish. We took shots, toasted to the trip, and slept very well that night.
Day 2 starts with breakfast at 8:30am and we hit the road by 9am. We drive for the bulk of the day and we are like batter in a bowl by the time we peel ourselves out of the van.
The view is worth the shake up. We occasionally see other tour vans taking a similar route and this day the drivers of 2 other vans — who are clearly buddies with our driver, stick near each other for a portion of the day. I'm thinking it's because these "roads" are brutal and the buddy system may be important in a possible breakdown. We drive for hours until lunch time where we find ourselves perched hillside for a break.
Lunch and dinner usually consists of some sort of pasta or rice with a bit of vegetables and meat. Rick and I found some pretty awesome rocks in these parts and we stuff them in our pockets before we set off in the van again. The landscape changes yet again and long, luscious shadows layer the land only to then find ourselves in the middle of hills that are of a reddish hue. I have never seen such a thing! They are of such saturation that I fear my eyes have fooled me. We finally arrive at Tsagaan Suvarga, also known as Painted Desert. We start at the bottom and drive perilously to the top where the view is nothing but spectacular. The desert floor looks like it had a field day with red and orange splatter paint. We get back in the van and find our home for the evening... We say hello to the family which consists of a grandmother and her grandchild.
Below is a bucket ready to burn baby burn.Here is our host and her cute grandson. She sets out in the evening to collect dung for future fires... Our views are incredible and as night falls the vastness of beauty across the land is overwhelming. The sun setting and the moon rising were equally impressive. Where to shoot?!?! They corralled the livestock and Rick found his Capricorn self among his kind. Day 2, you were lovely as ever.
Mongolians boast a true nomadic habit. Looks like we are in good company. We got a taste of this nomadic way of life on our 8 day tour to the Gobi Desert. Remember our lovely van ride from Olkhon? This was Olkhon times 8 in terms of bumpy roads. Guess we had good practice.
Our group consisted of a driver, a guide, an Austrian couple, and 2 others who hailed from Japan. We all got to experience the roads, and I use that term loosely, as we bumped around this Russian van (and boy do we know Russian vans) together for a week. Look at that padding!So what does this tour consist of? A hell of a lot of driving. I'd say we were in the van driving, or getting thrown around the van for on average 6 hours a day. Each night we would stay with a nomadic family that had an empty ger that could accommodate the 6 of us. You'd think these sort of accommodations would be arranged beforehand, but it's very off the cuff. Some families we stopped at already had guests, so we would often have to visit several families until we found an opening. The gers were basic and when I say basic, I mean you are sleeping on a wood board with a thin padding. Pillows were improvised by wrapping our jackets in our towels, and sometimes Rick and I or the Austrian couple would have to share a twin bed. Remember my gripe about two twin beds pushed together? Well now we were either in two separate twin beds, or squished together in one. Dare I say I was wishing for the twin beds pushed together scenario. So all in all, nomadic luxury.
Now let's talk about bathroom facilities. Or let's talk about how there aren't any bathroom facilities. These nomadic families had outhouses that made you wish you were constipated so you didn't have to use them. So then what? Why be stuck in a smelly outhouse when you can squat somewhere tucked away in the hills and watch camels in the distance? So we skipped all the outhouses and became expert squatters (I knew those yoga classes I took before the trip would come in handy). I am pretty sure I could go to the bathroom in Warrior 2 pose if I had to. Needless to say, toilet paper and wet wipes were always stuffed in our pockets. Wet wipes were also the closet thing we had to a daily shower. We had 1 true shower the entire trip and 2 improvised bathing sessions in a body of water in the Gobi where we learned the local animals also used it as a toilet. So we were feeling squeaky clean. Desperate times call for desperate baths. No bodily rashes were discovered.
You are probably thinking, all of this sounds awful! Nausea inducing bumpy roads, a toilet-less trip, bathing next to camel feces, no showers in sight, and beds that leave you stiff as a board... Why on earth would you even want to partake, let alone pay for such an tour?
Let's get to the good stuff.
As Mongolia's landscape revealed itself, I didn't know if I should cry out of bliss or pee my pants out of excitement. Luckily, I saved myself the embarrassment of both, but no doubt Mongolia has a way of moving you. It's like seeing for the first time. My virginal eyes deflowered by Mongolia's curves. The seduction of simplicity. It has a way of making your feel small, yet possible. Much in the same way you might feel when in a plane and you look down at earth and realize you are an ant in comparison, only to realize your ant-sized self is hurling itself through the sky to discover the world. That is possibility. That is living big.
This is Mongolia. We started the trip out of Ulaanbaatar at 9am and we stopped for lunch around 1pm. All three meals are included in the tour and the guide whips up all the lunches out of the back of the van. When you step out of the van you realize you truly are in the middle of nowhere, not a soul in sight except for your tour mates and scattered horses. This is how it is for much of the trip, just the van and the landscape. We made a few stops the first day and the landscape changed dramatically with every passing hour. We found ourselves in the plains, then suddenly mountains would appear, and here we stopped in an area of great rock formations (reminded me a little bit of Joshua Tree) where there are ruins of a monastery which was destroyed upon Stalin's orders. In the evening, we finally found accommodations and got situated in our ger. It is customary to greet the family in their ger where they have food and drink offerings for their guests. There are several customs when it comes to the ger. Guests always sit on the left side upon entering, family on the right side, and there are different areas in the ger dedicated to specific things whether it be the women's cooking utensils, or the men's horse bridle. After the greeting we had a little time before dinner to explore. Here is our ger for the night. These people live so simply, yet you will always find a TV dish. Yes, these nomads love flipping the channels like the rest of the world. Many have also starting using solar panels and we also encountered lights and other electrical objects powered by car batteries once the wires were hooked up. As dinner was being prepared, we got to walk around a bit and explore the area.
Here are a few shots of the matriarch of the family. To get a sense of scale, that's Rick on top of the rocks! As we stood among the rocks, (see our shadows below) the moon began to rise and the views were magical. So day 1 was ending and minds were already blown.
We slept tight that night, as in both of us in a tiny, hard bed, in a ger, in the middle of Mongolia.
Dream come true.