Day 17: Ulaanbaatar to Terelj National Park
*photos to come later*
At 9am I woke up to find my phone not charged since the power in the room was off in the night as we’d removed our card to turn off the lights. I showered quickly showering and then went down for breakfast. Dave apparently had gone down earlier and Kim and Jamie had as well. Breakfast at the hotel had a couple of vegan options, but not as much as I’d hoped for given that we paid for it. At 10am our guide and driver picked us up and we were on the road. It looks like we’re leaving the city today which wasn’t in our itinerary and screws up my plans of buying sandals today since I threw out my other pair out in China since the buckle broke and they were so worn down.
Our guide (Tugi) told us a bit about Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia. He told us a little about the weather, and that 40 percent of the country lives in Ulaanbaatar. Dave interestingly pointed out that in some of the cars in the road have their wheels on the left and some on the right. The driver explained this is in part because Japan is so close and that they drive the opposite side as us back home. Our guide us pointed out a massive local black market nearby and about some of the things that Mongolia exports (coal, copper and oil were a few). He explained that China has such a large demand for coal that they export a lot to do it. Early in the ride as we made our way out of the city we stopped to buy a spare tire in case we get a flat as some of the dirt roads are apparently quite bumpy and uneven. Even though it only took a few minutes I can’t help but be annoyed that this wasn’t done in advance. If they were prepared it certainly should have been. Ulaanbaatar isn’t a particularly pretty city from what I saw of it leaving today, but it does appear to sit in a bit of valley which was nice.
Leaving town we stopped in a grocery store where our guide bought us water and some of the others bought snacks. Kim and one of my other brothers made an effort to get lots of vegan snacks which was quite nice. Unfortunately, they spent a lot on dried fruit which isn’t something I particularly like. I know I was in a sour mood, but again I couldn’t help but wonder why the water wasn’t already purchased. Whenever I expressed my frustration to the others (minus Dave) they all just sort of told me that this is the way it is and that I just need to deal with it and not to talk about since it would just bring others down. Not exactly the support I’d hope for from my family. In fact, it actually just made things worse and made me feel like my feelings were invalidated.
While driving our guide told us a lot of different information about Mongolia. He told us while driving that in 1778 Mongolia was the first country in the world to put measures in place to protect a mountain. He also told us about how during the Cold War that the Soviets had a large military presence in Mongolia with tanks, planes/jets, and an army. He explained now that China and Russia have a strong relationship which a different than at some points in the past. Talking about the farms in Mongolia he told us that they were all free range with the animals being free to roam almost anywhere. He told us that because the harvest and weather isn’t predictable that most live in gers because they may need to move if there is a drought or other issue.
The first stop in the tour was a small museum dedicated to Chinngis Khan that featured an enormous statue of him on horseback. It was constructed in 2006 to mark the 800th year of Mongolia. The statue is 40 metres high and is the largest equestrian statue in the world. Inside the museum, there are stairs and an elevator which allow you to come out on top of the horse and get a great view of the surrounding area. Also inside the museum were lots of paintings and life-size models of Chinggis Khan and his family. Large replicas of the different homes people in Mongolia have lived in throughout the year were also included. While we were here I also explained how my feelings were hurt to Kim and she apologized which helped to smooth things out. Outside of the museum some individuals with quite beautiful eagles had set up an area where tourists could take photos with the birds on their arms. I couldn’t help feeling sad at the sight of it. I tried to be empathetic to the idea that these individuals are trying to make living in a way that makes sense to them, but it just pains me to see animals turned into commodities for profits. I really hope they take good care of the birds.
Back on the road around 1:15pm we continued to make our way to lunch at the restaurant located in Terelj National Park, lying in the valley of the Terelj river 80km northeast of Ulaanbaatar. On the way I was feeling pretty nervous about what the options for me might be like. Lunch was served at 2pm and turned out to be a 4-course meal. It started with a salad that had dressing on it I couldn’t eat. They brought me another one with oil on it that consisted of just lettuce and croutons… Pretty lackluster. The others had a much more elaborate salad. Next was some soup. I had a mushroom noodle soup that was pretty simple, but fine. I was just grateful it wasn’t super salty like in China. The others had some other kind of soup… I think tomato. For the main course, I had some vegetables and mashed potatoes with more the pesto. I was pretty worried about the mashed potatoes having butter or milk, but the guide explained that he was pretty certain they didn’t have any. I still had my doubts (and based in the way my body reacted I think I was right) but had little choice but to eat it. Throughout the meal, there was some nice bread with fresh pesto that was vegan which was quite tasty. Dessert was a brownie. They brought me one with cream on it and when I explained I couldn’t eat they brought me another without the cream…and clearly didn’t piece together that the brownie would have had egg, milk or butter in it. It would have been less frustrating if we hadn’t been promised vegan options. During lunch, Tugi explained he learned English both here in Mongolia and in both Germany and Ireland. He told us about how he spent 7 years working at a restaurant in Ireland.
After lunch, I gave my phone a proper charge and we took an hour rest before going out to explore the park a bit more with our guide. We started off by going to “Turtle Rock” which is as you might guess a rock shaped like a turtle. We climbed up as much as possible without harnesses and took some photos. From here we made our way to see “meditation temple” in the hills. It was pretty small, but the lead up to it was filled with many signs displaying teachings and messages of Buddhism. There were a number of prayer wheels to spin as well. Painted quite largely on the rocks in the distance were different Buddhas. After exploring the area for a while we made our way back to the van and took the bumpy pothole filled road back the ger camp.
Back at camp a few of us washed some clothes by hand and then went all met up for dinner. I was quite pleased to see that everything provided for me for dinner (salad – much better this time, bread with pesto, a delicious curry dish, excellent french fries, and a fruit salad) was definitely vegan. During dinner, Tugi also gave us a breakdown for tomorrow and it became clear that day 1 and day 2 of our itinerary had just been switched around. This gave me some comfort and peace of mind. I expressed I was hoping to get sandals and he said he had a place in mind where he could take me to get a good quality pair.
The five of us then made our way to my brother’s ger where we played a round of Catchphrases on Dave’s phone. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. We were going to start another game, but then the hosts here came by to start a fire in the ger. Jamie then went to go shower, Kim went to bed and Dave and I went back to our ger where I finished up writing for a bit and waited for them to come by to light a for us. Once the fire was lit I got ready for bed and took a short bit of time outside to enjoy the opportunity to star gaze without much light pollution.