First of all, thank you to any of our loyal readers out there. We know we’re painstakingly slow about posting. Procrastination rules the roost. And, it’s not even that we don’t want to share our stories—it’s just that there are so many other blogs to read (which I can’t wait to share with you), but for now I must keep my focus. So, here’s the second part of our trip through Mongolia (part 1 is below).

We left the sand dunes of Klonguyrn Els amidst a terrible rain storm. In a matter of minutes, the desert turned into a muddy mess. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Feeling like the Indiana Jones Adventure ride, our jeep jerked from side to side while spinning out in the muddy grooves. I know I’m anxiety prone, but I was pretty sure we might roll the jeep. Sure, it would be a slow roll but I calculated exactly where I needed to put my appendages to minimize my injuries. And, if you can believe it so did Chris. It surprised the heck out of me when I turned to him and started babbling about my contingency plan, and he came right back with a well thought out scenario for himself. Holy cow, I thought, if Chris put together a plan—we might really roll the jeep. It’s not my paranoia after all!

Needless to say, we did not roll the jeep. But, the 180′s sure kept things interesting. And, we became pro’s at freeing our jeep from muddy trenches.

Proof that even Russian jeeps get stuck

Stuck in the mud

We spent all of day 6 driving to our pit stop at Avaikheer with the rain eventually turning to snow. It was a long, tiresome day on the road, and we all looked forward to finally arriving at our ger for the night. Unfortunately, just as we pulled into town some cops waved us over. Within a matter of minutes, it became quite clear the off-duty cops were running a scam on us. They looked us over carefully, most likely calculating how much an American and Dutch couple would be willing to pay. After a series of exchanges between them, our guide, driver, and guesthouse in UB, we learned they wanted US$30 for some bogus “insurance”. Small potatoes, right? No, not really. It’s extortion.

So, we refused to pay. Yep, that’s right—we refused. And, to boot we piled out of the jeep and took pictures of them. Now, this is not something you would ever want to do in China, Russia, or probably any other country but in Mongolia I was 90% certain it would have the right effect. And, it did; they let us go without any further hassles.

The extorionists

Don't try this in every country

The next day we headed through the beautiful Orkhon Valley. We passed through rolling snow covered hills on our drive; we chatted with local herders about the weather and the best roads to use; we stopped to help some broken-down motorcyclists; and we played in the snow.

One of my favorite things about Mongolia is the kindness of the people. We stopped countless times on this trip to help others or just to chat. We read it’s not uncommon for people just to stop and chat with strangers, but it was really interesting to see it in person. I can’t tell you  how many times we stopped to ask directions. And, I think the most striking thing was that each encounter was as though they were long lost friends. We always asked, “did you know them?” to which the reply inevitably was “no.”

Herder pointing us to the way

Herder pointing the way

Lending a helping hand to motorcyclists

Lending a helping hand to motorcyclists

Snowball fight!

Snowball fight!

The next morning, we woke to the sun rising and watched as our hosts milked their yaks. They shared some yak yogurt with us, but truth be told it was tremendously sour. A good smattering of sugar or berries would have made a world of difference.

The morning routine: milking yaks

The morning routine: milking yaks

Orkhon valley yak

Orkhon valley yak

On day 8 of our trip, we made our way to Kharkorin—the ancient Mongol capital. Built by Genghis Khan’s third son (and successor), the city flourished along traditional trade routes until the capital was moved to Beijing in 1264. Giant stone tortoises marked the boundaries of the cities, and at least two still exist today.

Most folks on a tour through Central Mongolia stop off at the Erdene Zuu Monastery in Kharkorin. It’s the oldest monastery and one of the only ones to survive the 1930′s decimation of religious settings. Several statues, paintings, and wall coverings survived the expulsion of religion from Mongolia and are on display in the temples. Impressed by the silk weavings, we wondered how many of these artifacts were lost forever during the 1930′s revolution. Surrounded by 108 stupas, the protective wall once housed 100 temples. Now, it’s home to a few temples and houses some of Mongolia’s most beautiful religious artifacts.

The stupas of Erdene-Zuu Monastery

The stupas of Erdene-Zuu Monastery

Besides visiting the monastery, we also paid a visit to a fertility statue. Now, this isn’t just your ordinary fertility statue. Oh no, this sucker is a giant stone penis resting astride what supposedly represents a vagina. I kid you not.

Hmm, does this really work?

Hmm, does this really work?

Under extreme pressure from the others to be a good sport, I straddled that darn penis and made my wish. If I’m pregnant in a year’s time, you can blame Chris and that darn fertility statue.

I guess Im about to find out....

I guess I'm about to find out....

The next day, we jumped in the jeep and started making our way to the Great White Lake or Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (try saying that a bunch of times in a row!). After nine days on the road, day 10 would finally be a day of rest for us. On our day at the lake, we rode horses and hiked amongst the hills. The Great White Lake was gorgeous. Sparkling blue waters surrounded by hills dotted with yaks, made it a picturesque scene.

That is, until you paid real close attention. On further inspection of the area, droves of mosquitoes inhabited every inch of space. They practically painted the gers black with their bodies.

Setting ourselves up in our ger, we were concerned about the mosquitoes. Our host told us not to worry, they don’t bite. Our faces all showed the same expression, yeah right…non-biting mosquitoes? whatever. But, in fact, he was correct. They didn’t bite, but they were highly annoying. On our horse ride, they covered our bodies. And, I mean covered.

I’ve never been more disgusted in my life. Actually, I take that back; I have been more disgusted but this was pretty darn gross as well. Imagine looking down to see your whole body crawling with bugs. At one point, Chris tried to steer us away but instead directed us to a worse spot. I didn’t think it could get any worse, but believe me when the air is so thick you’re breathing them in, it’s bad. We vainly tried to swat them away. By the end, I killed more on me than succeeded in getting off. My clothes looked like a splattered windshield.

The Great White Lake

The Great White Lake

No biting mosquitoes here. Maybe the beautiful interior keeps them away

No biting mosquitoes here. Maybe the beautiful interior keeps them away

The last two days of our Mongolian jeep excursion were spent driving back to Ulan Bataar. We don’t have much to report except that the drive was long and bumpy. Paved roads don’t really exist in Mongolia. And, if they do—it seems the drivers prefer to take the dirt road alongside the paved road anyway. Don’t ask, I can’t explain. Mongolia is one of those countries that will forever hold my fascination. We enjoyed our tour of it. We hope to return someday, and we hope it doesn’t change much in the way of its traditions and hospitality.

More pictures from our Mongolian jeep tour can be seen on Jodi’s and Chris’ respective flickr pages

2 Responses to “Part 2: Jeeping it through Central Mongolia”

  1. Nomada23 says:

    Wow! Great post! Makes me want to plan my future stay in Mongolia for longer than I thought.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    So beautiful! I’m glad you gave those cops the old heave-ho. Brave! We never had to do that on the trip, but I was prepared with my fake laminated license!