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1
Moscow

Today we begin our next adventure. We have decided to travel to Mongolia and have spent the last several months planning. Since Mongolia is so geographically large, planning transport to various destination is essential. We \240decided to break our trip into three parts.

Part 1: Working/living with a nomadic family.

Part 2: Gobi desert

Part 3: Western Mongolia (Altai Mountains)

Let me back track..... before Part 1 can begin we first need to make it to Ulaanbaatar (UB) Mongolia. There are two airlines that travel to Mongolia, Aeroflot and Air China. We decided to go with Aeroflot in which we would travel through Moscow then onwards to UB. A fairly short journey.

Flight SU2577N (LHR/SVO)

We were delayed out of Heathrow by over an hour so therefor we were close to missing our connecting flight from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar. We were directed through the transfer zone to a desk where ourselves and 9 other individuals were told that our connecting flight (that was still on the ground) would no longer be an option. At this point we did not have to get upset as an American women with her kids and husband began to absolutely lose it. Ranting, swearing, and utterly disrespecting the people who were trying to find alternative arrangements. After listening to this for awhile we were given tickets on Air China the following afternoon to Ulaanbaatar via, Beijing.

Since all of us were not visiting Russia none of us had the proper visas so us, plus the 7 other people were not allowed to move about freely.Think Tom Hanks in The Terminal. \240We hung out in the terminal for 3 hours (armed with food vouchers) and then at 10pm they gathered us up and corralled us through the bowels of the Sheremetyevo Airport underguard, every step of the way. We have never had our passports and boarding cards checked this much!!

Honey Cake and Tea (J got charged extra for a slice of lemon and a little milk for tea, feeling wronged and fooled )

At this point 5 hours have past since landing- very tired, but still smiling- delirium or what ya gonna do- eh (still underguard)

Imprisoned in Russia. We were then loaded/guarded onto a coach for transfer to the Hotel just past 11pm. Upon arriving at the service entrance of the hotel, we were herded to a desk that was setup in a corridor with a few rooms around it, bypassing reception and any other public areas. Little did we know this would be our sole movement zone for the next 12 hours.

We could not leave our room.... literally, there was a guard posted immediately outside all of our rooms and cameras. Breakfast(choiceless) was served at 9:30, in our room. Sadly, the fresh air and luxurious hotel leisure facilities was outside of the allowed zone.

Then at 1:30pm were were escorted on another coach and back to the airport.... and yes through the back enterance again

Currently I’m writing this during the 7 hour flight to Beijing. The flight attendants have been great as our special meal requests had not transferred. They have gone out of their way to find us alternative foods to eat. A lot is to be said when one compliments \240airplane food! Once we arrive in Beijing, it will be a 4 hr wait for the next flight UB.We will be arriving 18 hours later than planned.

At the hotel we were able to contact our host family and our ride (we were allowed wi-fi) and fortunately he will be able to take us to our family at 11 am on Monday morning (May 27th)

Yes I started telling this 2 days ago!

2
Beijing

We made it to Beijing, our pack which consists of Nora from Ireland, Anna from Germany and the two of us. We got in line to get our boarding passes for the last leg of our extraordinarily long travel days- 36 hours to be exact. \240Anna, myself and Jhanet obtained our tickets with no problems.....except our bag location is still a bit of a mystery. You’d think 36 hours is enough time for bags to be transferred. Nora for some reason was not in the system, which meant no ticket. After she began to melt down , we were able to help her purchase a ticket online. So now we all had boarding passes.... \240a 4 hour layover of waiting, turned into a 30 minute wait, with visa applications (for China),terminal transfers and ticket battles.

\240Nora & Anna

Big brother China- always watching

Airplane food has never tasted as good as it has on this journey!

Last flight......hopefully

3
Altanbulag

Well we finally made it to UB. Recap- London-Moscow-Beijing-Mongolia. Extremely tired and expecting the worst news about our bags which materialize after we checked through customs. They were still somewhere in Moscow and due to arrive maybe weds morning? Ok now what to do...... our ride Anand arrived a few minutes later then we decided to head to our family without any stuff. Anand agreed to pickup our bags and bring them to us when they arrived. So with only what we had on us we were off. We quickly realized that the paved road only went so far. Soon we were out in the vast Mongolian landscape not on actual roads heading somewhere. We traveled over very rough track, stopped once at a small market for some water then continued on for about 2.5hr. Then arrived at our home for the next week.

The greetings were brief and we were welcomed in quickly by being offered a salted buttered tea. Our host Biampia (I’m sure not spelling that correctly) speaks a few words of English but the communication is very limited. We sat in the ger and sat, definitely feeling slightly awkward but then slowly we were given certain tasks and as time passes I bet we will be given more and more. There were many folks that came by throughout the afternoon and we both felt a little like we were on display but only in a curious way not in an intrusive way..

The ger is very comfortable and we were given a platform to use as our space. There is a small stove where most of the cooking and washing is done. Water is stored in large barrels next to the ger.

A maize/rice porridge, infused with goat, as our first taste of Mongolian food. Dinner was a beef and vegetable, noodle soup.

Facilities are behind any shrub or hill of your choice. Such freedom

Jhanet on baby goat duty with Ganaa

This is a massive yellow dog (unsure of his name currently) who is just the biggest love. He follows us around and always leans against you.

So this evening we helped separate the \240baby cows after the milking and feeding. \240Hopefully our technique will improve in time, let’s just say capturing baby cows and dragging them into the pen for the evening proved challenging and I’m sure we were not very graceful

Apparently all you need is a stick and noise, as we later learned.

Michelle on baby duty?

Sleeping mats were laid out for the boys, \240Ju, Buimpai’s husband, Ganaa and her bother. Jhanet and I stayed on the one platform and Buimpai with the baby on the other.

Very cozy, Jhanet and I did not have any problems sleeping in this not to common arrangement for us. We were out like a light!

4
Altanbulag

This morning we awoke not knowing what today would bring and how much they would allow us to contribute. Everyone jumps up instantly from their sleep with a single word from Biampia- ‘JU’ Literally jump up into clothes and straight out. Ju and Biampia headed out to feed the baby cows and milked just a few. Then we helped separate the baby’s again and the mothers headed off to graze. Most of the other animals had by this point moved away from the camp. Next we were asked to clean up.

We jumped on this task real quick

Fermented sour milk based drink that is quite strong. I really liked it with a bit of sugar. Jhanet not so much

We filled up several bottles that they were taking them into town today to sell or trade.

Ju loaded up some goats (some alive and some not) for slaughter and the entire family went into town for a doctors appointment for the baby. Biampia translated in her phone that they would be gone for the night and we were to stay and help her brother (Baturtne) for the evening and that we would take the horses out.

Ready to hit the road.

We were then left alone for a couple of hours. We slept a little as we are still trying to catch up from our lost sleep. Then we took some more photos around camp.

These baby goats kept trying to break in- sometimes they had success

Baturtne returned and gave me a horse. We headed off to the river to water them.

The saddles are acutely different from anything I have ridden on before. They pinch you and pitch you slightly forward. My horse was a bit sluggish but that as I soon realized was due to the way I was riding. There is no posting and if you want the horse to move faster you stand up and if you want them to slow down you sit down. I was able to work that one out on my own.

Resting after our ride. These horses remain saddled all day everyday.

A good sized dust storm came ripping through camp which forced us all inside. It was incredible watching this front move through.

The big black dog has now accepted us. I did learn that their dogs do not have names. So Jhanet and I decided to call them Big Yellow and Big Black

Since we were harressed all day by these cuties, this evening was time for the orphans to be fed by hand. We jumped at the chance, now the harressment will continue but 200 times worse

Ju’s brother, wife and two kids stopped by and she knew a few words in English. We were asked some questions and it was the most conversation we have had so far.

Apparently the American with blond hair and blue eyes is worthy of questions like

Are you single and do you have babies😬

We had a great time as they fed me Mongolian vodka (the fermented milk drink)

Jhanet’s favorite

Again in the evening we separated the baby cows and could not find a lost one for the longest time. Baterne rode off to search but then I noticed a momma cow take off at a full run towards hill of high grass. The baby was hiding in there.... glad we found him.

Yep, same clothes as yesterday and the day before.😋

5
Altanbulag

Was a bit colder last night, and as soon as we awoke we helped get the momma cows in to feed the babies. Then pushed the babies away again before we had some breakfast.

So yes we did not tell our hosts that we are vegetarians and accepted that we might be required to eat meat in some form as to not cause offense. So the meals seem to mostly consist of noodle type stews with goat or beef bits in it.

Dinner last night- beef noodle soup

Breakfast- you guessed it, beef noodle soup, oh and bread.

Same as the past two days😬

Traditional Mongolia dress with various modes of herding transportation.

Then Jhanet got back to the cleanup from the nights evacuations

Down time in the sun

Baturtne returned after some time and once we figured out he wanted us to get on his motor bike with him we headed off to help Ju’s brother move their families ger. How amazing to get to see how these tents go up and hopefully help in some way.

Entire ger packed up

Jhanet’s new friend

All of the 80 roof supports had to be washed with soap and water, than rinsed. There are a lot!

The outer wall going up

Center support structure

Bit of a balancing act until the true center is found

Roof slats going in

Jhanet tapping in the roof poles

He’s riding a horse, if you can’t tell

A thin layer of cloth is laid down first

Then two layers (sides & roof) of heavy felted wool

Jhanet on baby duty. Apparently it’s a back killer

Putting on the second felted wall layer

Then a thin layer of plastic then canvas then a fine cloth for the outer covering.

All tied together with three rope bands

Handa the back killer baby, checking out her newly moved digs

Heading back to our ger with Baturtne on the motor bike.

Washing the dishes after dinner- beef infused noodle soup

Now all that is left to do is milking the cows, bottle feeding the goats and gathering the calves for the night.

This cow got really angry after having to stand there for so long whilst Michelle tugs at her udder

It is now at least 10:30pm and there are a total of 11 people in the ger, just having a chit chat. A taste of Mongolian social life.

6
Altanbulag

Last night was a late one. Mongolian vodka and beer was passed around with all the neighbors, cards being played made up a fun night. I am still wishing I could communicate better and do feel that I miss out on a lot but it’s still amazing to witness this culture intimatly. Sleep did not come quickly but soon enough we awoke to help with the morning chores. The standard separating out the baby cows after they had fed. Then we were asked to bring all of the goats and sheep into the pen.

They are wormed twice a year

The plan for the morning was to worm them all. Ju asked us to get every single baby in the pen (did you see that pen!!) We chased them down and brought them over to him one at a time to vaccinate/worm then Baturtne would mark them with paint. Both of us got really quick at grabbing goats and sheep, that took about an hour, we then moved onto the adult sheep and goats.

As we released them Jhanet had to keep herding them in the other direction periodically.

I was in charge of the tally sheet

First they get a syringe full of medicine and then an injection.

After several hours of sheep and goat wrestling we cleaned around the paddock then milked our three baby goats. Ok chores done for this morning.

We packed up and decided to go for a walk to the river to have a bit of a wash and see some other birds.

The river unfortunately was not used for washing. Few to many animals in there. We decided to wash with the water we brought with us.

We took a bit of a nap, that seems to happen every afternoon and then Baturtne and I took the horses to the river to water them.

Jhanet was asked to prepare the root vegetables for the rice dish. \240I enjoyed this meal the most so far even with the goat meat.

Beautiful evening to finish the remaining chores before we all settle in for the night.

Ju & Amina

7
Altanbulag

This morning seemed much more relaxed. We all slept in and I just had to help separate the baby cows again. Then we cleaned the yard and fed our babies.

Their bellies get huge after a bottle😊

Decided to take a long walk and rest by the river again where I am typing this. We are surrounded by all sorts of animals (birds, horses, goats, sheep & cows)

We walked by a herd of goats and sheep and were not sure if they were our families but then two baby goats came running up to us. We had to run away quickly so they would not follow us the rest of the day😊 one was Jhanet’s favorite little brown guy. They have a really strong bond....😍

When we got back to camp we helped clean the ger and then were all just resting when we noticed that Baturtne was carving some bone. A few minutes later Ju was stringing together the bones and then handed them to us, it was a puzzle. They all seemed to get quite a lot of enjoyment in watching us struggle. These are the goat bones we were eating off of last night.

Tonosh

The object of the game is to take the movable loop out from the whole chain and then, place it back at its initial position.

Played a lot with Ganaa this afternoon

Then soccer/ football depending on where you live. Ganaa has named us both Katataa. Apprently a word that does not exist, something he just made up.

Jhanet helps prepare the dinner for tonight

Dried beef is battered with a hammer from the bone, which is then used in a beef noodle broth.

I helped move the babies into their new pen.

8
Altanbulag

So after we went to bed last night, many people (mostly kids) came in and fell asleep. There were 13 people including us in the ger last night, plus one cat tied to the post. Very cozy.

All the children in Mongolia are required to go to school by governmental policy so Ju’s additional 2 boys go to school in the closest village which is the one we stopped at on our way here. Once of age they stay in town for school and come home on the weekends. If we understood correctly, it is Mother’s Day today in Mongolia.

His interaction with the children is fun to witness. The culture is so different. You can start drinking vodka at 11 months old (as we have witnessed) albeit Mongolian vodka (fermented cows milk) and beer as early as 4 years old.

Got some Big Yellow dog loving this morning, all he wants is attention, so much so that even when I’m finding a quite place to do my business he finds me and pushes me over. They are working dogs only and definitely are not pets. They guard the ger and livestock (basically an alarm system). Once they bark someone heads outside to see what’s about.

Jhanet was spreading out the poo pile this morning along with a little poo lacrosse for entertainment.

We investigated the small ger today and discovered the place where rabbits come to there end. Also found a stash of cashmere fiber that will be for sale or trade.

Beautiful sun dog this morning

Since there are so many kids about we are the constant new play mates.

Bubble blowing, soccer and playing with my iPad were on the schedule for this mornings activities.

There is very much a work-food-rest-lifestyle. Resting being on the heavier end of the scale. A very relaxed, but hard life.

Ju and his brother we starting to break in a new horse this afternoon.

We heard some distance thunder and could see some rain/dust coming in so we all gathered in the ger for it to pass than some of the kids went out and starting screaming due to the amazing double rainbow that appeared in the sky overhead.

Evening milking time

Dinner was being prepared for most of the day by Biampia with flat breads, potatoes, cold potato & pork salad, and a stir fry type beef and pork dish with rice. All the guest eat first and Ju and Biampia wait until everyone has had seconds and thirds before they eat

After dinner the Beer made an appearance in one cup, Jhanet was handed a drink and had to drink it down (she was a little slow) as everyone drinks from the same cup were waiting. Next was my turn (I was much quicker) then the cup continued around until it came back to us. Jhanet slammed the second one down no problem.

Big Black

Ganaa showing off

We decided tonight it was a good idea to give the gifts we had brought with us. Maple Syrup from New Hampshire and two small knives for Ju and Baturtne. They seem to go over very well and Ju could not stop looking at the knife and tasting the Maple Syrup. The knife even made it in his leather pouch he wears everyday out on the steppe.

The Mongolians do have a massive sweet tooth. After the beer, cake followed and then that was followed by Pepsi, moments before bed time. A day filled with play and food and some more food.

9
Ulaanbaatar

Today is our last morning with our Mongolian hosts Ju & Biampia. We can truely say that we have immersed ourselves into the real nomadic Mongolian culture. What an experience. \240It would be interesting to see what the rest of our trip will bring.

Here was our bed for the entire time, I think it is a little harder than the floor.

Yesterday, I tried to go to the “toilet” and I was followed by one of the kids, so I had to abort the mission. This morning, Michelle used the facilities and was followed by the baby sheep and goats that we bottle feed. What better company could you ask for when on the ‘loo’, if any.

We made sure Jhanet got to feed her favorite goat one last time

Then Biampia ask Jhanet to take the babies back to the herd and find one last sheep that needed to be bottle fed. Two people, one sheep, two goats and a motor bike, this day is starting off great.

The kids gave them a good send off.

Ju was sharpening his new knife this morning 😊

He then had to show everyone how sharp it was

Ger/nomadic superstitions( yet to find out meaning): it’s bad to leave a hat facing up ; you shouldn’t pass things through the support posts, but go around on the outside of them; every man of the ger has a really long herding pole and one should never step over it.

Here is our Nomadic Family on our final day

It is really interesting culturally that there are never any greetings and farewells ever! People enter and leave the ger without a single word, but always fed or given salted milk tea or vodka. It is considered extremely rude if you do not eat or drink whenever something is given/offered to you. Before leaving,we forced a photo, hug and some handshakes. Imposing our culture on them a little....

Our Nomadic home is where the green dot is located.

Culture shock. Here is our hotel for the evening

I guess we will live through the shock now that we are clean and fed.

What a change!

10
Baga Gazariin Chuluu

All refreshed and ready for Part 2 of our trip. The Gobi Desert!

I had set up a 6 day tour with The Millennium Man Company, which is a local company owned by a women named Uuna. Our driver picked us up at 8:30 from our hotel then we made our way to her office - aka her home. There we met our English speaking guide named “Sunny” (not really her name but her Mongolian name means Rising Sun and is a bit challenging to say). She is a 19 year old finance student.

We stopped on our way to our destination for lunch.

No meat, we are vegetarian again!!!!

Day 1 \240–Baga \240Chuluu - about 5h driving

Baga Gazariin Chuluu is a rock formation that is 15 km long and 10 km wide stone massif and is located in the Middle Gobi.

Over 20 kinds of medical herbs and many species of animals such as wild sheep, ibex and marmot exist here.

Surtiin Am is one of many beautiful places in Baga Gazriin stone massif.

This narrow canyon contains ash, birch, white whicker and elm, as well as the ruins of a stone temple and the site of 2 gers where monks lived and meditated since the seventieth century.

These cloths on the trees symbolize various forms of energies depending on the color. Blue = sky, Yellow = sun ☀️, Red = fire 🔥, Green = the land

Someone has left an offering to Awaah (earth god)

You circle these stone cairns three times adding a stone each time and making a wish each circuit which will come true

This cave has a story: \240some time ago a goat entered and the herder followed him in and neither was ever seen again. No one has ever found the end of this particular cave......

Legend has that their souls reside here

Jhanet really wanted to go in and explore.

Our personal ger for the evening. We are both very happy people tonight.

I can’t help using a broom.....ever

An American traveling with English Breakfast Tea

What a place to be....extremely windy, but a beautiful sunset

Jhanet’s keeping us warm tonight

Burning only cow and horse dung

11
Yolin Am Ice Field

This morning I awoke to Jhanet making fire in our stove. I have a wonderfully restful night, really warm and toasty but apparently I had the warm side of the ger. Jhanet was freezing, hence the fire making.

Variegated toadhead agama

Then we hit the road. Today we are driving from northern Gobi, through middle Gobi and we should end in southern Gobi. I say should, because our driver has asked for directions twice already. You don’t need to understand the language to know when someone is a little lost.

Middle Gobi town is quite big, with a mixture of gers and permanent brick/ tin structures.

This is the biggest and best piece of tarred road in the Gobi. For most of the journey you are on dirt tracks and even when you get tarred roads, they are so bad that you are better off road.

I caught Michelle sleeping again! 🤭 \240this might be the most rest we have had on a trip.

Day 2 June 4-Yol Valley – about 6-7 h driving

Today’s destination is Yolyn Am, or ‘Eagle Valley’. We took a small hike in the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park that encompasses the “Three Beauties” peaks and the most easterly points of the Altai Mountains.

Gobi Gurvan Saipan National park

Souvenir shops

Wild mountain sheep. We saw about 3-4 together. Apparently this is very lucky as you almost never get to see them. After some research we think it’s an Ibex

Deep ice field. This part of the River is in a gorge and stays frozen all year round

A Pallas pika, they make this really, really loud beep sound. You’d think it comes from a much larger animal

Our driver Batbayer made dinner and we sat down in the national park to have it, before heading to our camp site for the night.

Today we are camping so our driver pulled into an area just outside of the park where you could see a ger camp. We quickly persuaded him it would be best to continue to find a better spot.

As soon as we found a quite spot surrounded by hills, mountains and desert greenery, without a soul in sight. We made camp.

Jhanet started gathering dung and building a small fire ring.

Batbayer and Osoltnar (sunny) decided to sleep in the van, as Batbayer was worried about wolves. Such a city man. He even said he doesn’t sleep in tents.

12
Γ–mnΓΆgovi

So after an extremely rough and very long drive we arrived in a part of the Gobi that has the largest sand dunes- Khongor sand dunes. We stopped at a tourist ger camp and this was to be our home for the evening. We were immediately invited into the owners ger for tea and welcome. I \240unfortunately was feeling a bit under the weather and as soon as I left the ger I headed for the toilet and proceeded to get sick. We rested for a couple of hours and for the wind to settle down then it was time for camel riding.

Even though I was feeling wrecked this was an incredible experience. These camels are majestic and our guide was great. As soon as we mounted up he held on to our reins but once we hit the dunes we were on our own.

We got caught in a couple of sand storms, which hurt quite a lot and only had to dismount a couple of times so that I could get sick 🤕

Our guides’ camel was not listening very well and kept wanting to lie down, so I had to lead him a few times

What a magnificent landscape

I’m trying to protect my arms, ouch

Camel fun facts: 2 types

Bactrian, Largest living camel & 2 humps

Dromedary, 1 hump

They have 3 sets of eye lids and 2 sets of eye lashes to help keep the sand out of their eyes.

They can run as fast as a racing horse and can live up to 50 years old.

Afterwards both of our butt bones were quite sore, but it was definitely worth it. What an amazing experience.

One of beautiful sand dune in the Gobi is the Khongor Sand Dunes that extend more than 180 km (112 miles) with majestic heights of 15-30 m along the northern side of Sevrei and Zuulun mountain ranges. The largest dunes are northwest of the range up to 800 metres high The Khongor Sand Dunes are some of the largest and most impressive white sand dunes in Mongolia. The dunes make sound like plane engine in a windy day so it has been named as "Singing Dunes".

13
Bayanzag

Today we drove to Bayanzag, (known as the Flaming Cliffs where the first nest of dinosaur eggs was found in 1922). A site famous for the remains of dinosaurs which lived here 60 million years ago.

I’m feeling slightly better today, at least able to keep some food down.

Saxaul Tree

Earlier in the day we were given some authentic Mongolian ice creams, it was a little rough.

We arrived at our camp, and oh boy it’s exactly what we did not want on this trip. A true tourist camp with buildings of various types of animals. It’s crazy and full of all sorts of people. But one great thing is the beds, they actually have mattresses. We have not slept on a mattress since our one night in the hotel😊

The museum has seen some better days

The Flaming Cliffs

14
White stupa

Feeling much better this morning and looked around our strange camp again, yup just as whacked this morning as it was yesterday😊

Did find some nice pieces of petrified wood.

We drove for a few more hours to our next camp and upon arrival I spotted some babies.

Crying away for their mommas.

Day 5 - White Stupa - Tsagaan Suvarga is interesting to see the sheer slope, facing east, which from a distance seems to be the ruins of the ancient city.

Unfortunately it’s Jhanet’s time to feel unwell, so I visited the White Stupa on my own. It reminded me of the painted desert in the western US.

Once I came back to camp I listen to the babies (camels) moaning and moaning

Then it was time to heard all the big ones in for the night.

Absolutely beautiful last night in the Gobi.

15
Ulaanbaatar

Travel day back to UB.

Did not see anything but the inside of a car. Now recovering until we fly out to the Alti Mountains tomorrow morning for Part 3 of our Mongolian adventure

16
Ulgii

Today begins Part 3 of our Mongolian adventure, The Western Altai Mountains. We left our hotel in UB to head back to the airport for a domestic flight to Ulgii. After a lot of waiting around for the only flight there, we were finally off at about 1:30pm.

Our guide Doggi, met us at the door (I’d say gate but since all the passengers had to go back onto the tarmac to get their bags it might be a stretch) and we headed off to Bek’s place which is who I had arranged our western adventure with. We had a small lunch, and had to explain multiple times that we were in fact actual vegetarians and not fake ones. They kept saying the there is no other place in the world where meat is as good as Western Mongolia, and that the meat in the Gobi is terrible.

I was under the impression that we were to stay at Bek’s tonight but nope, We popped into our Russian all terrain van and were off out of Olgii heading towards the Ranger station of Tavan Bogd mountain which is at 3000 meters. Little did I realize that the drive would take 6 hours. We were so tired we almost immediately collapsed into our sleeping bags.

I could not stop taking photos of some of the clouds formations along our route

We past two small villages that are contained within the National Park

This was by far the best toll gate I have ever come across.

One good thing about driving into the night is you can enjoy the sunset while bouncing along.....forever.

17
Altai Tavan Bogd Ranger

Wow we were tired last night. Jhanet decided to take this glamorous shot of me waking up in our massive cold ger this morning. The Kazakh style of ger is basically the same as the Mongolian ger but much larger and definitely not as homey or warm. I have yet to see an actual home as where we are now is the ranger station and residing in a tourist ger. I think tomorrow we will be visiting a Kazakh nomadic family so then I will be able to truely compare.

This is the ranger station we arrived at late last night.

Today the plan was to ride on horses for \2405-6 hours from the base camp of Tavan Bogd mountain. My bum can attest that it was 5-6 hours😬

Passed a camel train on the way up to the glacier. This was for a group of tourists that we past earlier. This is their entire camp all packed up.

Our end point was the Potanian glacier. We trekking around the area had a light snack, as we both are still not able to eat much yet.

There were Marmots peeping all around us and our guides and my horse took a nap.

Hiding behind a rock out of the wind so we could warm up.

Jhanet on her slow poke horse making her way back to the Ranger Station. Our horses were in constant battle today, well.... mine had a bit of an attitude and always wanted to be in the lead.

We got really excited when we saw this Yak cheese drying. I enquired with our guide if the family might sell us some. He told me to go ahead and try some....... I tried some on the top which was more aged. Ok this is not the same Yak cheese we had in Nepal and it is not good......I’ll just buy a small amount so not to be rude. I really really don’t like it☹️

18
Altai Tavan Bogd Ranger

Finally found my Yak! She is amazing, and greeted me as I used the morning facilities.Michelle has found her true love! She is madly, head over heels, in love 💕 with this Yak. I have been replaced.

Today we drove from the Ranger station heading to Khoton Khurgan lakes area.

Before we left Jhanet made another goat friend, but this one had a few more teeth.

Checkout our ride! Russian issue 2012 All Terrain Vehicle

Stop by Snake River Valley for lunch and saw some ancient burial mounds along the way. Each enclosure is for a single family. The mounds were built 300 years ago. In honor of one of the buried, his sons killed 100 horses.

Amazing wooden bridge crossing a raging river. Then we arrived at the Kazakh nomadic family where we will be settleing down for the next couple of days. Fortunately we have our own ger again.

As we were walking around we spotted their Golden Hunting Eagle. Hopefully we will be able to see it hunt before we leave.

Again I made a new friend!

This is Bek’s mother (we think)

I finally captured the Kite we have been trying to photograph for ages. Now we just need one in flight.

Today they slaughter a sheep before we arrived and invited all other Kazakh neighbors and had “five fingers” feast. It is called five fingers because you eat with your hands.

Inside a Kazakh ger/yurt. Below is the five finger feast

Everyone has to eat with their hands, notice the lambs head in the center of the platter, with potatoes, carrots and handmade ,thinly rolled pasta.

Slaughtering a sheep is a tradition of Kazakh when they have important guests at their yurts.

We ended the night with songs and visited with nomads who were very welcoming

19
Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Had a great nights’ sleep last night and on today’s agenda was a hike to a waterfall in the Ikh Turgen Valley. We had arranged to do this on our own (we are not very good with the guide thing) and left at 8am.

Our directions were a bit rough including phrases like, left valley, right track, end of path, round pen, past family homes, 500 meters, up the hill something to that effect.

We managed to find something like a waterfall although not sure if it was the actual one we were looking for, but a fantastic walk with stunning wildflowers, Yaks, and magnificent scenery. We ended up walking about 10.5 miles

This family just relocated on our way up and they were finished when we were heading down.

Best selfie yet!

When we returned it was time for the family to slaughter another sheep for a family special occasion. It was good to witness the traditional way of slaughter of the Kazakh culture.

They consider it to be halal, because they slice the neck and drain the blood.

And continuously rinse away any sight if blood during the entire process

The boys were playing with the bum and bladder sack

They use everything, but the blood, reproductive organs and bladder. The hide and fleece is used for hats, ger insulation and leather, but only in the winter.

The intestines gets rinsed several times, until it is completely clean. Not a bit wasted and certainly the freshest lamb you could eat.

Then it was time to play with the golden eagle

The eagle was followed by a game of Volleyball. This must be a favorite sport among the Kazakh-Mongolians, as they were very good!We were then invited for dinner into the family ger. Guests on the first night and part of the family the next night. Lamb & potato stew with fresh hot milk tea and homemade Yak cheese. The granny greeted us with a really funny, alien sounding,but perfect english, hello.

20
Khoton Nuur

Today was the last day with our guides.......yeah! They were great but we are so ready to be off on our own. We drove about 3 hours into the Aral Tolgoi Valley where we were dropped off then we were off up into the Asku Valley for the next several days.

The joy and transformation of being alone in Mongolia😀

Packs are loaded and ready to go. Mine is way heavier than Jhanet’s (she would say different) but Doggie verified 😉 Fortunately soon we will lighten our loads by eating all of the food we have been carrying for several weeks.

Our first task was to cross a small stream which did require us to take our boots off. Then to proceed through a muddy swamp, people pay good money for these mud baths. I heard Jhanet moaning a bit behind me.

We only walked a short way today and found a great spot to set up camp. First order of business was to devide tasks. I set up the tent and Jhanet got busy building a stone ring and collecting wood for a fire.

All settled in for the night.

21
Khoton Nuur

It rained throughout most of the night, but we were warm and dry in our cosy tent. We slept in and then had some Heuveros Rancheros and cereal for breakfast. We eventually broke camp at about 11:30. We only had about 7ish miles to walk today so a late start was called for😉

All rested and fed for the first day of our trek into the Aksu Valley. Yeah the sun is out

Looking back at our campsite by the river

I love trees....🌲

Beautiful lake we came across with amazing reflections

Few of the many stream crossings

Found Campsite number 2 for the night. A little more exposed but found a dip and some wood = Jhanet 🔥

Nice spot.....for our second night in the valley. We are just setup below a magnificent waterfall with the view above out our front porch

22
Altai Mountains

Today we got a slightly earlier start and right from getting up the sun was out. What a magnificent valley we are walking through. We have had to negotiate various terrain from crossing streams, bogs, mud of all kinds & to top it off snowfields.

Jhanet’s fire number 3. What you see there is all that there was to burn. No trees anywhere, but some dung and various dried plants worked for a small fire.

View from our camping spot tonight. Tomorrow we should reach a heart shaped lake.

23
Altai Mountains

So today started off a little rainy but fairly warm. We managed to break camp before the weather came in.

We continued \240along the “path”, but the entire day I could not shake the feeling that we were not on the right path.

We climbed up much more than I thought we should and then hit several snow fields and scree mountains. The weather started to break and the sun even made an appearance

Jhanet crossing one of the many snow fields.

Then we hit a nice head wall of falling rock, that we had to negotiate.

I am certain that we have just crossed a path but not the one we were supposed to. Oh well it was a blast.

Combination of walking, glassaiding, and butt sliding. The packs took the quick way down. We took a video of the pack plunge down the headwall.

The next valley, we definitely now know that we are not on the right path. Hummmm.......

There were some Gers in this valley so we asked a few Kazakh nomads to see if we were right, after a few minutes of trying to converse it seemed best to head down valley and see.

We have traveled quite a way today so we stopped by a small lake to pitch camp for the night, and of course fire number 4 was born.

Tomorrow we will continue down valley toward a big lake that I can see on the GPS and hopefully find someone with a phone to call our ride and let them know where we ended up. Definitely not where we were suppose to,but we had fun.

24
Altai Mountains

Our morning view, \240it’s not to bad for not really knowing where we are. The morning was bright and not too windy, good start heading into the unknown.

We needed to cross this raging river,one of many, fortunately Jhanet found the only bridge in the entire valley. This one would not have been wade~able

We continued on without a ger or truck passing us by for 16 miles. We definitely had our down moments when we could see on the other side of the river, trucks driving down valley.

Our plan at the beginning of the day was to stop a truck and bargain for a ride or use of a phone. But that can’t happen if there are none.

We attempted to cross the river but it was just not possible. Then we saw in the distance what looked like a small village so we headed in that direction with the intent of hopefully finding a phone to call our guide Bek.

We decided we actually had to cross so I got my shorts and sandals on and headed across river number one, success. Then as we were heading to river number 2, a herder on a horse came over and made it clear to me that I had to cross the second river on his horse. So I got on and he got on behind me and we crossed leaving Jhanet behind with the packs.

So now I’m crossing a river with a guy on a horse heading hopefully for a phone? Once we crossed I dismount and he hands me the reins and points to his 4 year old son for me to follow. So now I am walking a horse following a 4 year old Kazakh........

I made it to the village and met his wife and she indicates that she has a phone and that I can use it. So I am invited into their \240home and asked to sit. So I’m sitting waiting for this phone to appear and when it finally does she beckons to me to follow her. We walk maybe a mile to a rock high up on a hill which it is where she tries to call Bek. It take several attempts but eventually it connects and I speak with him. He knows where we are and our new family for the evening (which we have been invited to stay with) hard to refuse when folks come to your rescue. Our driver will pick us up from here tomorrow. We are saved!

I sat on the other side of the river for about hour with no visibility of Michelle, the last I saw of her, was her heading into the dwellings with a horse and kid. The man with the horses was now shoveling dirt behind a small brick wall, which I can only just see, for the distance. I started thinking how long I should wait in the windy cold, before I try to cross the freezing river on foot, to see if Michelle is alive and safe. How long does a phone call take.....

Just as I come to the conclusion that it is time, she emerges with a couple people in tow. Now I can’t exactly see what is going on, because I’m quite a ways away. I can see conversations taking place and Michelle heads back into the dwellings. Hhhmm... next thing I know, I guy gets on a pretty wild horse, picks up our bags one by one and crosses the river with them. Last, it was my turn. Once I reach the other side, this little boy guides me to his home, where Michelle is sipping tea and having home baked Kazakh breads. Here I was having all sorts of nightmares going through my mind. She didn’t even come for her bag!

I could not leave the dwelling...I swear😋

Things this evening took a slight turn when my new “friend” started to indicate that we need to pay her for the horse crossing. Needless to say the mood changed and we had an uncomfortable night on the floor waiting for morning so that we could get out of there. Kazakh-Mongolian hospitality isn’t the same as Nomadic Mongolians’.

25
Bayan-Γ–lgii

We woke up gathered all of our stuff, which was easy since we slept in our clothes and headed out of the dwelling to find a spot to wait for our ride. We had no idea when they would arrive but anything was better than staying in their home being badgered for money constantly.

We ate and watched a lot of animals. Slept and chatted, I even beat Jhanet at cribbage again! (J) I’m sure she cheats!

Then at 4:30 Doggi drove up.....woohoo we were out of there in a flash and drove for about two hours to camp by a larger village in a nice green space with some trees.

My time to make fire for our last night of camping. This is fire 🔥 number 5

Michelle needed help to get her one and only fire going. (M) did not!

Jhanet took some photos of Hermena by the fire and I noticed later that she had fallen in and gotten a little scorched -ouch!!! (J) She joined the tan club.

Great ending to a rather stressful day of waiting about.

Very happy to be relaxing and enjoying a nice evening.

Our Russian van coming to the rescue.

Of this is a copy of the only map we had for our hike. No wonder we took the wrong valley........

Great backpacking trip in the Western Altai Mountains. It had many up’s and downs but what trip doesn’t have some of that.😋

I’m happy to say I won cribbage again tonight. 🤭😉

26
Ulgii

After a great nights sleep we jumped back into our Russian van and headed back to Ulgii to Bek’s Ger camp.

There is the promise of a hot shower on the horizon......😊

Buddhist religious circle

Classic Mongolia “roads”

On the way we drove past some small villages and had to wait for the local traffic.

Back in Ulgii - Bek’s Ger Camp

Solar shower house and around back are actual toilets 😀, seat, flush,tp n’all!!

Our luxurious accommodation for the evening, notice the power cables? We arrived to have a large lunch of homemade vegetable soup and stuffed deep fried dough. Now we are all clean and relaxing until dinner at a Turkish Restaurant this evening.

Oh Jhanet mentioned the “tan club” in reference to Hermena falling into the fire…… well I don’t think Jhanet fell in the fire 🔥

Certainly best in show🏆🥇 tan lines

Bek took us to dinner tonight and funny enough after discussing our route with him he seems to think we were to the left of the path but did come down the right valley? We just happened to walk 16 miles past where we should have stopped? I am still unsure but when I return to London I will download the GPS data and send it to him to see🤪

I am still hearing about Michelle’s true love and so is everyone else- the Yak- the most shared photo!

Today we leave Ulgii (hopefully) to head back to Ulaanbaatar for our very early flight out tomorrow morning. Our hosts fed us breakfast and then lunch before it was time to go and explore the town a little.

Doggi took us to a few shops and their Black Market.

Motorbike Taxis

Everything you could need can be found here

These cups are what everything is served into. Tea, meals.........everything

This is some herb which is smoked

All you could need for building your own Ger

I ended up being interested in the iron work. I purchased some horseshoes and a horses bit.

Stove for the Ger

I noticed these men playing pool behind the market.

Yeah the flight landed and we are boarding

This was our permit for the Altai Mountains.

27
London

Well so far so good, we left Ulaanbaatar on time and now we are in Moscow on the tarmac on a plane heading for London.

Had about two hours sleep last night and I know we are both ready to be back in London.

What an amazing trip. This one will take some time to sink in, all the we have done and seen.

Some final thoughts:

The difference between Central Nomadic Mongolians and Western Nomadic Kazakhs was very distinctive. Their attitudes, lifestyles, and even the construction of their homes varied dramatically.

Kazakhs are Muslim and speak Kazakh

Mongolians are Buddhist and speak Mongolian

Both Mongolians and Kazakh men will not sleep outside in a tent and they thought we were both absolutely crazy to feed ourselves to the wolves or the devil.

Sadly did not have/see the fermented milk drink in Western Mongolia

The only vegetables we saw were cabbage, potatoes, parsnips, carrot and onion.

No lunch culture of any kind

Must eat meat to survive (glad we brought our vegetarian backpacking meals)

All Mongolians and Kazakhs have massive sweet tooth

No roads anywhere or signage

Government, military, police all extremely corrupt

What a great trip!!!

One last note- our bags never arrived in London🤪