Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 2 in Eastern Mongolia - Turtle-Shaped Rocks and Horses and Kazakhs, Oh My!

Traditional Mongolian breakfast helped to fuel us for the coming long day. We said goodbye to our ger and set out for our first stop: Turtle Rock. This rock, which vaguely resembles a turtle, guarded an amazing landscape of mountains, gers, and trees. We climbed to the "neck," which involved squeezing down a tight rock hole. The view was damn worth it.

After Turtle Rock, we trekked to the Meditation Temple, built high in the Terelj mountains and overlooking a breathtaking valley. The temple was simple, yet complex - full of vibrant colors and symbols.

Next, we trekked to a ger camp for lunch. The beef, salad, rice, and fries were hands down the best food we have had yet - a delectable symphony of flavors, each note playing softly on all the right taste buds. The classic milk tea accompanied the meal, and tasted like warm milk with a sprinkling of extra salty sweat (the Ke$ha to the Yo-Yo Ma of the rest of lunch).

 Chowing down was followed by horseback riding. My horse, which I named Alejandro, was mostly compliant... except when he and my full stomach disagreed over the prudence of trotting. The view of Mongolia from atop the horse made me wonder - how could one country, so overlooked by most travelers, be so utterly gorgeous.

The One-Hundred Monk Cave was our last stop before the Kazakh family, with whom we would spend the night. While there, the van broke down and we waited as our driver fixed it - more time to take in the sights was perfectly fine with us.

The Kazakh family was a highlight for sure. We were greeted by fresh bread, fried bread, homemade butter, sugar, and tea. This bread was the best I've ever had - soft on the inside, perfectly hard on the out. We went up the surrounding mountain before dinner, and were greeted by the most picturesque views thus far. I listened to Buddhist music as I soaked up my surroundings.

When we were called back to watch the family make khuushuur (fried meat dumplings), we got distracted by the cutest puppies in the world. The puppies were so cute that we ignored the fact that they were literally covered in shit, and played with them for quite some time. Watching the family prepare dinner was fascinating for a few minutes, but I got distracted with the adorable kids and perfect lighting, so I went out for a photoshoot until I was called back in to eat. The khuushuur was so good that we stuffed our faces past the point of utter fullness. Dinner was followed by learning Mongolian hand games and playing with the kids and puppies. We raced one of the girls up the surrounding mountain, but she was quickly forced to return. From the peak, Tommi and I looked out over the nearby towns - but had to cut our adventure short since neither of us had a flashlight. Back at the house, we had some homemade yogurt with the family - the best yogurt I've ever tasted.

Our guide and driver are so great. The guide is extremely knowledgeable and the driver is hilarious. He has one of those faces that exudes happiness and his playful and goofy nature is incredibly entertaining. His menacing laugh is imprinted in my memory forever.

PS - I've got a pocket full of money
And pocket full of keys that have no bounds

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