Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mongolia : Day 5

After a night of discoing in Moren, we thankfully made it out alive, and on time, for breakfast the next morning. Once we finished our last meal in our "dreamy" hotel, we packed up the van and headed to the infamous Uushig Deer Stones. These Deer Stones, generally made from granite or greenstone, are said to be approximately 3000 years old, and in association with burial mounds. From what I gathered, very little is known about the deer stones' exact age, function and meaning.

In one sense, my first-world mind was thinking as walking throughout the site, "How can something this valuable and full of history be outside without any sort of protection against erosion, or sun-damage!?" Then the other part of me, the one getting used to all this adventure, couldn't imagine these stones to be anywhere else. It was beautiful to admire these historical stones amid the natural Mongolian scenery, at the original location site rather than a museum.

After admiring the deer stones, and snapping a few pictures, we made our way to Toilogt Camp on Lake Huvsgul. 

I honestly, don't even know where to begin when describing this camp site. First of all...the teepees. Like, whaaaat?! They were amazing, inside and out. Ours even had a little prairie dog who lived below our floor. (I know, sounds cute... at first. Then once it was bedtime, and we turned the lights off I could hear it scurrying all around. Truth be told, I have no idea if it was scurrying around inside or underneath our teepee. Either way I was not a fan. Not only do I have terrible night vision, but I also have a vivid imagination. I just imagined waking up with this thing right next to my face, or underneath my covers. Thankfully neither happened)

After getting settled into our teepee, we put on our tennis shoes and went out to explore what all the camp grounds had to offer. First stop...the lake!

                             My very own Cairn, built by yours truly

Lake Huvsgul is the second largest lake in Mongolia, and the world's 14th largest source of fresh water. Not to mention it was COLD! It was so cold that we actually used it as a freezer, as we put a few of our beers and cola's in there to chill before drinking.

                                    Mother Nature's Freezer

As it started getting later into the evening, we decided to walk around the little trails to get some fresh Mongolian air. Each day I found myself falling more and more in love with nature. Which was kind of surprising because I never really considered myself to be an "outdoorsy type".

                            Snapshot from our evening walk among the forest

Another thing I loved about this campsite besides all the activities, (and the hot showers) were the people. Not only were the camp staff amazing, but all the people traveling through were so awesome. I loved hearing everyone's travel stories, and how they ended up in Mongolia. The reason behind people's travels are all so intimate and personal. I loved being able to connect with people I literally just met, on such a deep level. 

After a nice long, hot shower, I ran back to my teepee and snuggled up in the covers. You know those moments in life where you take a still shot in your mind, and tell yourself "don't ever forget this moment." This was one of them. 

As I went to bed that night, I was smiling from ear to ear. I first of all still couldn't believe I was in Mongolia, and secondly sleeping in a freakin' teepee. I was surrounded by the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen in my life, and people who I had grown to deeply love and care for. What could be better? All my wildest dreams had come true. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mongolia : Day 4

Day 4 started out a bit rainy, and cold. When our group met up for breakfast in the morning, everyone seemed a bit hesitant on whether or not to follow up with the plan of hiking to the extinct volcano of Uran. 

Thankfully, our group's thought process was "we didn't come all this way to NOT climb up to a volcano in the rain."

3 layers of clothing later, we were in the van heading towards the base of the volcano. 

Throughout our hike there were these beautiful pinkish, purple flowers that led up towards the crater. The juxtaposition between the bright colors, and the fog was absolutely beautiful! 

After 30 minutes of slipping and sliding around, our group made it to the top of the crater! We then proceeded to walk around the entirety of the ridge. I tried to take pictures, but it was just one of those moments where the pictures didn't do the scenery justice. So after a few attempts, I simply put away my camera and decided to enjoy what was right in front of me.

 The hike down with the wet mud, and tiny rocks definitely wasn't as easy as the trek up. Thank goodness for our trusty Drivers, and Guide Grace! 

 The view from our room in Moren

After an afternoon game of Volleyball at the ger camp at UranTogoo, we packed up the van and headed to our next destination in Moren. Our group was so excited as our guide, Grace, told us we were staying in a hotel. Immediately everyone's eyes lit up imaging a hot shower, electricity and wait for it...WIFI! It became a joke within our group as everyone was more excited for wifi than a hot shower. However, the hotel wasn't as dreamy as we thought it would be.

 My sister and I walked into our room and couldn't help but laugh in fear. (I say fear, but I'm slightly exaggerating. It was more of just a culture shock) The room was scented of cigarette smoke, and dust. The carpets were a bit grimy, to the point where Hannah and I didn't take off our shoes the entire stay. Sadly, the hot showers we were dreaming about was exactly that...a dream. The electricity was shut off for the day, leaving us with no hot water. However, I needed to shower...and might I add badly.

This was a moment of the trip I will never forget. I'll keep the story short, but I have never experienced a shower colder than this. As I was shrilling in the bathroom while attempting to wash off, my sister was in the other room saying in a condescending tone "You know Ceci, sometimes you are just going to have to take a cold shower." Little did she know, when it was her turn to shower how cold it really was. Luckily, I got to throw the same line she gave to me, right back at her. Sisterly love right there.

After dinner we had the choice of staying in the hotel room for the night, or going out to experience a Mongolian Disco. You can bet your bottom dollar we chose the second option. 

Hop to, we are at the "Mongolian Disco", which we all came to the conclusion we were just in someone's basement. However, we embraced the night out and took shots of the iconic Chinggis Khan Gold Vodka! Thanks to Chinggis, we all were able to have a good night's sleep in the not so ideal hotel room.


I also want to add, that I say all of this with love and a smile. I am in no way shape or form complaining in regard to the hotel room, as it was one of those experiences where Hannah and I came out with a changed perception. I wanted to include the bit about the hotel to show that not everything in travel is glamorous or as expected, but in the end it is all worth it. This was one of those days where I was thankful I got to experience everything I did, especially with my sister. It made us appreciate the little things we had back at home, such as hot water and electricity, that not everywhere in the world has access to. 

All of a sudden all my emotional problems back at home, seemed like small potatoes compared to the situation at hand. I am forever grateful to have experienced this trip, and especially this day in particular, as it altered my perception in a way that I will never forget.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mongolia : Day 3

On day 3 we woke up early to participate in the morning chants of the Monks at Amarbayasgalant Monastery, which was absolutely amazing! Right once we walked in we were greeted with the fresh morning breeze, and smell of incense. 

The Buddhist Temples in Mongolia were adorned with color and small details. Here is a shot of the temple right once we walked in. Even after two weeks of visiting temples, this one was my favorite in terms of decor. 

Around 9 am the monks started to fill in the temple and begin their daily morning chants. I wasn't able to get too many pictures or videos of the monks, but I did manage to get a quick clip of the chanting. I know it's not professional quality, but it's enough so you can get a gist of what the prayers were like.

After the Monastery, we started our journey North towards Lake Huvsgul. Lucky for us, some local cattle snuck in to wish us safe travels along the way.

Our second ger camp was one of my favorites in terms of activities. There was a lot of open land for some mid-afternoon exploring. After an hour or so of walking, my sister, Hannah, Amelie and I managed to hike to the top of a Burial Ground. Here we paid our respects and admired the beauty of Mongolia's landscape. 


After our day full of eating, driving and hiking, we retired early to prepare ourselves for the next day's morning hike. Might I add, any opportunity to hike was welcomed in our book as we were being fed like royalty throughout the two weeks in Mongolia. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mongolia : Day 2

Day 2 consisted of starting our "Big Mongolian Tour" by heading North towards the Amarbayasgalant Monastery. 

We had two 4WD vans throughout our trek that were driven by some very talented locals who had been driving the countryside for years. All I can say is thank goodness for 4WD (and sports bras) as the majority of the roads were unpaved and very bumpy. 

One thing I had to get over real fast was the idea of having a gas station for our bathroom stops. Since the majority of Mongolia is vast country side, our bathroom stops mainly consisted of views like this...aka whenever we had to go, we simply popped a squat out in the middle of nowhere. Very lady-like, I know, however this is what all Mongolians do. 

The ladies would go towards one side of the van, and the gentleman towards the other. Some days we were lucky enough to have a tree or a rock to hide behind, but on others we merely had to embrace the flat land, and just own it. Bare ass and all. 

After a few hours of driving North we made it to our first ger camp near the Amarbayasgalant Monastery. This tourist run camp had a dining hall where we ate all our meals, as well as community bathrooms equipped with hot water. We arrived at the camp around 4pm which allowed us to shower off, read a little, and get comfortable in our new home for the night.

Traditionally, gers are used for Nomadic Mongolians as they are fairly easy to break apart and transport to their Summer or Winter camps. The gers we stayed in usually consisted of 3 beds, 2 little night stands, rugs, and a cozy fireplace. 

Believe it or not, this photo was taken around 10pm. I loved how long it stayed light outside there. We spent the remainder of the evening playing traditional Mongolian games, and blowing bubbles throughout the ger camp. We brought little gifts along the way to give to the children and families we met throughout Mongolia. 

After laughing way harder than anticipated with the bubbles, we decided we should gift them to the children we saw playing around the camp. We found the camp manager, who was also the Grandpa of the family, and tried to communicate to him via hand gestures to give the bubbles to his grandchildren. He smiled, shook his head and started walking towards the children. As I made my way towards my ger I turned around, and low and behold I see the Grandpa playing with the bubbles all by himself, and smiling. It was the most precious thing I had seen in a while.

 It was at that very moment where I knew this trip was going to be a game changer.