We bought beer, vodka, wine, chocolate and crisps. I am with a younger group and so the food and drinks changed. It started with that Johanna (we can call her Jo) was late. She thought the tour began at 1 pm instead of 7 am. Jo lives in Berlin, studies and works at an NGO that aims for a better food consumption instead of wasting food. She has invited her friend Allan whom she knows from a festival in Ulan Ude in Russia. Allan is born in Miami, but has his ‘home base’ – he lives with friends most of the times – in Chicago. He is flight attendant at a budget airline. He knows the safety instructions by heart – very funny.
We go on the bus to central Mongolia. We almost missed the bus, but we are just in time before it leaves. If we arrive in central Mongolia at 3 pm, there is no one until a taxi appeals to us. He does not speak English but we throw our bag in the back. When I am in the front I see a bus arriving with the name of our tour and just in time we get out of the taxi.
We meet our two companions: Jonas and Tim, two brothers from Belgium, and drive to a family. With the family we get milk tea and I play with the children. Children walk around freely. When everyone starts eating around seven o’clock everyone walks in when he or she is hungry. With five of us we have a ger. We entertain ourselves with drinking games with beer and Genghis Khan – our hero – vodka that we have bought that afternoon.
Finally! It starts: the hike. What I longed for. We are instructed to put on one pair of clothes for the next three days, the rest is in the car and we have space for our tent, sleeping mats and sleeping bags.
We hike in central Mongolia and the landscape is beautiful everywhere. It is the land of the blue skies and they continue indefinitely. There is no country in the world where I have seen such skies. If I had to compare it then it is a mix of Scotland, Switzerland (that looks more like the west of Mongolia). There is also a desert (the Gobi Dessert), but I will not visit this one. The route we walk is in the nature reserve Naiman Nuur *.
Arriving at a lake after a day of hiking we store our tent. Allan gathers wood for the campfire and I dive into the water that is freezing cold! It’s delicious. The Belgian brothers are washing themselves, because they have been on the road for some time and have not been able to shower for days. Showering is a luxury in Mongolia. Two million people live in the countryside and those living in a ger – almost everyone – do not have a shower anyway. The brothers are the only ones who enjoy the campfire, we go after dinner in our tent by the wind that blows us from our socks.
Breakfast Mongolian Style
With our tent packed again and breakfast in our stomach we are ready to leave, but then we are invited by the Mongolian family who came to stand next to us the night before. It is a large family of about 15 people, half of whom are children. They have come in three jeeps, sleep in tents and have made a big campfire that now has meat on it.
We do not want to be rude and push at their breakfast. After I have given a yoga class to two women of the family and our own group. We first get a hot stone in our hands to warm our hands. And it is hot! Then we get meat, potatoes and some pickles for breakfast. Refusing is difficult, but I only eat potatoes and pickles. The men offer us vodka. You cannot refuse this. The men first give to the men and then the women. Allan becomes fanatical and goes around with our vodka ‘to grab them’.
After the double breakfast we will start. We walk until we reach a family where we sleep in the ger. There comes the same ritual: first milk tea – we now also get fat that you do in tea – and then our guide Yaga makes our dinner. The family also makes yogurt. What I see for the first time. With the five of us we end the day with our own vodka, now that we had already started.
I do not know if it is fatigue, but the evening ends in a fight. That morning we walk only 10 kilometers and we have lunch at the Russian bus where we arrive around three in the afternoon. After this we drive to a tourist camp and visit a waterfall. Jonas (one of the Belgian brothers) knows many drink games and we try them out. The bus driver is bad for (the Berlin) Jo, she has to drink a lot. Then she comes back to a comment from Jonas to me. He asked why I wanted to go to a gay bar in UB if I am not gay. Jo wrote about this together with a few other comments about Jonas gayas. Jonas feels cornered and becomes angry. ‘We call it a day,’ at 2 AM and go to bed without talking.
Temple Tovkhen Kmiid
In the morning we ponder our sins in the temple Tovkhen Kmiid where Zanabazar (1635) lived for 30 years. I did not know him, but he is very well known in Mongolia. That is how he designed the symbol on the flag. The temple we visit was demolished in 1937 when Communism came into Mongolia and belief was forbidden. In 1998 the temple was rebuilt
The temple was to see a photograph of a monk. Jo asks who that is. A young monk on sneakers walking in says that it is Zanabazar. I walk outside to laugh. Mongolians do not always say the truth and will not soon say that they do not know something. Politeness is more important. For example, our guide does not want to say how old she is. She is between the ages of 22 and 41, but that is all we know. She does ask us, but refuses to tell us how old she is.
Tsenkher Hot Springs
That night we stay at the Tsenkher Hot Springs. It is a warm bath behind showers (yes!). The shower is lovely and an evening in a warm bath makes the group atmosphere good. In addition, we can charge our phones for the first time in days, but do not yet have internet. It will be a beautiful evening with Mongolian guides and Koreans.
* This means the eight lakes, although there are nine. It is 11,500 hectares and lies 35 kilometers from Öndor Gegeen (for those who want to walk).