Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gobi Desert - Day 2, Sept 12 - Camel Riding

After a good 11.5 hour sleep I feel much better. My ears are still plugged and I'm draining loads of yuckiness, but I'm feeling more rested. It was pretty cold all night but they have these wonderful quilted blankets that kind of conform to you and snug up against you to keep the cold air out, and a wonderfully warm camel hair cashmere blanket on top of that. I also was wearing some wonderful knitted wool socks i bought from a local vendor on the train a couple days before. (I got them for only $1.50!)

At 6am someone came in and started the fire, although I pretty much slept through it all. Twice in the night I had to pee but there was no way I was going outside and freeze and wake up completely. I had already thought of this before going to bed and had decided I would use the sink catch bucket and just empty it into the outhouse in the morning - and that's exactly what I did! I tried not to let them see me taking the bucket to the outhouse in case it was offensive, but there was no way I was going to walk 75 yards to pee when it was probably 35 degrees out!

When I finally got up at 9:30 I had a yummy breakfast of an omelet and breads with a chocolate spread, cheese spread and delicious jam made from a Mongolian berry that grows in the mountains. And always tea. Russians and Mongolians drink more tea than I've ever seen! I have yet to see anyone drink a glass of pure water!

At breakfast I told Badrakh that I would like to take a camel ride after lunch. I decided to go for just two hours because I thought that's all my tush and inner thighs would be able to take the first time around. (Boy was I right!)

Between breakfast and the camel ride I sat in the sun and read and wrote a blog post on my iPhone, and took a short walk and took more photos. I also asked the cook Tol (toll like a road or Toll House cookies) if I could do some wash. They got it out and dug a hole in the sand for the water to drain into. When it was finished spinning she laid everything on the shrubs to dry. I was a little worried that my cotton/spandex tights that I wear to bed and my thick wool socks wouldn't dry lying down like that, but I figured I'd let them do it their way and I would check to be sure they were dry before the sun went down. After my walk I checked them and though it had been only 30 min or so, *everything* was bone dry! The Gobi sun is HOT!

While we were waiting for the camels to be rounded up I got a awesome video of two young Mongolian men in a spontaneous wrestling match. Wrestling is one of Mongolia's national sports, with horsemanship, archery and a game called knuckle bone (more on that tomorrow) being the others.

When the camels were saddled up I watched with awe as they go the camel to kneel on it's front legs, then its back legs and then lay down all together so that I could easily get on. They achieve this by means of an apparatus made from a twig that is inserted into the camel's nostril and then secured, so that when they pull on it the camel submits pretty easily. I know it sounds inhumane, and that was also my first thought, but you have to realize that these animals are a livelihood for the nomads, they are not pets. Their treatment may appear harsh to us outsiders, but I do not think it is for us to judge how another culture lives. They also do care for the animals, like administering veterinary care as I mentioned earlier.

Once I was on the camel and he stood up I had Tol take a photo of me. I think it's going to be a great one! Then we were off! Since the guide spoke no English it was a very quite ride with time to just soak in the beauty of the Gobi Desert. I couldn't help but think 'I am riding a camel across the Gobi Desert! How flipping cool is this?! And how many people - how many Americans - can say that?!'

I took lots of photos, probably too many, but it was so beautiful. As we rode further to what felt like the south, the scenery changed and became less green and more rolling sound dunes. I was surprised not to see any animals, but I saw loads of animal tracks in the sand of all different shapes and sizes. It was almost 3:00 and the sun was quite hot so I imagine all the animals were waiting out the heat of the day.

As we were heading back towards camp I did start to see the nomad's herds of horses, goats and sheep. And sheep! I swear I have never seen so many sheep in one place. They must have literally 400-500 head! As we approached camp the camels knew we were close to home and began to pick up the pace. I'm not sure if 'trot' is an appropriate term for camels, but that's what it felt like.

Up til then I think i was doing pretty good in the saddle. I kept a straight back and loose thighs, and tried to move in rhythm with the camel. But once he started trotting I kind of couldn't help but bounce up and down in the saddle.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the lead camel seemed to have some gastrointestinal issues. He pooped and farted a lot the entire way! And Nicole, I hate to break it to ya, but camel farts smell WAY better than Rocko farts! There is something wrong with Rocko's ass. LOL Camel farts smell about as you would expect - like fermented grass.

I took my first shower at camp and it was surprisingly nice. The whole ger is the shower with shower curtains hung in the middle and a linoleum floor slanted to a hole at the back for drainage. There is a wood burning stove to heat water and a pail of cold water so you can mix boiling and cold to get your desired temperature. You mix it in a pump action bucket that has a shower nozzle attached to it.

Amos, you will be happy to know that even in the Gobi desert, I shaved my legs. :)

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