Sunday, 24 July.  Another very early morning flight, made more tiring by us being several hours from the airport.  Nice sunrise though.  Once in Ulaanbaatar we visited a manufacturer of horsehead fiddles, the Mongolian equivalent of guitars.  We were surprised at the variety of fiddles made.  Small factory, but very interesting.  They really gave us a lot of time in their shop.

The afternoon was used to visit the local department store.  The souvenir floor was popular.  Lots of cold weather clothing.

A Russian monument celebrating those who fought against Germany.

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Sunday, 23 July.  Visited a Yak farm.  Milked a yak badly.  Lots of hair.  I was more aggressive than others with the yaks, which I think the locals appreciated.  After others tried the milking bit (with more success than I), we proceeded to don gloves and pick up cow pies, which the locals use was fuel in the winter.  One of us decided that photographing the action was more important than participating; we quietly disagreed.  During the Q&A I asked if any farms were handled be a single person, vice a couple.  Our guide said, yes, but only by a man.  I asked him to confirm this with the family and the wife rapidly disagreed.  Single farms are almost always run by a woman.  Ha ha.

We then visited the local town with a hospital that looked unsafe in structure and cleanliness, so I stayed outside.  Finally we paid a visit to the town’s entrepreneur. He produced small ice cream cones which were wrapped in plastic and delivered to local stores.  We were assigned a certain number of cones and tasked to deliver them.  It was fun, but weird.  Our thirty cones cost about $2.  Total.  The economies of scale.  The man also made bread using an early-age (manually pushed) assembly line to bake.  His house was marvelous, with a host of plaques and medals documenting a past full of civil service.  He was perhaps the only person we met who had a concept of national politics.

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Saturday, 22 July

Took a long boat ride across the lake to visit a reindeer encampment, which exists solely as a tourist stop.  The major herd is back in the wilderness.  Our group pretty much bought out the family’s collection of souvenirs.  The reindeer were both beautiful and peaceful.  Had some reindeer milk.  Not the best milk I’ve had.

We stopped at a significant promontory on the way back.  It’s a key destination for natives, having some kind of significant importance.  I took the opportunity to go wading.  Cold.

In the afternoon we went horseback riding.  The climb onto and off of the saddle for several geriatrics was more difficult than I’d imagined.  Nice ride in the woods.  Saddle was not comfortable.

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Friday, 21 July.  Flew in the very early morning to northwest Mongolia, close to the Russian border.  Very small airport.  We loaded into three very sturdy vans, each with a foreboding snorkel exhaust, meant to be used when traversing deep water.  Turns out we never needed them.

A long drive began with a very nice, very new road.  But we soon went off onto a rutted side road which was the type of travel we experienced for much of our remaining stay.  Drove around a beautiful salt lake to a very ancient cemetery.  We visited perhaps the cleanest outhouse in Mongolia in a totally barren landscape.

After passing through a very small town we bounced and bumped for several miles over (through?) monster ruts to our lakeside ger camp.  Breathtaking blues.  Cattle and horses lazily strolling along the lake.  Made a short climb to a beautiful lookout spot.

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Thursday, 20 July. Visited a modern monastery.  Office-like.  The head monk’s office was large, with cushioned benches along opposing walls.  His desk was adorned with various office items.  It all felt very normal.  After a question/answer session, he asked us to practice meditation for five minutes.  Seemed rather silly.

Lunch back in UlaanBaatar was at a restaurant in a local amusement park.  Afterwards we walked through the city’s main bazaar, called a Black Market.  Just your typical market with lots of stalls.  With only one guide to lead the way I was concerned with losing people, so I volunteered myself to trail the herd.  It was an entertaining afternoon.

Skipped dinner.  No pictures.

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Wednesday, 19 July.  A little rain. The Chinngas Khaan Statue is as large as it seems.  Stairs take you to the top of the horse’s head.  Build about 9 years ago.  Nice museum in the base.  It’s intended to be the centerpiece of an amusement park, but 2008’s economic slump put a hold on it.

Horse breeding farm is primarily about producing fermented mare’s milk.  It tasted okay.  The process is simplicity itself, though the milking can be tedious. A mare won’t give milk unless her foal is nearby.  The farm is just a family affair.  When the kids are at school (boarding house), the husband/wife have to do it all.

Because of the rain we didn’t get to erect a ger.  Instead we watched an award winning documentary movie “The Eagle Huntress”.  Fascinating.

 

Here I am stirring the horse skin bag containing fermented mare’s milk.

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Tuesday, 18 July. Sunny sky. Not too hot.

Passed “Turtle Rock”, which sort of looked like a turtle.  The little souvenir stand did good business.

Climbed to newish monastery (post Soviet influence), which was sensibly situated near the bottom of a tall cliff, so the climb wasn’t too hard.  Nice view.

Lunch was chicken again.  Bata confirmed that chicken is not a normal staple of Mongolian life.  But we’ve had eggs for breakfasts and mostly chicken for lunch every day.

Visited a women who makes milk products in her ger.  I liked the hot milk, though it was a little weak.  She also lets a large kettle of milk sit so a film of milk coalesces, then skims the skin, to be used as a topping on bread.  Mainly she makes cheese.  Mongolia only makes one kind of cheese.  It was ready in no time.  Not my favorite.  She also had us taste hard cheese and have a sip of milk vodka.  Weak.

Dinner was salmon.  No idea where it came from.

Turtle Rock.

Buddhist graffiti.

Milk vodka.

View from the our gers.

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Monday,  17 July. Visited a kindergarten for children of the homeless, run privately by a kind family.  They received no government assistance.  Oversea Adventure Travel donates and collects donations from it’s travelers.  I probably will.

I brought shaping balloons.  Big hit.  I had to keep warning the teachers to make sure no one eats the balloons after they.    Inevitably pop.

Took a bus ride, I guess to illustrate common UB life.  The bus driver was a maniac.  I think that’s what Bata wanted.

Visited the ger of a Khazack family.  Incredibly beautiful cloths, pillows, blankets and what-not.  A variety of foods.  Interesting stories.  Children danced.  Our two young companions were dressed up in a wedding gown and other fancy dress.  Beautiful.

Got to hold an eagle.  Light!

The ger camp is just one of many. Bata complained that tourism was damaging the pristine environment.  He didn’t seem to get the irony.

 

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Sunday, 16 July.  Today was dominated by a fairly strong smell of fire.  Bata, our guide, said there were five fires in the area.  City citizens were volunteering to help put out them out.  By the end of the day the smell had lessened substantially.  (Regarding smoking of the normal kind, it’s much, much less than I anticipated.  Almost non-existent.)

Breakfast was European style, i.e., lots of variety.  Ate too much.

The touring was supposed to begin at a viewing point to see the city, but the smoke canceled that idea.  All together we visited one large monastery and two Museums, one having explanations written in English.  Unsurprisingly, Mongolia has a very rich history that we don’t learn in school.  The history of their clothing is awesome.  Their more recent history is pretty confusing.  Manchuria, China, and the Soviet Union all had a hand in it.  A lot of the USSR’s spartan architecture is still around, which contrasts sharply with their attempts to build a more modern looking city.  Economic realities have also played a role.  Beauty sits next to Ruin, with Ugly in between.

Lunch was chicken (again).  Apparently they’re sliding us slowly into their dietary customs.  Dinner was our first real intro, with a large chunk of beef attached to bone.  Tough.  Bata explained that Mongolians prefer tough.  Soft leaves them dissatisfied with their meal.  It was an experience.  The taste was fine, but there was a lot of chewing going on.

Tomorrow we head into the countryside.  Everyone is eager to go.

 

Not something you see in an American Hotel.

Buddhist Monks. UB began as a monastery.

Fountain in a playground near the monastery.

Gers are not uncommon. This is outside the restaurant.

Chinggis Khan, in his Lincoln pose. He is usually depicted on a horse.

Sukhbaatar, the nation’s more recent hero (1921). Instrumental in their independence from China. The statue is located in the city square, precisely where his horse is said to have urinated (A good omen).

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Saturday, 15 July.  The city will henceforth be called UB.  There’s a lot of a’s (sometimes).  I’ve given up trying to get it right.

Flight on Air China was surprisingly good.  Surprisingly because it’s ranked 97 in the world.  Beijing Airport is all a status seeking country could hope for.  Big.  Not crowded.  Customs is no different than anywhere else.  On the big board describing what’s not allowed in carry-on baggage is a snowbulb.  People laughed, but I think I’ve seen the ban somewhere else.

UB is hot today.  It’ll be cooler tomorrow.  It’s a third world city with third world challenges.  It’s what I expected.  Lots of nice statues among lots of permanently under-construction apartments.  I walked to the below statue near the hotel.  The hotel is top notch.  An island in the rubble.  Driving is on the right, though there are many cars with the steering wheel on the right.  Mongolia is a bridge between past Soviet and new Chinese influence.

The tour proper starts tomorrow.  Our first meal was extremely nice and proper.  Our escort/guide speaks better English than I do (faint praise).  We have a 40-passenger bus for all 10 of us.  Who needs lodging?

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