Sunday, October 12, 2014

Horseback riding, well sort of

October 12, 2014
Chris 0, Mongolian Food 1
Chris 0, Mongolian Horse 1

            So now for the news, and pictures that you have all been waiting for.  Sadly you are going to have to be disappointed.  I had the dubious experience of trying to ride a Mongolian horse while trying to not puke my brains out.  I did make it through the entire first day though.  Now the day began with a lovely car ride out into the countryside, and it reminded me of California, with all the brown grasses and hills.  The van we were riding was rather interesting in that it was jacked up high enough to make any hillbilly jealous.  The ride wasn't the smoothest in the world, but it was much better than I expected.  Several sections would even rate better than some of the roads back in PA, and that is saying something.  I would have included a picture or two here but my camera’s memory card is being a pain in the ass again and deleted most of them.  If I’m lucky they will randomly show back up in a week or two.  You will just have to make due with some google images.

The Van- (Ours was jacked up higher)

Mongolian roads

And a Train for Brook

Stop 1- Chingis Khan Statue

            The first stop of the day the Chingis Khan Statue (Genghis Khan) which is located 54km east of Ulaanbaatar.  While it first appears to be out in the middle of know where the location does have significance.  Legend has it that this is where he found a golden whip, and the statue is facing towards his birthplace.  The statue its self is 40m (131ft) tall and made out of stainless steel making it one of the tallest stainless steel statues in the world.  It is a very impressive site sitting up on a hill as you approach.  Sadly I didn't get to enjoy it very much, having lost my breakfast three times by this point watering and fertilizing some nice plants at a Mongolian truck stop.

            The base of the statue contains a museum of Mongolian Bronze Age history, with a large number of interesting artifacts.  It was also fairly informative discussing how vast the various Mongolian empires were.  It was also a bit of the museum of the weird with a thirty meter tall leather Mongolian riding boot and a super large replica of a Mongolian whip.  There were also several extremely large golden eagles on display outside the monument.  Despite my sickness it was still an enjoyable time, even if I did run the risk of causing an international incident by puking in the crotch of the statue several times.

Horseback riding

            Now for what you have all been waiting for, Chris on a horse.  Despite my misgivings about my stomach I pushed onward on my little adventure.  Now I've never been horseback riding before and the entirety of my advice / instruction was the following, hold the reins tight, don’t approach the horse from the rear, and turn the horse to the left.  The Mongolians were very helpful in getting my up on the horse, but that was about it.

Yes that is actually me on the horse

            As for the riding it was pretty enjoyable and the ride wasn’t as bad as I thought, initially at least.  The rhythmic bouncing of the horse managed to settle my stomach, or it was the growing pain in my but hurting more than my stomach.  Now my horse didn’t like to follow the rest of the pack, one point wandering off until the Mongolian guide came over and demonstrated just how to steer the darn thing.  This turned out to be surprisingly simple, just yank the head in the direction you want to go, and pull back hard to make it stop.  The final instruction turned out to be the most annoying. “Chu!”  This is the command to make the horse go faster, so I ended up going at a walk or slow trot, until I fell behind.  At this point the guide comes along and yells chu smacking the back of my horse and it takes off at a gallop.  So if I hear another chu ever again it will be too soon.

My Mongolian Guides

            Now for the scenery, the Mongolian Countryside is simply put gorgeous, sadly it is very hard to take pictures and ride a horse at the same time.  One hand on the reins, and one hand on the front of the saddle when it’s galloping, going down a hill, going up a hill, or basically doing anything more than a walk.  FYI- putting men who don’t know how to ride a horse on a horse for a long time could be an effective form of birth control.  The countryside is a lovely shape of golden brown which reminded me a lot of CA, and the grass isn't completely dead since the horses kept stopping for a snack.  There a number of rocky outcroppings, more than I would have expected.  The lichens and moss created some interesting colors and effects.  We traversed a fair number of hills and I felt bad for my horse after a while since I’m much bigger than your average Mongolian.  Now I don’t know how many hills we went over but we did forge three rivers, one of which you can see below.  It was fast moving but pretty shallow so it wasn't really a problem.  In total I think we covered 30 kilometers, but it didn't get rough until the end when we kept coming up to Ger camps, thinking oh this is our camp and just passing right by it.  The final bit was actually riding down the local highway and our buts were saved when the 2 of the Mongolian guides, the ones trying to make us go faster, stopped to help a broken down car allowing us to proceed at a nice walk.


Yes we actually crossed it

Ger Camp

            After 3 hours of horseback riding we finally arrived at the Ger camp and hoped off the horses.  Now my legs weren’t completely dead, but it was a little difficult walking right away.  Ger means home in Mongolian and is the traditional home for Central Asian Nomads.  While the Ger’s we stayed in had wooden floors and set on a concrete foundation of some kind, they are designed to be setup in about two hours.

            I have seen Ger’s being towed by trailers, which according to what I was able to discover is not a recent thing.  Apparently this was done for a long time but with horses doing the towing and may have occurred during the time of Genghis Khan.  The original Mongolian mobile home I guess.  I have also seen them dissembled in the back of a pickup truck, being driven around UB.  The lining of the Ger was a linen fabric of some sort, with what looked like leather or heavier fabric with fur in-between.  While it wasn’t that cold, probably around 40 F, the Ger was toasty warm once the stove was fired up.  The stove is similar to a Ben Franklin stove, and heats up the Ger pretty quick once you get it started.


Ger Stove


            Now I did try to sleep off my sickness after eating a few peanuts and some Mongolian stomach medication.  Sadly it didn't work and I lost it again.  Thus at this point I hitched a ride back to the city, which still proved to be an adventure as I experienced a Mongolian sobriety stop, as it was Sunday evening.  These stops are done due to the fact that according to the driver many Mongolians go out to the countryside and get drunk during the weekend.  I also learned that it is illegal to serve alcohol on Mondays.  In addition to that, the Mongolians have harsher smoking laws than we do in the US.  No smoking in any public building or business.  It is also illegal to smoke outside within a certain distance to most buildings.  The fine is around 75$ if you get caught, now enforcement does seem to be lack at times, at least in my part of the city.  One last thing, Mongolian gas prices, and man they are cheaper than the states, with one gallon running you a little over two dollars or so.  The prices below are per liter.

            Sadly the remainder of my week was pretty boring while I tried to recover from food poisoning and an extremely sore but.  Pat, it’s like our Spring break crew trips in college only it’s on your but instead of your hand.  I did manage to catch up on some of my anime viewing, but I was left thinking what the hell did I just watch.  No John it wasn't Evangelion that would have been a bit normal compared to Saikano and Btoom!