Ice Festival
on Sarah in Mongolia (Mongolia), 09/Mar/2010 06:09, 34 days ago
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On Friday 20th March we headed 26 hours north of Ulaanbaatar to Khuvsgul lake in a small Russian minivan which had heating that didnt work! Half way there we ended up in a snow drift in a ditch, and we had to push the van out of the ditch hoping at all points in time it wouldn't tip over! Eventually we got it out with all of us in one piece and we headed on. One of the 3 vans we were travelling with had some serious mechanical issues so we kept having to stop, and at one point we stopped to pick up bits that were falling off the van! Suffice to say it was a long and tiring journey but we made it in one piece.The ice festival is a traditional Mongolian festival on the second largest lake in Mongolia, aimed at local Mongolians, so the number of tourists here were much fewer. We stayed in a local tourist ger camp which had a sauna and lovely people who came in during the night to keep out gers warm. Thank goodness because it hit -46 one night when we were there. Our "bathroom" (hole in the ground) was about 1/2 a km a way up a hill which was not fun in the middle of the night, with yows (yak/cow cross breeds) running around! We had a kitchen and a dining hall where I proceeded to melt my coat at every opportunity. My coat is now more duct tape than material but it made it through the trip thank goodness!The day after we arrived we had a day off and went walking in the hills around the camp and went horse sledding in one horse open sleighs! We also had a short visit to the local tourist center where we saw taditional Mongolian skis and shaman paraphenalia as well as visiting the local shaman at his ger.The next two days were the actual ice festival which involved a multitude of activities including sliding on an ice sculpture of a slide, ice crashing - throwing 2 bits of ice at each other, stone throwing - throwing a stone at small targets 200 feet away, rope pulling - tug of war on ice, horse sled races and ice skating marathon. We also managed to get to see the baby reindeers which had come down from even further North! There were also some great little stalls selling local products which we of course felt obliged to spend money at!In the evenings they had an ice bar and a bonfire with a shaman ceremony. It was possibly the least safe bonfire I have ever been to with us all crowding round the pile of rocks which had been thoroughly doused with many liters, possibly gallons of lighter fluid. It was then lit with much ceremony before proceeding to fall over! No health and Safety there! There was then dancing and competitions held by fire light which was a lovely way to spend an evening.The ice festival was just crazy and it was absolutely freezing. We must have worn about 10 layers on each half of our body every day. There was no running water and we just wore the same clothes for the whole week. And of course we were also staying in felt tents which got pretty cold at night if the fire went out. Luckily our fire stokers were pretty good at keeping it warm enough.On the last day we went horse riding round the hills about the camp. It was great fun and we saw some lovely views out across the lake and just riding through the trees.And then we were back into the van for the long drive back. On the way back we were much less tired and so we had time to appreciate the fantastic scenery which was just amazing! We stopped at some reindeer stones which are: Deer stones are Mongolian ancient megaliths carved with symbols. The name comes from their carved depictions of flying deer. Their purpose and creators are unknown. Archaeologists have found around 500 deer stones around Mongolia. They were created during the bronze age (courtesy of wikipedia!). When we stopped at the reindeer stones we were immediately distracted by the massive herd of yak that were grazing nearby with their herder. It was a true Mongolian picture post card view.So I am now back in UB, defrosted and back at work. We have 13 new volunteer arrivals from all over the world and they have kept us busy between showing them around town, going out for dinner, trip to Terelj and generally enjoying having some new blood in our UB group!Aside from new volunteers I am back at work and things are looking up. I am going to be going part time with MEA and part time with another VSO organisation, posibly a trade union or an association for parents of disabled children. I am still doing some really interesting stuff with MEA, one of which is organising a teacher exchange between Mongolia and the UK, and also with Methody setting up some form of English debating program in the UK and Mongolia! On top of that I have more proposals being done, I held a full day workshop on fundraising strategy and still doing English lessons!