|The drive north took us through the mountainous and hilly countryside with very bad roads. We passed through two small towns (Jaargalant and Shine Ider) which resembled wild west frontier towns with the token drunk locals stumbling round and the parking lots full of horses! There are quite a lot of wooded areas around so the buildings are more solid and there are not as many gers in the area. The countryside itself is much greener and yaks have replaced the camels which were common in the south. We also experienced our first real rain storm (actually a welcome relief from some of heat we had been experiencing) - although it still didn't keep the flies away at our next campsite next to a ditch south of the town of Moron.
That evening the drivers disappeared supposedly to get a part for their machine and we did not see them again till much later that night. We all had our theories about what they were up to but we are sure that it at least involved vodka and women.
The large town of Moron was to provide our next refill stop early the next day - well a lot of vodka was bought for the drivers anyway (and pasta and salami for us). We decided to take the food and drink situation into our own hands and bought the local shops out of pringles and the boys and Swiss girls stocked up on beer and vodka. By the way the beer mostly drunk on the tour is Hites and Cass (both Korean imports at about 80 cents (US) for a large can) and you can get a large bottle of vodka for as little as $2-3 US!
We hit rain again driving north to Khovsgol- Nuur National Park. This is a huge alpine lake (the 14th largest source of fresh water in the world) surrounded by mountains and is the deepest lake in central asia. The drive to the next campsite took us along the western side of the lake past tourist ger camps nestled within lots of fir trees. It was a quick set up of the tents before the heavens opened so we sat in the machines to eat dinner and drink beer and vodka that night.
It actually rained throughout the night and finally stopped about 11am the next day. The tents were not designed to withstand such weather and most of us woke up to find puddles of water in the tent so the next couple of hours were spent drying our stuff. We also took the opportunity to wash ourselves in the crystal clear waters of the lake (which whilst it looked so tempting to swim in - it was freezing cold so we only made it up to our knees).
That evening we were driven a couple of hundred metres down the road (well Mongolians don't walk if they don't have to), to a tourist camp which hosts a 'ger' disco most nights. We found that a bottle of vodka was the same price as two beers behind the bar so needless to say a lot of vodka was consumed. This was just as well as the music choice was limited. Shaun decided to hassle the DJ to look at his music collection and there was a choice of 7 CD's!! - however he did find a Techno/Trance CD which went down a storm with both the tourists and locals (like we say the vodka obviously helped!). We somehow managed to stumble back in the darkness to our tent to find the drivers were nowhere to be found - they finally drove back in the early hours and continued to drink vodka until 11am the next day!. We also found out that our driver Barb had 'escorted' two local women back to his machine that night!!
We woke up to the drivers in a fairly groping mood. Barb said sorry to me for his drunken antics and then proceeded to bite my boob whilst Bira kept hugging Shaun whilst repeating the few English words he knows (mainly 'I'm sorry'). Anyway it was a beautiful sunny day so Shaun, myself, Sonia and Pete hired a few steads and went on a horse ride. This took us along the west shore of the lake and then back through the forested lower parts of the mountains. Our horses were great and on the way back they really wanted to run - so we let them and only just managed to slow them down before they took us in to a dense patch of fir trees, with me losing my hat on the way.
After the time at the lake it was back the way we came to the town of Moron where we decided to gorge ourselves on Khuushuur's and Buuz's (fatty meat dumplings) rather than the usual salad lunch. We had lunch in a ger that day where Tom-Bok decided to thrash everyone (including Shaun in about 5 mins) at chess - he was really quite impressive. We were all surprised at this as we all had thought he was a tad simple previously.
The evening was spent at the muddy Selenge River, where we watched the sunset (with a few beers) from the adjacent scraggy hills which were covered in wild Thyme making a great aroma - we reckon the sheep round here would be pretty tasty! The drivers decided to drink 8 bottles of vodka that night and were still very drunk the next morning. Needless to say we weren't entirely impressed by this and had to watch them like a hawk whilst driving that day. In fact their driving overall wasn't that great - our driver Barb always seemed to want to go to sleep after lunch and we had to constantly ply him with water and sweets - he also had a tendency to change gears at the wrong time usually on a very steep hill where we would subsequently stall and roll back down backwards.
Despite being on edge that day it was really a spectacular drive, through green mountains and wild west towns to the Orkon river south of Bulgan. That night we experienced true Mongolian rain - a massive thunder and lightning storm which lit up our tents constantly for a good couple of hours - quite a show - so much so we had to stop watching TV on the ipod as it was so loud and bright. It was also a little scary given the strong winds and the fact we were all camping underneath trees!
The next couple of days took us back through the plains of Mongolian through Khustai National Park, famous for the Thakkhi horses (there were none left in the wild not that long ago but a successful breading programme of captive horses has seen them reintroduced to this park) - although we didn't see any!!
From there it was a short trip back to civilisation - well UB! Shaun and Pete were well excited at seeing all the women in their short skirts and stilettos again!