Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Ride'em cow girl, er... I mean camel girl!

 We were leaving the Gobi Nomad Lodge for one night to stay near the Khonghor sand dunes, then returning for two more nights. When I got up I went out to walk around before breakfast. I always woke up right at dawn which was before 5AM. We weren't having breakfast until 7AM, so I had plenty of time. It was a gorgeous morning. The almost full moon was setting over the mountains to the west. I walked out into the desert to an Ovoo, which is a large pile of stones with a post and prayer flags used as a site for prayer. We had passed a number of these. Sergie always walked around the shrines clockwise and added three stones. 

I saw a few birds, including an Isabelline Shrike which took a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler right in front of me. The birds in Mongolia can be a bit blood-thirsty. I then was walking back to my ger when I flushed another shrike off of a nest in the shrubs behind the camp. Since we were returning the following day, we only took what we needed for the night. After breakfast we took off for the dunes. 

On our way to the dunes we stopped in a small village and picked up some snacks. There was a boarding school for nomad children there. Sergie took us in to visit. It was close to the end of the school year and some grades had already ended the semester and gone with their families to their summer camps, but there were still some students having classes. We sat in on an English class for kids who I believe were in sixth grade. The kids were very friendly and didn't seem to mind us being there.

We got to our next camp, Gobi Discovery. I was a little nervous about this one, as it does not have electricity, other than a generator that runs a short time every day. I had charged up my solar battery and my back up battery pack. I mean, what would I do if my phone died? The horror! It actually was fine. I did have to time my shower in the evening so I would have hot water, but that was no big deal. The ger itself was huge! It was more western in decor and very nice, though I have a soft spot for the traditional furnishings. We got settled in and had lunch, then we left for the sand dunes.

This was a big day for me. I was going to ride a bactrian camel. When I booked the trip I found out that camel riding was a possibility. I was so excited! I can't say that riding a two humped camel was a life dream but when I found out I could do it, I was all in. We stopped at a nomad's ger who had camels and would arrange the rides for us. He and his family welcomed us in. He passed around his snuff bottle for us to take a snort, which I did. We gave his family some chocolates that we brought and then paid for the camels. Most of his camels were still on the range grazing before moving for the summer, but he had several available.

We went out and the four camels were saddled and sitting on the ground. Sergie told us to approach and mount them from the left. I walked up to mine and threw my leg over and got on. I put my feet in the stirrups and the camel stood up. I grabbed the front hump with all my might, and uttered one of my favorite four letter words, as the motion almost threw me off. Sergie got on her camel and took the lead on mine, as I had no idea how to get the camel to go, or keep it from running away with me, which happened with horses more than once when I was a kid. We rode about a half an hour until we got to the base of the dunes. When it was time to dismount the camel sat down. This was worse then when he got up and I said that word again! I really had a lot of fun.If

Sergie, Max, and Rami started off to climb the highest dune. I said "No thanks, I will stay behind and take pictures." The climb was steep and I knew I wasn't up to it. I watched as they ascended and was really impressed. If you look carefully at the photo you can see three tiny dots at the top. That is them! I was happy to putter around looking at plants and birds. The dunes were incredibly beautiful. There was a dramatic sky and I could see rain in the distance.  Finally the climbers reached the top. I could barely see them. Their descent was a lot quicker. We headed back to the camp. The generator was on and I washed the sand from my hair. I knew I was going to be sore in the morning, and I was right!

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