We’ve been in Vietnam about a week and a half and I’m in love with this place. Just in love with this whole country. We’re having an amazing time, in which I haven’t thought about the blog or email or uploading photos, though I have been oddly busy on my Instagram account, which is new for me. Regardless, we are behind on this blog business. We left off in Siberia. To get there, we took a 4-night, 3-day journey on the Trans-Siberian train and after three days in Lake Baikal, decided to get back on the rails and head south into Asia. That meant scrapping our original plans to go to Sicily, Greece and Turkey, as it’s easier to get to those countries in the future (the beauty of a year-long trip with no schedule or pre-arranged travel plans is that we can change our minds on a whim, and THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST FEELINGS IN THE WORLD I HAVE DECIDED). So we took the Trans-Sib train to its next big stop: Ulaanbaatar, or UB, the capitol of Mongolia, and spent four days in the countryside living in a ger, aka a yurt, riding horses, visiting a temple in the mountains, hiking around in search of rams, and basically just falling off the face of the earth for a bit. We spent a couple of hours in UB upon arrival, seeing a Buddhist temple and a bit of downtown, then got the hell out of Dodge and hightailed it for the steppe, which in Mongolia means the countryside. Mongolia’s steppe is enormous, situated between China and Russia, and home to one of the world’s last nomadic cultures, which hasn’t changed much in centuries and has a huge influence on the country. (Side note: also a huge influence is Genghis Khan, a national hero who has a new monument built to him, taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York or Christ the Redeemer in Rio). Our first stop was Gun Galuut, a national park, with wide open spaces, mountains, lakes and tons of goats, sheep and horses. After three days we moved on to Terelj, Mongolia’s biggest national park, which has the more beautiful landscape of the two but is also much more crowded — there were gers throughout, as opposed to our little camp in Gun Galuut. Everywhere we ate had amazing food. Meals are started with either hot black tea or milk tea, which is tea with milk and salt. Yes salt. Fried or steamed dumplings often follow and then some sort of meat — the bigger animals, like horse and camel, are eaten in the winter; in the summer, cow, sheep, chickens, goat. Vegetables are not huge, as this is a nomad culture, even for those who live in the capital, and nomads travel with herds of livestock, not vegetable gardens. Baby animals are not eaten, so there is no lamb or veal. For the most part, Buddhism and Shamanism dominate the country, and anywhere you drive, on the side of the road or in the middle of fields, you will see Buddhist temples or Shamanist offerings which look like a pile of rubble with blue ribbons tied to the top. People leave anything for the gods — cigarettes, milk tea, rocks — and send their wishes up to the heavens. We couldn’t speak the language — Mongolian uses the cyrillic alphabet, like Russian, as well as Mongolian script, which, to my very untrained and uneducated eye, resembles Arabic, and we understood none of it — and most of the country does not speak English. But we at least learned about the culture, and what not to do — don’t point at people with one finger, because it’s demeaning, but rather use your whole hand to reference someone: “He really likes the dumplings” (Vanna White motion with my hand toward my husband who is on his 10th mutton dumpling). Men are served first, before women, and it’s impolite to ever refuse anything offered to you in someone’s home. Even if that anything is mare’s milk, which is milk from a horse (I honestly had no idea you could milk a horse) that is fermented (3% alcohol content) and stored in a giant cowhide bag in homes to be offered in a bowl to guests. Some is more sour than others, depending on what and where the horse was eating before it was milked. We were offered this by a nomad family as we sat in their ger on a hot afternoon. Anthony took a feeble sip of the milk and then handed me the bowl to contend with (he really is a gem), and I drank the room temperature-drink down about halfway so as not to be rude or wasteful, mindful of the fact that my guts were going to pay for this later. And they did. So did my husband. Very glad we made the decision to change the course of our trip and take the road (train track) less traveled into Asia. The road continues…
Where we stayed in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia:
Gers in Gun Galuut and then Terelj, courtesy of Selena Travel
So cool! Xx
Your Ger (thanks for the new word!) looks amazing! And it’s going to take me a long time to get the mare’s milk in the bag image out of my mind-eeeew and you are incrdible for drinking it!! Safe travels to the next stop!
Very cool! Except for the milk…
This trip is not for the weak spirited! Safe travels!
Mongolia!! Who knew how beautiful it is there! Enjoy the adventure.. Xo
hey u, I’m now seeing these countries in a whole new light…fascinating and most interesting…pass on the mare’s milk…the pics tell it all…keep them coming, love u, Dad
Did you climb all those thousand steps to see the KHAN? So that’s how you both stay in shape despite all the fantastic food; I could have done without the mare’s milk, yikes!
Amazeballs! Hope you get back to Italy, Greece & Turkey though!!! Miss you’s & can’t wait to read more! GET IT!