We arrive in the capital Ulan Baatar dirty and smelly after what felt like a lifetime on the train. Met by our irrepressibly bubbly tour guide Tsetsgee (pronounced "Sets-gay" and meaning "flower"), we're taken to our hotel for showers, then out to the "Great Mongolian" restaurant for the biggest freaking mixed grill you've ever seen. After instant-f***ing-noodles, it's a great relief. The pub band, complete with traditional kick-arse boots and throat-singing, rocks on. Then we go home to sleep.
We take a tour around the city, stopping on the way at a cashmere shop. I splash out on an oh-so-cute hooded sweatshirt in cherry red. It's a bit more than I would have liked to pay, but much cheaper compared to anything 100% cashmere is in Oz, plus it has "Made in Mongolia" on it. We eat at a Mongolian barbeque for lunch - which involves filling your bowl with all manner of raw meat, vegetables, noodles, sauces etc, and watching as some very skilled men cook it up on a massive grill using extraordinarily long tongs.
Monday arvo we head out of town to our ger camp. The ger is the traditional Mongolian home - a round dwelling constructed of wooden beams, with a felt interior for warmth and a white canvas exterior to keep off the rain, slow, sleet and whatever else the constantly changing environment can throw at them. Many locals still live in them as they're cheap. Many have TV now too! It's cosy with 6 people, but there was a fair walk to our shower and toilet block. I would find out why on Tuesday.
Breakfast was followed by a long hike. I should point out I've been suffering from a few health problems - mainly a cold, an upset tummy, and a blister the size of Tasmania on my left heel (although there's another condition I shall detail in my next entry - something to look forward to). Hiking wasn't really my idea of a good time, but I did it nonetheless. On the way, the boys climbed a big bit of rock called "Turtle Rock" (although it looked more like a certain part of a man's anatomy if you ask me), and found - a decapitated horse's head. No joke. Most Mongolians are Buddhist, but some practice Shamanism, which is essentially nature worship. The horse's head was most likely a sacrifice. Otherwise the Mafia are making big incursions into Genghis Khan's old stomping ground!
After a picnic lunch at a hillside Buddhist temple, we (thankfully) took the mini-bus back to camp, and headed out for horse-riding. Rock on, I think. I suck at walking up hills, but damn, I'm good on a horse. So out of five people, who do you think gets thrown off the horse? Thanks right, Girl Clumsy. It wasn't actually my fault, just a mix-up in intentions between me and my horse (whom I'd nicknamed Stewie as Mongolians don't name their horses - and even if they did I probably wouldn't be able to pronounce it). However my dismount was amazingly elegant, and I missed landing in a cow pat, which is always good. I also got straight back up on the horse, as I was uninjured by the fall. And really, riding sturdy but small Mongolian horses along a beautiful stretch of countryside, passing gers and nomadic families, yaks, other horses waiting to be milked (fermened mare's milk is the drop of choice round these parts), cows, camels and dogs - life really is good. Add a bunch of Aussies singing "We come from the Land Down Under" and you've really got a posse together!
To celebrate, Tuesday night turned into Vodka Night. Another Vodkatrain group (this one with 15 people and coming the other way) had arrived at camp and were making a fair racket. So THAT's why the Vodkatrain gers are so far away from the restaurant and shower section!!! They had started the party, but by goodness, our group put in a bloody good effort. I even had two shots, which for a non-drinker, is a fair whack. Unfortunately Greg got a wee bit completely plastered, and was a bit ill afterwards. He's all good now though! Other highlights of the night:
*Phil, our Sydney air-traffic controller, breaking up the party by donning "budgie smugglers" and a miner's head lamp, and walking around the ger saying "The Budgies have landed!".
*Andrew, our Sydney IT expert, stumbling trollied around the ger, and accidently grabbing the ger stove fire chimney for support. It was extremely hot, and the poor guy is still suffering from intense hand blisters! Ow!
*Karen, our English backpacker, bursting into giggles everytime somebody mentioned "sausage".
*Tsetsgee, our guide, teaching the Mongolian drinking game, which required singing before every shot. I'm proud to say my version of "Baby Got Back" got a standing ovation, mainly because I incorporated big booty-style dancing.
And I can't really go into any more details, because what happened on Vodkatrain, stays on Vodkatrain!
Feeling more than a little sore and sorry for ourselves, we had a lazy day by a nearby river, then Phil broke out his copy of "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" - ahem, authorised of course, ahem.
Said goodbye to the ger camp, and headed back into U-B. We got laundry done, had a good lunch at the City Nomads buffet (try the horse!), then got supplies for our next bout of training. No more god-dammed noodles though. We still had leftovers from Beijing!
And that is where I shall leave it for now, dear readers. Digest all of that, and you'll be ready for a hearty Mongolian meal of mutton!
Everyone else has left the internet cafe now - I must be the only one crapping on this much!
Take care, Natalie.