Out into the Countryside

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Today is the start of our expedition into the Mongolian countryside, with a trip to Terelj national park, where we’re staying with a rural family that’s still living large parts of the traditional nomadic lifestyle. Our hostel, which arranged the tour, promised horseback riding, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and staying in a ger (a Mongolian yurt/traditional tent). So far, they have delivered on the horseback riding, lunch twice, and definitely the ger.
Terelj is an hour and a half outside of Ulaan Baatar, so we spent the first part of our day (after leaving the hostel at 8:00) in the car. Once we arrived in the park at our homestay, there was a bit of confusion about what we were doing (the first ger we were ushered into was the family’s ger, complete with 30 something inch television and surround sound speaker system. Their setup was at least as good as the one we have at home!) After we’d finished a bit of tea, and the previous hostel guests had moved out, we moved our stuff into our sleeping ger, which is equipped with a small stove, a miniature table, and four beds spread around it (we were joined on this tour by two Swiss travelers, Pascal and Karin).

Once all of our gear was stowed, we went outside to wander around for a bit, and wait for whatever came next. We had our first introduction to the son of our homestay family (who seems about 12-13, and has acted as the tourist shepherd while we have been here), as he herded a camel down the opposite hill while on horseback.

After he arrived at the ger encampment (there are 3 mobile looking gers, plus one more permanent looking structure, along with power lines), he and his father began saddling the horses we were to ride.

For both Bridgit and I, this was our first experience with horses in a while (for her, since 6th grade, for me, since college), and so there was a little bit of uncertainty and trepidation. But, we both managed to get mounted and on our way with little difficulty.

Karin’s horse kept wanting to turn around and go home, as we headed out from the ger camp, and Pascal’s tended to turn to the right more than was really desired. To start with, the son of the family (whose name I still haven’t caught) basically herded our four horses with his own as we wended our way through snow valleys and hills.

Eventually, though, he was leaving us alone while he went to chat with the neighbors, and spurring our horses on to trots and maybe even gallops (I couldn’t tell you the difference, myself). He adjusted our direction with quick whistles and hand gestures, and it was generally a cold, pleasant ride through very snowy countryside (except for our sore behinds). As we were rounding the last fence to head back towards home, the horses decided to pick up the pace.

In short order, my horse progressed to a very aggressive speed, and, trying to compensate and not just bounce along in the saddle, I was standing up slightly in my stirrups. I felt myself slowly bouncing further and further backwards in the saddle, until finally I tumbled over the back end of the horse. Fortunately, there was a bunch of soft snow underneath me, so I was able to roll into a relatively gentle fall (and didn’t even damage the camera in doing so). Still, the fall has been making me a bit sore and achy ever since. I still ended the ride with a smile, though.

After our ride was finished, we hung around a bit longer, until our host family arrived with lunch, a delicious mix of noodles, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and beef, accompanied by a steaming container of tea. As we were eating, the father mentioned that after lunch, we could go for a walk, and see a temple (with very fragmented English), and gestured up a nearby mountain. So, once we were done eating, and after taking a short break/nap, we decided to take him up on it. The four of us bundled up, and started hiking. Such were the hills, though, that pretty soon we overheated with our coats on, so we stripped down to something a little lighter.

The hike up was wonderful! The snow proved to be a little treacherous (it was very slippery as we climbed), but the views were fantastic.

We made it to nearly the peak (Pascal made it a little farther, but confirmed that there was no way to go all the way up the last slope), but found no temple. A trick for tourists, perhaps? On the way down, the slipperiness of the snow made a quick and convenient way of getting down the mountain, as we slid down on our winter coats.

Back at the bottom, we were informed by the son that we should spend some time getting firewood ready for the night. So, between the 4 of us, and 4 more from our hostel that arrived a little later, we set to cutting a log, and then splitting the chunks. The son proved to be adept at splitting the logs, but the rest of us managed somehow (growing up in the woods with a woodstove proved to be at least a little bit of an advantage, although the maul was shorter and much heavier than I was used to, as it was completely made out of steel).

After that, we were called to “lunch” which was to be served at 7:00 (it seems that all meals, or at least lunch and dinner, are “lunch” to the son in the family), more beef, cabbage, and potatoes. It was, again, delicious, and we followed it up with the small bottle of Mongolian lemon vodka that we’d picked up on the way to the park (far inferior to the horseradish vodka, unfortunately). Then it was out to see the sunset over the surrounding mountains

And then blogging by candlelight

Tomorrow, we’re up early again to head back to the hostel for a quick shower, and then an 8 hour drive to Karkorim for our next excursion.


Alicia said...

Oh no, Cale! Never tense up like that when riding, you need to move with the horse! Can't wait to see the pics...

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