Choibalsan and a "spa" visit
on Sarah in Mongolia (Mongolia), 09/Jul/2010 14:12, 34 days ago
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Unfortunately my trip to the Gobi got cancelled due to extreme temperatures, so I reorganised and headed to Choibalsan to the volunteers stationed in Dornod. Dornod is a lovely place, typical flat Mongolian steppe, a very different type of scenery to the rest of Mongolia. They have good amenities and a lovely river, but it is 15 hours drive east of UB so not easy to get back in for visits.I stayed with another vol on her couch which was great. My first day there we got up at the crack of dawn (5.45) to go swimming in the river, which was so lovely and cool! I managed to get a few more hours sleep before I headed off to see some of the work the VSO vols have been doing up here. A young boy who had lost his leg due to cancer when he was 5 had been walking with an adult crutch and was told he couldn't have a prosthesis until he was 20! One of the vols in Dornod raised enough money to pay for him to get a prosthesis. He had just returned to Dornod and was walking around with a proper sized crutch. This is a huge benefit for this kid who is from a very poor family, and due to the discrimination against people with disabilities here in Mongolia he would never have been able to get a job. He will soon be able to walk without a stick and blend in with everyone else, play soccer and walk to school more comfortably.Then after a visit to the market, we headed to Anna Childrens home, a place set up by a local Mongolian for the kids who were on the street. There are 25 children living in the home between the ages of 6 and 18, and when they turn 18 they move into a transition flat. While they live at the home they grow vegetables in a garden the vols set up, and they learn sewing and computer skills. They have asked me if they could possibly get a book ger. The kids were absolutely adorable and it is a great place.The next day we had a slower start, thank goodness!! After a relaxed start E and I headed for a walk up to a russian pilots monument across the steppe. It was a beautiful walk out across the flat plains, through long grass, herds of cattle and horses and seeing lots of birds.I cooked dinner for the vols that evening who took such good care of me. Unfortunately E didn't have a corckscrew so it took us almost 45 minutes to get into the bottle of wine, so we really appreciated it afterwards. We discovered the next morning that we had left another bottle in the freezer and it had frozen and pushed the cork out - so obviously the way to open a bottle without a corkscrew!On Monday We went for a later swim at a much more reasonable 10am!! The river is the longest river in Mongolia and it was a little muddy and had a really strong current but it was cool and really refreshing!In the evening I was invited to one of the volunteers leaving do's out in the countryside at one of the communities she has been working with. They are homeless, live in a derelict building and are extremely poor. But they were so welcoming and they had cooked us a wonderful feast of Khorhog (Mongolian barbeque) which was absolutely delicious! It was a wonderful evening and we got to see the work the volunteers have been doing here planting vegetables to give them food to eat, and they are planning to build a kindergarten and to provide 10 gers to the families so they can have somewhere to live come winter time. We drove home in the dark which was absolutely crazy and we got completely lost in the middle of nowhere going along dirt tracks. It was madnesss! But we made it back to UB in one piece!!On Tuesday we started our trip back to UB via Dalad, a town near the Russian border in a landcruiser with 4 of us squished in the back seat. It took us 8 hours to drive there across the vast steppe where we saw loads of Eagles, white tailed gazzelles, cranes and all the other regular Mongolian animals. We passed a road that was set into the ground about half a foot, which Chingiss had built so he could protect his wife when she was travelling from the Chinese!! We then drove into Khentii where the landscape changed into hills, valleys and meadows full of wild flowers! It was beautiful! Unfortunately it was raining so the roads turned into slippy mud and we did a few 180 degree spins! Luckily the roads are pretty empty so we didn't hit anyone, or anything! We also passed the birthplace of Chinggis, so it was a very interesting drive!We stayed at a "spa" in Dalad. D and I had thought this would be a nice relaxing end to the trip. Unfortunately it was a Mongolian medical spa! So our first massage experience left us all with bruises!! But the view from the ger camp was absolutely stunning out over a lake surrounded by a pine forest which we walked through with horses all around. It was a beautiful place to relax.The next day we opted for the herbal bath (more like a puddle) and of course we were told to be there at 9, we arrived at 9.30 (allowing for Mongolian time) and we didn't get in the baths til 11!! Gotta love Mongolia. I then had a mud treatment which was basically an exfoliation, which left my skin very soft which was lovely.In the afternoon we went to the local Naadam. This is like a county show - they have wrestling, archery and horse racing where the riders are young children riding bareback with no helmets on!! It was a really fun afternoon watching everyone wearing their traditional clothes (these people are buriat so their clothing was differnt from that I have seen in UB) and participating in the games on the small stalls nearby. The female archers wore beautiful high heeled boots with their costume, but it seemed a little incongruous in the middle of a field!! There was such a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, it was a great relaxing afternoon.In the evening we went strawberry hunting. In the summer small wild strawberries grow in the forest and around our camp we found lots of little plants. They were really tasty and sweet and I am looking forward to finding some more on my next trip.On Thursday D and I got a ride with some locals back to UB in their little car. It was very kind of them to take us and they were lovely people. Of course the journey started with the obligatory farewells to family and friends, so we were picked up at 7 and didn't leave until 8. We also had to have vodka and milk tea at 7 am. It was not great way to start the journey.The scenery was stunning again through rolling hills and across the steppe. But I have no idea how we found our way as there are no signs in Mongolia, you just stop every so often at a ger when you lose your way and ask which one of the 4 dirt tracks heads off to where you want to go! We had to cross a big river at one stage and we crossed on the most rickety rope ferry I have ever seen. But we stopped afterwards for a coffee on the rivers edge and D and I decided to go for a swim! It was lovely and refreshing and beautiful clear water. Our driver and his wife then decided to go in as well. A really nice break in our journey.At one point we ended up in a massive puddle, under a bridge with around 100 horses surrounding us as we tried to drive through them. It was a real adventure!! Unfortunately I couldn't enjoy it that much as I got really really really car sick.It took us 12 hours to drive 515 km (280 on bad roads took 8 hours, and the last 235 took 4 hours). So travelling in Mongolia isn't easy! But is was a great adventure and I will really miss it when I come home.