Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the road.


T
here were a lot of long car rides on this trip. Fortunately, good conversation helped bide the time. If no one felt like chatting, I plugged my headphones and listened to some music. One thing for certain, the rides were way to bumpy to do any reading so looking out the window and watching the scenery go by was a good option.

For the most part, views of the expansive steppe were what we saw each day. I have to say, I never got tired of seeing it the wide open spaces.



































































After a few days of offroading, the scenery began to look to me like the *same old, same old* - same old beautiful steppe, same old fluffy cloud in bright blue sky..... sigh :-)

Except when there would be a surprise just around the bend. Then I would be reminded of just how special a place I was traveling in.


Traveling in remote places often means l-o-n-g rides. Conversation is most often the way to pass the time. Chatter topics run the gamut from serious to funny to.....well, listen to this one and decide for yourself what category it falls in :-)

 
Every now and again, the green ground would be punctuated by the white of a ger. Sometimes there would be a small cluster of them but usually, it was more common to see just one ger.  Of course, the animals were common place. Slowing down or stopping the car to wait for a herd of sheep or goats to cross our path was not uncommon. In one particular instance, a crossing a bridge caused a small traffic jam. :-)   
Herds of dzo's were another common sight. They, too, often held up our journey. I got used to the sound of the driver pressing on the horn them get them move off the road so we could drive past them! Horses could be seen both on the steppe and in the towns. This poor guy was patiently waiting for his rider to return.  Birds of prey, cranes and other birds could be seen circling the skies or resting on the ground. On our roadtrips, we stopped in a lot of little towns. Towns that have names, though I rarely knew what they were but are so small that they don't show up on a map....at least not on any of the maps we had. Colorful tin roofs were what I quickly associated these towns with. Much less charming than the traditional ger in appearance but I'm sure much more comfortable especially during the cold winters. On our roadtrips, we stopped in a few of these to fuel up and restock on munchies and drinking water. Often, our stops were quite lengthy so we had time to stroll around town. It was a good opportunity to see Mongolians going about their daily lives. Pretty much all the towns are very run down, a reminder that Mongolian is not a wealthy country. Even in this drab land, buildings are often very colorful. Another element of these towns is that the line between what is *urban* and was it *country* is often blurred. It was not uncommon to see farm animals roaming about freely. These two pigs were reveling in a mud bath just across the street from the general store! And then there was Mörön which in Mongolian is written as "Мөрөн" which is pronounced something like "Mooo-roon" in English. Of course, none of us could pronounce the name of the town in any dialect that would even resemble it's Mongolian name so we simply called it "Moron". That name, unfortunately, evoked quite a few politically incorrect jokes along the lines of "How many morons does it take to.....". Luckily, neither Puji nor any of the drivers got the jokes but eventually the group felt its conscience and explained our rude behavior. Even after that though I don't think Puji got it and if she did, she most certainly did not let on. After Erdinet, Mörön was the largest town we spent any amount of time in - we actually stopped there twice. In fact, the photo of me that opens this posting was taken just near town center. Nope, Mörön is not a hopping town! There were a couple of grocery stores that we could stock up our supplies from and a hotel that had a restaurant run by a couple of Englishmen. Pretty much everyone in the group paid the hotel restaurant a visit because it had toilet facilities and most importantly, it had coffee and the best carrot cake this side of the Gobi :-) On our second visit back to Mörön, Eric and I decided to g0 to the town museum and after that, the town monastery. We followed the map in Eric's Lonely Planet guide and after a lot of turnarounds, eventually found ourselves standing outside the front entrance of the local performing arts theatre. According to the guide, the museum was located inside the theatre. We entered and again, after a few turnarounds found the museum.....all two US master bedroom sized rooms of it. I can't remember how much we paid for our tickets but we had to pay before the curator would unlock each door to allow us in. I didn't even bother asking if I could take photographs and just as well as there was really nothing that was truly photo worthy.

One room was full of taxidermied animals that are indigenous to the region. Very odd display. The second room was full of historic Mongolia artifacts.....some dating back several hundred years. There was no rhyme or reason to either collection.

Surprisingly, even with just a few displays, Eric and I managed to spend quite a bit of time in the museum, so much so that we didn't have enough time to go to the monastery. I'd like to say that I will do that on my next trip to Mörön but something tells me I won't be back anytime soon.

Road trips in Mongolia. Memories for a lifetime!