Day 6: Gobi Cold Camel Expedition
25th Jan 2018
Today is only -15 when we start riding and it feels quite tropical, almost 30 degrees warmer than a few nights ago! It was so hot in the Ger last night and no one slept inside their sleeping bags, shedding clothes during the night. I think something got lost in translation and our broken legged herder, who is tending the fire, stoked it every hour - it felt like a sauna.
Today we're riding 21km to have lunch with Umber's family, our new lead herder. He bought 11 new camels over for us so we can start today with a fresh team and he'll be herding us to the mountains. Our new camels are so well trained and comfortable to trot, or maybe we're all getting used to the movements on camels - it's more of a circular jostle rather than sitting or rising.
Umber is the top horse trainer in the province and the walls of his family Ger are decorated with strands of his best horses mane, medals he has won in horse racing and special saddles and bridles. Horse racing in Mongolia is a completely different sport. The Mongolian horses are only about 12-14hh and the children ride them; the best jockeys are just 3-5 years old as they are so small the horses can run faster, and they can be no older than 12 years old. The races vary from 12km for 2-year-old horses and up to 30km, with the kids often riding them bareback. They are exceptional riders and could outride most of us I am sure.
After lunch we ride another 2km to famous stone paintings which are 3600 years old and believed to show the very first domestication of wild horses and camels. It's now -9 so it's quite a hot hike up the rocky mountain in our deels but well worth the climb. The history in this country is incredible!
Soon we're back on our camels and we head out across an seemingly endless valley, although it's only 15km. To keep ourselves amused we play tigy on our camels then have a raging dance party as we trot across the valley, jamming to pumping music coming from the support truck. Half of the mischief we get up to would be impossible on horses!
Finally the valley ends and we ride through a mountain pass, it is one of the most magical experiences of my life and there are moments where it feels like I'm in a different world or time, riding prehistoric animals. The camels are frosted with ice and look like hairy mammoths. Towering above us are goats clinging to rocky cliffs and the scenery is more dramatic than anything we're seen so far. We stop for a hot drink and I feel like I'm in Narnia again, that's how surreal the experience.
It's been a 38km ride by the time we finish riding for the day and everyone has rallied enough to stay on their camels for the entire ride; the first day thats happened. I stayed warm most of the ride and we're all in remarkably good spirits; the improved temperature has been a godsend. It's been the most amazing day and apart from Umber's family we've seen barely any sign of human life in this vast and barren landscape.
We round the last corner and the narrow mountain track opens out into a snowy valley. Hundreds of sheep and goats are making their way home before the sun sets and we follow them as they make their daily journey back to the family Ger. Once our camels are tethered to the line I go and spend time with the herders as they sort the goats and sheep into yards. As always they animals are so happy and love scratches, bunting each other as they come up for pats. Some of the lambs are just new borns and these are lifted out of the yard and put into a Ger for added warmth.
The local families are all very honoured to have us as guests. They are amazed we have come to Mongolia in the coldest time of the year to ride camels 300km across the Gobi - none of their own people would do it.
That evening we sit around the Ger listening to stories from Tess and Big Man and with each one I fall a little more in love with Mongolia and their simple way of life. Their respect for each other, their animals and their culture just makes so much sense! By the time we head to bed the temperature has dropped to -23 and it's snowing.
Tomorrow we must change to Mountain camels because we're heading over an icey pass. Apparently at times it will be so steep we'll have to hop off and walk and Umber's camels, who are from the valley, aren't used to crossing this type of terrain and would lose too much confidence if they were to slip.
[This is the sixth update in a 15 part series, if you'd like to follow the rest of my journey in the Gobi Camel Camel Expedition LIKE my page for daily photos and blogs]!