Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Gobi Desert - Day 1, Sept 11

I found the office of the tour company quite easily and was there 15 min early. They offered me tea and I was able to connect to the wi-fi and post my blog updates. At 9:30 we were on our way, but made 3 stops first so really got going about 9:50. I didn't think driving conditions could be worse than Moscow... until I arrived in UB. It is nothing less than sheer madness. As in Russia, pedestrians take their life into their own hands when crossing streets or even walking on 'sidewalks'. I put sidewalks in quotes because you can think you're walking on a sidewalk until a car roars up behind you out of nowhere!

But, the drivers in UB are even crazier. If you are making a left turn, no one stops to let you through, you just look for a small opening and gun it, hoping the car coming directly at you will at least slow enough not to t-bone you. This is especially scary when you are in the passenger seat on the side that would be the point of impact!

Then there is the issue of passing. On the way out of UB on the way to the ger (pronounced 'gare' with a rolled r) camp the road was only one lane in each direction. Mini buses and cars would pull out to pass, even on blind corners and hills, and if a car was coming they would swerve back behind the car they were passing, or in some cases just keep passing. More than once I saw the oncoming car steer onto the shoulder because the passing car was completely in his lane! My driver even had to slow down once because an oncoming car was not going to complete his pass before hitting us head on!

Once we got out of the city the traffic became more sparse and he scenery more rural and beautiful. I was still very tired and tried to lay across the seat with my head on my backpack and sleep (with my seat belt on of course!), but the ride was so bumpy I really couldn't sleep. Then we got off the 'road' and began the *really* bumpy part. When I say bumpy I mean that every 20 mins or so I would be lying there and all of a sudden my entire torso and butt would become airborne, with just my feet and shoulders still in contact with the seat! I can't imagine what it would have been like if i didn't have the seat belt on! I took some video to show just how insane of a ride it was. We had been on the 'road' for maybe an hour to an hour and a half, and we went on like this on the roller coaster road for another 3 hours!

Along the way the Gobi desert scenery was just beautiful. Many horses, sheep, goats, cows and hawks were everywhere. The mountains and steppes were also gorgeous. I took LOADS of photos!

When we finally reached the camp (called Arburd Sands) it was a relief. They had a wonderful lunch ready for me and the owner, Badrakh (Baad-rah with a clearing your throat sound on the r) showed me a chapter in a book called 'Horse People' that was written about his father, his brothers and him. He asked if I would like to go on a walk but I explained that I was sick and really wanted to sleep. He told me tea and cake were at 4:00 if I would like it. I slept for about an hour and then did have tea and cake. When I woke up I heard an unfamiliar noise and stepped out to see what it was. There, at the end of camp, was an entire herd of camels! I wandered over and they were spraying something purple into the anus of one of the camels. Badrakh showed me on the can that it was a cure for a parasite. Then I got a video of them roping a camel to the ground in order to administer more medical care. It's pretty dramatic because the camel was not happy and screeches the entire time.

The gers are really nice. They are completely collapsible and portable, but inside are warm and comfortable. It has a double bed and a twin bed, although I am staying by myself. It also has a little table and chairs, a shoe rack and a little sink for washing your face and hands, and brushing your teeth. It has a push spout and bucket enclosed in a cabinet underneath to catch the water. It also has a small wood burning stove for the nighttime when it gets very cold. Because this is a tourist camp they also have a light bulb, but it is run entirely off solar power. In fact everything except the washing machine (yes, they have a washing machine!!) is run off wind and solar power. The refrigerators are completely wind powered! The washing machine is a little portable thing that washes on one side and spin dries on the other, and it runs off a generator.

One thing you have to be careful of though, is that the doors of the gers are really short. I'm only 5'5" and I smacked my head good once. The doors are seriously only 3' tall!

They have a dining ger connected to the kitchen ger, 4 outhouses but with nice toilet seats, 2 shower gers and even a library! It's quite a nice little set-up!

After tea and cake I laid around and read a book. This is the first time in my journey - 2 weeks in - that I feel like I'm truly on vacation. Up til now it's been 'get on a train at 2am, figure out where I'm going to stay that night, lug around 70 lbs of crap, spend just 20 hours in one place, worry that I'm taking the bus the wrong direction, get off a train at 3am, barter with the taxi driver over price' and sick and exhausted the whole time. Now that I am finally doing absolutely nothing I am beginning to feel truly relaxed.

Dinner was again delicious and the dining ger was set up for many people. Badrakh explained that a member of the Mongolian Parliament was coming later that night. It was quite cold and I was wearing 4 layers on top and 3 layers on the bottom, a wool hat and scarf! They started the fire in my ger so it was nice and toasty when I went to bed.

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