Visit to the countryside
on Sarah in Mongolia (Mongolia), 20/May/2010 13:31, 34 days ago
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A whole post on a bus journey may have been too much, but I wanted to share the experience with you, and not post a mammoth blog post! So here is the second part, what I actually did on my holidays.The first stop was Arvaikheer, the Aimag capital of Uvurkhangai. There are 5/6 volunteers based there along with 2 of their accompanying parters mostly working in Health and National volunteering. The size of the town fluctuates during the year (more in the winter, less in the summer) but it is around 16,000 people. It is a pretty small town which was just the kind of place I needed to go to clear my head!The volunteers there were very welcoming. The first night we had ladies pizza night, which might not sound like much, but when your host has only one ring to cook on pizza becomes a lot more time consuming! It was great to catch up with all the ladies in Arvaikheer and hear what they have been up to.Because my hostess is vegetarian I had a whole weekend of eating vegetables! (For anyone who knows me well this is not normal behaviour!!) And I learnt a lot about cooking veg and more practically cooking on one ring - I hadn't realised how easy I had it!The two full days I spent in Arvaikheer it rained. This might sound like a point that would ruin a vacation, but as it was the first rain in 6 months it was fantastic! The first morning there we walked through the town to the look out and it was so nice to have the rain soaking my hair, my clothes and dampening down all the dust. The smell of rain, fire wood and earth was just such a reminder of home.In the afternoon to get out of the worst of the rain we went shopping! The market is made up of 10's of shipping containers, which somehow got here! Each one sells a different thing ranging from clothes, to ger equipment to house hold supplies. One of the great things they sell is second hand clothing! Even me with my massive feet was able to find a pair of boots for about 7 pounds. My friend also got a pair of boots so it was a very successful trip!One thing I found hard to deal with were the stray dogs everywhere. They were very friendly and generally harmless but a lot were starving, we even came across one little puppy who was so hungry he was eating cardboard. I was a real sucker and bought him some meat from a local stall, but I know it was just a stop gap. The thing is that due to the bad winter the people are starving, never mind the animals, so scraps are hard to come by because the people are eating everything they can get their hands on.Later in the afternoon one of the volunteers who had bought a car drove us out to a local monument. Arvaikheer was named after a famous horse of the same name and a monument was built in the horses honour. Here the locals bring the heads of famous horses that have died. It was a bit creepy especially since there was a pretty fresh head which stank! They also stick sweets and biscuits in the eye sockets and other holes in the skulls which I found a bit gross!! But the view from the monument was spectacular, with the rolling land, the hills and just the absolute lack of anything surrounding us.That evening we had a crazy thunderstorm. I had my fair share of thunder storms in Chicago, but this one was a doozy! At one point the thunder clapped so loud that the whole building shook - it sounded like a snare drum going off! It was also freezing now that the heating has been turned off so we curled up on the sofa with a DVD and a couple of duvets!The next day I went into work with my hostess. She works at the Uvurkhangai Diagnostic center which serves 4/5 aimags, a massive area. People will travel for days to get treatment, often on the back of a horse! It just didn't compare to any of my experiences of hospitals in the UK/Ireland. There were cracks in the floors which were breeding grounds for bacteria, the number of patients and the queuing to see the doctors, the lack of toilets for patients, it was all just a little overwhelming. There is one working defibrilator in the hospital, and only 2 nurses work in the ER - there is no dedicated doctor there. But my friend is doing a lot of good work down there. She is improving the management practices and has applied for a large grant to build a new ER with better facilities. So there is a lot to be done, but progress is being made.I then went for a walk out across the steppe which was just fantastic. To walk for 10/15 minutes and be literally at the end of the town, looking out across the fields was a great experience and then to just walk out across the endless plains was something I have been needing. I have been feeling very chlaustrophobic in the city and getting some time outside was needed. Because of the rains the grass was growing, the animals were eating and signs of new life were everywhere. It was still raining, sleeting, hailing and windy while I walked, but it blew the cobwebs away.I attempted in the afternoon to go to the museum, however the power was out, and stayed out for a few hours, so everyone was sent home from work early! Gotta love Mongolia! I had seen some little side cars around attached to motorbikes so I got a ride home in a side car which caused great amusement to all the locals. There aren't many blondes in Arvaikheer so I already stuck out like a sore thumb!In the evening another volunteer had her nightly soup night which is a great idea and gives volunteers a time to meet, socialise and relax in friendly surroundings. The only rule is you have to bring your own bowl and spoon!The next morning the beautiful Mongolian blue sky was back in business and I got a good walk in before leaving up to the lookout, then along the ridge of the hills, looking over on one side to arvaikheer and on the other to the wide expanse of countryside.After my interesting trip across country to Kharkhorum as mentioned in the previous post, I arrived in a much more touristy town. It was smaller than Arvaikheer and built around the ancient remains of Chinggis Khan's capital of his empire. The Capital itself, and Erdene Zuu monastry within are definitely worth a look. But the town itself is a little shabby and not of much note. In fact I had a dreadful time trying to find somewhere to stay. Nothing was open (its a Tuesday and only the very beginning of tourist season) and anywhere that was was too scary for me!!After walking around for a while I found the tourist ger camps and gave in and took a ger for the night.In actual fact it turned out very well. The camp was right on the bank of the River Orkhon, about 2 km outside the town (yes I did a lot of walking that day!). It was a beautiful area, much nicer than the town, and allowed me to spend the evening walking and then watching the sunset and the stars come out! On the top of a nearby hill there is a map monument showing the old Mongolian empire, which is pretty fascinating. But the main attraction for me was the view down over the valley, absolutely stunning!Unfortunately I had to come back to UB, but tomorrow I am heading out camping and rafting so there will be more tales I am sure on my return!