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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Part 2: The Gobi

On Friday, 4th August we boarded the public bus to Mandalgovi, where we arrived 7 hours later. We were picked up by a local facilitator who helped us arrange for a driver to get to the first Ger and to get around the last 3 days of our trip. In the office I found another picture of myself on the wall, the same as on the flyer. Dundgov Aimag belongs to the North of the Gobi Desert and against our expectations it was extremely green. We soon found out why, on our way to the first Ger it started to rain! After tea at Oyunerdene's Ger, where Christa tried to milk a goat and we listened to/sang Mongolian and European songs, we reached Darhanbaatar's Ger. Here it was time to say goodbye to our driver and start the real adventure. As it is custom we were immediately invited in for milk tea, I was surprised that the milk tea was unsalted, but it still tasted very good.

Our tents, bought at the black market in UB for 25'000 Tugrik, didn't have any tent pegs. Darhanbaatar (loosely translated: blacksmith hero) lived up to his name when he made pegs out of old pieces of metal for us. They were direly needed because heavy winds were blowing almost all the time.

The next three days were great fun. We played Shagaa (traditional Nomad game with ankle bones), tried our hands at the Horse-Head Fiddle, and rode Camels, Horses and Camel Cart. We played with the children, made felt, built a miniature Ger, sang songs, and enjoyed the landscapes and ate way too much food. There are too many memories to write about them all.

On the fifth day we met our new driver, who would drive us to Uush Sand Dunes and then back to Mandalgovi. He was accompanied by Oyuga, one of the facilitators working in the Mandalgovi Ger to Ger office. It was quite tight with four people on the back bench of the jeep, especially because it was designed for three, but we made do.

On the way to the sand dunes our driver got lost, which is normal in the Gobi with no road signs at all and just a couple of dirt tracks, but after driving around a bit we found two Nomads on a motorbike who could point us in the right direction. Our driver used the Mongolian GPS (Ger Positioning System) :).

We could spend the night inside one of Batsur's Ger, which was a nice change from our windswept tents. The sand dune was very impressive. According to local legend it has healing powers and I tried to channel some of these energies to strengthen my health ;). Just behind the sand dune was a "big" Saxaul forest that is lots of small trees resembling shrubberies.

On our way we visited the ruins of a city which burned down in 1955 as well as a small cave. The stay for our last night was planned in a Soum (a small town), however, we were not welcome there. The woman told us through Oyuga, who thankfully acted as our translator, that she didn't want any more tourists. After debating for a while we decided to head north in the later afternoon and camp in the nature close to Mandalgovi. Before we left we had the chance to wash our hair, that was a great relief!

Our driver took us to a riverbed surrounded by green meadows. We found a small streamlet as well as a couple of puddles. In one of them I made an interesting discovery: Tiny crabs that looked like they were leftovers from prehistoric times! Just when we wanted to pitch our tent a Mongolian family arrived with their Ger, so we went to another, quieter riverbed.

The next morning we decided to hike back to Mandalgovi, it was only 12 kilometres and we had all day to spend. The route took us through the local trash-dump, a huge field with trash and ash from former trash removal actions. In the middle of this dump we saw a pond which would have been deep enough to swim in (we were desperately looking for a lake or big river at the time), unfortunately it was extremely polluted and the water had an unhealthy brownish colour. The visit of the local Shower Palace (a house with 8 showers) was appreciated by all of us and we felt like newborn.

Early the next morning we took the public bus back to UB.


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