Saturday, May 30: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
6:50 Breakfast at the Soviet-style Zaluuchuud Hotel consists of fried eggs, steamed wieners, and toast with cream cheese or jam. The coffee comes from a machine and is pre-mixed with milk. I’m not a fan.
7:30 We load our bags onto Sura and head to the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar where we pick up some propane tanks.
9:00 We’re on the road and it’s a very good two-lane paved highway. This won’t last long.
9:30 Bayaraa, our Mongolian guide, presents everyone on the truck with a ball cap and a khata – a piece of blue silk that symbolizes purity and compassion in Tibetan Buddhism. The khata is presented at special occasions such as births, weddings, funerals, graduations and the arrival or departure of guests.
12:10 We stop at a roadside inn for lunch. It takes a while to find the owner but she soon whips up 10 servings of vegetable soup with mutton and 8 servings of dumpling soup with mutton. The vegetarians are not impressed. The inn has no indoor plumbing but rather a high wooden fence out back that serves as a privacy screen.
14:00 We stop what remains of the Khar Bukhyn Balgas fort which was constructed around AD 700 by the Kitan people. While the fort is in ruins, the stonework that exists is phenomenal. One of the passengers touches a poisonous plant with her bare ankle. Bayaraa suggests that she go behind a stone wall and pee on her ankle. She does as instructed and the pain subsides immediately.
15:00 After an hour at the fort we press on toward Ogii Lake.
15:40 We stop at an ovoo – stone cairn set high atop a large hill with amazing 360-degree views, including an active volcano.
16:30 A group of gazelle run across the road in front of us. They move pretty quick so I didn’t manage to get a shot of them. The photos that I did take make it look like we went “off road” but in fact the set of two tire tracks through the grass IS the road. … Today we have passed thousands of sheep, goats and horses, most being moms and babies. The horses tend to stay off the road until we get very close then they saunter across at their leisure.
17:08 We arrive at Ogii Lake and soon find the Munkh Tenger Ger Camp. … The terms “ger” and “yurt” are apparently interchangeable. Our ger has a linoleum floor, single beds with padding and comforters, a central wood stove, small table and two stools. There are central indoor toilets (the real porcelain kind, not just a hole in the floor) and showers with cold water. All things considered, it’s much more comfortable that any of us had expected.
17:10 I go for a walk on the beach with Marie, Katherine and John while Neill goes for a swim in the lake. Neill is either very brave or completely crazy. The jury is still out.
17:40 We spot the carcass of a dead horse washed up on shore. This is a minor concern over dinner when we are served fish and seaweed from the lake.
20:30 I’m in bed long before the sun sets around 22:00.