There is a Mongolian proverb that says “Суусан цэцнээс Явсан тэнэг дээр” which translates into “A travelling fool is better than a sitting wise man.” Getting to travel with my family this past month really hit that home for me. Mongolia is a unique place to serve in Peace Corps, for a multitude of reasons, but one major difference is the plain expanse of this country.
While I love my site, my quiet little mountain town, I have found traveling out to see the other parts of this country difficult, especially when it’s in the dark depths of winter. Even if the conditions are ideal, all ‘roads’ lead to UB and if you miss the once a week micker ( small van that fits 8 passengers) to Gobi Altai ( the nearest aimag center to us, about 8 hours away) you aren’t going anywhere besides UB. So I was happy when my parents allowed me to come along during their trip to Mongolia. In June they flew into my aimag center’s airport and started a whirlwind trip around western Mongolia. We saw Khar Nuur ( Black Lake) , a beautiful lake that has sand dunes rolling into the water. Along with the red clay hills surrounding the lake, it was pretty much a lunar landscape. We camped out along the side of the lake, flew a kite along the shore and tramped along the gravel beaches.
After we headed out to Otgontenger National Park, where we got to see “Eternal Snow Mountain”, 3rd tallest mountain in Mongolia. To get there we drove along a long river valley lined with gers and families camping for the summer break. It was quite fantastic scenery, as the river valley turned in to hilly drumlins spotted with glacial erratics. After driving the micker through some terrain, that honestly shouldn’t have been driven through, we arrived at Tsaagan Nuur ( White / Pure Lake). Again we camped out along the lake shore, kept company by a herd of yaks and horses. We were able to hike up a hill to see Otgontenger mountain from the north side, which was much more dramatic then the usually view from the south end, which tends to feature on many a postcard. After that, we headed up north for two days to go up to Moron (pronounced Morin) , the aimag center in Khovsgul. Like I said above, travel between aimags is incredibly difficult yet incredibly rewarding. We saw many places that were so untouched, we couldn’t have been the the 5th group of people to travel through since winter. We saw families living in gers, teenagers herding animals while wearing traditional deels and propping up temporary basketball hoops to play on packed down dirt… so often while we are living in a Mongolian town, we are very aware of the changing Mongolia, and its refreshing to see sites that are reminiscent of that romantic Mongolia that we only tend to read about nowadays. The pastoral scenery made the difficult ride a little bit easier, but I don’t think my parents will be doing it again anytime soon.
After we hit up Khovsgul, the traveling became easier. Moron is a lot more developed when it comes to tourism. There is even a nice “American” road that goes up to Lake Khovsgul , or Ejiin Dalai (Mother Sea in Mongolian). We stayed in a ger camp along the shore of the lake where we had awesome food and got the time to explore. I even got to sit in a boat for five seconds. First time sitting on top of open water over a year, easy. From there we flew out to Ulaan Baatar, where we stayed for night before heading out to Terelj National Park, about an hours drive from the city. We stayed in another ger camp, and enjoyed a couple days seeing the sites. Which included a lot of rocks shaped like things… including “Turtle Rock” and “Man Reading a Book Rock” . We also got to see a meditation center, as well as getting some relaxing time to explore the park. While on a horseback ride I had an interesting talk with the guide about how Terelj Park was developing. While we trotted down the road, he remarked how there were so many fences popping up, and that many of them belonged to rich, and how the very landscape was changing. As he told me this, I had the thought that that was the story of Mongolia, as part of it as the varied scenery. As I left the next day I had the thought that it is a beautiful park and hopefully it will stay that way. Another day in UB and then my parents left to go back home. Its kind of amazing to read over what I wrote and reminisce about a successful trip. While there were some snags and difficult moments, I’m glad my family got to see this crazy wild country. Someone once told me, that as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you do become protective of your country of service. This became very apparent to me during the trip, as I was trying to explain to people not only the how or what of this country but also the why. I have learned a lot about this country, but I’m glad to say that there are also some things that even I’m surprised by. Finally , it was refreshing being out in nature. There are only 3 months of the year where there are green things around, and about 3 weeks of true wildflowers. I don’t know their names, but goodness gracious flowers are beautiful when you haven’t seen some for a while.
Finally being in Ulaan Baatar got me to be in town to see off some of the M23s ( the group of volunteers that have been here for 2 years ) before they closed their service, or COS. These guys had been great mentors and supporters during my time here, and while I will miss them, I know that I will see the majority of them again stateside. I will make that happen. If there is one aspect of Peace Corps that I didn’t really expect, it was the connections that I would make with the other Peace Corps Volunteers. I have been truly fortunate to have met some amazing and awesome M23s and my experience in country won’t be the same without them. These incoming trainees have some big shoes to fill 😛
This is Part 1 of a more detailed series about my summer travels. There will be a second coming around soon. In the meantime, lots of love,