22.07.2012 - 02.08.2012 27 °C
Two weeks ago we arrived in Ulaanbaatar and tomorrow we will leave this beautiful country already! Before we arrived, we booked three nights in a guesthouse, a common way of accommodation in Mongolia. It basically means you will be staying in peoples homes, so you can experience the real mongolian lifestyle. Fancy enough, the people we stayed with came to pick us up from the train station. We emailed with her while in Irkutsk, but when we got out of the train, we soon saw a sign that said Helen & Jolijn. Kan niet missen . Our guest ladies name is Haliuna and her husband is waiting with the van. Apparently address n UB are so hard to find, that it's impossible to find where you want to go. When we arrive at the guest house two minutes later, we really wonder how seriously we should take this..
We're on the top floor of an apartment building, it's old, kind of like in Russia, and the city seems equally busy and unorganised. Traffic everywhere, very not western. We sleep in the living room, on two beds without mattresses. Apparently it's normal in Mongolia to sleep on a sheet that's been put over the bed bottom. A very hard bed.. it's okay when you lay on your back, but after three days you do have blue hips from the turning you did in the night. Showering is just as interesting. Apparently its a luxury to have hot water, and our guesthouse has a mini boiler. First you need to put water in the boiler. The half an our later the water is warm so you can shower. You then have to step into the bathtub and for tall Dutchies like us, you have to sit on your knees, because the shower hose doesn't have enough pressure to steer water up, only down. You turn off the water (if else you wont have enough water to finish your shower), put the shampoo in your hair, then wash it. If you time it right, you have a hot shower, but it takes some practise!
We learn soon that about 4 weeks before arrival the Chinese government changed the rules to get a Chinese visa drastically. It's not so easy anymore. Big bummer.. When we enquiry about the necessities, were really in shock. For a tourist visa we need (besides the regular 4 page application form and photo) an invitation from a Chinese organisation or person, a copy of there Chinese residence card orpassport, proof of accommodation of the length of your stay (regular is 30 days), proof of your way out of china (air or train etc) .. When our backpacking you don't have any of this.. And you don't want to have any of this.. So...we get a tour company n china that can give us an invite according to some germans we met. So you can book a hotel for maybe 7 days, and then that company can provide the invite. But then you still need 21 more days of accommodation, so we basically need to plan and book our whole china trip.. Not cool. We email the company but they tell us that they can not help us get an invitation.. Back to square one. Its amazing how many backpackers are in UB who all run not the same problem, everybody just wanted to get a visa here, (cuz out have to enter within a certain amount of days after applying, which we would not have been able to make if we applied in holland) and now it's soo hard and people are arranging other things like a flight from UB to Hongkong and skip China.. Also not cool.. It seems really bad, until we hear someone say that's is pretty easy if you get the initiation from a Chinese citizen, because they can invite you personally and then ou technically stay with them during your 30 days and you don't need proof of accommodation, just your proof of getting out of China. Well to make a really long story short; I met two girls from Beijing on the boat in Norway and they gave me their business card so I could contact their I was in Beijing cuz they would show me around. We emailed them, they had no problem inviting us, they emailed us their invitations and resident card copies, we booked a flight from Beijing to HK on day 30 and after 5 long days, we handed in our paper pile at the Chinese Embassy.. Now fingers crossed for a week and then well see.
In the meantime we decided to see some more of Mongolia, because UB is just not nice. It's interesting, old and new are right next to each other, traffic is crazy, fumes are bad (lots of people wear face masks) and its dirty. Roads are badly paved, sidewalks are sometimes missing and you just have dirt to walk on. It the people are very friendly and the food is pretty good and not expensive. We moved to a hostel after three days and stayed there for two nights. We booked a tour through them (Golden Gobi hostel, definitely a good one to go with) and we booked an 11 day Central Mongolia and Gobi tour. Our group consists out of 6 people, besides us, a French couple, and an Irish and an English girl who are friends. Then there is driver Togo (best driver ever!) and our guide Davka, a sweetheart. Everything is a little but unorganised in this country, as is the tour. The van that we are driving is not the right one, we have to switch to a bigger van halfway. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere we stop and have to wait for the other bus because there is no cell phone reception so we cannot contact the other driver. After half an hour to get invited into the ger that is on the side of the road. This is our first time entering a Mongolian ger. A ger is a tent that is built from wood and animal hides. Families normally have two or maybe three, one for cooking, one to live in and one to sleep in. Sometimes the living and sleeping ger are combined into one. We have to leave our shoes at the door and have to sit on the floor. Then we get to experience a real Mongolian tradition, drinking milk. This probably doesn't sound very exciting but it becomes exciting when it's warm fermented horse milk. Actually exciting is totally the wrong word its so gross.. Imagine horse milk warmed up with 20% alcohol that's been sitting outside in a barrel for who knows how long it gets stirred and served.. The picture says it all.
We also get deep fried dumplings with fish potato and onions. Very different than what we're used to but real Mongolian and quite tasty. The wild horses are all around us, there is a river, gets in the distant, quite an epic Mongolian scenery. We enjoy it to the max! Two hours after we arrived at this spot, the other van finally arrives as well and our luggage is being transferred over into the other van. And off we go. The first night we stayed with a nomadic family that owns about 400 goats a few horses and some camels. Their ger is situated near some sand dunes, it's awesome! We enjoyed a hike to the sand dunes all having to cross herd of goats some rivers and were hungry when we get back from our walk. The mother of the family is luckily preparing dinner. She is sitting outside of the ger, with a few buckets around her and a knife. When I ask her if I can look what she's doing she nods yes. I wish she didn't. But I was about to see turns your stomach literally 180 degrees. It's a plastic tub full with goats intestines. The buckets are full of fresh blood. She's holding a bowel and opening it with two fingers, while pouring the fresh blood from the little blue bucket into the bowel. She then uses some kind of metal and stitches up the bowel, put's a piece of liver over it and tops it off with some fat. I'm not hungry anymore.. Luckily there's potatoes and veggies for us on the menu, this delicacy was meant for the family.. After dinner we enjoyed a great sunset and day one is already over.
And our trip begins:
On day 2 we drive to Karakorham the ancient capital of Mongolia where we visit two museums. The one is a monastery, it's very interesting. The other one is a historical Museum. After Karakorham the roads are not paved anymore and we go into the middle of nowhere. That night we reached another nomadic family that is living in the mountain area on the river. Here we see your first yaks. This family has quite a few horses some yaks and a lot of goats and sheep. So here we get delighted with some goats milk, a little less gross than the horse milk. Again we sleeping in a ger.
The next morning we go for a horseback ride to the waterfall, I managed to stay on the horse! Whoot! The waterfall is beautiful. In the afternoon we help prepare the food with the family. Were making dumplings filled with goats meat onions and potatoes. It's delicious! This family has four children, all girls we thought. Especially the youngest one is adorable in her little dress and her braid in her hair. It's hours later when we find out when she's running around with no clothes on that "she" has a little penis.. We are all in shock, she so looks not like a boy. We than learn that in Mongolia it is tradition, that girls get a haircut at age 2 and 4. And with haircut we mean haircut. They get shaved bald. For boys this happens at age 3 and 5. This boy will be three in a few months and that is why he has such long hair.. Interesting.
The next day we drive very very long towards the south of Mongolia. There's really bad storms all around us but we manage to stay ahead. It gets a little bit tricky once we get stuck in the river, but luckily we get out pretty quick. Around 9 o'clock we set up camp (yes the hostels brought tents also) and we camp in the semi Gobi desert. The next day it's another four hours until we reach our nomadic family at the Gobi Desert. The herds of goats, sheep, horses and cows have changed into mainly goats and camels. It is not surprising that we are invited to drink some camel milk with this family. Really thick fresh camel milk is also not very appetizing.. But we drink it,m just to be polite. We can also have some homemade bread and dried camel yogurt. Very sour. The food on the trip so far as been interesting, and we're kind of surprised that we have not felt any stomach weaknesses or anything like that yet. It's hot like 35 to , but it's the desert so what else do you expect. Well not the raindrops we hear when we wake up the next morning. It's totally overcast, no sun to be seen and were in the Gobi Desert! That morning we go on a camel ride to the sand dunes. These are way bigger than the ones we saw on day one. The nice thing about the clouds is that it's not that hot, it's probably about 20- 25 °C. The afternoon we spent relaxing reading puzzling and playing volleyball with the kids from the ger. This family has three boys, Baatar, Bojna and Niemka. Are almost evenly tall, even though they're 15, 10 and eight but the Mongolians are just very small people. We are giants. That night we drive to a different part of the sand dunes they are really big. It takes is half an hour to climb them but the view is amazing. We sit up there for a few hours till sunset and have a blast! What an amazing place to be! This is the most south we'll go.
The next days we spend driving back to Ulaanbaatar while seeing some more great scenery. A national Park where we hike into a canyon (altitude 1200mtr) and there's still some ice in it (unbelievable for the end of July when you realize you're in Goby), the so-called flaming Cliffs, the White cliffs and we're also lucky to witness a sandstorm and an amazing thunderstorm. We also get a flat tire, our first! Which is really good in 11days considering the roads. We camped a second night and saw our first snake and another scorpion.. The last night of our tour we stayed with another family that lived in a rocky area, they weren't mountains, but they were pretty. We decided to go for a nice walk and climb the rocks, the view was great. On our way back close to the ger, Jolijn is centimeters from stepping onto another big snake.. it scares us both but luckily it doesn't do anything. The other members of our group also went hiking and they all saw snakes as well. I'll be apply to get out of here in the morning! The last day was quite a long day driving back to UB. Everybody was tired, our backs were sore because after 11 days on wooden beds and bumpy bumpy bumpy roads, you long for a more normal bed, a massage and a shower! (we only had a cold shower on day 8). Back in UB we get back to the hostel and there is a nice surprise. Our passports are picked up by Golden Gobi hostel and we got our Chinese visa!! Yay!! We're going to China! After we go out for supper with Kat and Fran and enjoy a delicious pizza! We really really really wanted a beer but unfortunately it was August 1 when we got back, and in Mongolia every first day of the month is a dry day; there is no sales of liquor anywhere. Not in stores, restaurants or bars ( not even the irish pub), no alcohol is being served all day everywhere. Bummer...gotta save that love for today. We cancelled our planetickets today, gotn75% of our money back, changed our Mongolian tugrik into Chinese Yuan! So in a few, well be going to the Irish pub with a bunch of people we've met during our stay in Mongolia and tomorrow we will be on our way to China!