Recreating Khovsol Lake Trip from E-mail

Khovsgol Lake Travel Blog

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Yak crossing the street.
I wrote a daily journal while I was staying at Khovsgol Lake in July of 2009. However, I saved the journals on a flash stick that was later stolen, so they've been lost. I have reconstructed that time with e-mail messages that I wrote to friends and family while I was there. I've edited parts out that I thought might embarrass anyone. I don't mind embarrassing myself. 7/10/09 Message to my son, James You would be proud of me. I put the tent up today and took a nap in it as soon as it was up. However, I forgot to get the waterproof stuff. It's now pouring rain, so we'll find out very soon how waterproof it is. Tomorrow is the Nadaam.
Yaks grazing intently.
I hope the rain moves on before morning. It's going to be very muddy. I'm in an Internet cafe and I can hear the steady sound of a heavy rain falling. You have to watch your step here. There are so many horses and other animals, even yaks, wandering around that you can step in a cow patty just about anywhere. The town is wide open, all log cabins and rough huts. It feels like being out west... until you see the Soviet style vans roaring by. Sending you love. July 13, 2009 message to Shamim, a friend in Qingdao, owner of Fatema, an Indian restaurant My friend, I know that you are concerned about me and thinking of me. This morning I woke from a dream in which Indian music was playing. It was very vivid. So I know that you are asking, what happened to Ariel? Well, I did leave China. I’ve come to Mongolia. I took an overnight bus to Beijing from Qingdao and then the TransMongolian Express to Ulaan Baatar, where I went on a job interview and signed a contract later that day with the Mongolian International University, where I will be teaching this next school year. Now I am taking the summer off and camping at Khovsgol Lake in the northern mountains of Mongolia, enjoying the eagles and other birds and herds of animals and the sounds of horses neighing and whinnying and clip cloppeting by. I’m back in a rural setting where there are more animals than people. There is a large field nearby that leads to the lake in which yak and cattle wander. I am camping by a house in a large fenced compound. I am the first guest of Buya, who has just started in the tourist business. He gave me a ride to the lake from the nearest town, Moron. I got there in a local 12-seat van with 17 Mongolians packed in together. It was cramped, but had the benefit of being cheap. And it was like being on a safari, with all the wild animals and herds of yak, goats, cattle and sheep. I saw the most incredible sight, something that I’ve always wanted to see, and that was whooping cranes doing a mating dance. In the U.S. they are nearly extinct. There was a highway for a few hours out of Ulaan Baatar, but then we just bumped along on dirt tracks, suffering one flat tire after another until I lost count of how many times they had to stop and change the tire. The landscape was awesome, though. During the day I usually stay inside the tourist half of the house with its wood-burning stove. Yes, it’s cold here! It’s been rainy and cold since I got here, although the weather cleared yesterday and was nice. Today it started out sunny, so I went out in my sandals without socks and summer clothes, but brought along a jacket just in case the weather changed. It sure did change, too. The wind started to blow up a dust storm and the electricity went out in the Internet café where I was. I left and did a little shopping and the wind blew cold and it started to rain, an icy rain. My light jacket was not sufficient to keep me warm, and I realized that although July is the hottest month in Mongolia, it is more like late winter or early spring in Qingdao. Frankly, in China I was losing touch with who I really am. I am not just a teacher, but also a writer, a poet, a mystic and shaman. I’m trying to eke out my money so that I can stay here 30 days and do some writing and shamanic ceremonies. I’m sleeping on the land again, and it brings out a sweetness in me. I didn’t pack sufficiently for such cold weather, so at the Naadam Festival the other day I bought a knit scarf and woolen socks made from camel’s hair. I want to let you know that I really appreciate the support that you and your friends gave me when I came into Fatema so upset that last time. I could see the Chinese staff were sobered and taken aback at the vehemence with which I was denouncing China, as well as by the response of the Indians present. From that time alone, I am much more likely to spend time in India in my travels. I really feel as though the Chinese were chewing me up and spitting me out. And yet I made some very good friends among the Chinese, Robert and Alice, the young university students who you’ve seen me with there. I believe that my friendship with them will endure, unlike the one with Wolfgang, who I wanted too much from in the way of a relationship. And I was finally starting to make some progress in learning Chinese. I intend to continue with my studies and I would like to return to China some time as a tourist, but never again to work. I think the Chinese get too involved in each other’s affairs, and that they are quite practiced in psychological cruelty, especially with employees. I know this is a broad generalization, and that it may have more to do with who I am and the people in Qingdao, who by and large, are quite materialistic. I was unable to endure any longer the rude, hostile, unfriendly stares of the majority of people. People don’t stare at me that way here in Mongolia. For one thing, there are far more Westerners in Ulaan Baatar. It’s the capital city of Mongolia and has several embassies. And here in the country, it’s far more personal. At the end in China when I knew I was leaving shortly, when I encountered these embittered old women who were staring me down, I started to mimic the way they were staring at me, and started staring at them the saw way, and I really got to taste how much hate there was in it. It was the hatred of the Chinese that drove me out of China. It was a mistake to move to Sifeng because the people in that community never accepted me there. If I had been able to speak Chinese, it would have been different, I’m sure. What really irritated the hell out of me, though, was the taxi drivers and the government of Qingdao that made it more profitable for them to drive veeerrrrry slowly and the godawful long traffic lights every other intersection, a whole 90 seconds for each one, so that it took forever to get downtown anymore. Frankly, I stopped coming to Fatema so often because the taxi ride getting there meant having to stop at several intersections with those long waits at each one. I just don’t have the patience for taking overcrowded buses or overslow taxis. I’m not that old yet to go around at such a slow pace. Of course, the Chinese will put up with anything. They are long suffering, overly domesticated, and passive. Nevertheless aggressive behavior surfaces in business deals and pushing and shoving to get on a bus, hawking and spitting, staring at strangers, and even old women going out of their way to belch in my face. How dare I be fat AND beautiful AND full of vitality at my age? I know that’s what they were thinking. Well, and, of course, it’s because they could see that I’m a foreigner and it’s easy to blame all your ills on other people. It’s a tendency all over the world, I’m afraid. Still, it’s intolerably crude and ill-mannered. Well, I got that off my chest. I apologize for dumping all this on you, but I think you deserve an explanation for my abrupt departure. I will miss you and your excellent cooking and wonderful hospitality. I will always have a special place in my heart for Fatema and I hope that we will stay in touch and that you will send me a photo of your baby. I am a true exile because I don’t enjoy the company of my own countrymen. Perhaps there is a place for me on this Earth, and maybe there isn’t. July 14, 2009 Message to James I've been sleeping in the tent. It's holding up well and keeping me dry, thank goodness! Last night it didn't rain, but it was COLD! There's a wind storm blowing dust all over right now outside the window here at the internet cafe. How is Mimi? You didn't answer my questions about her, so I'm a little concerned. I miss her. And you, too, of course. I've been sending you lots of love and have been doing ceremonies here, getting back to the shamanic work that i've been missing. Naadam was so cool! I took lots of photos and will send some soon. I wish you could have had a boyhood like this. What was really wonderful was the way Mongolians ride horses right past people who are walking. July 14, 2009 Message to Mom and Dad Coming across Mongolia in a 12-seater van packed with 17 Mongolians was an ordeal, but it also felt as though I were on a safari because of all the herds of animals and wild birds that we saw. Three falcons flew overhead for several hours, tracking us. I saw my first yaks. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. What were these strange animals? With their long hair and the rocking way they walked, they looked like alien animals to me that you might see on another planet in Star Wars. At the end of our long ride (25 hours), I stayed overnight in a motel in a small town and the next day found a ride in a tourist van with a couple from the Netherlands who were also going up to Khovsgol Lake, another four hours. On this leg of the journey, I was amazed to see two whooping cranes in a mating dance. So I was here for the Naadam which took place yesterday and the day before. I’ll post photos to JoAnn’s Flickr site so that you can see them. I loved walking around the festival site with young boys bearing down on me on their horses. I loved seeing the horses running and the men wrestling. It was quite a treat to see them so muscular and dressed in their scanty costumes. It’s been rainy and cold since I got here. Last night was the coldest yet sleeping in the tent, even though it didn’t rain. This morning there’s a blue sky for the first time since I arrived several days ago. It’s a welcome change, though, to the extreme heat and humidity we were having in Qingdao when I left. I just wish that I’d come prepared with a few more warm clothes. I did find a pair of jeans that fit in the black market in Ulaan Baatar, so I bought three pair. They were pretty cheap, too. This place where I’m staying has two outhouses, side by side. There’s a pretty bird, I don’t know what kind it is, it’s new to me, who comes and sings at me when I use it. There’s a narrow oval slit on the wood floor to pee in, which I can’t seem to get the hang of using, never having had to control the direction of my stream of urine before. I know that I must seem quite uncouth to these people. There is only potable water brought in from the lake, so washing clothes is a big production. There’s a wood-burning stove that water gets heated in. James let me use his space age, expensive high-tech REI tent, which makes me feel like I’m a caterpillar sleeping in a cocoon. There’s an Internet café that’s quite expensive to use (one hour is almost the same price as one night of camping). So I’m writing this message on the laptop and I’ll upload it later to send to you. I’m trying to eke out my money as long as I can so that I have time to do some writing and get a real break from teaching. I hope that I regain my health during this time. Last night I met a German from Dusseldorf at a concert. I couldn’t stay though, the Mongolian singer was far too loud for me and he didn’t seem to understand that using a microphone means that you don’t have to sing full blast. I moved to the back of the room, but that didn’t help much. It still hurt my ears. I moved outside and that was okay, but then it was too cold, so disappointed, I headed home and read a book for the evening instead. I really like the Mongolian songs that he was singing, too. 7/17/09 Message to MIU Yes, the electricity has not been working very much here at the lake, so I haven't been able to go on the Internet when I've planned. I'll return sooner then, so that we can take care of the visa process. I've been thinking of returning sooner anyways (after the eclipse on the 22nd) because it's been quite rainy and cold here. July 17, 2009 Message to James It doesn't sound like it's a good time for you to come to Mongolia. Really, I'm fine. If you can make it, great, but, if not, that's okay, too. The electricity goes out a lot here, and was down all day, but I'm finally on the Internet again. It's been rainy and cold the entire time. We've only had the sun out a couple of days. I'm staying for the partial solar eclipse on July 22, but then I'm heading back to Ulaan Baatar because it's going to take three weeks for me to get the invitation letter once I start the visa process (which starts with getting an HIV test). I'll get back to you with costs. There's some pretty loud music going on here that makes it hard to think, have to convert back and forth between RMB and tugrigs. I'm on a kind of spiritual retreat and have really enjoyed watching birds, eagles, falcons, seagulls (yeah, strange this far inland), bluebirds swooping by me, even crows and small birds I've never seen before. I walk among the yak and cows, the calves and horses and talk and tone to them. I'm sure everyone here thinks I'm daft, but I'm used to that. I love you and am deeply grateful for all the ways that you've helped me out. Have you unpacked all the household goods that I left you? Does it make you feel better situated to have those things passed on to you? I hope so. Are you enjoying the great new computer that you built for me? Money, it's a problem, no? It's always been for me, but you're better at that game than I am. I'm sure you'll sort it all out. What I never really mastered was good timing. So I respect decision you make that involve timing and money. I love the idea of you teaching kids who adore you and hug your pant legs. That's a great picture. July 17, 2009 Message to Triaka, a friend in Hawaii This message reads so good and true; I love you. Of course, it's a no-brainer and we're doing it. I see the future wide and clear now. I'm on a spiritual retreat in northern Mongolia presently at a sacred lake, Khovsgol Huur, with water so pure and clean that people drink it from buckets dipped into the lake. I went to the Naadam where they carry out ceremonies thousands of years old, horse racing, wrestling, and archery contests. Three falcons overflew the van that took me across Mongolia. It's been rainy and cold here this month, but I walk carefully not to step into cow paddies, as the yak, cattle, horses and dogs all wander freely everywhere. So I really see the stones at my feet and rejoice every time I come across a beautiful piece of marble. Today bluebirds flew around me, swooping within a feet. I am consciously in sacred communion with the Earth almost continually, and deepening my connection. July 17, 2009 Message to Millenium, a long-time online friend in California Thank you for sharing this. I have come to Mongolia this summer where I will be teaching at a university in Ulaan Baatar this school year. Soon after I arrived in Ulaan Baatar, I met two men from the Netherlands, I think it was, who told me they were a film crew who were on their way to the Altai in the interior to film a mummy an archeological crew has discovered there. If you are familiar with Olga Kharitidi's book, "Opening the Circle" and her CD of the same name recorded with Jim Wilson with the chanting of a shaman in the Altai that she recorded, you will know that she talks about a secret hidden in the Altai that I believe has to do with a civilization more ancient than any other yet discovered. By the way, in the movie that Jim Wilson produced or directed, I don't remember which, "Dancing with Wolves", there's a scene inside a tent between the soldier who is with a Native American woman who is chanting. That chanting is actually the same as one of the tracks on the "Opening the Circle" CD, which is shamanic chanting from the Altai. So I was talking to a Mongolian here who thought that Native Americans chanted in the same way as Mongolian shamans. HA! I am enjoying my retreat into nature by the lake here, watching falcons and eagles and walking among yaks, bluebirds swooping by me, renewing my spirit and faith in the Earth in a deeper connection with her. My doubt has been replaced by a sense of purpose, the criminal bankers and their lackey politicians will not be allowed to turn the human race into planet killers. 7/20/09 Message to Elena Romero, a friend in Colorado Springs I dreamt of you last night, so I know that you are thinking of me. I've left China and am camping near a sacred lake, Khovsgol Lake, in northern Mongolia. Getting here was like going on a safari with no real road, hours and hours of lurching along with several flat tires. I've been spending my time in nature, walking among herds of sheep, goats, yaks, cows, and horses. I love being around the animals, which fascinate me. I'm starting to distinguish the individuals in a herd, from the largest bull to the straggler. I really needed a break from teaching and to get out of the heavy population of China. So here I am out in the wild west. I can't believe that I've signed a contract to teach at a small private university in Ulan Bator for this school year. But the black market here is absolutely fascinating, the most magical place I've ever been shopping in, and it's exotic, it's really different, and I'm going to get all the right winter gear and leather boots made for me, too. I plan to do some throatsinging while I'm here, also. I hope all is well with you. I dreamed that you were taking a singing class and also being paid to dance in performance. Perhaps these are new directions for you. James helped me pack and move and took my household belongings to help him settle into his apartment in Jinan. He found a home for my kitten with a friend of his, but I'm not sure that's a satisfactory arrangement, as I remember James telling me that Justin would also be moving soon. The dial-up Internet here is too slow for me to upload photos, but you can visit my travel pages at Virtual Tourist; my website there is titled Wandering the World. I uploaded some photos from the TransMongolian Express I took from Beijing to Ulan Bator. It was quite an interesting trip, let me tell you. I've been working on some writing projects on this vacation, which I consider more of a spiritual retreat, but it's also a rest and a break. I've also been doing ceremonies for the Earth, preparing for the partial solar eclipse Wednesday. I built a spiral of stones on a hummock in a field by the lake to draw down the cosmic forces that will open in this eclipse. I've been deeply involved on the inner planes here, doing shamanic work for the planet. I needed to get back to doing ceremony. Hopefully I can buy a hand drum again here. I'd love to hear from you about what you're involved in now. July 20, 2009 Message to James about costs of trip I'm heading back to Ulan Bator after the partial solar eclipse this Wednesday (the university said it'll take three weeks to get my invitation letter for the work visa, so I need to get started on it sooner rather than later). My last night here by the lake, I'm going to sleep in a ger! The train ride from Beijing to Ulan Bator costs around 1,200 RMB, if I remember right. 1 RMB = 210 tugrigs, so a vacation doesn't have to cost too much. A dorm bed in a guest house such as Olivet Hostel where I stayed, is 9,000 tugrigs a night. If you come after I have my apartment, you can stay with me free. So I'd plan on 3,000-3,200 per person for the round-trip train ride (to cover food also). Meals usually cost about 2,000 tugrigs, so if you came for a week and planned on having 21 meals, that'd be roughly around 42,000 tugrigs. Divide 210 rmb into that, and you get 2,100 rmb. But, of course, you should bring a little more to go shopping in the black market! So, I think you could get by with less money than you think, with a base cost of around 5000-6000 rmb. Of course, you'd have to add the cost of getting from Jinan to Beijing. I hope that helps you with all your figuring. July 14, 2009 message to my friend Robert, a Chinese university student How are you? What’s going on with you? How are you getting alongvwith your new roommate? So, you’re learning to iron. Remember, you promised to send me a photo of you in your graduation gown or suit. Have you been swimming in the sea yet? Someone told me that Qingdao is a major nuclear submarine site and that the spent uranium rods are just dumped in the water. I don’t know if this is true or not, but swimming in the sea might not be such a good idea if there is radioactive waste anywhere nearby. The past two days I attended the most important festival in Mongolia, the Naadam. The largest one is held in Ulaan Baatar, but smaller ones are also held throughout the country, and I was at the one at Khovsgol Lake held on a flat alluvial plane bordered by high hills and pine forests. I took many photos because it was so beautiful, of trees laden with small pinecones, horses under the trees, towering clouds, and large vistas of blue hills on the horizon. Mongolians riding horses came past me within inches. I enjoyed watching the horses approach, but was a bit unsettled when they came up close behind me. I’ve been to events with horses in the States, but never anything like this where people riding horses and people walking mix in such a free and easy way. I couldn’t help but wish my son had been as happy as these boys when he was growing up, or that he’d had anything like this in his childhood. The boys were everywhere, full of mischief and bursting with personality, racing each other on their ponies, wrestling, and coming and go continually among the crowds, the trees, and off up into the hills. It’s been cold and rainy since I got here, but yesterday the sun came through, and it’s been lovely today also, though kind of cold in my tent last night. While I was in UlaanBaatar last week I had a job interview and was hired to teach at a small university this fall. I don’t know how I’ll endure the long, cold winter, but I’m highly intrigued by the people here, and look forward to a productive time in my life as a writer. I’ve been feeling stronger in myself. I really needed time away from teaching. I’m not only a teacher, but a writer, a dreamer, a mystic, and a shaman, and I’ve needed time in nature to reconnect with my roots and do ceremony again. I’d forgotten that I was also a weatherworker, so when the first day of the Naadam got rained out, and the second day looked as though it would also be filled with rain, I did a weatherworking ceremony with my Tibetan bowl to move the rain along to where it was needed more. If I knew how to train a young Mongolian in how to change the weather, I would, as the livelihood of the herders and the people is so dependent on the weather, especially since they are overgrazing the and with too many herds of animals. So I watched the wrestling competitions very carefully to see if there was one who had a proper sense of the sacred in his relations to the Mother Earth, as they do a sacred dance to honor the eagles as part of the ceremony for winners. Most of the boys just go through the motions, but there was one age group who did it for real, and one boy who stood out and qualified for me to train him. Most of the older men who were wrestling still had the right connection. I will have a chance to work with this boy if the Great Mother makes a path open. I was born with this gift, so I’m not sure how to teach it. I developed it over the years simply by wishing to see more of the sun. I read about weatherworking in novels, mostly, and learned that it needs to be used with great care. A friend of mine challenged me to show her how I did it, and so I proved to her and myself that I could move a rainstorm while we were attending an outdoor concert in Denver that was in danger of being rained out. Before that time, I’d always thought whatever happened was simply coincidence. There are still wolves in Mongolia. The way they teach history here, large parts of China were once part of the Mongolian empire, including Beijing. However, they also teach that Mongolia was ruled by the Chinese for many centuries until the Mongolians had an uprising and expelled them. To this day, most Mongolians do not like Chinese, although some of the university students are studying Chinese now because the Russians stopped supporting Mongolia a few years ago. Many Mongolians are studying English, of course, just as the Chinese are. It is interesting to come to Asia and discover how much the Chinese dislike the Japanese, and now that the Mongolians dislike the Chinese. These old hatreds have a way of reseeding themselves, just as wars never truly end when a people are conquered. A lot more people would be interested in studying history if there were more truth in the books, and if everyone realized how it tends to repeat itself in patterns. We are doomed to relive the past if we do not become more aware of it and the hold it can have on our lives. The train from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar was full of Westerners and there were many Americans. I got into a heated political discussion about U.S. policies with a man who said he was interested in global economics. It turned out that he was into “repossessions”, making a good living, no doubt, working for a bank that is repossessing people’s homes. It’s difficult for me to converse for long with my fellow Americans. Everyone I’ve met always says something in the course of a conversation to judge others and put them down. Of course, I’m probably encountering the moneyed class who have the means to travel today, and they are not the nicest people in the world. But it is nasty, up close, and personal, so I wonder what they say about me when my back is turned. One woman in particular was very friendly, and we talked a long time. She showed great interest in me and everything that I was doing and was full of complimentary comments. However, there were some digs in there that made me realize I should be careful, and sure enough, after I’d encountered her here at the lake again after first meeting her on the train, I had a dream where she attacked and hurt me. Now I think that probably it wasn’t just a coincidence that I ran into her again. So I’m paying attention to the dream and watching my back. There have been long intervals where I just get to fall into a different kind of time, and the rural life is quite different from what I’ve known while living in cities. I can forget international relations and just spend time with my sister, Terra Gaia. July 17, 2009 message to Ian Atkins, my Ausralian friend who also taught at a language school in Qingdao. I'm enjoying this time of getting back in touch of all of who I am, writer, activist, shaman, visionary, mystic, photographer. Coming to Khovsgol Huur, this sacred lake, has been a spiritual retreat for me and I've been coming back into balance. I really needed a break from teaching. I had an interesing, adventurous trip coming here; I'll post photos and write more later. You can see a little that I've posted at Virtual Tourist. My blog is Wandering the World. The Internet connection here is a dial-up and very slow, so there is little I can do here at the lake. Most of the time the electricity is not working either. It would be terrific if you could come to Ulaan Baator for a vacation; the black market is fabulous -- you would love it! This place has a strange fascination. I can't explain it. I've signed a contract for this next school year with the Mongolian International University. I'll be teaching literature classes, which I hope provide an interesting change of pace. The Naadam festival with horse racing, wrestling, and archery was a wonderful experience that I'll remember the rest of my life. I'm really glad that I got out of China, although life is hard here. 7/22/09 Message to James I returned to Ulan Bator by bus today. Wow, that was the trip from hell, but I did see the solar eclipse this morning. The engine of the bus was burning oil badly and couldn't make it over one steep mountain, so we had to get out and climb. I had just eaten a large dinner, actually the best food I'd had in Mongolia, and it was not easy for me to climb that mountain. It took about two hours. Other people in better shape went wild strawberry hunting, but they took pity on me and shared their strawberries with me... really, really tasty, nothing like regular strawberries.
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Yak crossing the street.
Yak crossing the street.
Yaks grazing intently.
Yaks grazing intently.
Khovsgol Lake
photo by: milej