Day 8: Gobi Cold Camel Expedition
27th Jan 2018
Today was our rest day, although we packed so much in it felt like a non-rest day! We drove out into the desert without the camels to explore some of Mongolian's unique places. One was a forest of trees which were thousands of years old, their roots growing thick and deep, but on the surface they're scraggly and barely taller than a camel! On our way there we passed herds of rare Mongolian Antelope which raced across the desert.
Next we headed for some caves, but got a little lost and we found a new meaning for GPS (GerPS) after stopping to ask nomadic families for directions.
Eventually we found the caves, after some intense off-roading over rough terrain - I'm still unsure how the 2WD managed it! The caves were deep in the mountains and fit over 500 animals; in bad winters the herders keep their sheep and goats in them for shelter and during Soviet times Monks hid out in them to avoid being murdered (an estimated 20,000 monks were slain during the Stalinist repressions in Mongolia between 1937 and 1939).
The caves proved quite hazardous to reach as we scaled up icy rocks to the first cave and only one of our nine made it to the largest cavern deep in the mountain. Big Man lost the grip on his camera as we climbed and I watched horrified as it tumbled down the mountain - well broken by the time it crashed to a stop in a thorn bush. I was gloveless at this point so it was hard to get a grip on the freezing cold rocks with my bare hands and hoped my camera wouldn't follow suit! It was worth the climb though as the veiws overlooking the Gobi Desert was truly breathtaking. At the top of the ridge line, well above the caves, on old herding women was tossing rocks at goats and sheep she was trying to herd down the mountain - she was fearless.
After getting lost in the desert, and having a blowout on the truck tire, our three hour trip becomes seven. By the time we return to our Ger I was dismayed to realise my sense of smell has returned. Our clothing and ourselves have been unwashed for a week and we smell less than ideal; we all have a Gobi bath using wet wipes, for lack of water. It feels good to change into my only clean pair of clothes.
We have lunch at 5.30pm. I got car sick on the return and head to bed early, too tired to attend the traditional Mongolian feast the herding family has planned. The others head off to eat and I snuggle into layers of sleeping bags, convinced my lower back will never be warm again - days have passed and that part of my body has still not warmed up after chilling 9km into our 300km ride.
The days are starting to blur together and I can't believe a whole week has passed. This experience has been like a dream and already I know it will be an experience I will never forget. While the camels and scenery is spectacular it is truly the people that are making this trip so special. The Mongolian herding families are so warm and welcoming and Tess and Big Man are two of the most amazing people I have ever met. Their passion and pride in their culture is rare and I treasure every story they share with us. I am being touched by the connection between the people, their animals and the land; for the nomads nothing seems difficult or tiresome, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
[This is the eighth 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]!