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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars


Mongolia - 1 August, 2003



Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Ulan Baatar train station N4754.724' E10654.379' 1,291 meters .
Ulan Baatar (Bolod Guesthouse) . . . .
Hustai National Park . . . .
Lun . . . .
Finish Camp on steppes just east of Dashchilen N4751.187' E10430.642' 960 meters 240 km

Total (by train):

5,991 km

Total (Mongolia):

240 km

Total (Kamchatka):

1,339 km

Total (other):

199 km


7,749 km


Weather: Mostly cloudy and cool.  Cool/cold overnight with some brief, light rain showers.



When we got off Train #264 from Irkutsk, we were met by Bolod, the Mongolian guide and travel arranger, we have been communicating with about our trip in Mongolia.  Due to problems with the train schedule, we have less time than we wanted here, so we had to make sure everything was arranged before we came.  We grabbed our bags and made our way out of the train station.  For some reason, one leaves by the side, through narrow gates that form a chute that only one person at a time can pass through (especially with big bags).  But there is only one chute for entrance and exit, so it is a bit of a mess and no one seems to want to wait until a group has passed through from the other side.  So, in the end, we most likely ran over a few toes with our wheeled bags after we tried to be patient and wait for the chute to clear.


Our jeep and driver (along with Bolod's wife) that will be taking us around Mongolia are waiting for us.  We will be driven in the Russian army jeep by a large, genial former wrestler called Gerlee.  We threw all our luggage in the jeep and made the short drive to Bolod's guesthouse, which is in the center of town and across from the main post office.  We take the morning to organise some of our stuff, take a shower, do some laundry and arrange the final details on our trip.  We will be leaving as soon as we are ready (they seem a bit surprised by that, thinking we may want to sleep), so about three hours after arriving, we are off again.


But first to the supermarket.  We have to stock up on supplies for our two week trip.  While we have brought with us dehydrated and packaged food for our dinners and some other snacks, we have to get food for breakfast and lunches.  We will be preparing and cooking all our own meals - we are going on the budget tour of Mongolia.  Which means that we have no guide or translator.  And our driver only speaks Russian and Mongolian.  We shall see how we get along on this trip.


The final stop before we head out of the city is at the petrol station.  We have heard that a petrol crisis is ongoing, where the price of petrol in the countryside has shot up by double or more.  So, we need to make sure that all tanks (the jeep has two) and the jerry can is full.  And then at around 12:30 we are finally on our way.  But as it is now lunch time, we decide before we leave the city proper to get something to eat (rather than waste the time preparing our own meal).  So we have one more quick stop at a local guanz (canteen or cheap restaurant) to try our first Mongolian food - we have khuushuur, which Lonely Planet describes as fried meat pancakes.  They are a round piece of pastry filled with chopped or ground meat, folded in half (like a calzone) and deep fried.  They were very yummy and we ordered some more.


We carry on at around 1:30 PM and are soon out of the sprawling suburbs and are out in the countryside.  The surroundings are now treeless pasture land of rolling hills covered with short grass.  It is amazing how there are no trees here.  It will be days until we see our first tree.  For the first stretch, we travel on paved road, but this ends after about 100 km.  In any case, the paved road can be worse than a dirt road, as the potholes in a sealed road can be very big and catch you by surprise.


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We have asked to stop at Hustai National Park.  Our niece, Megan, has asked us, while in Mongolia, to go look for the wild horses known as Przewalski, or Takhi as they are known in Mongolia.  They are the last true wild horses in the world and they became extinct in Mongolia in 1969.  Fortunately a few were kept in zoos in the West, and a special program was set up to re-introduce them to Mongolia.  Hustai was selected as that spot.  There are now a grand total of 140 in this national park.  They are a very rare species.


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We arrived at the national park at 3 PM and went to check out the museum.  But a guide was heading out with another group of people and we were told to join them.  You need to take a guide to go and try and view the horses in the wild.  We take a short drive out into the steppes and find a herd of about 20 horses quietly grazing.  While we can only view them from a distance, it is still quite an experience, almost like viewing the mountain gorillas in Uganda (except there we could get very close).  The horses slowly moved along as they grazed, with a small part of the herd breaking away in a trot.  The rest of the group caught up to them in a while.


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The horses are sandy colored and they have black socks and boots.  The legs have stripes that look like zebra stripes.  The mane and tail are dark.  Genetically they are different from domesticated horses, including those that have gone feral or wild.  They have an extra two chromosomes, with a total of 66.  The skull and jaw are heavier and they have no forelock and shorter manes.  Once we have had a good look at the horses, we return to the park headquarters, where we get a tour of the museum and a chance to check out the shop.


Then it is time to head on our way.  We carry on towards the west, with a brief stop in Lun to top up our petrol (the price is not too bad).  Around 7 PM we head off the rack to go and look for a camp site.  We make our way towards some sand dunes to see what we can find.  We come upon a well, where some local nomads are tending to their livestock.  Our driver has a chat with them and it seems that we will go and visit them at their ger.  They get on their horses and head off and we do our best to try to follow, having to take a roundabout way to avoid the ditches and gullies.


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After a short drive we arrive at their ger site.  Their are two gers set up with some corrals for horses and livestock.  It is not too clean - lots of dung everywhere and not too well tended.  We get out and are invited into one of the gers by the elderly matriarch.  As we make our way to the ger, a man in his 40's comes up and introduces himself to us.  The problem, it turns out, is that he seems like a bit of an alcoholic.  He is overly friendly and pushy.  We make our way into the ger and are welcomed with the offer of drink and snacks.  The tea is the usual mares mild tea (more on that later) and the snack is aaruul, or dried milk curd (very hard to take).  But we do not stay long - the drunk guy is bothering us and seems to want something from us.  He is all over us (especially Jacqui) and our Gerlee (our driver) makes the wise choice to beat a hasty retreat (even the matriarch seemed to be casting a bad look towards the drunk, but it appeared she could not say anything).  Our driver does not like alcohol, so he certainly did not take to the drunk.  We felt is was best to make some distance between them and us.


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We drive for about another 30 minutes and set up camp on the steppes in the wide open space that is all you have here.  As we are setting up camp and getting dinner, the sun finally begins to shine through.  It throws a wonderful warm, orange glow on everything.  For dinner we have our macaroni and cheese that we have brought with us.  We are just afraid that it is not enough (and no meat) for Gerlee.  We are getting afraid that we do not have the right food for him (as a Mongolian).


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We clean up using the water from a nearby well that the local seem to use as a common well for their own use and to water their animals.  Once we have finished this, we retire to our tent.


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