Saturday, June 6: Tsetserleg, Mongolia
7:30 I spend 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get some cold water in the bathroom of my shared room at Hotel Sunder. It’s tricky but I eventually determine that a shut-off valve at floor level controls the toilet AND sink. One must open the valve before turning on the taps at the sink. Just shutting off the taps isn’t enough though. I speak from experience when I say that the toilet will overflow if the valve is not turned off after about 60 seconds. It’s an effective way to encourage water conservation.
8:00 The group reconvenes at the cafe and we all enjoy coffee and wi-fi for about 90 minutes.
10:05 We stop to view snow-covered mountains in the distance. Tis is a first for some but a bit “ho-hum” for me.
10:30 We visit Chuluu Rock where Bayaraa, Neill and John manage to throw a stone over the large rock to the other side. This apparently means that we’ll have a “clear path” ahead. “Remember those words” is all I’m gonna say.
10:50 We move on, enjoying stunning views of rolling green hills, deep rocky gorges, and snow-capped mountains. There are few fences as animals roam under the watch of shepherds on horseback or motorcycle. … I sit beside Bayaraa for the day and he impresses me to no end. This is his first trip with Dragoman and his first time in this territory so it is understandable that he knows little about some places. He’ll make a world class guide after he’s done the circuit a few more times. He already gets an A+ rating for work ethic and personality.
12:02 We stop at several places in search of lunch. It’s early in the season and the restaurants are either not yet open or not prepared to serve 20 guests at once. At a third stop we find 5 or 6 restaurants in a row that can each accommodate 6 or 8 people. Everyone in my group orders mutton soup with flour noodles. We watch as the woman cuts the noodles from large pieces of dough. Everything is prepared from scratch and cooked on a wood burning stove. The family lives in the back, the restaurant occupies the front two rooms, and in middle is a good-sized bedroom with one very large raised bed that could host a dozen tourists or very friendly truckers. The end wall of the room is the back of the stone fireplace so it’s probably a cozy place to spend a long Mongolian winter night.
13:50 Bayaraa introduces us to a dried yak milk product called aaruul. I’m sure it was the inspiration for Milk Bone. It’s rock hard but after sucking and chewing for about 2 hours I was able to reduce one piece from 6cm to about 3cm. It tastes just like the Stouffville Creamery smelled circa 1967. That is to say, not terribly appetizing.
14:30 There’s no place like a 100 m deep rocky gorge for a pee-break. (I suppose the girls might argue with that one, but the boys were up to the challenge of making it over the edge and staying dry in the wind.)
19:00 We have settled into our yurts at the Badmaarag ger camp and are just now sitting down for dinner of yak meatballs served with bean and corn salad, rice, sourdough bread, and hot tea. I order a glass of cabernet but it’s undrinkable. The manager has only been here for 8 days and suspects that the wine was left over (open) from last season. I wouldn’t argue with that.