I went looking for my two college classmates that were scheduled to be in Ulaan Baatar on a tour, and found them in the Gandan Monastery as their itinerary said they would be. Their group had a Mongolian guide, of course, who took us through the monastery and also the National Museum. Again, I was reminded about why I like to travel independently. For me, the going was too slow with too much detail imparted. Yet my friends obviously appreciated this—one even took notes! To each his own.
One man in the group was 92 years old, which encouraged me, as lately, at 71—at least in Mongolia which admittedly is pretty rugged, I have been wondering how long I can continue to travel this way. I guess the answer must be ’21 more years!’ I had lunch with the group—they were all most cordial and I enjoyed seeing my two college classmates from 50 years ago.
Monday I bade my ‘Peace Corps family’ goodbye and flew to Moron. The plane was four hours late coming in from Irkutsk, Russia, so I didn’t get to Moron until after all the minivans to Khatgal had left for the day. In the airport I chatted with a fellow traveler from Italy, so we stayed together in a guest house (hostel) and were just congratulating ourselves on having a room with five beds all to ourselves. Surely there wouldn’t be other guests arriving so late—–wrong!! All three rooms filled up making it 14 people sharing one bathroom! So it goes.
A long ride with five other guests took us to Nature’s Door Camp beside Lake Khovsgol. However, it took all day in a jeep as first they had to grocery shop since some of them (two French and One Japanese) were going horseriding for three days. We stopped for lunch in the driver’s ger and had cream on bread. I finally remembered that this cream that I’ve had many times in Mongolia is exactly the same as ‘clotted cream’ that I have eaten on scones at teatime in Dorset in southern England. More stops to launch the horseriders and finally to the beautiful Lake Khosvgol, ringed by mountains.
I went horseback riding (just like Genghis Khan!) with my Italian friend and we saw a Tsamman family living in a teepee (not a ger) that had a herd of 16 reindeer. They invited us into their teepee and gave us cheese and bread. They earn some tourist dollars by charging for photographing their reindeer and selling souvenirs.
Most of the other reindeer families have gone farther north to find the lichen that the reindeer eat.
The horseback riding was quite scary for me—every time the horse broke into a trot, I broke out in a cold sweat. But we made it back without my coming to grief, although for the first few minutes after I de-horsed, I walked funny.
The next morning I went to the Khovsgol Dalai Tour camp next door to look for my college friends again, and found them eating breakfast. At 6:30 that evening my Italian friend and I hosted them at our camp to a vodka tonic cocktail party (no ice, no lime) as they were kind enough to offer us a ride to Moron the next day as there is no public transport.
The last morning at Lake Khosvgol was gloriously sunny and bright but cold. I have been sleeping wearing long underwear, jeans, shirt, and warm jacket plus very thick quilts, which has kept me comfortable in the ger. Daytime required only a sweatshirt over a long sleeved tee. My Italian roommate had asked me to wake her up if/when I got up to answer the call of nature in the night if it were clear so the stars were on full display. I did and they were—I’ve never seen them so bright. The Milky Way was awesome and the Big Dipper shone beautifully low to the horizon right over the toilet!
On the ride back to Moron we stopped for a picnic in a most beautiful wide-open place, ringed by small mountains and covered with purple wild asters. Truly the grandeur of the Mongolian steppe is exotic just from the scale of it all.
Back in Moron, my Italian friend and I stayed at a hostel running into travelers that we had met previously. Today we will fly back to UB and say our goodbyes. I will be coming home on Wednesday after spending the last two days in UB with last minute sight seeing and buying souvenirs.
So that’s all for Mongolia—-I’ll be in Italy in September, and will write again then.