Mongolia, Part 1: A bumpy start

Mongolia, Part 1: A bumpy start

The beginning of my trip in Mongolia was nothing short of tumultuous. I had been dreaming about visiting this oft-ignored region of Central Asia for years, I had been planning and organizing for about six months, and I had spent more money on this “vacation” than I had ever spent on a trip in my life. But after 8 minutes of sleep on an Aeroflot flight from Moscow followed by a hiccup at immigration after landing due to my passport lacking a completely vacant page, I certainly had brief fantasies about booking a flight right back home to Barcelona. But my fatigue-turned-ambivalence combined with our zealous leader Baysaa led me straight into the black five-passenger van and straight out of Ulaanbaatar into the unknown.

Our companion van that drove behind us and carried three other travelers, the rest of our gear, and our phenomenal cook for the 8-day journey into the Gobi.

Our companion van that drove behind us and carried three other travelers, the rest of our gear, and our phenomenal cook for the 8-day journey into the Gobi.

The landscape quickly turned to desolation with a smattering of chalky white gers perched in random spots throughout the emerald expanse, which flanked the two-lane patch of pavement. The speed at which we started spotting these temporary nomadic homes was much faster than I had expected.

Pronounced “geer”, a  ger  is a Mongolian version of a yurt. Made of wood and sheep’s wool, nomadic families can build them and take them down in only a few hours, making it easy to move their families and herds to wherever the weather is good and the grass is growing. The construction has remained the same for thousands of years, and the materials can be passed from generation to generation. The round shape gives stability to the structure in harsh winds, and the door always faces south as Mongolian winds come from the northwest in Siberia.

Pronounced “geer”, a ger is a Mongolian version of a yurt. Made of wood and sheep’s wool, nomadic families can build them and take them down in only a few hours, making it easy to move their families and herds to wherever the weather is good and the grass is growing. The construction has remained the same for thousands of years, and the materials can be passed from generation to generation. The round shape gives stability to the structure in harsh winds, and the door always faces south as Mongolian winds come from the northwest in Siberia.

Between winks of attempted sleep when I wasn’t jolted awake by a pothole in the road or an exaggerated swerve by our driver in trying to avoid such roadblocks, I espied charcoal mountain peaks in the distance, beginning wherever the green-and-brown earth ended.

View from our first ger camp.

View from our first ger camp.

Horses grazed, sheep and goats crossed the road with abandon, and I even caught my first glimpse of the Mongolian Bactrian camel, the only kind in the world with two humps instead of one.

Bactrian camels are migratory animals that can go days without water and months without food, enabling them to endure the volatile conditions of Mongolia’s Gobi region.

Bactrian camels are migratory animals that can go days without water and months without food, enabling them to endure the volatile conditions of Mongolia’s Gobi region.

The shaky car and rugged terrain woke me more than a handful of times, one during which I assumed I was still on the plane, thus simply experiencing slight turbulence. At one point, Baysaa turned on Whitney Houston’s greatest hits, allowing me to not only travel across the world but also back in time.

Night had fallen by the time we arrived to our first sleeping spot: a four-ger guest camp with three sleeping gers and one dining/communal geer. My eager legs stretched out of the van’s sliding door and kept stretching all the way to the outhouse, about 100 yards away from the gers, where I was pleasantly surprised to find an actual toilet seat, toilet paper, and even a motion-sensor lamp.

Left: View from inside the dining ger; Right: First night’s dinner.

After dinner, I walked back to the gers, surrounded by blackening mountains that grew darker as night set in, like blackout curtains shutting out the sun. I grew excited at the thought of seeing this scene by daylight, when the shades and hues would be infused with light and I would have a full night of sleep behind me.

Mongolia, Part 2: Adapting

Mongolia, Part 2: Adapting

Dining dilemma in Oporto

Dining dilemma in Oporto