Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Best of Mongolia - Mongolians (Dundok & Tunga)

Most of my stay in Mongolia was at the Steppe Nomad Camp located in the Gun-Gaalut Nature Preserve. The camp is located about three hours north of capital, Ulaanbaatar. My flight from Korea landed just before midnight and I was met by a driver from the camp right outside of the arrival gate. For such a late hour, I was immediately surprised by how many people, dogs, horses and traffic existed on the streets. Few roads were completely paved. Most roads ended abruptly where they had been washed away and everyone veered effortlessly off to the grass or dirt to continue driving without really slowing down much at all.

My driver and I exhausted most of our verbal communication within the first few minutes and established only that I was from the US and we would arrive at the camp around 3:00 a.m. He turned on the local Mongolian station and sang along. It was beautiful and I probably would have fallen asleep had we not completely ran out of paved roads when we exited the capital and drove wildly on dirt roads veering around horses and cows waundering everywhere. He would occassionally shout out about some feature on the side of the road and I would dutifully peer blurrily into the night and wonder what it was. I made sure to drive back to the capital for my flight home to make sure I could see all the things he was talking about (boy was that the right thing to do! More on that later!)

The drive took us on long valleys sometimes on road and sometimes just on grass but always in complete darkness. I wondered how this driver could find his way. And then just before 3:00 a.m. (he was quite proud of himself for nailing the correct time) he announced we had arrived at camp.

Three people stood shivering in the cold at the entrance to the camp. It was hovering just below forty degrees and I could see the plumes of smoke coming from their mouths. Despite that, Tunga, the Operations Manager, greeted me warmly and another gentleman quickly grabbed my bag. I got a quick tour of the camp before being led to my ger. A fire had already been lit but it was getting low so more wood was added and within a few minutes, the entire ger was toasty warm. Heaven. I don't even remember lying down or falling asleep but I do remember waking up to the most beautiful sky I had ever seen. Day one of my Mongolian adventure was about to take place!

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