Our Spanish friends waited for us at Ulaanbaatar train station and a few hours later we had our tailor made 13 days trek planned. One last thing to do though: change our plane tickets back to China to the 05th of August (originaly on 01st August but since we arrived later than we thought in Mongolia, we didn’t want to miss out on Mongolia to go back to…Beijing).
We drove 1,800km: We aimed South West of UB, then North across the Khangai mountain range, West again towards the white lake and then East towards Karakorum, the Semi Gobi desert and back to UB.
At the last minute Ingrid asked to join the 4 of us on the tour. An easy going art teacher from Belgium who travelled to remote regions of Burkina Faso, Oman and Algeria Ingrid passed the test -which consisted in eating Thomas’s pasta dish.
We were accompanied by Boogii our guide and Imbish who drove the van. Without them we would probably still be somewhere in Mongolia, lost as Nobody speaks English and there are NO roads outside of the cities.
left to right:
Top: Horse guide 1, Horse guide 2, our guide Boogii, Thomas.
Bottom: Yumi, Edurne, Ingrid, Alberto.
Mongolia is huge: it is the 19th largest country in the world (I bet you didn't know it!): 12 times bigger than England, 2.5 times the size of France. 3million people live there (60% of the entire population living in the capital), leaving immense empty spaces.
Mongolia could be compared to Europe 5,000 years ago, meaning that if a storm comes, it will erase any proof that men were even here: no roads, only a few people living here and there in “gers“, the traditional Mongol house. It is round, white and about 5 meters in diameter. The yaks or horse would carry the parts of the ger on their back until the ideal spot is located.
Out of 1,800km there were only 100km road and the rest were just tracks. The van although sturdy made us jump all over the place and the absence of seat belt made the bouncing on windows, doors…and ceiling hard to avoid.
We had a Russian van in which 7 people, 4 tents, camping cooking stuff and everybody’s bags … and enough snacks for a few days could fit. The van was amazing, we crossed thigh high rivers -and only got stuck in one-, we drove once 9h a day where it felt like was inside an oven and the van took us wherever we wanted no matter how steep we were climbing.
90% of the time it never let us down…
once the petrol pump decided to stop functioning and we got stuck for 7h in a rather quiet place. A couple of hours later no 1 or 2 but 3 identical vans came and had the piece we needed…but it didn’t so our driver hopped into one of them and disappeared to the nearest city to find the piece.
Break down area
3 identical vans in the middle of nowhere
Meanwhile we explored the area and went to a nearby ger. We thought it’d be the usual huge wrestlers living in there and that they’d love to throw Thomas on the ground as they usually do (we’ll come back to that) but found instead a family where girls knew how to play volleyball! In the middle of nowhere, in central Mongolia. Honestly…
Mikasa in Mongolia
Archery, horse riding and throwing Thomas away in wrestling bouts are the main sports in Mongolia. Thomas’s first lesson was in the 8 lakes regions when a local 19 years old horseman with thick leathery hands and not much fat but a lot of muscles around him showed the only Corsican in the area how Mongolian wrestling works. It's easy: Only the soles of your feet can touch the ground. If anything else does (like one of your limbs they have torn apart) you loose. Result: Mongolia 4 - France 0. The morning after another fight (and before breakfast!) ended up in an amazing draw 2 - 2. It felt life victory for Thomas. Note that it is not official to have 4 bouts, it’s about all Thomas can handle at 2,500m.
Another day and another family later, “Dagii” was willing to show Thomas a few moves. “Dagii” must have been his nickname cause he looked more like Goliath to Thomas. He was 6.1ft (185cm) and 250 pounds (115kg) and nobody thought about telling the poor Frenchman that Dagii had been a professional wrestler for 6 years and wrestler for over 20 years. The fight was intense: Thomas was grabbed, lifted off the ground and pushed away like a rag doll. He landed ungraciously in the grass a bit less than 10 seconds after the beginning of the fight.
As you know Thomas, he gave it another go. He lifted one of Goliath’s legs but there was still a lot to lift before the huge Mongol would be in a dangerous situation. The other Mongols that gathered around told Yumi that the second bout was not bad at all. So Thomas -picking up his body parts scattered across the grass and yaks’ shits- was happy about this comment. Happy enough to give the 3rd bout a miss. There are unfortunately no pictures of the bouts between Thomas and Dagii but here are Dagii and Alberto.
They are very friendly and smiling. They always joke and leave the door of their ger opened in case somebody needs to come in.
When our van broke down people tried to help us and got their hands dirty taking the engine apart. They would also invite you for horse milk or vodka anytime you stay with them. They know their neighbours, even if they are 50 miles away. Note that the 21st century Mongol does wear his traditional outfit but would sometimes ride a motorcycle rather than a horse. It is easier, faster and doesn’t consume as much grass as a horse.
our 2 horse guides
Nomadic Mongols live in the plains in the summer and move to the mountains with their herds in the winter to get away from the wind chill which can make temperate plummet to -30 degrees.
the famous girls
Semi nomadic people would go back to the nearest village in the winter. The last category is the City Mongolians: they stay in the city all year round.
We camped a lot and loved it. Sometimes it was hard to find wood but crossing rivers to get a log as all worth it. Fire and Vodka fuelled our nights. When we were not camping we stayed with some families in a ger. It’s much warmer and it is nice to sleep in a bed from time to time. Note that the mattress is in inch thick with wood underneath.
Camping. Vodka. Fire
We visited the old capital Karakorum but the 5 of us preferred the steppes and mountain areas so we only visited the temple there and didn’t stay more than a few hours.
We went horse riding for 2 days and many kilometers (many miles) in the 8 lakes region: our bums and legs were really sore but vodka helped to smoother the pain.
a Yumi, a camel, a sandstorm
We tried camel riding in the semi Gobi desert: Yumi's camel decided to go his own way waiting for the huge sand storm to catch up with us.
Thomas and K-mel
We hiked across volcanic fields and climbed on top of craters in the white lake area.
Yumi looking at the 320m deep crater near the white lake