Mum's big adventure!
on Sarah in Mongolia (Mongolia), 18/Jun/2010 14:25, 34 days ago
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So apologies to all of you who haven't heard from me for a week, but Mum was visiting on her big adventure! Her first Solo trip since her elective in NZ before I was born!!It was a jam packed week! I gave her Friday morning off after her late night arrival (and because we stayed up late after that talking!) but then we were in full motion. After she had her first Mongolian meal of Mutton (which she didn't find a love for!) with my colleagues we headed out in the sunshine to Choijin Lama temple (which may have given her nightmares) and the Natural history museum where we saw some amazing dinosaur fossils - to see so many fossils that have been found in Mongolia in the last 100 years was amazing. Then it was out to meet some other VSO volunteers for dinner at the Bull hot pot restaurant. We had a lovely dinner and then headed to Ikh Mongol for a drink in the beer garden and Mum got a chance to learn a little about the health system in Mongolia.On Saturday my colleagues had decided to take us to the countryside and I had no idea what the plan was! It was a fantastic day. We headed to the massive Chinggis Khan statue where we saw another fantastic museum in the base and then we took a lift up the horses tail, walked through his belly and posed on the horses head! Then it was back in the car and we headed back to the time of Chinngis Khan at the 1300 theme park. I was worried it would be very tacky, but in fact it was very well done. We visited a number of different camps - a Shaman camp, a farmers camp, a book camp etc and dressed up in the various costumes, got our names written in traditional Mongolian script and played traditional games. Our day finished at the kings palace where a visiting dignitary had organised a mini Naadam so we got to watch wrestling which was hilarious with the little dances they did in advance. Then we watched children as young as 5 or 6 participating in a horse race which may only have been 2km but was tough. This was followed by an archery competition. These are known as the 3 manly sports and the big Naadam will be held in mid July. After the Naadam we went to the kings ger and had another Mongolian meal so Mum got to try some mutton soup and fried mutton pancakes! This was the only wet day of the whole visit so being in the car driving around the Mongolian countryside between gers was a great way to do things.On Sunday we started our countryside trip to Khustai and Terelj. Khustai national park is about 100 km outside UB and it took us 2.5 hours to drive there with a short break (not by choice!) at a medical Ovoo which had plaster casts and crutches lying on it - so a good stop for a visiting doctor! I had warned Mum before she came that we would be staying in a very basic ger camp with drop toilets etc. When we arrived we discovered that it was a 5* ger camp with running water, toilets, 3 course meals, cutlery! But it was perfect for Mum and we were staying in a regular ger which was a great experience. In the afternoon we headed out on horse back across the steppe to visit a herder family. Mum got up her courage enough to enjoy galloping across the open Steppe and it was a great ride. The poor herder was asleep when we arrived, but he soon showed us true Mongolian hospitality with milk tea, fermented yoghurt and biscuits.In the evening (after we convinced the Mongolians Mum was vegetarian to allow her to avoid mutton) we picked up a tour guide (who is studying international relations!) to go and see the Prezwalski horses. These are wild horses which were extinct in Mongolia because they were all transported to Europe for the zoos. In the 1990's the started a reintroduction programme and now there are around 300 living in Mongolia in their natural habitat. Khustai parks is one of the areas of reintroduction and we assumed we might catch a brief glimpse of them during our drive. However as we arrived at the watering hole just before sunset there were 4 herd of horses making their way down. Out of 300 horses we saw over 30!! Including a couple of foals, one who looked like he had just been born today! They were beautiful and made an amazing sight. Definitely worth a visit if you are in Mongolia! Although I got a lot of great pictures of the horses the marmots were a little more elusive - they would pose just long enough for me to get the camera out and focus but before I could take the picture they would disappear! Very frustrating!! But we saw an absolutely beautiful sunset over the surrounding hills.We had a lovely evening in the ger including lighting the fire which we didn't really need, and listening to the crazy Mongolians playing basketball in the dark!The next morning Mum and I left the guide behind to take a short hike up the hill surrounding the ger camp. It was amazing to see the grass that looked so green from the ger camp was actually bedded in sand and growing up throughout it are blue, purple, yellow and white flowers. On the top of the hill there were rocks and flowers that were the picture of the flower gardens people pay lots of money for! And we looked down into the valley over the green hills and over to the small sand dunes nearby.We headed next to Terelj national park which was a long drive, and even longer with the guide questioning why we were not keeping him for the trip. The reason was we were heading to the Terelj hotel, the only5* hotel in Mongolia to relax and enjoy good food and a spa experience! He didn't quite get it. The hotel itself was phenomenal, so different from my usual lifestyle in Mongolia! The pool was refreshing, the sauna and jacuzzi relaxing and the cocktails delicious! The food was great too - the first time I have had fish in 8 months!! All imported of course but a wonderful treat!The spa was also a wonderful treat and we left the hotel feeling clean, relaxed and refreshed. Unfortunately due to car issues that relaxed (and clean!) feeling didn't last too long in a smelly small car with no suspension. But we did make it back in one piece. We had a quick turn around before heading out to the Moonstone cultural show. We arrived in an unassuming theatre but they put on a great show of traditional dances, music and contortionists, all in colourful traditional costumes. It was a great introduction to Mongolian culture for both me and Mum!Oe of the big draws of Mongolia is the souvenirs - cashmere, felt and kazakh crafts. So of course we had to go shopping! Our first port of call was the cashmere shops which are a bit off putting as they are out in the factory district - not such a salubrious looking areas. And as Mum and I didn't have a landcruiser to travel between the shops we walked and took taxis - making us stand out a little from the other shoppers. But we had a successful morning of shopping before heading to visit the book ger I have set up. This was a visit to a ger district as well which was a good thing for Mum to see and there were plenty of children using the room so I am pleased it is working so far!As it was Mum's last full evening we treated ourselves to cocktails at the top of the MCS tower overlooking UB and then dinner at the French Bistro. The cocktails were amazing and the food was absolutely divine (as was the wine - I will have to bring my expectations down again) It was by far the best food I have had in Mongolia so far! And that I will have I am sure!Because Mum's plane didn't leave until 11pm we had a whole full day to finish everything up. We started with a visit to one of the health projects a VSO voluneer is running in a family group practice. As Mum is a GP she wanted to visit the equivalent of a GPs surgery while she was here. And we did visit one of the painfully average ones, where Mum got to watch an innoculation morning - and I avoided looking at the needles! There was a complete lack of privacy, training and organisation but it gave her a real exposure to health care in a ger district in Mongolia.We had time to squeeze in a little bit more shopping (for felt, kazakh products etc) before a visit to one of the working monastrys in UB - Gandan Monastery. It has a massive gold statue inside the main temple but it is also more peaceful and tranquil than the choijin lama temple museum and it was good to let Mum see a working temple.Unfortunately we ran out of time and Mum had to return home and I had to go back to my regular volunteer life. There were tears at the airport but not too many!!But it was great to share my Mongolian experience with Mum even for a short time and I will miss Mongolia and my wonderful colleagues and friends when I leave. I have only 6 weeks of work left and lots to achieve before I finish, and 5 weeks of holidays, so it won't be too long until I am home again.