After 4 hrs of waiting to be collected, two breakfasts but no lunch, we left the city of Ulaanbaatar for the Terelj National Park. Our driver and his wife stopped for meat, potatoes and a large crate of vodka. Entering the national park, we passed people selling fresh milk in coke bottles, and freshly skinned sheep skins, out the front of the family ger. We drove past all the tourist camps, past where the bitumen turned to gravel. This is beautiful, I said, I’m so glad we didn’t go with some organised tour group.
We ate, and slept. Our first night in a ger…
Baby Boy woke soon after 6. It was bitterly cold. He ran about on the wet grass oblivious. After 10 minutes we could all be found sitting on our beds wrapped in blankets trying to stop shivering. The roof of the ger was open, it was no warmer inside than out, the fire had gone out hours earlier. We already had all our clothes on.
Thats it! I said, we are going back to the city now . This is ridiculous. How can we be expected to move our fingers in this weather. I need a cup of tea!
By 10 am the sun was out and it was glorious. The scene was full of bright colours and clean air. The gers are white with pretty blue patterns around the base, the doors are painted orange.
Everything is so green. We walked to the river and Sparky did lots of racing through streams in her chariot.
‘That will be cool footage’, said Chris, ‘Film me while I do it again going the other way!’
Some of our kids swam with the local kids, the water was so icy Chris took Sparky in but they only got up to their ankles. We walked back for lunch, and ate hot soup and stale bread in the bright sun. We made the children nap out of the sun as they were all burnt.
That’s it, I said to myself. We’ll buy a big Russian 4WD truck with a heater and big tanks, and drive all over Mongolia and Russia and Europe. We’ll fry our own bread and buy sacks of potatoes and fresh milk by the road. We’ll navigate by GPS and the stars and learn enough of each language to stop and chat. We’ll buy half a sheep at at time, and strap it to the bull bar to keep cool, and hack bits off when we need them.
The sun went down and we got super cold, even with all our layers on. We lit the fire and warmed the ger, but decided we must be stupid. How could we both shut the roof, and have the chimney going out? We tried removing the chimney and simply covering the hole with a tuna tin. The ger filled with smoke. We tried putting the chimney back, and closing the roof as close as we could, but then freaked out that the heat of the chimney would set fire to the cloth. Besides the rain still came in. Eventually we just let the fire die, and trapped in what heat we could. We retreated to our sleeping bags.
Thats it! I said to myself, I’m gonna be one of the those travelers who chase summer around the globe, and never wear more than a t-shirt, and never see the cold…and Mongolian summers clearly don’t count! This is ridiculous. Even with the two small boys in my bed, and even as we warmed each other, it was a long cold night.
Chris, Tintin and Meena went horse riding the next day. I stood in the rain long enough to take this picture of them getting ready, but not long enough to get the camera wet and capture them riding off.
When they returned, two hours later, I instantly treated them for hyperthermia, stripping off wet things, toweling them down, putting them in dry things and straight into their sleeping bags, with a warm sweet drink. They couldn’t move their fingers.
Finally our hosts fixed the roof. Turns out we weren’t stupid, there was a piece of the ger missing. They nailed it on in 5 minutes. I got the fire blazing and started to dry the clothes. We were toasty warm that night.
Thats it! I said, we can do this! No worries.
The next day, the outlook was for days more rain. Sparky’s blender battery was flat and we had only a day’s worth of blended food. I was out of milk, and couldn’t face coffee without it. There were cows every where, but nobody seems to drink the milk ! Our devices were flat, dying with them all the e-books we would have otherwise happily read aloud, as we sat in the warm ger listening to the wind and rain and galloping.
That’s it, I said, we are going back to Ulaanbaatar a day early.
Fast forward a week later. We’ve been on a horse ranch for five days. I had a two hour ride the second day, but as Baby Boy was on my back, we only walked slowly. It took three days for my sore butt to recover. Far out! My whole body ached the next day, from riding stiffness, from sleeping on the rock hard ‘bed’, from the cold. I’m feeling old. Pathetic.
Plus, we had low expectations for the Monglian food, and they’re rarely been exceeded. Today was a low point. We had these stodgy tasteless dumplings full of gristle, in thick floury milky warm-ish soup. I didn’t eat mine.
“Just eat what you’re given Mum, it’s food’ said Meena.
Thats it! I said, I’m never saying anything to my kids I wouldn’t like them to say to me! I asked for bread and jam like a spoiled three year old.
Tintin and Meena have been riding daily, galloping out over the steppe, rounding up cows and milking them by hand. Yesterday it was my turn. I was given the oldest slowest horse, for which I was secretly pleased.
I spend half an hour saying ‘choo, choo’ kicking, and wacking him on the back with the straps. He would not move passed a very slow walk, and kept stopping to eat grass. He knew I had not a clue. Eventually the horse guy with us chased him and got him to trot, then canter.
I freaked out. I mean, it was just too fast, and I had misgivings about my centre of gravity. I honestly felt like I was going to go flying off. Plus he was going the wrong way. ‘Drrrrrrr’ I said, and brought him to a stop.
That’s it! I said. I’m just not a horse rider. Maybe there’s something wrong with me.
‘Tintin!! Meena! Come back here!’
I handed my horse to Tintin, who’d been double banking on Meena’s horse. Of course he made it take off straight away. Amazing.
I slowly walked back to the ranch, while two of my big kids rode off together, feeling no fear.
Thats it! I said, I am reconciled to being one of those passive mums, who looks on from the sidelines. For the first time in my life, two of my kids have expertise that I don’t have. They just love the riding and they can do it well. Turns out Mummy is scared of riding horses.
We’ve been six days on the ranch without a shower, except the freezing rain. Its been wet cold, and with insufficient palatable food, I’m ready to go back. There’s something about breasteeding with freezing grubby baby hands grabbing my poor exposed torso….
And I just found out we ate tripe yesterday. That explains the gagging.
Two of my children love it and want to move here. Turns out I’m not so hardcore….