Out Of The Rut
We arrived in Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar) early on the 1st April. We were confronted by taxi drivers and hostel reps trying to get our business. After getting in and out of several taxi's (without leaving the car park) we decided to go to the Golden Gobi Hostel after I persuaded James that the 5 star hotel was a bit extravigant. The taxi driver and hostel rep then got dragged out of the taxi by other taxi drivers who wanted our business and we were nearly kidnapped. It all got sorted after we opened the doors and shouted some strong words. we arrived safely at the hostel and were greeted by friendly owners and staff. We spent the day looking around Ulaanbaatar (which James called UB after hearing another Westerner refer to it). We went to an authentic Mongolian cafe called the "Chicken House". We tried to explain that we wanted to pay in dollars but she did not speak a word of English. After getting someone to translate she was happy to show us to a table. The non english speaking lady then went to the telephone and answered it "Hello, Chicken House" - bizarre, however the food was lovely! We decided to book a Mongolian adventure through the hostel which involved driving into the heart of the wilderness and staying with three different nomadic Mongolian families in their 'Gers' (round Mongolian tents with a stove in the centre). That afternoon we stocked up with chocolate and vodka (and toilet roll) before heading out for a few beers in UB. The nightlife was very slow and we ended up sitting in a bar which was more like someone's front room opposite a drunken burping Mongolian boy - oh dear! Early next morning we were greeted by our driver (Argi, who James kept calling Yogi) and Enlish -speaking guide (Who, that was her name "Who"). Argi's 4x4 looked like it belonged in a museum and barely made it out the car park before we stopped to top up the engine oil, then 5 minutes later we were stopped by the police for loose roof luggage and had to bribe them. We drove on what were supposed to be main roads - In England these would be described as unpassable off road tracks. We drove for 280km south of UB into the desert terrain. We met our first family in their Ger camp. We arrived as they were chasing new born goats and lambs to put in an enclosure which we tried to help but were more of a hinderance, tripping over goats etc. The eldest member of the family was 'Bor' - a real character, 70 years old and still riding horses to round up his livestock. Later that day we managed a horse ride which was quite an experience being in the open plains alone with just the horse (They only had one horse so James and I rode independently of each other). James' feet almost touched the ground and I learned the word for go which was "choo" which I shouted a couple of times and my horse immediately started to gallop and I was nearly off. Later that evening we gave a bottle of vodka and helped the family drink it. We played a game with sheep bones which I apparantly was very good at (Argi said he would give me some bones when we got back to UB, which he did). James, having been knocked out early got bored and started to show the family how to play 'Pass the Pigs'. Whilst they could speak no English by the end of the night they knew 'Pig Out' and 'Razorback'...! This family was so friendly and happy and lived with no electricity/ running water/toilet. They lived in extreme conditions and even without any luxuries we felt at home. They offered us snuff and some meat that looked like it had come off Bor's back. That night we slept in a spare Ger with the driver Argi who kept the stove stocked up with horse S*it - yes that was the main fuel. We left there in the morning and travelled a short distance to a camel sanctuary, where we each rose a camel across the desert. We then drove another 100km south into the mountains where the scenery and temperature changed dramatically - what were tracks became mountains with no traks just hidden rocks - we held on for dear life. We stopped a couple of times to make yellow snow and also managed to fit in a snow ball fight. Bizarre considering hours earlier we were in desert!! It was getting dark and we were about 200m from our next remote camp when we got stuck in the deep snow and had to dig it out with spades. We met our next family and they had even less and were even friendlier. Their Ger was very hectic with new born goats running around in the Ger and afterbirth dangling off them, this was odd, but not overly desirable when trying to eat meat dumplings. Mugi was the father and had no front teeth. The family had only relocated there 2 days earlier having moved from their Winter site, so they were still building the livestock enclosures. Mugi later got drunk on the vodka we gave him and fell off his chair. Again we played the bones game and cards and pass the pigs which they loved so much we left it with them. They had a daughter with 3 young children and they all loved it. We had a fabulous night in the dark thanks to the pigs. Argi and Mugi tucked us into bed, we were in silk liners then sleeping bags then wrapped in hearth rugs, carpet, a blanket and a fleecy blanket - clearly they were worried we may get a little chilly in the night. We thought this was excessive but when we awoke at 5am the canopy (by the stove chimney at the top) had blown off our Ger and the -20degree winds were blowing in. We have never experienced cold like it. James jumped to his feet and stoked the fire which had died, he then got it so hot he nearly burnt the Ger down as the chimney was touching the blowing canopy, he then raced outside to sort it out and pulled the canopy off even further which made it even colder. We got dressed pretty quickly and went outside. After breakfast Argi, Who, James and I walked to a nearby waterfall in deep snow which was amazing (completly frozen). We tried to walk across the frozen river and got halfway when we heard an almighty crack so we started to run the rest of the way. The scenery was stunning and the sky blue - it was so peaceful. On the way back we stopped at a woman's Ger and had a cup of tea - everyone is so friendly. The youngest boy (About 4) was playing and laughing running in the snow, he picked up a piece of snow and threw it at James which missed by a mile and giggled and ran off. James grabbed a load of snow and moulded his ammunition, when the boy emerged he threw as hard as he could the snow ball into the boys face - ooops. The laughter turned to tears and James walked off sheepishly. After lunch we headed to our 3rd and final camp. Not much to say about this family, except they had a television which they were consumed by and we did not feel as welcome as the other families. To make our presence known we instigated a game of cards (Chase the Lady), that got them amused, especially when James lost 4 times in a row after explaining the rules in his typically visual fashion. When we went to bed the woman put coal in the stove - around 30 mins later we were all so hot we nearly passed out - James was right next to the stove and was already nursing sun burn from the waterfall walk. The next morning we all spoke of how we had never been so hot! After breakfast we visited the local temple (this town used to be the old capital) where we saw around 40 monks chanting script - it was a very interesting experience. After this we made our way back to UB - the 4x4 again performed remarkably well, although we felt like we had been tumble dried by the time we got back. As it was my 33rd birthday we decided to go out and have a few beers. We ended up in a cheesey nightclub with live music. I apparantly befriended a criminal who toasted my birthday with shots and then flicked a cigarette into a girls face and punched her.. strangley she got kicked out not him. Just as we were getting our groove on the dance floor the music stopped and the club closed as the police had arrived. We then went to a underground bar with a Mongolian lad where we had to knock on a door and speak German before they would let us in. Once in we were the only people in there but the beer was flowing. I was playing lamb knee game with the waitress and Mongolian lad while James had a sleep in the corner. At half 4 James stood up and said " Are you f#[email protected]!* coming or what cus I am getting well p*"#$# off" given that we had to catch the train to Beijing two hours later. We made the train still a little drunk and slept the hangover off to Beijing. NOTE: PHOTOS TO FOLLW ONCE WE FIND A QUICK COMPUTER CONNECTION!!!!