21 Days In Mongolia

Day 3:

This was the day we had actually all been waiting for. The "real” beginning of the trip. We were downstairs by 8am but due to a couple of technical hitches (ie two travellers’ ruck sacks not turning up and Solongo’s glasses being broken and the group waiting for her sister to arrive with her pair) we didn’t get off until a little later.

The 3 4WD mini vans that were going to be kind of like home for the next 3 weeks were clean and bright on the outside when they pulled up outside the hotel.  We had been warned what it would be like in the vans – hot, smelly, bumpy etc but nothing anyone could have said could really have prepared us for what life was really like on the road.  The heaters were blowing whatever the weather in order to keep the engines cool, the windows needed to be open to keep the smell of petrol down, whatever the weather (although that rule didn’t stay in place for long when it was really cold in the mornings).

We arranged ourselves in the vans and we finally set off. The vans were hot. They only had tiny little triangle vented windows and as we carried jerry cans of petrol under the seats they stank of gasoline…but we were soon to get used to that.

Day 3 saw us making the journey from Ulan Bataar towards Mandalgovi – which literally translates as mid Gobi (I think). We had only travelled about forty five minutes out of Ulan Bataar before we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.  The journey was very bumpy and the vans swerved from side to side as they tried to avoid the holes in the road (well, I say road, but I should point out that there basically aren’t roads outside of UB – there are just tracks and sometimes not even them). It was obvious that Jeep and van drivers made their own roads up sometimes over the landscape as we could see 6 or 7 tracks intermingling with each other as we looked in to the distance.

For the first 4 hours of driving I felt sick and the wooden box carrying hot water flasks kept falling out of it lodged in position, on to my lap….I wasn’t happy.  The thought of feeling like this for 3 weeks weakened my spirits but I tried to put a brave face of it. Altai (the driver) could see that I was getting distressed and he pulled the van to a stop, jumped out, reached over and took the flask box and found a new position for it.  I felt better already.  Each van found a makeshift window opener as the windows needed to be kept open, but wouldn’t stay open on their own accord – so kitchen roll, camera straps and pieces of string were quickly found.

At lunch time, we stopped in the middle of nowhere and were shown how the lunch system would work – how to lay out the table and seats, what bowls to use and where the food was kept, but most importantly where the hand wash soap was. It was very important that we had clean hands before preparing food so that no-one got sick. Lunch was great, much better than I thought it was going to be. Salami, cheese and tomato sandwiches today.

In the afternoon we travelled through the open countryside still on our way to "Mandalgovi” and took in our fist Mongolian scenery.  We passed a small water hole where there were some horses drinking.   I slept in the afternoon, I slept most days in the van and in the late afternoon we came to what was once a monastery, we also saw our first trees in the wilderness, hidden in this rock enclosure. We had been travelling through a flat landscape a few miles in width but flanked by hills on our left and right. The rocks we came upon enabled us to see how the monastery had been hidden inside them. We climbed to the top of the rocks and took in the stunning 360degree view.

Solongo told us about the ruined monastery and about the blue scarves that we would soon get used to seeing all over the country, tied to trees, ovoos and rocks.  The blue scarves were prayer scarves, tied and laid out in offering.  We saw our first Ovoo here at the rocks. An Ovoo is a pyramid shaped collection of rocks, almost like a "cairn” in the UK. People add a rock to the ovoo to bring them good luck and they must always travel clockwise around it. Offerings are sometimes made at more important ovoos, even vodka and yak heads.

From here we drove for a further 30 minutes until we reached our camping stop for the first night. Paul showed us how to put up our tents and the do’s and don’ts of camping. This first evening was a learning experience – how we would cook, clean, clear up and relax so that everyone could get the most out of their Mongolian experience.  Spaghetti Bolognese was on the menu tonight and we even had garlic bread cooked, bronzed with the "blow torch” which was actually the canister of gas used to heat our three cooking pots. We cooked everything in these three pots.

We were rewarded on this first evening with a wonderful sunset and as we camped in the rocks, I knew Andy and I were going to thoroughly enjoy the trip.  However, although I thought I was prepared, I found out that even wearing a fleece in the evening etc I was still cold and I needed to wear something in my sleeping bag other than a T-shirt as I woke up in the night a fair few times feeling cold – lesson 1 learnt.

Day: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - epi