Mongolia is Ger-8
Sep 3, 2007
So while we were waiting for our room at 7am our first morning in Beijing we found ourselves having breakfast talking to an Israeli girl who had just returned from Mongolia. She spoke so highly of her time there that within about 20 minutes of talking we decided, we wanted to go to Mongolia too. We immediately pushed back our train to Tibet and after about a week in Beijing, we set off north. Because of our Tibet plans, we only had about 8 days (the capital of Mongolia is two travel days away from Beijing) but we figured it would be worth it.
After an overnight bus ride, our taxi dropped us off at the border at 4:30am and found ourselves just sitting next to immigration waiting for it to open at 9am. For a few hours we occupied ourselves until we met a lovely Chinese American man who explained to us that we can't walk across the border. We have to go back to town (the place our lovely taxi man picked us up) and get a bus across. So we hopped on the next bus and found out that even though the road is only about a mile, because of immigration's extreme slowness, it took five hours to cross. Once in Mongolia our plan was to get the first train to Ulaan Bataar (UB), the capital. We arrived at the train station and asked the clerk for 3 tickets to which she replied NO. We asked again for another train either later or tomorrow and she said NO. After several frustrating minutes three Polish girls went up to the counter and asked for 3 tickets. After several NO's, they finally managed to get the last three tickets on the train, which means we were stuck. Because of visas and our time limitations, we had to get to UB by the next day.
So desperate to get north, Ruairi went into the parking lot and said "UB" while doing the driving motion (he must have looked like a crazy person :). Luckily, someone understood this and offered to drive us. We piled in the Land Rover with seven other people (all Mongolian) and headed up to UB. What we didn't know was that there are NO roads to UB and we were off-roading for 12 of the 14 hours. No only are there no roads but there is almost no civilization. Just vast expanse as far the eye could see. It was the bumpiest and longest drive of our lives, but we made it. The scenery was beautiful (the outer part of the Gobi desert) but the drive was once in a lifetime (hopefully).
Upon arriving in UB, we spent the first day recovering from the drive and sorting ourselves. The second day we headed off on a 5 day tour with two English lads, Steve and Dave. The five of us piled into a Russian van and set off on the first leg of our journey....another 8 hours in car with NO roads. Of course, the scenery was beautiful with huge mountains and wild horses everywhere (13 to 1 horse to person ratio in Mongolia). We finally arrived at our destination (and by destination, I mean a couple of tents in the middle of nowhere) at 8pm, quite hungry and tired, but very glad to be out of the car. We also got to see our traditional Mongolian accommodation, a Ger (a Mongolian version ofa yurt). It looks like a mini circus tent and usually has a wood burning stove in the middle with beds around the wall. The first night it was cold and wet and we were grateful for the ger.
The next day we piled back into the van and drove again all day. Again, the scenery was amazing and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We also found it extremely entertaining to make as many puns with the word "ger" as possible (Geribble, Ger-8, You don't think the white is too ger-ish, gerfriend). Despite all the time spent in the car, we managed to occupy ourselves quite well. At sundown we finally arrived at White Lake and it was gorgeous. The sun was setting over the lake and the sky was bright blue. That night we had a few drinks with our ger neighbors (other travelers) and went to sleep.
The third day was our only non-driving day and we were pretty happy for it. Around mid-morning, we went horseback riding around the lake, which is one of the best things we've done on the trip. We couldn't have asked for better weather and the horses were beautiful and gentle. About half way through we stopped by a ger and had tea with a Mongolian family (we had a guide, we didn't just crash a ger). After returning to our ger we decided to go for a quick swim in lake, which was pretty close to freezing. Without any running water available, a freezing cold lake starts to look pretty good.
Post swimming we headed back to the ger to pool our resources and make a kickass lunch. Lunch, of course, was followed up by an afternoon nap and a walk around the lake. Mongolia is awesome!!!
The fourth day we again got back in the van (still no roads) and drove for 9 hours. We arrived in a little camp of gers and had a great host. We spent the night having a few drinks while sitting around the fire.
Our final day of the trip....you guessed it...we drove. Before leaving, we went to a temple and found a man with a hawk (see the pic). We then headed out and to our surprise there was road. After spending 40 hours driving around Mongolia with no roads, we were shocked to see pavement. We arrived in UB that evening and went for a proper dinner (the girls had the best pizza in Asia and the boys had manly steak). UB had a great selection of international restaurants and bars.
The next day we went shopping at the Black Market. CB and I thought when people referred to the black market, they meant a shady street corner, but in fact, it's huge market which sells everything. After making a few key purchases, we packed up and headed for the train station to catch our train back to China. It was a crazy 8 days and well worth all the time driving. Much more to come on our future travels.
Kate and Carla