Mongolia Camels And Sand Dunes
by Adro and Sean
Mongolia Gobi Travels
Mongolia Camels And Sand Dunes, What More Do You Need?
The rain proved tricky when we headed towards the big sand dunes at Khungur, further west. We were met with the unexpected experience of the van getting stuck in the mud. There were plenty of stones around that we laid down and with some pushing we managed to get the van moving. Odnoo had been taking tours for the last 2 years and it was the first time that it had rained for her.
When we were pushing the van an old dog came out of nowhere and it seemed to be on its last legs. Being typical soft bellied whities we wanted to do help it but there wasn't anything to be done, it wouldn't even eat the biscuit we offered, so we had to leave the dog to its own fate. We all felt a bit low about it but Mongolia quickly cheered us up.
The Gobi wasn't what we had expected. Our minds had images of Sahara-like dunes stretching away forever but the Gobi is a mass of contradictions. When we arrived at the sand dunes, in the mud-splattered van, we saw green "fields" (Mongolian ones, so not at all like NZ. There's about 0.5m between tufts of grass) in stark contrast to the dunes that they sat at the bottom of. Still, we had found our "Sahara dunes" stretching away into the distance and they even inspired Mark to poetry: "An army of sand dunes, marching to the beat of the wind." We still have tears in our eyes.
We stayed in a tourist camp of gers, but a family runs it so we had our first of many welcomings. This involved sitting around smiling (because you don't understand what is being said) and tasting many of Mongolia's delights. First, milk tea is offered around, followed by a bowl filled with pieces of aruul (and thankfully, some lollies) and airag. Airag doesn't taste that great, and Adrienne and Carrie were lucky, as females, to turn it down after a tiny sip. The boys often had to finish the bowl. A type of snuff is often handed around too.
Airag is, literally, fermented mare's milk (yes, milk from a horse).
Buckets of milk are emptied into a leather bag just inside the door of the ger. A long wooden stick is used to stir the milk during the evening, and it is left overnight to ferment. For those who are interested, mare's milk has a higher percentage of lactose than cow's milk, and cannot be tolerated by most people in the world. Producing airag converts some of the lactose into lactic acid, carbon dioxide and the all important ethanol, making it drinkable for the peoples of the Mongolian steppe.
Although it was set up for tourists, it was interesting to see some of Mongolian life: goats and horses were milked, aruul was out drying. We were introduced to Shagai, the Mongolian version of knuckle bones; quite different to what we played. You had to throw the knuckles onto the floor and flick together knuckles with matching sides (these were named goat, camel, sheep and horse).
The camel riding was a blast! Not particularly comfortable beasts but such a novelty for us. Sitting on a camel while it is running is especially uncomfortable. Tuomas is a farrier and was keen to get his charge moving. It didn't work - camels are stubborn when they want to be. We cruised to the bottom of the dunes and trudged on foot to the top. They were massive and it took a while. Sean decided that the best way down would be to roll but didn't realise that it would be a painful endeavour... the sand wasn't as soft as first thought (because of the rain).
Even though we had a couple of vodkas in us, we still thought that the sunset from the top of the sand dunes was incredible. Mark, Carrie and Tuomas set up a tent, finished off a bottle of port and got ready for a sunrise extravaganza. Adrienne was feeling sick and didn't want to spend the night without a toilet. Sean stayed behind to take care of her - what a great guy!
Again, disaster struck us - the camera broke. Bugger! The hungover trio came back from the dunes and reassured us that we could get photos from their cameras. We reckon that the repairman in Beijing did a dodgy job.