#3 Mongolia, August 7, 2006

Dear Everybody,

How great to have a three day respite in Ulaan Bataar in the lovely home of the Mongolian Peace Corps Medical Officer and his family who treated me so hospitably. Melanie, her two girls and I visited the Zanabazaar Museum which was really outstanding. Zanabazaar was a much loved artist that did lots of bronze Buddhas in the 1600’s. The museum Buddhas were beautiful and in perfect condition.

We also visited the Red Ger where top notch local artists exhibit. It was also very satisfying. Needless to say, much of the subject matter is Horses.

Three Peace Corps friends of my hosts came to the house for an evening before going home. One was from St. Paul, MN, and had been here for three years, teaching English. I think there is a disproportionally large number of Minnesotans traveling—-I always run into them. They say that there are many in the Peace Corps. I think it’s not a coincidence— I’m guessing it is perhaps related to MN being a ‘progressive’ state.

I attended a concert with a full Mongolian orchestra plus dancers, singers, contortionists and THROAT singers. Except for the throat singers, all the Mongolian singing is in the front of the mouth and Very Loud—must have something to do with the wide open spaces.

On the way out the door, I nearly lost my camera to a pick pocket—he got it out of the holder but the strap held that secured it to my bag, thank goodness! I noticed a Japanese woman scolding a pickpocket and checking her purse, also.

On Friday I flew in a prop plane to the Gobi desert, to the town of Dalanzadgad. I had made arrangements to be met at this grass runway airport and be taken to the Three Camel Lodge, way out in the Gobi. Upon landing, nobody was there—–now what? I collared the airline stewardess and explained things to her. She pointed at a man—so I asked her to ask him if he would drive me the 70 km to the Three Camel Lodge, and how much it would cost. Much discussion.

“Did you ask him if he can take me?”

“No, but I will.” Much discussion.

Finally the answer—yes he could for 28,000 togorgs ($25). Fine—so off we went. Well, not quite. He drove around town and finally found someone who he was looking for—another man. Much discussion. It started to rain with very dark threatening clouds (it rarely rains in the Gobi!) Second man gets out his calculator and shows 70,000—I say, “Take me back to the airport” and flap my arms like flying. More discussion—lots of laughing on their part—it didn’t seem so amusing to me!

“Take me back to the airport!”—with more arm flapping. Actually I suspect that by then, the airport would have been deserted—there’s only one plane per day. Second man disappears and reappears with a woman who speaks English and says that she is the manager of the Three Camel Lodge! More discussion and voila, the second man gestures me into his jeep, which has a ‘Three Camel Lodge’ sticker on the dash, and off we go. In two hours we were there—all’s well that ends well!

Later I learned that in spite of having made arrangements in UB to be met at the airport, the Three Camel Lodge people were waiting for me at another lodge that has its own landing strip. I was very clear that I would be going to Dalanzadgad, but that’s Mongolian tourism.

The lodge is wonderful—many individual gers surrounding a central building. The dining room is a great big ger and has Very Good food!

 

 

 

I bought a bottle of Bear Blood Bulgarian red wine in the UB airport—cost $4.50 but it was the best that I could find. It turned out to be surprisingly drinkable!

 

 

 

 

 

They have had rain here in the Gobi—a rarity—as the hard packed sandy desert is more or less green with vegetation quite suitable for goats and sheep. The view from my ger over the flat, green plant covered desert is endless—it must be 30 miles. In the distance as always, are flocks of sheep and goats, and a white ger here and there. It is very hot in the middle of the day (90-100?) but nights are cool (65?). My early morning walks were very comfortable although windy. One morning a camp helper accompanied me up a hill (outcropping) in back of the camp and showed me some petroglyphs.

This lodge is ecologically sound. It uses solar and wind power, buys local food, organically raised, and uses local labor. It funds and organizes native conservation clubs for children in local secondary schools.

They played a DVD one day with actual footage of the Roy Chapman Andrews excursions to Mongolia in 1922-28. He discovered lots of dinosaur skeletons but even more important to paleontology, older mammal skulls than ever seen before. He was also the first to find dinosaur eggs.

Another evening I saw “The Weeping Camel,” a documentary film that I had seen in Minneapolis with Jeanne, Bob, Judy, and Jim. It takes place in the Gobi Desert province that I’m in now, and all the homely things in their ger had so much more meaning to me after staying with families in their gers. When I stayed with Baatar’s family in their ger, I saw many of the things that were in the movie ger, such as the family pictures, the making of milk tea in the wok-like pan on the stove, and exchange of snuff bottles as a greeting.

After three days at the Three Camel Lodge in the lap of luxury, I have moved on to the town of Dalanzagad—a town of mainly gers. After Internetting today, I shall try to make some plans to tour the Gurvan Saikan National Park with its dinosaur bones.

A bit of family news—-Cookie and Ulises are the foster parents of a
four-month old girl—how exciting! Her parents are Native American and Mexican.

Mongolia is ruggeddino, but I’m enjoying it!

Carol

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