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Last Leg Through Mongolia

Thursday, October 14th, 2004


Out of the train window, just before departure from Ulaan Bataar to Beijing on the last leg of our trans-siberian train trip, we watch about 30 Mongolians…brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents and who knows who else on the platform wave a tearful goodbye to three girls waving back at them. Bob and I chuckle and agree that we would be lucky if we could muster up just one person to see us off anywhere these days. Nearby, an older woman is waving goodbye to…husband…father…uncle? She takes a spoon and throws what I later find out is milk-tea at the train that just ends up staining the platform white…finally throwing what was left of the empty bottle and then tossing it over the fence behind her…for “safety and good travels.”.

Our companions in our cabin for our day and a half train ride through the moon-faced Gobi desert are a slim good-lucking Mongolian guy, Khurelsukh, (“I am 23 years”) and a Chinese man fluent in Mongolian. Khurelsukh has a sweet girlfriend (Saraa) in another cabin, however, who ends up joining us for most of the trip…snuggling together for the night on one of the bottom bunks we give up to them. He was born in Russia when his parents were engineering students there. He is still a student in the university in Ulaan Bataar but says he is going to Beijing on business to see about “lingua techna” machines to use for teaching languages. Saraa’s mother is a teacher and is advising him, I think I understand. I also think, however, that this trip to Beijing over the weekend is going to be much more…”you will go to discos, I ask.” He grins broadly and says “yes!”

“Mongolians don’t like Chinese,” he says later out of earshot of the still-unnamed Chinese guy.

When the train nears Beijing we all pile out to get our first glimpses of the remnants of the Great Wall and take pictures. Back on board Khurelsukh asks us why we think the wall was built…”to keep out the Mongolians,” we exclaim…watching for his reaction. “Yes, to keep out the Mongolians,” he says with a glint in his eye…probably wondering if we get the irony.

Reflections on the Steppe

Tuesday, October 12th, 2004


We are lucky…days are brisk but sunny…the sun glints off bare hills covered in golden fall grass. This feels like fall in southeast Oregon where I grew up. I soak it all in while Bob goes on a 4 hour hike through birch groves and box canyons full of grazing mustangs. How do you know they were mustangs I ask Bob…he says” they had labels on each side.” Places were steeper than he anticipated…had to run from one tree to another to keep from falling down the hill.

The next afternoon we paid three dollars to an elder Mongolian in traditional clothing to take us riding horses through the hills with him. Give him his head, I said to Bob who was trying to make his horse gallop! But there was no saddle horn on the tiny saddle to hang onto and it was difficult to post in the ornate metal stirrups. Mongolian saddles are definitely different than Western saddles I was used to as a girl in cowboy country USA. Still, the same freedom I used to feel…while riding…in the wind…in the hills…where I grew up… This is as close to heaven as it gets I thought…connected…connected to the earth.

Message from Ulaan Bataar

Saturday, October 9th, 2004
GyTjn0QZP9l6Qu21TubskM-2006198062551304.gif Greetings- Have been in Mongolia for the past week--initial few days in a ger bordering on a national park--lazy, relaxing days with hiking and Mongolian pony riding (when on the horse my feet nearly reach ... [Continue reading this entry]

Life in a Mongolian Ger

Tuesday, October 5th, 2004
GyTjn0QZP9l6Qu21TubskM-2006198062551304.gif Video Terelgj National Park, an hour by car outside of Ulaan Baatar, is a spectacular valley surrounded by high eroded rock formations, pine covered mountains and steppes carpeted with sheep, Mongolian horses and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Grueling Border Wait

Friday, October 1st, 2004
The wait at the Russian-Mongolian border is a grueling 5-6 hour wait for customs to go through each carriage and take our passports, return to the office to fill out forms and then return with our passports. Olga takes ... [Continue reading this entry]