Friday, 23 August 2013

Awesome Mongolia

Hi all

I have arrived safe back in Ulan Bator after a simple awesome 3 weeks travelling around the country. Mongolia has blown all of my expectations and preconceptions out of the window.  The scenery is spectacular and the people some of the most friendly I have met anywhere in the world.

As you may remember I have been travelling around Mongolia with Dragoman, a company I previously went to West Africa with.  They basically convert Mercedes trucks into overland vehicles and we were lucky enough to travel in 'Archie' this time with Jim as driver and Gino as leader.

There were a record 17 passengers travelling on the truck so there was no shortage of people to chat to and share experiences with.  The age group ranged from 23 to 76 I think with a wide range of countries represented.  Alot of people weren't experienced campers which made the bush camping challenging for some.  Having been overlanding before I knew what to expect but I set a record on this trip having no washed for 5 days at one point. Lucky my sister had donated me a few packs of baby wipes to keep 'clean' ;)

The journey wasn't an easy one and we had plenty of 'stucks' as James, one of passengers, liked to call them.  The roads in Mongolia are basic and often the main 'highway' is just a dirt track through the mud or grass.  Jim, the driver, did an amazing job but there were times when we got stuck in the mud and all had to pitch in to get going again.  This often involved collecting pebbles / rocks with which to fill in the swamp like earth we were trying to drive over, or get stuck in with hands and shovels to dig out the truck. 

At one point we even had to send off our local guides, Mungu and Dashka, to the local village to get a Russian 6WD vehicle to tow us out.  Only once though did we abandon the vehicle, near the Hot Springs, and opt for local transport, Russian minivans.   

The Russian minivans were quite a sight with the roof inside the vans padded in grey plastic and the walls covered in thick carpets.  The roof was very low and on one of the journeys I bumped my head when going over a bump in the road - not ideal.  They were quite good vehicles though and I was very glad of their 4WD when we were crossing the rivers to the Hot Springs, some sections of which were over a metre and a half deep!  When you're looking out of the window seeing water near the windows you really have to trust your drivers.

We saw loads of things in Mongolia, the Hot Springs, Flaming Cliffs, Erdene Zuu Monastery, Chingiis Khaan monument and the Khongoryn Els sand dunes to name but a few. 

Chingiis Khan Monument

Chingiis Khan Monument

Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes

Flaming Cliffs

Flaming Cliffs

The dunes were harder than I ever imagined to climb but when we got to the top, you could see for miles and watching the sun fade in the late afternoon sun up there is something I won't forget in a hurry.  The Flaming Cliffs were also a challenge to climb, not least for someone like me who suffers from vertigo, but I was lucky enough to have Aussie Pete to help me out around the sheer drop sections so I saw more than I ever though possible.  The cliffs are very odd as you drive up to them on a flat road and then basically see a cavern open up on the left side of the road, inside are the cliffs.  As such, they're very well hidden and I guess, if you didn't know where they were you could easily miss them.

Whilst the sights in Mongolia were good its the landscape and people that will stay with me most. 

The landscape is ever changing with reds, greens, purples, yellows and browns in forms from cliffs, sand dunes or hills.  There's fresh air, wild flowers and lots of animals.  I saw camel, eagles, wild gazelle, marmots, gerbils, birds......the list goes on. 

Our leader Gino was an expert and made sure things were pointed out en route.  He also did a couple of star gazing evenings on the clearer nights as you could see thousands of constellations shining in the sky when you were in the desert with no external lights around.  Although we did alot of bush camping we also made several trips to visit local families and their hospitality seemed to know no bounds.  They'd invite you into their Ger, offer you curd snacks and mares milk drinks and answer questions about their family and lifestyle.  I'd never met such friendly an open people.

The passengers on my trip also made it pretty special.  Time is short as I'm currently in an internet cafe but here are a few (there are loads more in my little red books!!) of my special memories:

* Penny, my tent mate, who was such a delight to talk to.  She has so many stories and was so open, I know I've made a friend for life with her.  We'd have a glass of red wine in the evening and chat away ten to the dozen about travels, experiences, men (shock horror!), fashion......the list goes on.  Even when we were in our tents for bed I'm sure the others could hear us talking for hours.
* Aussie Pete - my fellow late night chat / drink buddy and lifesaver at the Flaming Cliffs.  Anyone who can put up with me freezing to the spot on the side of a cliff and refusing to move as they're scared gets bonus points from me.  How he got me back to the truck is beyond me.
* James - all round top bloke from Derby (yes, what's the chance of that!) who was always up for a laugh.  He had his fingernails painted hot pink (quite classy when they're covered in mud on a 'stuck' day), undertook an underwear survey of the group (the lowest being only 2 pairs of pants for 3 weeks from one passenger and another claiming disposable pants to be ideal!), a striptease on the top of the bus 
* Rob & Sandra - on one of the wet days we opted out of a trip to a Monastery and instead stayed behind having some 'spa' treatments.  Sandra got away with making Rob a homemade face mask from the Mongolia mud before painting his toenails purple - quite a sight.
* Jim - various late night confessions about pierced nipples and shaving his balls
* Gino - masses of enthusiasm and energy and his endless cries of 'beautiful' for everything from a Sheep's Head meal to marmots at the side of the road.  Oh, and his stellar Sangria mix in the dessert - very potent but perctly hit the spot after cooking for the group in the rain
* Dashka - for his army attire and constantly polished black boots to his ability to down a half bottle of vodka without flinching
* Mungu - for his amazing 10GB music collection which I wish I could match.  He played us everything from Passenger to BoneyM and Take That - astounding - whilst travelling our 21000km across Mongolia!
* Julia - my fellow dessert queen.  We managed to cook Fruit Crumbles, Choc Krispy cakes, Pancakes, Cinnamon Egg Bread, Caramel Peaches.......all in the rain and with Mongolia ingredients.  She rocks!! If she ever reads this I hope that she'll agree that we simply must try our Steamed Choc Sponge Pudding idea on our next overlanding adventures.

As you can probably tell I have a million and one things I'd like to write about this Mongolia adventure but there's a queue forming for the PC so that'll have to do for now. If I can I will try and upload pics when I'm in China but for now the flight calls.......

1 comment:

  1. omg love it!!!! such amazing memories!!!! great writing style too :D hope you're still having a spectacular time!! and defo will be trying that dessert idea yummmo!! Julia