Terelj / Manzushir / riots in UB

Ulaanbaatar Travel Blog

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Me at Turtle Rock

I organized a 2-day tour from my guesthouse (Idre's Guesthouse), and took off for Terelj National Park with my guide, Tsarana, and my driver, Tumoor.  We stopped at the humongous Turtle Rock formation, and walked over a seriously deteriorated wooden bridge, missing slats, rotted out, and suspended by cables to check out a Buddhist temple - new one, built in the 90's, and already falling apart.  I met a French archeologist/museum curator who was headed to the Gobi to get dinosaur bones for his museum in Nice.  Busloads of French here right now.  I'm speaking French more than English, it seems.  My attempts at Mongolian are apparently piss-poor, according to my guide and driver.

At the homestay at Terelj
  I swear, this language has no vowels!

We stopped for lunch as thunder clapped nearby, and Tsarana took out 4 boxes of food & a propane stove, and made a fruit salad of oranges and bananas...with oil and oregano, and not bad, and some pre-packaged sweet buns, then offered me some yogurt and chocolate covered cookies.  Interesting lunch choices, but okay.  Thought the meal was over, but then I realized rice was simmering...figured it was for dinner, but he made sushi rolls, basically, without anything in it.  Apparently crunchy seaweed has become popular here, but ewwww, not raw fish.  Then it started to rain, and then hail and we threw everything in the back of the car to wait it out before finishing our seaweed/rice rollls and then hitting the road for my stay with a Mongolian family.

Inside the ger (my bed)

This wasn't exactly a "family stay" - it was a true working ger in a gorgeous part of Terelj, but all the men in the family were gone, so the lady of the house had an extra ger for paid guests, like a hotel.  A ger is a round tent like a yurt.  They can put one up in a couple of hours.  There are rules in the ger - no whistling, no walking between the 2 center poles, always enter and walk to the left.  We were offered Mongolian specialities - dairy products are called "white food" - there was cheese (which had that ripe, unpasteurized...maybe from a goat or sheep taste, but no salt or flavoring at all) and dried cream (which was just a little toooo ripe for me...it hadd the consistency of scrambled eggs), and there were fried dough pieces.

Mongolian snacks
  Tsarana and Tumoor dove in and put the fried dough in the dried cream.  Comfort food for them.  The lady also offered tea-flavored milk with no sugar.  I had a little of everything to be polite, but it was truly not good!!

There are no bathrooms...I don't understand how they do this on a daily basis...not even an outhouse with a hole...in the daytime you have to find somewhere you can have privacy (not easy to do in the open steppe), in this case a grove of trees about a ten minute walk up the hill.  Tumoor escorted me up the first time.  He speaks no English so I made the "gotta pee" sign and ditched him, but he waited and walked down with me.  We sat down at some point (there's a lot of climbing up somewhere and then sitting for a while.

On the horse trek in Manzushir
..not much else to do) and I took out my Mongolian book and got an impromptu language lesson for 15 minutes. 

We watched the mom and her two daughters milk the cows and pump the water for all the livestock (they kept sheep and goats too), and then Tsarana made a potato curry over rice for dinner and we all went to bed early.  The only other place I've seen as many stars was the Egyptian desert.

The lady came in with fresh yogurt for breakfast (now THAT was good) which we put muesli on, and had more sweet buns.  Then we drove on very bumpy dirt roads to another national park, Manzushir, stopping first in the Aimag (county) center which was a big enough town (although just as ugly and rundown as UB) and it's where we got the horses.

Although Tsarana spoke English fairly well, I was only nominally advised of what our itinerary was at any time.

Tumoor, my driver
  A supposedly 1-hour horse trek was actually a 1-hour trek into the park, checking out an ancient temple (from the 1700's, ruined by the Russians) and a tiny local museum, another ride, lunch, another 1-hour ride back.  Now, I am not a rider.  But Mongolian horses are small, and extremely responsive, so I actually thought I was getting pretty good at it.  Although my teenage guide wanted to gallop, which I eventually did try, but man, even trotting was killing my boobs.  You need a good sports bra for horseback riding.  So I wound up going across the steppe holding my chest to minimize the bounce.  My guide thought this was pretty funny and apparently told Tsarana.  Tsarana asked why I didn't gallop.  I told him, and he said, "Mongolian women like this can gallop," and I thought yeah, well, they can have nipple on the knee at the age of 40 too.
Tsarana (my guide), Tumoor & me with Sgt. Pepper's Dueling Piano Bar stickers
  No thanks.

The lead guide, a swaggering, middle-aged Mongolian guy who wore the traditional robe opened with his torso completely exposed, tieing the sleeves around his waist, and every time we stopped, he got off the horse, made the teenager tie everything up, and he'd lay down on a rock or the grass and lounge about looking like, Ladies, come and get me!  He spoke only in a whisper, which, for a language with no vowels, meant you could just hear wisps of sound every once in awhile.

Lunch was spaghetti - Tsarana's favorite, apparently - and honestly, not half bad.  The sauce actually had some kick to it.  And a salad of cabbage and peppers (with oil and oregano, of course).  I was really jonesing for protein at this point - but he said it's too hard to pack meat.

Tank in Ulan Bator
  I'm hoping my organized tour (which leaves in a few hours) can figure this out...plenty of meat around, that's for sure.

When we got back to UB, an Irish guy in the guesthouse told me that there had been riots here while we were gone...the elections had produced a result that pissed off hundreds of folks who apparently set the opposition's building on fire...5 people died.  The Irish guy and his new Swedish friend (who bonded after being kicked off a train bound for China because their visas had expired...they were made to buy hotel rooms, and had to stay in them with armed guards outside their rooms until the next train back to UB came through) ran to see what was going on and got stuck in the tear gas.  They had some mpegs of the action to show me. 

They left to get their visas sorted out, so I went out for dinner, figuring I'd go to an Irish pub where I could sit at a bar and chat with expats and travelers.  But the bar part had no one sitting at it, so I took a table outside, ordered a steak and some wine and the waitress said there was no wine, but her English wasn't good enough to explain why.  I realized nobody was drinking, and finally asked some other expat diners, who said there's an 8pm curfew (restaurants and bars would close) and a ban on alcohol while UB was under a state of emergency. 

But no worries...the place is completely calm - there are tanks strewn about, and extra police, but the atmosphere is not charged.  We leave tomorrow for the Gobi anyway.  Plus it's raining like mad right now - everyone's inside! 

mkohut says:
Hi P. Wow you are some adventureous person. I would never do what you are doing...but what an experience. The horses sounded like fun and I love to ride. The bathroom and the food...no...never! Love the pictures and sounds like you are having a great time. The ger looks really neat. What about the guy with the open robe...is that normal or is he just a perv? You are missin all the fun around here with the budget...I met with Gene today to redo a lot of it for EC tomorrow. Keep us posted! I joined this blog so I could write to you and now I have all these people smiling at me :o) Take care and be careful....
Posted on: Jul 07, 2008
AmberVM says:
Hi!!!! Ok, so it sounds like you are having a very interesting time! Bless you heart for trying all that "interesting" food! You know if we were with you, Alex would be right next to you eating all that food! yuck! =P Me, I would probably survive on the sweet bread and water!

I'm glad your having a great time! Post some Pictures if you can!! Things here are good! Miss ya!
Posted on: Jul 03, 2008
Ingrid_K says:
Pat - Your horseback ride had me cracking up. Glad you are okay - didn't hear about the unrest over there. The food sounds, er, interesting. How's the stomach holding up?
Posted on: Jul 03, 2008
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Although Korean Airlines is a very lovely airline (bibimbap for lunch - garlicky, but yum), I had the 2nd worst seat in the entire plane.  The worst seat being in the middle of the middle row up against the bathrooms (so no leg room--facing a wall) sandwiched between a family with small children/babies.  I was on the aisle of the middle row next to a family with small children/babies facing a wall with no leg room.  For 12 hours.  Didn't sleep the night before, and needless to say, didn't sleep on the plane.  Finally caught up on movies though:  27 Dresses, La Vie en Rose and the Kite Runner. 

Got into Korea and tried my iPhone at the wifi area in the airport, and it works great - can send emails & check the internet.  Took a lesson in Korean recorder (some tourist thing in the airport - they gave me one afterwards - the instructor was so excited I got a sound out of it).  The 3 1/2 hour flight from Seoul to Ulan Bator wasn't much better though...finally had a window seat, but was in the middle of a group of Korean high school kids all in matching t-shirts and talking around and over me.  But I was exhausted and finally passed out!

The driver from my guest house met me at the airport.  I cannot pronounce his name for the life of me (the Mongolian language doesn't seem to use many vowels), but he's 23, loves Snoop Dogg, Fifty Cent and the Pussycat Dolls (as well as Chinese pop music) and has a wife & 7 month old baby at home in his ger (which is a yurt).  We stopped to get gas - he said there hasn't been any gas for 10 days.  Nobody turns off their engine at the gas station.  And they put their own additives into the gas by can.  They drive Japanese cars (steering wheel on the right) or Russian ones (steering on the left).

Since I have so little time in the capital, I signed up for my own tour of Terelj (which is pronounced as if there aren't any e's in it) and another national park, where I'll stay with a nomadic family.  Might as well get right in there!

No pix yet - it's night-time.  Just taking advantage of the (very shaky) internet connection while I have it, although it's gone out literally 10 times while I've been here.  Luckily sitting next to a guy who's a computer tech and knows how to fix it when it goes out.

Later!

--Patty

Ingrid_K says:
Hey Pat, sounds like the adventure has begun! The flight over sounded lovely - not! Hope that you have caught up on some zzzs. Can't wait to hear how the rest of the trip goes.
Posted on: Jul 02, 2008
AmberVM says:
OMG!!! If this is how your trip is starting I can only image how the rest will be!!! Well at least you got there safely!!! =)
Posted on: Jun 30, 2008

Although Korean Airlines is a very lovely airline (bibimbap for lunch - garlicky, but yum), I had the 2nd worst seat in the entire plane.  The worst seat being in the middle of the middle row up against the bathrooms (so no leg room--facing a wall) sandwiched between a family with small children/babies.  I was on the aisle of the middle row next to a family with small children/babies facing a wall with no leg room.  For 12 hours.  Didn't sleep the night before, and needless to say, didn't sleep on the plane.  Finally caught up on movies though:  27 Dresses, La Vie en Rose and the Kite Runner. 

Got into Korea and tried my iPhone at the wifi area in the airport, and it works great - can send emails & check the internet.  Took a lesson in Korean recorder (some tourist thing in the airport - they gave me one afterwards - the instructor was so excited I got a sound out of it).  The 3 1/2 hour flight from Seoul to Ulan Bator wasn't much better though...finally had a window seat, but was in the middle of a group of Korean high school kids all in matching t-shirts and talking around and over me.  But I was exhausted and finally passed out!

The driver from my guest house met me at the airport.  I cannot pronounce his name for the life of me (the Mongolian language doesn't seem to use many vowels), but he's 23, loves Snoop Dogg, Fifty Cent and the Pussycat Dolls (as well as Chinese pop music) and has a wife & 7 month old baby at home in his ger (which is a yurt).  We stopped to get gas - he said there hasn't been any gas for 10 days.  Nobody turns off their engine at the gas station.  And they put their own additives into the gas by can.  They drive Japanese cars (steering wheel on the right) or Russian ones (steering on the left).

Since I have so little time in the capital, I signed up for my own tour of Terelj (which is pronounced as if there aren't any e's in it) and another national park, where I'll stay with a nomadic family.  Might as well get right in there!

No pix yet - it's night-time.  Just taking advantage of the (very shaky) internet connection while I have it, although it's gone out literally 10 times while I've been here.  Luckily sitting next to a guy who's a computer tech and knows how to fix it when it goes out.

Later!

--Patty

Me at Turtle Rock
Me at Turtle Rock
At the homestay at Terelj
At the homestay at Terelj
Inside the ger (my bed)
Inside the ger (my bed)
Mongolian snacks
Mongolian snacks
On the horse trek in Manzushir
On the horse trek in Manzushir
Tumoor, my driver
Tumoor, my driver
Tsarana (my guide), Tumoor & me wi…
Tsarana (my guide), Tumoor & me w…
Tank in Ulan Bator
Tank in Ulan Bator
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photo by: Biedjee