The Mongolia Diaries: Day Thirteen

I was the first one up and was shocked at how cold it was. My phone said it was 4°C outside. Brrrrr! We had locked our ger door overnight and around 6:00AM someone was trying to come inside. We later learned that it was one of the workers who wanted to restart our wood burning heater so it wasn't too cold when we got out of bed.

Since I was the first one up, I attempted to make a fire but failed miserably. Apparently, I have forgotten all of my fire making skills from back in my camping days. One of the Australian girls could see I was struggling so she came over to help. It took some time but she got it up and going!

Breakfast, which were yummy omelettes, was served in our ger. We would be staying for two nights at the lake and the plan was to hike to an extinct volcano called Khorgo. Our guide said we would be on our own for the hike. She told us to give her some time as she would be making meat filled pastries for us to take on our hike. They were delicious!

White Lake with Frog Rock in the distance
We set an 11:00AM departure time so I went for a walk along one side of the Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake to a rock called Frog Rock. I saw horses, yaks and some lovely magpies along the way. I was contemplating walking around the lake but Google Maps said it was 16KM and I didn't know if there was a trail or not.

At Frog Rock, I climbed up and around it and noticed a bunch of Mongolians by a little beach on the backside of the rock. There were four of them in the water screaming with delight or perhaps at the icy coldness of the lake!

There was a small community on this side of the lake with a few different tourist camps. There were a few cafes/restaurants and a couple of very tiny stores in the area. One could easily vacation here for a week or so and probably be able to get everything they would need. This place was quite different from anywhere else we'd been so far as we were always very isolated in the other locations with nothing around for miles and miles.

I noticed that there were no water activities going on in the lake. I wasn't sure if it was because the lake was so cold but there weren't even any boats on the water. Strange.

When I got back to our set of gers, I went to check in on our lunch and saw that our driver had the van in pieces. He looked a little under the weather. The German girls had left both the driver and the guide a tip and I did notice that our driver had purchased a big bottle of Vodka and some specialty chocolate in the village before coming to the lake. My guide said that him and his friends had spent the night drinking! Ha!

Lunch was ready and we were given individual bags with four meat filled pastries each. The Australian girls requested ketchup and brought a bottle with them. One of my recordings was about ketchup. With every meal, we were offered ketchup. Everyone put ketchup on everything. I didn't put ketchup on anything because ketchup is kind of gross and not meant for pasta or rice or noodles. My group asked for ketchup and put it on all of their meals before trying them. I know Mongolia isn't known for tasty food but I didn't think it was so terrible that each meal needed to be doused in ketchup.

Anyway, away we went on our hike. I made the assumption that I would lose the group at some point based on them liking to run through things. Our directions were to find a cave and head into the forest and follow the rocks. I was the only one with service on my phone so the group stayed close to me!

The volcanic rocks leading to Khorgo Mountain
The cave was a small hole in the ground. There were people there upon arrival, so we took a miss of the cave and trekked it into the forest. We came across another set of rocks which was showing as another cave on Google Maps. We then came to the volcanic rocks that our guide must have been talking about. We walked over these rocks for at least a half hour. The group was quite spread out at this point trying to find the best way across the rocks. I feared someone was going to turn an ankle.

We eventually came to a pathway that had come from the road. There were a number of people using it. We took the scenic route, I guess! This trail led us up the mountain to a wonderful crater. We were able to walk all the way around the top of the crater and we sat up there and had some lunch and enjoyed the views! I was thankful we were finally able to take some time to relax at one of the attractions!

We opted for a different route back to avoid walking over those rocks again. The trail eventually led us out to the road and to the underground cave. The cave was small and claustrophobic-looking. I neglected to go in! The Australian girls also took a miss. The French guy went in and had a bit of trouble getting himself out. Ha!

The hike ended up being about 10KM or so with an elevation of 2,200m. The lake was sitting at 2,080m according to the compass on my phone.

When we got back, I paid 5,000 Tugrik for a shower! It was wonderful! It was my third and last shower on this tour of Mongolia!

The rest of the day was uneventful. We relaxed, drank some beer and played cards. We would be up for another long day of driving the following day as we started on the journey back to the big city of Ulaanbaatar.

One thing I noted on my recorded journal was that the guide kept playing the same music over and over and over in the car. Some of the songs were OK and I actually really liked a few of them but by day nine it was like ... ugh ... do we have any other music we could possibly listen to?

We went to bed early that night as we had a fairly early departure time for our final destination of this tour. The time was going quick but I was kind of ready to not be on tour anymore!

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Twelve (images)

An early morning walk along the Orkhon River

Couldn't get enough of the yaks

We ate yak meat and drank fermented yak milk

Stopping for a bathroom break on our way to White Lake

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Twelve (images)

A cold, early morning walk along the Orkhon River (7°C)

Found many horses on my early morning walk in the Orkhon Valley

Walked up a couple hundred steps to reach this temple in the village of Tsetserleg

At Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake or White Lake

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Twelve

I had somewhat of a decent sleep but it was a hot night. I wasn't the only one who thought so because in the wee hours of the morning, someone got up to open the ger door. The cool breeze that came in was lovely! Around 4:00AM someone else got up to put more wood in the heating oven and then closed the door. Ugh.

Staying warm
I had my alarm set for 5:50AM. I was up well before that in anticipation of a lovely walk. My phone said it was 7°C. I didn't exactly have clothes for that type of cold. I got out of bed and peeked out the door. It was quite windy and still dark and freezing. I put on my hiking pants, a t-shirt and two quick dry zip up hoodies along a windproof jacket (that was all I had) and a winter hat. I put a hood up over my winter hat and hoped this would do the trick!

The night before, I did ask if anyone in my group would be up for an early morning walk but most of them shrugged their shoulders and said they'd most likely be sleeping. At 6:00AM everyone was dead asleep so I went alone.

There wasn't much of a sunrise but I was able to call both my mom and my dad on FaceTime. Mostly because my phone had service and because I wanted to show them this stunning area!

I wandered down the Orkhon River until about 8:00AM. The different views of the river were amazing. I got up close and personal with some yaks and horses and came across lots of different animal bones.

I got back to our set of gers at 8:00AM and breakfast was being served. We were up for another long day of driving, about 400KM, so we needed to get on the road early. Before leaving, the family invited us into the family ger for fermented yak's milk. I asked my guide to politely decline for me.

I recorded some notes on my morning walk and noted a number of times that the place I was currently at was phenomenal. I also said that if I were ever to make it back to Mongolia, I wouldn't hesitate to head directly to Central Mongolia and spend my entire time there hiking and exploring.

After our visit in the family ger, we took some group photos as the two German girls were heading out on their own. They planned to hike from the family ger back to the old city of Mongolia which they estimated would take five days. It was probably a lovely trek!

A rough idea of our 400KM route
The first 150KM of our drive was along bumpy roads that took us through fabulous forests and mountains. At many points, we had to drive through rivers and huge puddles, if you could even call them that. It was probably the bumpiest ride to date, though it seems I keep writing that. Maybe I was just getting less tolerant of the drives as the days passed. The scenery once again was tremendous and the hills and mountains reminded me a lot of British Columbia with all the winter greenery.

At some point, we came to a paved road and you could sense everyone's sigh of relief. This was, quite possibly, the first paved road we'd seen in well over a week. We eventually arrived in the old city of Tsetserleg. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch. The decor in the restaurant looked like it was from the sixties. The wallpaper clashed with the curtains and everything was a faded purply-pink color. It was an odd place. I ordered kimchi potato mutton noodles which were quite delicious. It was a huge serving with some veggies on the side for 6,000 Tugrik. (TW$70/CAN$3.00)

After lunch, we went across the street to a local market. It was also a strange place. There were lots of numbered stalls with people selling a whole lot of the same stuff. Our guide picked up some food while I people watched. It was interesting to see the different people go about their business. There were a lot of country bumpkin peasants and most were dressed quite weirdly.

After the market, the two Australian girls wanted to go to a place called the Fairfield, which is an Australian owned guesthouse that has Australian coffee and baked goods. Strange, as the girls didn't seem to want to do much else on the trip but going for Australian coffee excited them.

We wandered over there and to me, the place was overpriced and the baked goods looked like they had been sitting there for two weeks. The girls ordered coffee, carrot cake and a danish. My guide and the French guy also ordered coffee and cookies. I watched the French guy take one bite of his cookie and by the look on his face, it was not delicious. It looked stale. Shame.

I decided to take a miss of the coffee and the baked goods and head outside to explore. Upon arrival, I couldn't help but notice a huge rock face on one side of the village which had a bunch of steps up to a temple. It happened to be around the corner from the coffee shop and all I knew was that I needed to climb those stairs. It was really neat to see the village from up there. I was told Tsetserleg had a population of about 1,600 making it the biggest village we had visited on this trip.

The colorful houses and gers were fascinating. They were all lined up on the hills almost in a grid like fashion with little dirt lanes. I was the only one up there and I took a long moment to enjoy the cool breeze and the views from above.

When I got back, my group was waiting for me. I asked them if the coffee was good and they said it was only okay. I wasn't overly surprised to hear that.

We had another 170KM of driving after the city but it was along mostly paved roads. I saw a couple of dead horses that had clearly been hit overnight by passing traffic. It made me feel sad. I have never seen so many dead animals in such a short time frame. I suppose that is another part of what made Mongolia so interesting. It's unlike anywhere else I've ever been. This was not one of the highlights, obviously, but it was still quite fascinating.

Our final stop for the day, was at a place called White Lake or Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake. The drive off the paved road to get to the lake was insane. There were crazy potholes. Our van was tilting this way and that. I was surprised we didn't topple over.

Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake or White Lake
We would be spending two nights beside the lake. Our ger was in a tourist camp. The most exciting thing was that we had electricity in the ger for the first time! There was a light with a switch! Over our travels, few other gers had lights and if they did, they were run by solar panels. We also had a power socket with two places to charge our devices! Talk about living the high life! The tourist camp also had one shower for all of the guests (cost: 5,000 Tugrik) with water heated by electricity!

I was contemplating a hot shower when one of the Australian girls said she was going to jump in the lake. It was just before sunset and my phone said it was 13°C. I decided to join her. It had been four or five days since I had had a shower and I thought it'd be nice to rinse off. The lake was f-f-f-f-freezing! It felt like my body went into a state of shock! I am getting too old for this kind of stuff! Ha!

The water felt slightly murky but I stayed in for a few minutes. We went back to our ger to someone inside starting a fire for us in our heating oven. Perfect timing as I was chilly! Dinner wasn't far behind that! We were served a delicious curry with tofu and no goat meat! After dinner, we played cards with our guide and drank a whole lot of beer before calling it a night.

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Eleven (images)

Not uncommon to see goats' hides hanging about ... they are about to get soaked

The Ulaan Tsutgalan Waterfall in Orkhon Valley, Mongolia

My backyard for a day = bliss!

Look at that face! Loving the yaks!

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Eleven (images)

A funny sign along with the two kids who took us horseback riding to a waterfall

Getting ready to go horseback riding

A typical Mongolian store with everything behind the counter

A small village in Central Mongolia

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Eleven

We were up fairly early and had a simple breakfast before heading off to Orkhon Valley in Central Mongolia. I'm not sure how many kilometres we traveled, but it was another solid day of driving. The last hour was tough, I was more than ready to get out of that van.

The red dot shows where we stayed for the night
The scenery along the way changed dramatically and the frustrating part was that there were so many places I would've loved to have stopped at to take photos, but I was the only one in my group interested in photography ... and in my surroundings, it seemed! On top of that, it would've taken twice as long to get anywhere. So, a lot of the beauty of Mongolia will have to remain with me in my mind!

We stopped at a gorgeous canyon on the way and spent about twenty minutes there. We then drove a bit further up the road and stopped along the Orkhon River where there was a very small waterfall. We would be having lunch there. I took off to wander the area while my group set up a table and played cards. Sigh. I was quite far from the van when I heard and saw a massive storm heading in our direction. The wind started to pick up and so did my pace as I trekked it back to the van. I did not want to get caught in the downpour.

I made it back moments before the rain started pouring down. We threw our bags under the van as our guide was making lunch out of the back of the van. Lunch was simple. It consisted of veggies, goat's meat and noodles which we ate inside the van.

After lunch, we packed up and continued on our way. The driving became more treacherous and we had to pass through two or three rivers in the car. It was a neat drive! We ended up in the most spectacular place ever! While I was recording my daily journal later that day, there was an eagle right beside me and I broke down into tears at the awesomeness of my surroundings. No joke!

Our ger for the night with a lovely river in the backyard
As per usual, upon arrival we were invited into the family ger where we were served fermented yak's milk. This family had the milk hanging in the leather of an animal right inside the ger. The family had five children ranging in age from about thirteen to a baby that couldn't have been more than eight months old. They owned horses, yaks and goats.

We put our stuff in our ger and got ready to go on a horseback ride. They were going to take us to a waterfall in the area called Ulaan Tsutgalan. It is the largest waterfall in Mongolia. It was about a thirty minute ride to get there and it was quite cold along the way. It was raining slightly here and there as well.

When we got to the waterfall, we looked at it and then it seemed it was time to move on. The two kids who brought us there took us on a small trail to the bottom of the waterfall. We were only there a few minutes before I noticed my group leaving and making their way back up the trail. Sigh.

On my recorded journal, I again commented how we weren't really allowed much time for anything on the tour. I bet we were at that waterfall for twenty minutes, not even. The rain did let up and it would've been lovely to sit down and enjoy the area for a bit. Perhaps if I was with a group who did want to take more time to enjoy the sights, the majority would've ruled and maybe we would've gotten more time? Hard to say.

Anyway, when we got back from horseback riding, my guide said she was going to prepare some hot water for tea or coffee. I was planning on having a hot tea as I was a bit cold but there was a river near our gers and I found myself making my way down the steep hill to the river. My group opted to stay in front of the ger and drink coffee and play cards.

I was stunned that this river was the backyard of the place I was staying at. I could've spent my whole two weeks in Mongolia at this place. It was so amazing that I stayed down there until the sun was starting to set. I only went up as I figured dinner would soon be served and sure enough I arrived back just as dinner plates were being brought to the table.

When the sun disappeared, it got very cold. We ate dinner and went into our ger for the night. We played cards and drank some beer. The gers there had wood burning heaters. There was a pipe that went up out of the top of the ger to let the smoke out. To me, this place here was 'true' Mongolia. This is exactly what I had envisioned Mongolia to be like before my arrival.

The ger was very warm throughout the night. I didn't need a blanket. The sounds of the crackling fire were lovely and soothing.

On my recorded journal, I noted that we saw a bunch of eagles that day along with what I believed to be squirrels. The squirrels were along the dirt roads and I am pretty sure we flattened more than a few. And one of the best things was that we saw yaks! The yaks weren't on the family property that evening but I had set my alarm for 6:00AM to go out in search of them. I was going to trek up the river in the early morning as we were scheduled to leave at 8:30AM for the next destination. Sigh.

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Ten (images)

At the Ongi Monastery

A ger at the Ongi Monastery

A temple at the Ongi Monastery

A fast flowing river and a tourist camp near the Ongi Monastery

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Ten (images)

The grounds surrounding the Ongi Monastery

The Ongi Monastery Ruins

The Ongi Monastery Ruins

Home for the night

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Ten

After a very good sleep, we were awoken at 8:30AM to breakfast in our ger. We had a long day of driving ahead of us so it must have been our guide's way of saying get up and get ready!

A rough idea of our route
Our van had a flat tire that morning so we left a bit later than scheduled. We set off around 10:00AM and traveled along bumpy, dirt roads for about 180KM before stopping at the Ongi Monastery for lunch. As we made our way to Central Mongolia, the scenery was no longer flat and desert-like. It was becoming more and more mountainous.

The monastery we stopped at was no longer in use, it was ruins of a monastery. There was a temple within the ruins but it was deserted. There was also a fair-sized, luxurious looking tourist camp called the Secret of Ongi but it was empty. There wasn't much to do in the area so I'm not sure why one would want to stay there. Maybe as an overnighter on the way to Central Mongolia?

The surrounding grounds were gorgeous, so we took off to explore while our guide cooked lunch out of the back of the van. My group didn't seem too interested in the ruins and took off to play cards while I wandered the grounds alone. There was a hill over the ruins with something religious-looking on top. I contemplated climbing the hill but wasn't sure how long we had until lunch and I didn't want to keep everyone waiting if it took longer than I thought.

Lunch was a simple fried rice with veggies and goat's meat. Once we cleaned up, we continued on the long drive. The goal was to get as much of the driving out of the way as we could.

Just before our first rainfall in Mongolia
Over time, the skies started to change. We came upon our first rain in Mongolia. We began driving through beautiful forests. The oranges and reds and greens from trees and plants were a lovely change from the browns and light greens of the desert. The roads became more treacherous. A lot of the paths seemed like they weren't meant for cars or vans. I thought the van was going to tip on its side at many points.

We did another 200KM or so. We would be camping in the middle of nowhere that evening and everyone was quite tired upon arrival. We stopped driving around 7:00PM and we all rolled out of the van with an 'ugh'.

It was lightly raining and cold and windy. Our guide starting preparing dinner as we set up our tents. The rain stopped long enough for us to have dinner along with some cold beer outside. We played cards until it became too dark to see. With the darkness came the rain. We called it a night and bundled up in our tents. It was cold and I worried about being warm enough overnight.

I recorded my journal before going to sleep that night. I noted one of the highlights that day was seeing two foxes! I sounded exhausted and said on a number of occasions that there were a lot of bumpy roads and a lot of driving that day.

At some point in the wee hours of the morning, there was a huge rain storm. It kept me awake for some time and I was having trouble staying warm. I had no service on my phone so I couldn't check the temperature but I recall it being an uncomfortable sleep. We had about another 120KM of driving the next day and I was hoping for more sleep, less rain and a quick drive!

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Nine (images)

At the Flaming Cliffs, Mongolia

Made it back home just before sunset

A herd of goats at the Flaming Cliffs

The Flaming Cliffs, Mongolia

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Nine (images)

A new ger in the making

The Flaming Cliffs, Mongolia

Trying to find my way back to my ger before the sun goes down

Leaving the Flaming Cliffs as the sun is setting

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Nine

Our location
We were up early and served breakfast at 9:00AM. We had 180KM to drive as we were making our way to a place called the Flaming Cliffs or Bayanzag. It was a quick drive over! This place is on the edge of the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park and it was officially our last day in the Gobi Desert. The Flaming Cliffs are awesome and known for having yielded some of the world's famous dinosaur fossils.

On our way to the Flaming Cliffs, we stopped in a very small village where we were able to grab a shower! It was the same price as the last shower at 3,000 Tugrik but this one had very little water pressure. Either way, it was lovely to feel water on my skin and get all of that Gobi sand out of my hair. My head was so itchy!

We were staying in some gers that belonged to our tour company, Golden Gobi. We were able to walk to the cliffs from our ger. We were told that it was a 2 - 3KM walk over but I thought that may have been false. It took me an hour or so to get to the top of the cliffs though I did dawdle for most of the walk. The sun was much hotter than I thought it would be and I didn't bring enough water for the walk. There were people selling souvenirs at the entrance but none of them sold drinks.

The Flaming Cliffs in Mongolia
I ended up leaving without my group as they were aiming to be there for sunset. I feared they would rush me through the walk and the cliffs, so I decided to take off by myself so I could enjoy things at my own pace. The plan was to meet them there but the cliffs are massive. Upon arrival, I knew we weren't going to find one another. One can go down into the cliffs or walk along the top. My initial thought was to go down into the cliffs but then I noticed people in the distance walking along the tops of the cliff so I made the long journey around to go where the majority of people seemed to be.

As the sun was setting, I decided to head back to my gers so that I didn't get lost. I was out of water, had no food and I was alone. I knew it would take me at least an hour to get back to the gers which were kilometers away in a dark, open field with not much else around. There was a big, fancy tourist camp to the far left, a set of gers in the middle and another set of gers to the far right. I was pretty sure my gers were the ones in the middle but I wasn't 100% sure.

On the walk back, I kept losing sight of the gers I was walking to. If the land slanted down slightly they were gone and I had to wait until there was a slight incline to get them back in my sight. I recorded my daily journal on the way back and was laughing about the ridiculousness of this vast field and me being lost in Mongolia! I wondered if I was heading to the right place and if I wasn't, would someone come and rescue me. There were no roads, so it wasn't like I could stand on the side of the road and flag someone down!

I arrived back to the correct set of gers just before dark and noticed my group wasn't back yet. Our driver left in the van to find them! We had a late dinner and I decided to retire early. We would be heading to Central Mongolia the following day and were apparently in for a big day (or two) of driving! It was nice to have a break and I wasn't sure I was ready for a full day in that van again! I had read over and over again before coming to Mongolia not to underestimate the driving. I was beginning to see what those reviews meant! It was absolutely worth it but we were talking about hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kilometers along bumpy, dirt roads. Little did I know what we'd be getting into the following day! Ha! The bumpy, dirt roads were nothing!

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Eight (images)

The sun rising outside of my ger in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Lovely views from the highest sand dune in the Gobi Desert

Gers that belong to a family of camel racers and our home for two nights

A river in the Gobi Desert

The Mongolia Diaries: Day Eight (images)

Our driver, Ogie, barbecuing some goat meat using hot stones inside a ger

The sunset from the highest dune in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia

A river in the distance in the Gobi Desert