1. The Waterfall
Our ger camp was right next to the second tallest waterfall in Mongolia. The waterfall was created by an earthquake that split the earth 70 years ago and forced the river to fall into the new crevice in the ground. We could hike down the ravine to the little pool that the waterfall fell into and Erdenhu would always go down to fish and once we went down to keep him company. Uka and our horseman brought out a rubber inflatable raft and decided to paddle to the backside of the waterfall. This incited a whole slew of eager Mongolian tourists to take the liberty to put on the nomad family’s extra life jackets and demand to be taken in the raft to touch the waterfall. And so they paddled boat load after boat load of screaming tourists through the waterfall. It looked interesting but I was too cold and too clothed that day to try it. And so I waited until the next morning. The water came down icy and sharp and knocked the wind out of my as we passed along the cliff on the backside of the waterfall. I felt like I was holding my breath until we came out the other side. When Uka said he wanted to go through again, I politely declined and decided to jump in the water for a swim instead which equally winded me and made my skin sting with iciness. I think sometimes I do these things just so I can say that I’ve done them, not caring of the pain that is involved. In any case, I have now seen the backside of a real waterfall.
2. The Hot Spa
We said goodbye to our ger camp on the 9th day and headed for a little hot spa tourist camp nestled at the foot of the mountain. That ger was the most uncomfortable we slpet in the whole time with lumpy beds and I hole in the roof which made us freeze at night. But at least we got to have a refreshing bath in the healing waters of the hot spa and have a real shower for the first time in 5 days.
3. The Little Gobi
Our last stop before getting back to the city was at a tourist ger camp next to the “little Gobi” –a stretch of sand dunes that is farther north than the main Gobi desert. This was by far the nicest and most comfortable ger camp we stayed in and we enjoyed our cozy little ger with the colorfully painted traditional furniture. That evening Glo and I went for a sunset camel ride—one that we had been anticipating since the beginning of our excursion. Gloria had kept saying “I wonder if I will fit between the humps?” Our camels finally arrived and we estimated that she would in fact fit between the humps. Our camels knelt in front of us and I got on first. Once I was between the humps, my camel lurched forward to rise from its knees and let out a loud, startling bellow and the same time. Gloria is convinced that he also turned his head back to bit me though I am convinced that he did no such thing. In any case, Gloria was freaked out and now refused to get on her camel. We coaxed and pleaded with her to get on but to no avail. She said she was scared and didn’t know why the camel had made that sound and now would not get on. I said: Gloria it wasn’t even your camel that did it. Yours is just laying there patiently for you to get on. And she would kind of pet its hump and say ok and move forward to get on and then decide against it. After about 10 minutes of this, my patience had run out. We had both been so excited about our camel ride and now the sun was setting and our camels were waiting and the camel boy was confused and really just wanted to ride my camel. In frustration I told Gloria that I wanted to sock her in the face if she didn’t get on her camel. Not a proud moment. But she got on. And we had a nice ride to the sand dunes. Camels are such funny creatures. Their heads and eyes are huge. Their humps wobble like jello that has been turned out of a mold. They have these big thighs and knobby knees and then the littlest chicken leg calves. Their feet look like huge paddles that expand when it touches the ground. And I must say, camels are ten times more comfortable to ride than a horse.
4. Farewell dinner
When we got back to the city, we had a free day to ourselves that we used to shop for souvenirs at a leisurely pace. The last thing on our itinerary was to have a farewell dinner at a restaurant with our cook, Erdenhu, and Uka. We thought it was a little funny when they showed up at our hotel that they didn’t know where we were going to dinner. We expected that they would have been instructed by the company to take us to a certain place and we would have set meal options since the dinner was to be covered by the company. But we decided on the BBQ chicken place at the corner of the block (which Glo and I had already eaten at 3 times). We ordered our food, ate, tried to have a bilingual conversation about sports and Uka’s computer addiction, and at the end, Uka called for the bill and handed it to GLo and I. We both looked at each other in confusion and asked, “wasn’t this meal supposed to be included in our trip?” (I mean really, did they think that we had just treated them to a $50 meal). Uka said he had to call his manager to verify. She told him that the company was supposed to pay for it but the problem was that Uka had no money. Neither did the cook. And neither did we. So Uka let us go home and left the cook as hostage at the restaurant while he ran back to the office to get money to pay for dinner. What a disaster. One final note: At dinner, Uka decided to present us with some parting gifts. During the trip, Uka spoke a lot about his spiritual beliefs and we spoke a little about the fact that we were both Christian. So Uka decided that a nice parting gift for us would be a holographic picture of a very strange looking Jesus and Virgin Mary surrounded by angels and clouds, one for each of us. We weren’t sure how this was supposed to commemorate our time in Mongolia, but then again, it did come from good ol’ Uka.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in magical Mongolia. I had great company in Gloria, to whom I am eternally grateful not only for helping me realize a whimsical childhood dream by coming with me, but adding so many laughs and good memories along the whole way.