Jackel
Jackel

Time for one final post on our time in Mongolia. On the last day of our tour we drove from Mongol Els back to Ulaanbaatar. We rose early and said our goodbye to the camels that were loitering about the camp.

Is there anything more adorable than a Mongolian puppy?
Is there anything more adorable than a Mongolian puppy?

We also had to say goodbye to the camp’s fluffy Mongolian puppy. He was a real mischievous one with a big appetite for shoe laces.

Look at that beautiful road!
Look at that beautiful road!

Hitting the road (and yes, there actually was a beautiful paved road) we headed east towards Ulaanbaatar. Our first stop along the way was at Khustain Nuruu National Park which is home to the world’s only wild horses. We learned that most wild horses, such as the American Mustang, are actually feral. In other words, they are escaped descendants of domesticated horses. The Przewalski’s horse (or takhi) which is found in this part of Mongolia is a distinct subspecies which is critically endangered.

Przewalski's Horse (Takhi)
Przewalski’s Horse (Takhi)

The takhi went extinct in the wild during the 20th century but have recently been reintroduced into Khustain park from breeding stock at zoos across the globe. The Takhi is considered to be the closest living relative of the domestic horse but it has a distinct appearance and even has a different number of chromosomes.

Przewalski's Horse (Takhi)
Przewalski’s Horse (Takhi)

Our second stop of the day was at a roadside cafe for a final serving of greasy noodles and mixed vegetables. I won’t lie, after nearly two weeks of this sort of food I was ready for a change!

After a final few hours in the minivan we crested a ridge and caught a glimpse of Ulaanbaatar. Traffic was terrible getting into the city but we eventually made it to the guesthouse with the odometer reading 2,522km. I have no idea how much time we spent in the trusty Russian minivan over the 13 days of the tour but it sure did a good job. The terrain we covered was the roughest I have ever traveled across and the fact that we made it the whole way without a single breakdown or puncture is a testament to both Russian engineering and our driver’s diligence.

Home sweet home for the past 13 days
Home sweet home for the past 13 days

Our final two days in UB were spent largely recovering from the tour. We had quite a massive pile of dirty clothing to wash, postcards to write and emails to catch up on. We explored UB a little more in these two days but our main find was some tasty meals – who would have thought that Mongolia would have such good vegetarian food?

Well I think that is a wrap for Mongolia. While it wasn’t an easy or relaxing place to travel, it was certainly one of the most exotic places we’ve been. Between the largely nomadic population, the stunning landscapes and the extreme climate it is a place to be remembered. I think that we both were pushed to our limits in many ways during the tour and while it really sucked at the time it is now something we can laugh at and be proud of. Go to Mongolia, you won’t regret it!

Smiling for the camera
Smiling for the camera
Mongolia Wrap-up
Smiling for the camera
Smiling for the camera
Is there anything more adorable than a Mongolian puppy?
Is there anything more adorable than a Mongolian puppy?
He had an appetite for shoe laces
He had an appetite for shoe laces
I already did the sunset between the camel humps picture so how about a ger camp.
I already did the sunset between the camel humps picture so how about a ger camp.
Saying farewell to my new friends
Saying farewell to my new friends
Look at that beautiful road!
Look at that beautiful road!
Przewalski's Horse (Takhi)
Przewalski’s Horse (Takhi)
Przewalski's Horse (Takhi)
Przewalski’s Horse (Takhi)
Przewalski's Horse (Takhi)
Przewalski’s Horse (Takhi)
The steppe is very clean, but occasionally you do see a strange piece of trash.
The steppe is very clean, but occasionally you do see a strange piece of trash.
How about this box of vegetable oil that left Buenos Aires the same week as us way back in March?
How about this box of vegetable oil that left Buenos Aires the same week as us way back in March?
Rolling into UB on beautiful tarmac.  Very happy to be back to civilization.
Rolling into UB on beautiful tarmac. Very happy to be back to civilization.
Home sweet home for the past 13 days
Home sweet home for the past 13 days
Vegan cake...in Mongolia!!!
Vegan cake…in Mongolia!!!
Toilet paper, Mongolian style
Toilet paper, Mongolian style
We managed to hang nearly all of our clothes in our tiny room in UB
We managed to hang nearly all of our clothes in our tiny room in UB

Day 11 – Tsenkher Hot Springs

Today’s drive wasn’t all that bad. We left the White Lake and took the same road out that we arrived on. Two of the boys from the family we were staying with joined us as they had school starting the next morning. They go to high school five days a week in the village of Tariat then they come home on the weekends to help the family with farm tasks.

Another fine looking Mongolian bridge
Another fine looking Mongolian bridge

After our lunch stop in the village Ikh Tamir we took a dirt road to the southeast into the mountains. The road was some of the roughest we have seen, especially on the uphills where all traffic competes for the path with the lowest grade. Making matters worse is the annual rainwater that erodes each of the tire tracks into little canyons.

The hot springs, the main attraction of the day, were great! Our last shower (or running water for that matter) was three days prior so we were in need of a good scrubbing. Our ger camp had a couple of nicely outfitted shower rooms with steaming hot water that had been piped in from the springs on the other side of the valley. Outside there was a large soaking pool also fed by the springs. Outside air temperatures must have been around freezing but soaking in the warm pool was pure bliss!

Sleep was once again hit-or-miss. We had a pretty much unlimited supply of wood for the stove but having to get up every couple of hours to load it was quite annoying. At one point, maybe around 4AM, I put too much wood in the stove and made it super hot in our ger – hot enough to wake me up dripping with sweat. A few hours later I woke up again freezing cold and able to see my breath in the air. Mongolians are a lot tougher than I am!

Our driver lighting our stove the fast way - with a blowtorch
Our driver lighting our stove the fast way – with a blowtorch

Minivan odometer at end of day 11: 2042km (207km today)

Day 12 – Mongol Els

Flags at Övgön Khiid
Flags at Övgön Khiid

Originally our 14-day tour itinerary had us set to visit the Orkhon Waterfall. I am sure the waterfall is nice but the original 14-day itinerary would have left us with just one day in UB for the usual souvenir shopping, postcard writing, etc. We also faced the rather high tour cost of $82 per person per day now that it was just the two of us so we scratched the falls from the itinerary.

With the new itinerary, we were supposed to drive from the hot springs to Lun village which is only about 150km from UB. Lun Village is a popular place for tourists to stay with a local family, have a BBQ, ride horses, etc. Since we are both eating vegetarian on the tour our guide suggested that maybe we make another change. She suggested a stop at Mongol Sands instead of Lun Village and I think she made the right call. Mongol Sands is like a mini Gobi where you can see sand dunes, ride camels and visit the ruins of a monastery.

By now we are getting quite used to bouncing across the steppe in the Russian van. The drive from the hot springs to Mongol Sands was a piece of cake at 205km in about five hours. We made a brief stop in Kharkhorin for lunch where Amy and I finally learned the notation for toilet in Mongolia: ’00′. Such information is very useful in Mongolia towns. At today’s lunch stop, finding the outhouse was quite the challenge as it was hidden behind a rusting hulk of old steel on the grounds of an abandoned Soviet factory. Day-to-day life as a tourist in Mongolia is filled with mini-adventures like this one.

Mongol Sands wasn’t much further down the road. A few camels dotting the side of the road were a good hint that we were getting close. We turned off the main road and drove parallel to some short dunes which were covered in snow to some extent – an interesting juxtaposition. An even greater contrast was between the dunes to our left and the marshlands to our right! Many birds, including some migratory species were congregated around the water.

The Övgön Khiid monastery was a pretty nice stop. The monastery itself had been sacked by ‘Red Russia’ (as they like to say here) back in the 1930′s and the modern temple structures were built in the 1990′s. The temples were nice but to me the site’s real charm was the location nestled in a narrow valley that had been lightly dusted with snow.

The ruins of Övgön Khiid
The ruins of Övgön Khiid

The family that ran the ger camp didn’t have blankets for us tonight but they did come up with something equally useful and infinitely more entertaining: dels! Here is what I wore to bed:

Boxers, long johns (two pairs), pants, wool socks, cotton socks, undershirt, collared shirt, black long-sleeve shirt, hoodie, down jacket, Mongolian del and a belt to pull it together.
Boxers, long johns (two pairs), pants, wool socks, cotton socks, undershirt, collared shirt, black long-sleeve shirt, hoodie, down jacket, Mongolian del and a belt to pull it together.

Minivan odometer at end of day 12: 2247km (205km today)

Mongolia Tour Days 11-12
Another fine looking Mongolian bridge
Another fine looking Mongolian bridge
Frost around the hot tubs
Frost around the hot tubs
Our driver lighting our stove the fast way - with a blowtorch
Our driver lighting our stove the fast way – with a blowtorch
Some of the springs at Tsenkher
Some of the springs at Tsenkher
Does this mean that you can park here?
Does this mean that you can park here?
Bird wake
Bird wake
The first plane I had seen in many days
The first plane I had seen in many days
Virgin Atlantic, likely from Beijing or Shanghai headed to Heathrow
Virgin Atlantic, likely from Beijing or Shanghai headed to Heathrow
A little frog (toad?) that I nearly stepped on
A little frog (toad?) that I nearly stepped on
The ruins of Övgön Khiid
The ruins of Övgön Khiid
Flags at Övgön Khiid
Flags at Övgön Khiid
Mongolian toaster
Mongolian toaster
Boxers, long johns (two pairs), pants, wool socks, cotton socks, undershirt, collared shirt, black long-sleeve shirt, hoodie, down jacket, Mongolian del and a belt to pull it together.
Boxers, long johns (two pairs), pants, wool socks, cotton socks, undershirt, collared shirt, black long-sleeve shirt, hoodie, down jacket, Mongolian del and a belt to pull it together.

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