Tour Day 3July 15 in Mongolia
The third day of our tour was spent in the area by the camp we had reached the previous evening. We were to stay here until the following day and so managed to slow down a little and appreciate being in such an amazing place. Our encampment was on the wide plain of a valley, enclosed by high hills, broken by boulders and volcanic formations. The storm of the previous night had passed and the early morning mists clung to the hillsides. I am not, as a rule, an early riser but throughout this trip I have often been getting up soon after dawn. Apart from the fact that the light is so beautiful at this time of day the very early morning has the advantage of being child free.
The day had been billed as focusing on horse-riding, and it was not long after rising that Lila was keen to get going. Much to her frustration the horses were unavailable until late morning. For myself I was happy to join with a group of our hosts and Baagii in the shade of a ger. Our amiable driver, having no duties that day, had taken the opportunity to make an early start with a couple of friends, a few beers and a couple of litres of fermented mare's milk. It seemed churlish to refuse an invitation to join them and I passed a very agreable hour swapping photos and watching a man prepare a marmot for the barbeque. Though I refused several rounds of beer, fearing that my travel insurance might baulk at covering a drunk novice horseman, there was no way I was going to turn down the fermented mare's milk. It's taste was no where near as challenging as I had expected. Perhaps because Maryjane has made our family so many different ferments over the years I found the taste quite pleasant. Helix too tried some and also enjoyed it.
Our hosts and guide asked several times if Lila was going to be safe on horseback and it took some effort to explain that she is in fact the only competant rider among us. In the end it was agreed that Helix and I would be led whilst Lila would be allowed to ride freely. Most of the time Helix and I were led by ropes attached to the bridles by a single rider. This was pretty uncomfortable for horses and riders as we would be forever bumping in to each other . Sometimes two riders led us individually and sometimes at a gallop, a pace for which neither I nor my mount had much enthusiasm. Lila on the other hand was having a great time and impressing the locals with her skills.
We rode a short distance to the Red Waterfall, a place of great significance to Mongolians, as evidenced by the many photos and paintings of it that we had seen in Ulaanbaatar. Personally I found it pretty enough but rather dwarfed by the grandeur of its surroundings. I felt embaressed at not being able to look more impressed, but Mongolia is a dry land and I think that a torrent has a deeper impact on the soul of its people than those used to an abundance of water. Elma seemed to expect more of a reaction than any of us was able to provide. We did not stay long and I was pleased to get away from the crowd at the waterside and back to the vast open spaces which for me are the true wonder of this land.
On our return I realised that I had lost my camera somewhere during a gallop and before lunch tried to retrace our steps to find it. The camera itself was a cheap one but it still had many shots of Nadaam which I had yet to copy and would be sorry to lose. The idea proved hopeless as I soon realised that I had been paying more attention to not falling off the horse than our bearings. The camera was a small black lump on a vast field full of black stones. Fortunately Lila was eager to get back in the saddle and it was proposed that she and one of our hosts should ride out and look. A short while later the heroes returned triumphant, with my undamaged camera and with it my treasured images.
Though after lunch most seemed happy to let the notion of further equestrianism slide Lila seemed quite clear that this had been far from the advertised full day's riding. Thus a further sortie was proposed and though we boys were both somewhat ambivalent we elected to join the experienced riders. In the end, though I cannot say I much enjoyed the ride itself, I was very glad to have gone. Firstly there was the scenery, more volcanic forms and and a gorge carved into an intricate filigree. Secondly the herds of yak and sheep being driven by our hosts as they went about their daily routine tied to two hapless tourists. Most of all though was the sight of my girl galloping freely here and there, in control of her mount and clearly trusted by the herders to go as she pleased. To her this confidence was nothing remarkable but to me, in this setting it was marvellous. Regretfully, after the loss from the previous ride I had decided to leave the camera behind. If I had known what I was to see I would have risked it. Perhaps it is for the best however, as in my mind Lila is imprinted wilder and more free than any photo could portray.
What had been a wonderful day turned into an unpleasant night. Somewhere along the way Lila had picked up a stomach bug and spent several hours vomiting. Both Helix and I were also a little unwell for a couple of days, though not violently so. I suspect some yoghurt or aireg eaten in a ger we had visited on the way back from our last ride. Perhaps a bacillus to which the locals are completely habituated but which is too alien for our stomachs. Every cloud has a silver lining however and tending to my daughter excused me from having to watch the world cup final along with the only other two westerners in the camp, both Frenchmen.Read more