Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Erdenet and Uran Togoo.



T
he destinations for today's roadtrip were Erdenet and Uran Togoo.

We hit the road right after breakfast. More bumpy roads. I let Violeta sit by the door so she had a handle to hang on to. Poor thing....the bumpy ride was not something she was used to. Sharon sat beside the other door and I was squashed between the two of them. We gave Adrian the front passenger seat so he could have room for his legs.








Our first stop of the was the town of Erdenet with is located about 370 km (230 miles) northwest of Ulaan Baatar, the capital. On our way, we encountered a pair of beautiful cranes. Adrian asked the driver to pull over so we could take some photos.











A short distance down the road and we came across another ovoo. To wish ourselves a safe journey, we all got out and did our obligatory walk around the structure.








We arrived into Erdenet late mornning. Erdenet is the second-largest city in Mongolia and the capital of the aimag (province) of Orkhon. The city was built in 1975 to exploit Asia's largest deposit of copper ore and has the fourth largest copper mine in the worl


Our caravan of SUVs pulled into the heart of downtown Erdenet. My initial impression of Erdenet....another drab, Soviet influenced Mongolian town. This was not looking like it was going to be an interesting place to linger in.


We had about 2 hours to explore the town as one of the SUVs needed to be taken to a repair shop to be looked at. I had no idea how I would pass the time.



Since we were surrouded by shops, the most obvious thing to do was, well, go shopping. The first few stores I went in had nothing that appealed to me. There was a music CD store so I went inside in search of a Khoomi CD.....no luck. Back out front,I headed towards an interior courtyard of the shopping plaza. I was really trying to find something of *beauty* or interest here but I was quickly disappointed. *sigh*.

Then I spotted the grocery store. When all else fails, food is a good distraction for me :-)


Turns out, several of my tour mates also had the same idea. I took this as an opportunity to check out Mongolia foods. I was amazed by the selection of Russian foods (cheap caviar!!) until later when I realized that the population in this town is heavily Russian.

I wandered up and down the aisles and in the end, picked up some munchies (had no idea what they were) Mongolian lake salt (yeah....wierd thing to buy I know but I collect salt) and some meat filled pastries from the *deli* area. Violeta also took the opportunity to try out some local delicacies....purchasing a package of some sort of preserved meat.




Back outside, I headed towards the park located across the street. It was a pretty little park. There were plenty of free benches so I decided this would be a good place to spend the remainder of my two hours. Evan, Maree, Violeta and a couple of my other tour mates had exactly the same idea.







We decided to break into our snacks and share them. Since all the packaging was lettered in Cyrilic, no one had any idea what they bought but we were all game to try them.
















Some were tasty, some were so-so....
















.....and the preserved meat that Violeta bought? Well, it smelled pretty horrible and the consensus of those who dared to try it was that it was nasty.

















Even Evan turned down an offer of a sample.












We ended up spending more time in Erdenet than 2 hours. It took longer than expected to repair the SUV. Luckily Puji bought our lunch and bottled water at the supermarket because it was close to lunchtime by the time we continued on our journey. It was a beautiful day so I was looking forward to another picnic lunch under the brillant blue Mongolian sky.

The outskirts of town were dotted by wooden houses topped off with colorful tin roofs. Little did I know, but these structures would be a common sight in many a remote Mongolian town.



We found a spot for lunch and it was the first of many rice/mutton combos followed by a KitKat bar for dessert.

After lunch, it was back on the road....okay, path. Another bumpy ride. By now, Adrian, Sharon, Violeta and I were getting to know each other well. Adrian and Sharon are a married couple who are from New Zealand. They make their living working on luxury private yachts....Adrian works on the IT systems and Sharon is in hospitality. As they described their *rough* life sailing to all sorts of exotic ports of call, I could only listen with envy. They love their work....who wouldn't? They had spent the last 7 months travelling the world and their journey would end in 2 months in Nice, France where they hoped to find work on another private yacht.





At lunchtime, Puji told us we would be hiking up a volcano in the afternoon. We arrived at Uran-Togoo Tulga Uul Natural Monument Park late in the afternoon. Our driver pointed out the volcano to us as we approached it. Initially about climbing up a volcano....had no idea how high or steep it was going to be. See Uran Togoo volcano, it looked manageable.



There was no parking lot so the drivers just pulled up into a grove of trees at the bottom of the volcano.



We all clamored out of the SUVs except for poor Eric. Lunch had not agreed with him so he was not feeling well.

As soon as I got out of the car, I was surrounded by a bazillion flies.....very, very annoying. No matter, I'll just swat around my face as I have to.







The woodland was a very pretty with flowers in bloom.



We started our climb up the volcano. Part way up, Violeta decided to not go further....she's not a hiker. She found herself a nice spot to enjoy a picturesque view from. Luckily, Alexandra was able to convince Violeta to change her mind....to just walk up at her own pace rather than trying to keep up with everyone else.





The face of the volcano was a lot steeper than I had thought. I was hiking up with Forrest and Karen and instead of going straight up, we decided to do it with switchbacks. Every so often, I would have to stop and catch my breath....bad lungs. Along the way, I caught glimpses of the valley below.






In due time, I made it to the top of the volcano and when I got there, I have to say, it was a bit anti-climatic. Not a very big depression but the view of it was made pretty as the volcano center was partially encircled by a small grove of evergreen trees and meadow dotted with flowers.

We didn't linger long at the top. On my way down, I bumped into Violeta and Alexandra who were *chatting* with a Mongolian family and taking sips of airag offered to them by the family.




Alexandra couldn't resist the opportunity to hold the baby of the family in her arms. So cute!












Once everyone had made it back to the cars, we all piled in and headed back down the road. A short drive later and we had arrived at Camp Togoo....a tourist ger camp where we would be spending the night.

After a long ride in the car, I was ready to call it a day....looking forward to dinner and a (hopefully) hot shower!




Camp Togoo was a very modest camp, nestled into one of the valleys in the park. Violeta and I shared a ger which was perfectly comfortable. Dinner was simple affair - started with some very tasty buuz. After dinner, Puji gathered us around, outside the dining hall, and told us a story about one of her relatives who is shaman. I listened to her story but I was not sure why she was telling it to us to begin with. Maybe she was just trying to entertain us.

After Puji did her thing, I headed to take a shower - it would be my first in over two days. The shower room was communal with each person occupying a separate stall. I disrobed and turned on the faucet. There was hot water but it come out about 4 drops at a time. Cathleen was in the stall next to me and we both started to laugh at what was happening. At the rate the water was dribbling out of the shower head, it would be days before I would finish. :-)

Feeling all clean, I decided I had to give my dirty laundry the same treatment so I did a small load....using the tie lines outside the ger as my clothes line. Hey, you have to be resourceful. As I was pinning up my laundry to dry, Marilyn passed by in search of medicine for poor Eric who had pretty much spent his afternoon throwing up. We all hoped that he would feel better in the morning.

By now, the sun was starting to set over the horizon. I was pooped and ready for sleep. I crawled into my bed and fell into deep slumber.

My first day traveling the Mongolian steppes had been a very memorable one and as always, I was looking forward to how the next day would unfold.