The following morning the group whiled away the time idly before we needed to get back on the demon horses. There was an air of apprehension after Michael’s fall yesterday, however since I felt that every time I hopped on a horse, it wasn’t too much difference for me. After breakfast we wandered down to a nomadic kindergarten, and watched the children complete their daily exercise routine in the form of a well-rehearsed dance. Two words: ultimate cuteness.
Our cuteness muscles flexed beyond belief, a group of us made our way up a nearby ‘hill’ (inverted because all Mongolian hills are deceptively steep) with our trusty bow and arrow ready to compete to the death, Scott and Philip at the helm. We took turns to shoot from the top of the ‘hill’, and on our descent. Whilst the competition was tough, the all-out woman’s title was taken by the under dog Suzanne, with the men’s title harder to pinpoint. Too much masculinity floating in the air to see the arrow unfortunately. All I know is that we all walked away from the bow with red welts at our elbow, the true mark of a warrior.
After a lunch of mutton and potatoes, we walked gingerly over to our new horses. Lena and I asked to be led, while everyone else felt confident enough to ride solo… I told them it was nice knowing them. However, the horse ride was surprisingly smooth, and was only an hour duration so my paranoia was somewhat over the top.
Upon reaching the latest campsite, we were invited to sit in a ramshackle shed. There was a plump Mongolian woman in the corner stirring a large rounded pot, and I couldn’t help but wonder if we had walked into the Mongolian version of Hansel and Gretel. However, turns out she wasn’t planning on eating us, but instead she was cooking us up some yogurt vodka.
The yogurt vodka tasting went down a treat, especially with Alex and Scott, the consummate vodka swiggers. A few glasses of this fine tipple and it wasn’t just your belly that felt warm. The group dispersed among a few gers, some to drink more of the unusual elixir, and some to play an addictive card game that Philip seemed to reign supreme at. It felt like we had been transported back to the Wild West: we’d tied our horses up out front, and swaggered into the local saloons (gers) to drink straight spirits and play cards. We were the newly appointed Mongolian cowboys.
The next morning some of us felt the effects of a little too much yogurt vodka but luckily after breakfast we jumped into 4WDs and headed to a bigger river for a refreshing swim. I didn’t want to fully submerge as it was freezing so Alex, always the gentleman, lifted me up so I could dunk my head backwards to wash my hair. Swoon.
When we returned to the camp it was time for our final horse ride. This was a joyous moment for me. Just one short hour and a half horse ride to stay alive through. Other than a small hiccup when Jillian fell off her horse in slow motion and then promptly got back on, like a total champion, we made it to our final campsite all intact. My short-lived foray into horse riding had finally come to an end, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Tonight’s host cooked up a storm with a labor intensive Mongolian BBQ that had the meat eaters stretching their mutton eating chops, whilst the 3 veggies (Jillian, Lena and myself) chowed down on mutton-flavored potato and carrots. When in Mongolia… well, just don’t be a vegetarian. Unless you are a vegetarian that occasionally eats mutton. Or really likes potato.
For our last evening in the wilderness the universe gave us the ultimate present: a clear sky. After dinner a group of us settled down outside, snug in our sleeping bags and watched the starlight unfold into a cosmic spectacular. Surprisingly, we weren’t joined by Suzanne, the keenest astronomer of the crew. A few nights earlier Suzanne had taken stargazing to a whole new extreme when on making her way back from the long drop toilet she lost sight of her ger, and to avoid getting further lost in the wilderness, decided to just lay down on the spot and nap it out for several hours until sunlight. We were quite novice by comparison.
The following morning our ger of Philip, Jillian, Alex and myself were woken at the crack of dawn by an irate ox meandering nearby. He must have had an inkling that he would be carrying our heavy asses across a river later that day. I took this opportunity to blow up Alex’s birthday balloons, with the help of my ger cohorts, and organise his birthday presents. After some early morning birthday festivities for my giant, Philip and Jillian took off with a few others for one of Oyuna’s ‘easy walks’. Alex and I wouldn’t fall for that trick again. We opted to stay in bed instead.
Nearly an hour later a storm of mass proportions thundered its way across the sky, waking up anyone the rowdy ox had not, and buckets of streaming rain pelted into the dry ground. Alex and I had assumed that we might have been the only two that had stayed behind when Tyler popped his head into our ger. He came in and sat on a bed, and we listening to the rain beat on the plastic sheathing, and discussed the fate of the walking party. It did kind of seem like the end of an epic drama. If Hollywood had taught me anything, it was that not everyone would return.
Another half hour passed, and the rain reduced to a drizzle. Alex and I were standing outside the ger looking up at the hills in the distance when we saw a mesh of moving colourful blobs. When the adventurers arrived back at the campsite they told us they had been sheltering behind a rock as the rain was too intense, and Oyuna and Scott had been trading stories about near death experiences they had encountered in the wild. Pretty stoked I missed that walk.
The excitement continued though as during breakfast Oyuna presented Alex with an amazing thickly iced birthday cake, flaming candles shooting out the top. Not exactly what you would expect to see in the Mongolian countryside. Oyuna had organised for the cake to be brought out to the country for Alex. It was the most wonderful gesture and everyone thoroughly enjoyed eating something that wasn’t mutton or potatoes.
After a relaxing morning, the ox carts were loaded with our bags, and eventually our bodies, and we set off back to civilization. Our nomadic adventure had come to an end. It felt like only yesterday that we had been sitting on that ox, stuck in the middle of the river at the entry to the park, yet it also felt like so much had happened, and that perhaps we’d all changed in some small way from those people who stood at the doorway of an adventure yet to come. All I know for sure is that I had some unforgettable moments with a bunch of unforgettable people, and I’m never getting on a horse again.