Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Rest Is Gravy

I would do this entire trip again just to head back to the ger camp. It has been the best two days of my two-month adventure.

Gers are the tents that Mongolian nomads set up in the countryside as their homes. They are circular and are easily assembled and dismantled. There are ger camps that are set up specifically for tourists in the Terelij National Park that are probably more luxurious than the average. And they were cool. We heated it with a fire in a wood-burning stove-looking thing.

Nemo, our local guide, and Mia, our driver, picked us up from the hotel on Friday morning. (Nemo is trained as a urologist but, because of the economy here, he makes more money as a tour guide than as a doctor. He is really smart, his English is really good and he held his own playing Scrabble with us). It was an hour and a half drive to our camp, with plenty of beautiful scenic stops along the way. We arrived just in time for lunch and were introduced to the great food from the camp cook. Andrea (the leader), Rob (the other 32-year-old) and I shared a ger since we are the ones most prone to staying up late.

After lunch, we went on a 3-hour horseback ride through the park. I thought it would be desert but, to the contrary, it was mountains and forest and it was breathtaking. I started the ride on a horse I named Speedy. Unfortunately, however, as soon as we started a good run, I discovered that my stirrups were a bit too short and I couldn't keep my balance. Leaning forward and defying gravity, I was clinging to the horse's mane while trying to pull the rope toward me to get it to stop. Never have I been so close to falling off a horse and, to my great relief, Speedy stopped just in time to save me from guaranteed embarassment and an uncertain fate. :-)

At our break, I thought Namjul, our horse guy, would adjust the stirrups and let me keep bonding with Speedy. My guess is that he was concerned about my horse riding capabilities or thought I was scared, because he made me switch horses. I was bummed, because I wanted to run Speedy through the valleys. As it was, the second half of my ride was on Farty, the name of which speaks for itself. I don't know what the hell that horse ate, but I felt sorry for those who were downwind. Farty didn't like to go fast, probably from all the gastrointestinal activity, but it was well enough since it gave me the opportunity to take in the dreamy surroundings.

We got back to the camp, ate dinner and I soon found out that one of the permanent buildings in the camp has a snooker table. Although I have played pool for years, I have never played snooker. That didn't stop me from talking all kinds of mess to Nemo and Mia though and they taught me how to play. There went the rest of the evening and late into the night. It got pretty intense, but we had SO much fun!!

On Saturday morning, we awoke to a herd of cows grazing in our camp. We ate breaskfast and three of us went on a morning horseback ride. Instead of Speedy and Farty, I got Turtle. I am not sure if he was old or lazy, but he couldn't be bothered. If he was a person, he would have hit snooze on the alarm clock and decided not to go to work that day. Namjul managed to coax a few gallops out of Turtle, but it was futile. Another slow trot through untouched forest, which is nothing to be upset about.

The group went on an afternoon hike to a local monastery. It was a nice way to spend a couple hours and a hilarious way to get to know some of the group. One of the 50-something couples from Australia, Anjie and Tony, are such a pleasure to travel with. They have more energy than everyone, they can throw back beers with the best of them and they have the sharpest, funniest whit. Even though the monastery was at the base of a valley with a pretty steep hill separating us from our camp, they decided to race each other back to camp. What took Rob and I about a half hour moving quickly, took each of them 20 minutes. They have great spirits. We stayed up playing Scrabble, Snooker and drinking tea and vodka (not mixed).

This is a great group. The bummer so far is that my roommate, a retiree from Australia, got sick yesterday and had to be taken to the city at 11:00 last night. Not sure what happened at the hospital, but it looks like she has to fly back to Sydney. I am so bummed for her. Rob and I are now rooming together, which is probably for the best anyways, since we are the loudmouths who stay out late. Since the sun doesn't set here until almost 10:30 p.m., it's hard to motivate to call it quits before 1 or 2am. For the record, he's gay, so no raised eyebrows! :-)

So, we're back in Ulan Bataar. Rob and I are e-mailing and then off to the State Department Store to see if there are any interesting souveneirs to buy. We're here until 6:00 tomorrow when we catch our train to Siberia. The ger camp was so cool though, that everything from here is a bonus.

The e-mail here is painfully slow. I am convinced that the entire country is operating on one server. But, I can read my blog. Yay!

P.S. About NBA Basketball, when Nemo introduced himself and I told him that I am from the US, he told me that is a huge basketball fan, his favorite team is the Sacramento Kings and that Miami and Detroit are tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Even in the land of nomads, the land of blue skies, Kobe and Shaq have fans and detractors.


At 6:52 PM, June 08, 2005 , Blogger chad said...

It's the funniest thing...a friend of mine has three ex's that she calls Speedy, Turtle, and Farty. I'll know it's more than a coincidence if you tell me you rode a horse named Stalker too.

At 2:46 PM, January 03, 2006 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the cool horse . You'll have to stop by sometime!

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