August 02 - August 18, 2011
M  O  N  G  O  L  I  A
Gobi , Altay Mountains & Hovds Gull Tour
Group Journal Day 05
Submitted by
James Caldwell
Aug.06, 2011 Saturday

Itinerary:  Leave the Ger camp at 08:00. Drive through the Gobi Desert. visit the sand dunes. Visit nomads. After lunch the flaming cliffs and the desert "forest". Overnight at Gobi mirage ger camp.

I rose early, about 5:30 in the morning, to photograph the sunrise and discovered a number of people had already found seats and were awaiting the dawn. Although not a spectacular sunrise, a few passing clouds reflected the early morning light and a dry gentle breeze was blowing across the open desert. The sun peeked over the distant horizon about 6:00 am and the light quickly turned harsh and the temperature began to rise. After breakfast, we boarded the two 4x4s and headed across the Gobi to visit a nomadic family. The first ger we entered is best described as a distillery to make a type of vodka from camels milk. The fermented milk was boiled over in a large metal pot and is called aarul. We all sampled the thick, creamy orom which forms on the top of the boiled milk which tasted somewhat like a warm yogurt. It could almost pass for a cream base for mushroom soup. Below the large pot, the steam from the boiling fermented milk is collected as a form of Mongolian vodka. The next ger was the family dwelling and we gathered there to ask questions and sample the warm vodka, a dried bread product and dried camel milk curd called aaruul. They must have known I have a lot of Irish in me because once the vodka bowl had been passed around, they brought it back to me and offered a second helping. Of course I couldn’t refuse! From the questions that were asked, we learned that the nomads lead a very difficult life – very harsh winters and they lose many domestic animals every year to wolves.



The three essentials in a ger :
toothbrush and corpucane used as shoe brush stuck  in the ribs of the ger
and a telephone

We passed out our gifts of pens and reading glasses and purchased some handmade crafts that the family sold to supplement their income. This particular family also maintained a large herd of camels which they charged the tourists to ride through the nearby sand dunes.

We each timidly picked out our camel. I approached mine and bid him (her?) a cheerful hello. I decided to call my camel Joe. Joe the camel. Anyway, he turned his head slowly toward me, emitted a camel version of a growl, then belched in my face and disdainfully looked away. We were going to get along just fine.

I quickly discovered that riding a camel, especially a two-humped camel is really no problem at all. Getting up and getting down, however, are quite a trick. Sort of like riding a slow motion mechanical bull. Anyway, once he was up and somehow I managed to stay on, Joe gave another loud belch and then immediately reached his head around and scratched his nose on my leg. Joe then managed to emit every kind of whine, grunt, belch and guttural cacophony that a camel is capable of making. I wonder if camels inspired throat singing? In addition, as our bizarre camel caravan was led through the sane dunes, Joe couldn’t pass a shrub or bush without stopping to sample the local cuisine followed by a loud belch each time. I’m glad we remained far enough back from the rear quarters of the group we were following as I had absolutely no desire to listen that symphony.

After the ride, I managed to stay on while Joe plopped himself onto the ground. I offered him a cigarette, but received the same disdainful look, growl and burp that started our brief relationship. Joe’s disdain will remain a highlight of my trip!

After lunch at a local ger camp, the group broke up. Most of the group headed to the flaming cliffs while Meli, Carolyn and myself stayed behind in order to photograph the cliffs in late afternoon light. The cliffs were amazing and in our vivid imaginations we could see dinosaur bones everywhere and I think I saw Roy Andrews, whose team discovered the first dinosaur nests here in the late 1800s, walking through the narrow valley.

The natural ikebana of the Gobi desert
the red flowers closed seconds after we took their picture

After dinner, we managed to coerce our driver into singing some native Mongolian songs which we repaid by singing some traditional American folk songs such as Home on the Range. Somehow that got the French group in the camp going and the day ended in a mix of songs in many languages floating off into the starry night.

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