April 14th - April 20th: Nomads and Nomads in Mongolia:
I guess we'll start this adventure where Mongolia starts...We were on a train coming north from Beijing and thanks to generous pours of Vodka from a lovely Austalian professional volleyball player named Steph we were proper pissed when the train arrived at the Chinese side of the boarder checkpoint.
In the dining car, the soldiers rushed in an asked a drunken punk rocker and his action figure to produce a passport. "It's in my cabin". "Which cabin is yours?" "I don't know". Now keep in mind that one half of this conversation was in Chinese. The thing about these trains is that if you're in Wagon 4 and the dining wagon is Wagon 14, you have to count while your walking, because they are all unmarked and identical. The solders pulled Joey around my the neck and after sticking his head into four different cabin #30's, none of which was OUR cabin #30,
the soldiers got frustrated and stuffed us into a cabin with a Mongolian family. After some time to think, we figured it out, sprinted to our cabin and produced a passport before we got in any more trouble.
We past north through the desolate Gobi desert, past wild horses, camels and nomadic families living in Ger tents....until we got to the "city" of Ulaan Baatar. It is known as the coldest city in the world and also one of the most dangerous. We, of course,
had no problems but it was sad to see large groups of children who were living in the sewers without any adults in order to keep warm. But on to happier things...
We opted to get out of the city to see the real Mongolia that hasn't changed much since the days of the Genghis Kahn. We took a "day" trip to Terelj National Park and then we refused to go home (until a a giant snowstorm 4 days later).
The following three days were days of pure happiness. We lived in a Ger tent next to a Mongolian family. We had no running water, no electricity, and for heat we had to burn wood, coal, or dried horse manure to stay warm. Out there in the countryside, we were truly free. We climbed giant granite rocks and rode horses as far as they could run.
There is no private property in the Mongolian countryside and much more land than people. So the people wander,
follow the animals and live a life of freedom it is hard to comprehend. By my third day of not showering, washing my hands with snow, we were convinced we wanted to stay there forever. And then it snowed...
...it is amazing how COLD Mongolia can get in late April. On the 4th day, we woke up under a blanket of snow and opted to go for a horse ride anyway. We felt like Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back...Joey wore an under armor winter shirt, 2 sweatshirts, a Northface summit series jacket with liner, and a giant Mongolian fur coat on top complete with the fur lined Han Solo hood. In spite of this, we still almost froze. Within 30 minutes, us and the horse were covered head to toe in ice and I wished I had a light saber
so I could cut my horse open in an sleep inside it. (Just kidding we're vegetarians).
Three hours later we made it back to the ger, unsure of whether Joey's toe would be black or pink from frostbite...apparantly there is a reason why Mongolian nomads wear giant fur lined riding boots and not Converse All-Stars but we're still convinced that Chuck Taylors are the best footwear for ANYTHING.
After we warmed up a truck came by and we caught a ride back to Ulaan Baatar through the storm. In UB we went to some Monasteries, practiced reading Cyrillic letters and bought a train ticket...destination Irkutsk, Eastern Siberia.
- Albert Einstein