I’m sorry I’ve been away for a number of weeks! I’m in the process of moving back to the United States for a couple of months, and have been at little bit distracted, to say the least. However, once I’m back, I’ll be able to write much more often I hope and can finish up these Mongolia posts for you all!
Anyway, on to the post! Day three in Mongolia turned out to be one of our bigger days in the country. I had been looking forward to camels and dinosaurs, both which were accomplished this day along with an unexpected and magical experience to close out the day.
The day began with a drive to The Flaming Cliffs. This area is so named due to its vividly red rocks and dirt, which apparently during sunset from a distance, give the appearance of being on fire. This is a famous paleontologist site due to it being where the very first dinosaur eggs were ever found, finally proving that dinos did indeed hatch from eggs. Many other huge fossilized dinosaur remains were also found, most of which are on display in the history museum in Ulaanbaatar. I’m a big dino fan and was thrilled to be wandering around this area. We were the only people in the vicinity and were free to explore and climb as we so chose.
The landscape was to die for, while the silence was deafening. The vast blue sky clashing with the red rock made this place one of the most unique areas I’ve ever seen first hand. We could have stayed for hours, but sadly had to crawl back into our van and jet off towards the next destination.
After a couple more hours of driving through a gorgeous valley, we stopped in the biggest city in the vicinity. When I think “city” I think Hong Kong, well, Mongolia has a very different interpretation of that word. In Mongolia, it’s more like anywhere where more than three families live and maybe a store or two. We made some friends with the local dogs, used the most terrifying “toilet” in the world, and got a huge lunch in a ger restaurant. Seriously, Mongolian portions are larger than American. You’re actually expected to not finish it all because that shows that your host provided enough to eat.
This was one of the most beautiful gers we had seen yet, with intricate designs up and down the roof poles. In almost ever ger there is a rope zig zagging between the poles and the cloth roof. This rope represents the marriage of the couple who own the ger and signifies that they will stick together no matter where life leads them.
Next, we drove out further into the heart of the Gobi until we could finally see the sand dunes. The Gobi isn’t like the Sahara where sand dunes abound. The Gobi Desert actually only has two stretches of sand dunes, but they were awe inspiring to behold. We pulled up the ger where we would be staying for the night and, after having some milk and Mongolian bread with the owner of the ger and watching a bit of a Korean drama on his black and white TV, we went out to meet our camels. Yes, it had finally arrived. Riding camels was my number one must-do on this trip and it was finally happening! As we walked closer, the owner of the camels motioned for me to come first. He brought me through a small gaggle of brown camels over to the only blonde one. Wonder why? We really were twins. I immediately began debating whether to name him Grace or Falcore, but was quickly interrupted as I was instructed to mount the animal. I must admit, this was no where near the difficulty of climbing onto an elephant, but the rush was still there.
Once we were all on our perspective camels, we formed a line so that our beasts wouldn’t get any ideas and decide to go rouge. This was one of the most surreal experience of my life, if I’m honest. There we were, on the backs of camels, striding next to these absolutely massive sand dunes, in the middle of nowhere, Mongolia. It was much like when I was lucky enough to ride an elephant through the jungles of Thailand – how did I get here? I had been dreaming of this trip for years and only then did it really hit me that I was actually there. It’s not many times in life that our dreams truly, truly come true, so when it happens it’s certainly a significant moment. This privilege was not lost on me.
After about an hour of gently bumping up and down along the sandy ground we arrived at our destination: the second tallest dune in the Gobi. We were told that it was just over 200 meters and now it was time for us to climb. I had gone bungi jumping early in the year and the jump was 234 meters, but for that one I had only had to take an elevator to the top, this would be a serious climb. We quickly removed our shoes and were off. I’m immensely competitive when it comes to hiking so I instinctively took the lead. This was unlike any hiking I had ever done in the past. You know how tiring it is to run (or even walk) on the beach for to long. The sand just drains your energy? Well, it was like that, but x1000 and for an hour or more. I had to sit down multiple times and I regretted bringing along my backpack. At least the view was stunning.
Once I finally made it to the top, the sunset was about to begin. We made ourselves comfortable in the sand and waited to see the world turn all sorts of unconventional colours. We were not disappointed. This was a moment that wasn’t in the itinerary and was completely unexpected but a profound experience none the less. I felt like I was in Aladdin or on Tatooine or something, it was an out of body kind of thing. This is only supposed to happen to those adventurers or National Geographic sponsored photographers – not a normal person like me! I drank in ever moment until the sun finally made its bow and dipped behind the horizon.
On the climb down I had much to ponder and reflect on. Without a doubt, this was one of the best days of my whole life and I hope I can someday share it with the likes of my grandchildren. Any fear or hardship I felt when planing and executing this trip to Mongolia were all washed away with this single, magical moment. That night, as I gazed up at the milky way, my desire for exploration and adventure overflowed and washed over me.
Till next time…