Day 18: Ulaanbaatar + Hustai National Park (August 11)
*photos to come later*
With breakfast planned for 8:30am it was convenient that woke up naturally around 7:50am. It was cool inside the ger so I was grateful to have many blankets. I lazed around for a short bit more and then packed up my bags. Dave started his morning with a number of stretches and didn’t seem to make any effort to do it quietly. I opted not to say anything about since I know he wouldn’t have changed his behavior anyhow.
Breakfast was quite good. I had the bread with pesto again, orange juice, squash, cabbage, red beans, and mushrooms. With breakfast finished we finished packing up (some of the laundry was still wet, unfortunately) and drove 80km back to Ulaanbaatar. Coming into town we stopped at an outdoors store in hopes of finding me sandals. I tried on a couple of pairs, but since I’m pretty picky when it comes to footwear decided against them.
From the store, we drove a short distance to the Chinggis Khan Square which features the parliament building of Mongolia. While we were in the square there appeared to be a reunion of Pioneers which were a group of individuals that participated in a program similar to Scouts in Canada. We then took a short walk to explore the Mongolian National Museum. The museum was quite comprehensive and went through the history of Mongolia through the ages. My favorite parts were seeing the different musical instruments and outfits. I also found myself thinking about Dungeons and Dragons a lot while I saw some of the armor, weapons and travel materials. It was also neat seeing some of the historical artifacts and information from the Soviet Era of Mongolia.
Around 1ish we went for lunch at a place called Mongolian Nomads. It was again a four-course meal. I’m not sure if this is the norm here or not, but it’s been quite nice – especially after being worried about the food. I had a nice simple salad, pumpkin soup, tofu and veggie teriyaki dish. Dessert was pineapple and local cranberry (known as rock berries). The others had cheesecake for dessert and potatoes and mutton in place of the tofu dish. Dave spent the vast majority of the meal staring down out his phone since the restaurant had free wifi. I checked one message from Shantel as I was leaving and sent her a quick one.
After lunch, we made our way to Gondan Monastery. It is the largest or one of the largest monasteries in Ulaanbaatar. Like many of the other temples, there was quite a large Buddha statue in it. The temple also featured several prayer wheels in it. Another building I. The complex was filled with monks chanting and playing instruments. I think perhaps the most interesting part of the experience though was hearing Tugi’s take on it all. He seems to be a strong proponent of science and doesn’t have much patience for religion. He said unlike in other countries religion isn’t a divisive factor here in Mongolia and that more and more people seem to be less serious about it.
Once we finished the quick visit to the monastery we made our way 85km in the opposite direction from which we came towards our ger camp for the night in Hustai National Park. Reintroduced into the park successfully in 1992 were the native Takhi horse breed. Tugi explained that they are genetically distinct enough that they can’t breed with other horses. It took much longer to drive the 85km than it would have back home since the road conditions are quite poor (often dirt) and the speed limit in them is 80km/h. Once we arrived we arrived to our campground (around 5:40pm)we made plan to meet for dinner and the go out into the mountains. We then spit up between the three gers available to us. Today was my day to get a ger to myself so I took one of them. Kim split one with my brother, which left David and Jamie to take the other.
Dinner was at 7pm tonight so we took some time to look through the souvenir shop. Nothing jumped out at me, but Jamie and Kim bought a few things. Next to the souvenir shop was a really great information center. There was a lot of great information about the park wildlife, birds, reptiles, and plant life. Particular attention was given to the Takhi horses. We were also able to get some laundry done which was quite convenient. It cost about 8000 Mongolian (I think around $4) to wash the 5 items I wanted to be washed. Dinner itself was a cabbage salad, rice, potatoes, beets, and dessert was pineapple.
Once we finished dinner we watched a short informational video about the park and then went out for a short bit to find some of the Takhi horses. It didn’t take long before we spotted a family of them together. It was pretty amazing to see the horses in the wild and I was keen to get as close as possible. The others observed from a distance as I approached as close as I could without disturbing them. As I got closer the others called to me, but I didn’t hear them at first. When our guide Tugi called to me though I heard him warning me to be careful as he noticed the stallion was preparing to charge me. I slowly backed and thankfully avoided what would have probably been a pretty unpleasant experience. After observing horses for a bit we made our way back to camp as it was quickly getting dark and the roads would not have been safe to drive at night since they were filled with potholes.
Back at camp we all took our time getting ready for bed. I tried to identify some of the stars or in this case, I think planets in the sky, but it was a guess at best. I felt pretty certain I could see Mars and Venus though. In my own ger tonight I’m unsure what the others did to keep busy, but I spent the time before sleeping writing and listening to music. I went to bed early tonight as breakfast is planned for 7:30am tomorrow and the expectation is that we are packed up before then. The camp staff came to start a fire for me in my ger before bed and the beautiful smell of campfire filled my ger as passed out for the night.