Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Edge of the Gobi

After the excitement of the Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar (UB), Jason and I were anxious to get out into the countryside for a taste of traditional Mongolian life. We wanted to leave the day after the Naadam festival, which was unfortunately the same day everyone else was heading out of town. We soon found out that all the experienced guides were already booked, and the only ones available for hire were students, many of whom had never left UB before. We were also told that getting anywhere in Mongolia takes a long time. About 50 km outside of the capital, the tarmac roads end, and a complex network of bumpy dirt roads begins.

Russian jeeps just like this one can be found bouncing around the dirt roads of Mongolia

The idea of spending six to eight hours a day in the back of a jeep heading towards Mongolia's far flung attractions such as Khovsgol Lake, Yolyn Am ice gorge and Erdene Zuu Khiid Monastery was less than appealing, particularly if our 'expert guide' was to be an inexperienced student. So, we scaled back our plans and opted to explore the near Gobi desert, just three hours south of UB. With the help of Nomadic Journeys, we booked a three night stay at Arburd Sands, a low impact, fully collapsible, community owned camp. We looked forward to a few days of desert hiking and horse riding, as well as staying in a ger, a traditional Mongolian nomad tent.

Our Gobi ger camp: Arburd Sands

We enjoyed both the scenery and the company of our fellow passengers during the minibus ride from UB. We drove through miles of rolling, grassy steppe landscape which gradually morphed into expanses of rocky desert. There were no vast, breathtaking dunes like we'd seen in the Sahara, but we were captivated by the countless rodents darting through the desert shrubbery, and the huge birds of prey eyeing them. We saw at least twenty eagles and scores of hawks on our three hour drive. We also enjoyed chatting with our three fellow travellers, David Firman and Gail Perry of Winnipeg and Haroldo Castro of Brazil. David is a fine art photographer, Gail writes short articles for public radio and Haroldo is a photo journalist, specializing in travel, wildlife and conservation. The five of us quickly became friends. Our three companions left Arburd Sands the following morning on a three day camel trek. We walked with them for the first leg, before waving them off into the wilderness.

Right to left: David, Jason, Gail, Haroldo and I beside a friendly camel

No desert experience would be complete without a camel ride.

We were sorry to say farewell to Gail, David and Haroldo after our brief but rewarding friendship. However, back at the ger camp there were new people to befriend, and we were soon getting to know Joe Leisek from Nevada, and Marianne Nordt from New Jersey. We also enjoyed spending time with Jacqueline and Thierry Forien and their daughter Ariane from Paris.

Joe (aged 74) has twenty one horses of his own back in Nevada, but came here to experience horse riding the Mongolian way.

We also befriended this boy, a member of the Mongolian family who run Arburd Sands camp. We particularly enjoyed flying kites with him and his big brother.

Jason demonstrates the art of kite flying with his $3 kite, purchased at the Naadam festival.

Up, up and away.

The gers at Arburd Sands were very comfortable, each equipped with a wood burning stove. At night time we could leave our ger ceiling flap open for a stunning view of the stars (unobstructed by city light and pollution) or close it for a cozy night in our snug, felt lined ger.

We quickly made ourselves at home. You can see the ger's orange supporting beams at either side of the photo.

We tried our hand at archery. I don't think we'll be competing in Naadam any time soon.

This traditionally clad horse handler rounded up a pair of fine horses for us to ride.

Badrakh, the owner of Arburd Sands, with a leather saddle. We opted for Russian leather saddles, rather than Mongolian wooden saddles for our ride. We reckoned the horses would cause enough soreness without adding wooden saddles to the mix.

Here we are, geared up on our unnamed beasts. We were told to say 'Chou' to make them go, which we did with enthusiasm and frequency, to limited effect.

Chief wrangler and guide, Badrakh

We passed an eagle nest during our horse ride. This baby eagle is less than two months old.

We took a break from our horse riding for a short visit to a nomadic family in their ger. We were offered cold milky green tea, home made yogurt and crunchy cheese curds, which we consumed respectfully, in spite of the rather unfamiliar and not entirely pleasant taste. We also watched some sumo wrestling on TV. Traditional curds and satellite TV - a true ger experience!

We loved the peacefulness of the Gobi, and enjoyed exploring the starkly beautiful landscape on horseback. Arburd Sands was a great conclusion to our two weeks in Mongolia, especially as we left having made some new friends.
Next up: In the absence of a 'slow boat', we took two sleeper trains to China. Could anything be finer? Find out from our next Donkey Crossing entry.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rachel & Jason, Thrilled to read your accounts of your time in Siberia and Mongolia. Makes a day at Centennial Beach with a 2 yr. old seem quite dull. Thanks for sharing your journey and watch out for potholes! Winnie Jones

7:03 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I would've thought that the Gobi would have been a bleak, lonely place, but it seems like you had plenty of company.

I hate to say it, but some of the most interesting moments you two have had are the ones when you meet up with something very traditional (e.g. cheese curds) and something very modern (e.g. satellite TV in a ger).

Expectations upended, and brains expanded, at least a little bit.

4:02 PM  

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