Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Day 64: Mongolia! (Horse Tour Day 1)

Day 64:  Friday, April 24

Oh boy, long post.

Woke up at like 7 after too little sleep, got packed up, had some breakfast, and was waiting for my guide at 7:45 (she was going to pick me up at 8).  I went to pay for the hostel, and then the guy running it was like "Oh, we don't accept cards this week, you need to pay cash."  Like, come on man, you TOLD me where to get cash yesterday, you could have said that I needed to pay you in cash.  It didn't say that anywhere on the website so I was pretty pissed.

Luckily the driver and the tour guide knew where an ATM was that was outside (since all the banks were closed still and most ATMs are inside) I would have been SOL.  They brought me there, let me get cash, and brought me back.  So then of course we hit morning traffic leaving the city for the tour, which wasn't fun.  Started to get a pretty upset stomach from the stop and go traffic, but the tour guide said I could just try to sleep in the car and I could see everything on the drive back.

That helped a bit, so I was feeling decent at least when we pulled up to where the nomad host was meeting us.  We actually couldn't drive all the way to his house (river crossing and no bridge), so he brought the horses and we got on, luggage and all.  Dropped our stuff off at the ger (traditional tent) where the guide and I were sleeping and chatted for a bit before a quick ride before lunch.  It was so nice - just loping through this great empty landscape.  I think they wanted to test my riding skills, and I think I did pretty well, just getting used to the saddle (Russian cavalry saddle).

Before lunch ride area

The ger where I spent the night

 The nomad's wife made a great lunch - a sort of hearty meat and potato soup with some sort of meat dumplings?  I don't really know what it was, but it was good.  I was pretty tired at that point, so I went for a quick 2 hour nap while my guide talked with the family.  Apparently the last time she saw them was like 8 years ago since she's been busy doing not tour guide things, so they wanted to catch up anyways (and since I couldn't understand them, napping was a good idea).  Got up, had some tea, and then we went out on another ride.

This time it was in a different direction - lots of little river crossings and then up in a forested area up and down the side of the mountains.  It was just so nice and beautiful.  At one point we stopped to rest the horses, and the three of us hiked a bit to the top of the outlook to get some nice pictures.

Riding up in the afternoon

Nomad host on the top of the outlook
Rode down the mountain area and ended up riding by the road on the way back.  It definitely gave me flashbacks to riding up north, where most of our riding is on the shoulder or in the ditch by the highway.  Just fun to think about my last ride at home involved that, and here I am like 6,000 miles away doing the same thing with different scenery.

After the ride we just relaxed a bit before dinner, which was rice and the leftover soup which now had the consistency of a curry, which was still really good.  Talked for a bit, and then played "ankle bones", which is a traditional game.  It's really played with the cleaned ankle bones of animals, and there are a ton of variations.  We did one where you throw a few and depending on the side they land on there are different "names", and if you had a certain type you'd move your ankle bone piece down a track of ankle bones.  It was basically a dice throwing game with bones.

View from the yard

I was tuckered out from the day so I headed to bed.  I had an alarm set for midnight to photograph the stars but it was cloudy, so I went back to sleep.  My guide woke me up at 3am when she was putting more wood on the fire to say that the clouds were gone so I could get some photographs.  They didn't really turn out well - this was my first attempt at night photography and I had absolutely no idea what settings to do - but it was good to try it.  Anyway, finally got to sleep again around 4am!

Best attempt from the night
 Oh, and the whole day of riding I had my camera out taking pictures.  I think that's how I know I'm comfortable now on horseback - I can hold an expensive camera in one hand and control the horse with the other, even when we're loping or going full out.  Also, I fulfilled a childhood dream!  When I was kid, I wanted to be a nature photographer as my job - I wanted to get on horseback, travel to places that are hard/impossible to go to by car or foot, and take pictures.  I wanted to carry a camera with me and sleep out in the nature.  And I wanted to do that internationally.  And I DID THAT.  So happy; you never think those whimsical dreams will ever come true, but somehow I had it happen.

How I looked most of the weekend

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