San-ban-oh means hello in Mongolian! I learned so much Mongolian on this trip from our lovely guide, Urna… More to come!
I took a red eye flight from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar. I was able to sleep for about 1 1/2 hours at the airport and about the same amount of time on the plane. I got to the airport about 5 hours before my flight, hoping to have plenty of time to take a nap by the gate.. Nope. They didn’t check-in anyone until 2 hours before the flight, and there are not very many comfy spots to take a nap in the terminal. So much for that idea. But I did find a really comfy lounge chair to nap before they boarded the plane and completely passed out!
My plane landed a few minutes early in UB and I was sooo excited to see Karima! (She got there from Seoul a few hours before I did.) I didn’t see her right away after I went through customs. Immediately, this really tall, meaty, middle-aged Mongolian man asked me “Taxi?” I said “No.” I kept walking around trying to find Karima and every now and then (quite often actually) this man would pop up and say “Taxi?” He would linger nearby and keep asking every time I got up from my seat. It soon became a joke between me and him. Karima eventually came in the arrivals area. Turns out she had been sleeping in the one place in the airport I hadn’t looked. Haha of course! We still had about an hour or two before we would be getting picked up, so we went back to her napping place. It was nice and quiet and dark back there. As we were talking, a group of people came walking through following a woman being pushed in a wheel chair. They were all really teary-eyed and looked quite sad. They pushed her into this dark back hallway behind where we were sitting. It was very strange. What were they doing bringing her back there? As far as we could tell, there wasn’t anything back there… Very mysterious.
A girl from Steppe Riders, Dak-gee, came in to get us around 6:30am. We went to the bank to exchange money, and they seemed to also be running some other errands while in town. The ride out to the Steppe Riders camp was a bit bumpy, to say the least! Potholes and bumps in the road EVERYWHERE! (And when I use the term “potholes,” I should really be saying craters!) We drove on the side of the road in the dirt a few times, which was a little smoother than being on the “paved” road. On the way, we saw so many herds of horses and cows just grazing wherever they wanted. No fences in sight. After we got to camp, Dak-gee showed us our ger and we napped for a few hours.
We woke up a little before noon and had lunch. After that, we went for our first horse ride. Our instructions were as follows:
- Don’t stand or walk behind the horse.
- “Choo!” means “Go!”
- “Oosh!” means “Stop!”
And we’re off!! In the rain, no less. We walked for a little bit and then once we got to the more open,flat area near the road, we started running! Wow! It was a little scary at first. Just bizarre. I was freaked out and laughing really hard at the same time. I felt like I had no control. We got used to it pretty fast, no pun intended. It was pretty rough bouncing on the saddle when they were between a walk and a run, cantering. It felt better when they did one or the other, walking or running, but in between is a tad unpleasant. Not too long into our first ride were we already running around all by ourselves. Unlike back home whenever I’ve gone “horse riding” (aka butt-to-nose follow the leader), we just had to stay in sight of our guide. Amazing time!
We met some wonderful people! Yvonne was from Switzerland and had been volunteering at Steppe Riders for a little while. Her, Karima, and I took a walk up one of the steppes (giant hills/grassy mountain) behind the camp. Once we got to the top, all you could see was green steppe, after green steppe, after green steppe for as far as the eye can see! No cities, no factories, nothing. Everything and nothing! We also met a couple from Switzerland or Austria (can’t remember), Nick and Sarah (if I remember correctly) that arrived today as well and plan on starting their track tomorrow, like Karima and I.
While at camp, some people just arrived back from a 13-day trek! They came back 1 day early because of the rain. It had rained the night before and all their stuff got wet, and it was looking like more rain this morning when they set off. They were from Austria. It was very nice to be able to pick their brains about the trek. I felt a little more prepared for what the next 7 days was going to be like.
Later on, we headed into town with Olivia (from New York and working in China), Auggie (the awesome van driver), and Oochay (the crazy horseman)! The traffic jams are INSANE here!! Wow, I had no idea. We dropped off Olivia and then headed to the supermarket so Karima and I could get snacks for our trek. We also wanted to find some gloves for when it gets cold while riding. Snacks a plenty, but no gloves. We stopped at another place on our way out of town so Auggie and Oochay could get some beer. Auggie also suggested, with hand gestures because he doesn’t speak English, that we look for gloves here. He came in with us to help us out and sure enough, we found some gloves. We asked how much they were, but then Auggie took out his wallet and paid for them for us. What a nice guy! Then we were on our way back out to the Steppe Riders camp. Karima and I were sharing some of our snacks with the guys, and then they returned the gesture by handing us each a beer for the ride. Haha
A lovely first day in Mongolia!