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Trip Report Trip Report - Yunnan Province, China and Mongolia

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Yunnan Province, China and Mongolia
This trip report describes a wonderful trip I took about 6 months ago. Mongolia seemed so far away and exotic, and it was! I traveled with Overseas Adventure Travel, who did a great job of putting the trip together. It was a photographers dream. I took the pre-trip to Yunnan Province in China, as different from Beijing as New York City is to Norman Oklahoma. A post trip to Siberia was offered, but I didn’t take it. I traveled alone and met up with a wonderful group of adventurous like-minded people. OAT does not charge a single supplement so that makes it very affordable to travel as a single. If you’d like more information, please don’t hesitate to send email to charlotte.temple@yahoo.com. Enjoy!


Sunday, May 20: Boston to LAX
Left at 9:10pm for my flight to Beijing via LAX and arrived at 12:30am.

Tuesday, May 22nd: LAX to Beijing, China to Kunming, China
Very long 12 hour flight to Beijing. It was dark most of the way and I managed to sleep a good part of the trip. We arrived in Beijing about 5am. I found the shuttle train to the next terminal - 2 more travelers showed up, then in ones and twos, the other travelers arrived until we were 9 in all to catch the plane to Kunming which left on time about 7am. We arrived in Kunming about 10:30am and Fiona, our wonderful guide, was waiting for us at the airport. Our exhausted group arrived at the hotel and met for lunch after a short rest. We met again in the evening for a welcome dinner.
(Lost one day while crossing International Date Line)

Wednesday, May 23rd: Kunming
Hard to believe that it’s not even 1 full day since we arrived. I slept like a dead pig, an old Chinese expression. Breakfast was an interesting mix of eastern and western foods. Most of the Chinese dishes were in warmers - there were unusual foods such as tiny chicken claws in a red sauce. American breakfast was fairly standard although no cereals -- basically eggs and bacon and steamed rolls. We met at 8:30 for a 90 minute ride to the Stone Forest, a fabulous park with limestone karsts in various formations. Lots of pools of water with reflections. We took an open trolley ride through the park. The sun was out and it was quite humid in the mid 80’s. The trolley dropped us off and we walked along a path through the rocks viewing spectacular sights at every turn. We found various formations in the rocks. We saw a pig, a moose, many lotus flowers and others. They were all natural formations hundreds of feet tall interspersed with lantana and bougainvillea. We spent about 3 hours in the park, then stopped for a delicious lunch at a local restaurant. The vegetables were all fresh, green and crunchy, lots of bok choy, Chinese broccoli and chopped chicken. Next stop was Green Lake park, a wonderful spot with a large lake. Large groups of people, both men and women, were singing enthusiastically. They had word sheet and all knew the melody. Other groups were dancing, looked mainly like folk dancing. Occasionally there was a leader, usually a former teacher, who taught new steps and reviewed old. Another group of men formed a small group to play different types of guitars, both 1 and 2 string. Another group of men played American songs, such as Red River Valley and Baby Face in our honor. It was hard to tear ourselves away from these groups. In the evening we went to the Dynamic Yunnan show, choreographed by the artist who created the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. We all agreed it was one of the best shows we had ever seen, anywhere. Great costumes, enthusiastic dancers and wonderful choreography. One of the dancers performed the peacock dance and imitated the movement of the peacock with amazing delicacy and grace. What a wonderful day! Tomorrow we leave for Dali, another experience.

Thursday, May 24th: Kunming to Dali
Today was a long bus day - we drove from Kunming to Dali in about 2 1/2 hour stretches. We learned that Kunming has been the provincial capital of Yunnan since 1285. Yun means clouds and Nan means south. Yunnan means paradise of colorful clouds. Main crops are corn, rice, tobacco. Housing is very affordable. We finally got into the countryside where we saw lots of terraced farming. Chinese call this area the cradle of civilization - dinosaurs are painted on many houses. We passed the area where many of the citizens are members of the Yi minority who worship the sun. Circles are painted on many of the houses. Fiona told us an old Chinese proverb, “you can lose everything except your face... and your identity card.” Stopped to see and walk on part of the Burma Road. This section was built by 200,000 Burmese and Chinese laborers in 1937 and completed by 1938. It had a role in WWII when the Brits used the Burma Road to transport materiel to China. We visited the Flying Tigers Museum, which honors the American fighting unit that fought against the Japanese during World War II. Made especially memorable since the father of one of our travelers was a mechanic for the Flying Tigers. We stopped for a visit with an 86 year old gentlemen who worked with the pilots and mechanics. He smoked like a chimney and offered us each a cigarette since he had no snacks to offer us. He spoke fondly of the gratitude he felt for the Americans as they helped the Chinese fight the Japanese. We then visited the Horse Caravan Museum, to learn about the ancient tea trade in the region. The merchants would load horses with tea and salt and travel to Burma. Medicine and leather would come back to China. Learned about other minorities, the Bai, who are Buddhists.


Friday, May 25th: Dali
The hotel had 2 dining rooms - western and eastern. Beautiful hotel, lots of Asian tourists. I walked to the beautiful park to see people doing their morning exercises. Little pockets of people -- some doing Tai Chi, some walking and swinging their arms vigorously, lots of stationary type non-electric machines all over the park. Many bridges with reflecting ponds, and flowers in pots brightening up every corner. I was welcomed by a group of women who were exercising and they motioned for me to join them, which I did for about 15 minute. Back to the hotel to gather my stuff for another long day. We started at a town called Xizhou, about 1/2 hour from Dali where we visited the local morning market. Many minority groups all wearing different clothing and hats. They enjoy bartering and checking out the freshness and quality of the produce. Lots of veggies, pork and fish. Very busy. We picked out some candies for our home hosted lunch. Three of us had a turn making pizza. I made a sweet pizza (much easier) and others made a savory pizza with mashed pork and spices. We walked to a local Bai house. It was very hot. I used my umbrella as a parasol against the sun. It worked, but made it difficult to take pictures. We watched as the lady of the house made cheese. After it was a certain consistency, she rolled it out and twirled it on 2 sticks and put it in the sun where it will dry for a few days and will be used for seasoning or stored. We then stopped at a field to watch a farmer and his wife weed their crops. Then a bumpy horse-ride to Shacun village where we went out on Erhai Lke for a cormorant fishing demo. A Bai woman of about 50 years age, rowed our boatload of 9 plus 3 guides. She has amazing upper body strength. She does this 6 to 7 times a day. It was about 90 degrees on the lake with no covering. Suddenly, a boat filled with about 20 cormorants arrive with their handlers. We later learned that there are cormorant guilds and that China has placed 1st for 5 years in the cormorant fish catching contest. Cormorants ranged in age from 1 year to 28 years. Few people can raise cormorants from eggs, but that’s what these guys do. The cormorants have leather straps around their necks which prevents them from swallowing the bigger fish. Once the handler releases the cormorants, and they catch a fish, he reels them back in to the boat, pulls out the fish, and gives them a treat, All 6 fish that were caught by the cormorants were sold at the equivalent of ~6.00 each. Next was the photo op where we had pictures taken with the cormorants on our head. We walked to the home where we had our home hosted lunch and another demo. The homes all appeared very uninteresting from the outside with mud colored walls along tiny cobbled streets. But once through the gates, there appeared a large courtyard with a 2 story home. Before Mao’s time, only 1 family lived here, now there are 2, sometimes 3. We were served a meal and then watched a tea demo. There were 3 different teas, bitter, sweet and aftertea. We had a chance to make some tea. Next we walked along the ancient walls of the city and stopped at the South Tower Gate. Our last stop before we dropped of exhaustion was the Catholic and Chinese church with its very interesting architecture. Fabulous day.

Saturday, May 26th: Dali
Another day in lovely Dali. I took another walk to the park. Such a beautiful park. Pots of hydrangeas, bougainvillea, lots of trees and ponds, all serving to make things beautiful and to block the street noise. We met at 8:30 for our 90 minutes ride to Weishan. We gain altitude and I feel breathless. We stopped at the Dong Lian Hua (East Lotus) village, home to the Muslim Hui People. Some villagers engaged in the Tea and Horse trade in early 20th century and built great mansions of synthesized Yunnan and Muslim styles. Our local guide was the great, great, granddaughter of one of the caravansary, and from a very wealthy family. This town hopes to be a regular stop on the tourist route, so townspeople are working feverishly to complete all construction in 21 days. We visited the tea museum which reinforced the tea route that we saw earlier. Beautiful old teapots and carriers, also renditions of what the times were like. There was 1 rider for every 4 horses, a leader, a security guard and a cook in this caravan. Goods would be dropped off and picked up during the trek. Next stop was a home visit to see the beautiful courtyard and the 2nd story of the home with its lovely rooms and fabulous windows. We visited a mosque. It’s a very small town, according to Chinese standards, just about 10,000 population. This town was a very important stop along the Tea and Horse Road. Then to Weishan Old Town for a vegetarian lunch and a 1/2 hour walk on our own to explore the town. Wonderful characters, scribes, woman mending clothing, men playing mah jongg. Weishan is famous for its very long noodles and we saw then drying on racks in the street. Then back on the bus for a 40 minute ride to visit Weibo Mountain the Taoist Temple. It was a quiet peaceful, secluded spot in the mountains with small bridges with running water. Dates from the Ming Dynasty. We walked up the 200 steps for an amazing view of the forest. It looked like what I pictured Shangra La to look like. Tomorrow we leave for Lijiang.

Sunday, May 27th: Dali to Lijiang
We left at 8:30 for our 3.5 hour bus ride to Lijiang. All of China is 1 big construction site... the great yellow building crane is called by the Chinese the national bird of China. Lots of big heavy vehicles on the road.. We passed through agricultural fields planted with corn, tobacco, rice, mulberry bushes for the silkworms. We rode another 1/2 hour and stopped to watch women working in the fields planting rice. Drove through another area where cats were worshipped -- there were metal cats on the roofs to bring good luck and to ward away rats. Most of the people in Leijiang are Naxi (Na shee) a matriarchal society. Women work, control finances, make decisions. Men are free to pursue their interests. The Naxi have their own religion and their language is pictographical similar to hieroglyphics. Older women wear blue, younger women wear purple, and all have white fabric stripes across their chests in an X format. Lijiang means beautiful river. The town was destroyed in 1996 by a 7.6 degree earthquake and has since been rebuilt. Previously the town was all fields, currently it’s a large clean modern bustling city with bicycle lanes, 3 lane roads in both directions with shops and hotels. There is no industry and therefore no pollution -- the major industry is tourism, mainly Asian. We are at the foothills of the eastern Himalayas. We stopped for lunch in old town. I couldn’t resist the yak with mixed vegetables. We visited old buildings with wall paintings dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Then to Yuhu village to visit the home of Dr. Joseph Rock, an Austrian American botanist who came to this area in the 1920’s to collect plants and look for a cure for leprosy. He liked Lijiang and used it as his base. He was also a photographer. He lived here for almost 27 years. Then to our lovely hotel in the old city -- touristy but very cute. First area we’ve been to where signs are in English and where we see westerners. Very curvy windy streets. We found some scarf shops and bought lovely scarves for 10 and 15 yuan (1.58 - 2.00).

Monday, May 28th: Lijiang
After a short bus ride to the local market in Lijiang Old Town, we stopped to see its interesting spices, food and ethic veggies. Then back on the bus to the Dongba Cultural Research Institute. The Dongba Institute has an interesting historical display of Naxi clothing and artifacts. We saw costumes, ritual ceremonial objects and photographs. Institute is fairly newly and opened in 1996. The Dongba use hieroglyphics to write and they are the only hieroglyphics in the world still in use. Next stop was Black Dragon Pool Park, a beautiful park and garden dating from 1737. Unfortunately, it hadn’t rained for almost 200 days and there was no water in the park, no springs, no waterfalls and no birds. The trees are being kept alive, but just barely. The bottom of the pool was all caked and cracked. There were many ancient buildings and bridges, but the overwhelming feeling was of sadness to see what this place would have looked like had there been more rain. Then we walked through the market area where I bought 2 necklaces for 10 yuan ($1.58). Back to the bus to the old city and to the hotel. The street is pedestrian only -- a real tourist town. Plans are to build 8 more colleges and make it a college town. Lijiang already has a relationship with Loyola Univ. Back to the hotel, lunch was at MaMa’s, a pizza joint. We were ready for pizza -- it was fairly good. At 4:30 we gathered to meet the Dongba Shaman who gave us a history of the people and talked about how he spent 30 years teaching and researching tribes. Even spent some time at Harvard. We played some games trying to guess some of the meanings of the Dongba pictographs. We left the hotel for a great dinner at a local restaurant. Again interesting dishes, some tempura like dishes. We walked though the night streets which looked so different than they did during the day. All the local restaurants were open with colored disco lights flashing and music blaring. Back to the hotel where we packed up and got ready for our flight to Kunming and then to Beijing and then on to Mongolia. Fabulous time in Yunnan Province -- so glad to have done this pre trip.

Tuesday, May 29th: Lijiang to Kunming to Beijing
We had a 40 minute drive to the Kunming airport and our 3.5 hour flight to Beijing. We had a buffet dinner at the hotel. Since we were returning to this hotel, we were able to leave clothing or souvenirs in an extra locked suitcase to be picked up on our return.

Wednesday, May 30th: Beijing to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
We left Beijing at about 11:30 and arrived in Ulann Baatar city. City is interesting, and appears to be trying to move into the 21st century, lots of signs in English, lots of restaurants, lots of traffic. Well dressed women. Nice looking people. Language is unrecognizable with strange vowel and consonant combinations. The Kempinski hotel is a 4* hotel and quite nice. We met at 5:30 for an orientation meeting to meet the folks who have just joined the trip. We met again for dinner at restaurant “Buffalo.” The best restaurant we’ve eaten at thus far -- everything was cooked at the table. The meat and the chicken were actually cut with scissors.

Thursday, May 31st: Ulaan Baatar
Fabulous breakfast. The best with delicious homemade yogurts, cereals, dried fruits and breads. Our first excursion was to the Gandan Monastery built in 1727 which became the principal center of Buddhist learning in Mongolia. In the 1930s, the Communist government of Mongolia, under the influence of Stalin, destroyed most monasteries and killed more than 15,000 lamas. The Gandan monastery was left intact but was closed in 1938. It reopened in 1944 and was left to operate as the only functioning Buddhist monastery as a token homage to traditional Mongolian culture and religion. With the end of Marxism in Mongolia in 1990, restrictions on worship were lifted. We saw monks of all ages. There was a huge statue of Buddha (almost 85’ tall) with 1,000 tiny buddhas decorating the temple all in glass cases. Lunch was a delicious soup with chicken and veggies and a nice sweet and sour mutton which was very tender. Also had yak milk tea made from tea leaves, yak butter and salt. Very unusual tasting, but good. We heard that Nomads will drink up to 40 cups a day. Since butter is the main ingredient, it’s a very warming drink, providing lots of energy, suited to high altitudes, and also helps prevent chapped lips. We heard that UB is the coldest national capital in the world because of its high elevation and high latitude. It gets light at 5:30 and stays light until about 9:00pm. We went to visit the Zaisan memorial which is dedicated to Soviet soldiers who were killed in WWII. The memorial also includes a Soviet tank paid for by the Mongolian people and a circular memorial painting depicting scenes of friendship between Mongolia and the Soviets. Great panoramic view of the whole city. Next it was Sukhbaatar Square, a central square located in UB. It’s named after the leader of Mongolia's 1921 revolution, Damdin Sükhbaatar (Sükh-baatar means Red Hero in the Mongol language) along with statues of Genghis Khan and two of his generals. Many Mongols come here to relax, sometimes to see a live concert.

Friday, June 1st: Ulaan Baatar to countryside
We left UB city for parts unknown and drove through the desolate countryside with its harsh mountains and barely pave rocky roads. Stopped for lunch of a Mongol traditional tasty dish of Khuushuur (kooshoor), pancakes stuffed with meat and then fried. We learned a bit about the nomads -- they move 4 times a year and usually have a vehicle, either a motorcycle or a Russian jeep to transport the gers and other household goods. Most of the time, they use yaks as well. Our first stop was a visit to a Nomad family where I was one of the lucky ones to ride a yak -- very slow moving, low to the ground and easy to ride, just my style. Good fun! We all fit into the family ger and tried some of the locally made yogurt cheese. Learned about the nomadic lifestyle, then watched the sheep milking. A baby goat begins to nurse to get the milk flowing then the nomads chase the goat away and begin to milk the sheep. We followed the yak wagon train to the lunch ger where we had salad, delicious soup and khuushuur (again). Another very tasty meal. Then it was back on the bus for another 3.5 hours for our first ger camp for the night. We were all very pleasantly surprised at the size of each ger. They are actually quite beautiful inside. Dinner was potato salad, delicious tender stewed “meat” and a candy bar for desert. We watched the sun set. It was going to be very cold and we had a choice of either a fire in our ger fireplaces at 10 or at 5am or both. I elected for just a fire at 5 -- made a mistake -- should’ve had both. It was mighty cold all night.

Saturday, June 2nd:
Freezing cold and rain! The ger maid came in at 6 to light the fireplace -- WOW!!! The little fire warmed up the ger almost immediately. From 30 degrees to 90 in less than 5 minutes. Unfortunately, it was raining. We had a full day of activities planned. The gers leaked just a little, fortunately not over the beds. There was 24 hour electricity in the main gers and a place to charge batteries. Breakfast was at 8. Just as we were leaving the ger camp, the sky brightened and all looked clear. We drove on paved roads for about an hour then off road for about 20 minutes until we came to our host ger camp right in the middle of nowhere. This nomad family had arrived in their summer camp just a few weeks ago. We all went inside the very neat kitchen ger where we watched the lady of the ger make cheese, yoghurt and milk tea. Milk tea is the drink of Mongolia. Then we went outside for a horse taming demo. The tamer stands on the saddle holding a long stick with a lasso attached . He tries to rope the wild stallion, but this time he wasn’t successful - eventually he did coral him. Fun to watch. Then we all helped to make lunch dumplings which were filled with meat -- some vegetarian. We took a ride on an ox cart. There were 5 sons and 1 daughter. The family got an award from the government for having so many children, living in the country and raising animals. The sons all went through 12th grade and 2 returned to live in with the family. The daughter attends university. Not important for girls to work on the farm. Two sons and their families live in this compound, others live away from the family. We drove off road to visit a hidden monastery. Most were destroyed by the Red Army. Very little remains. We climbed up to the highest praying chapel. Next drove to some sand dunes and hiked through the dunes. We saw horses in the distance - seems like we always see horses in the distance. Then we drove to the 2 lakes near our ger camp and saw great looking cranes sand a ruddy duck. Dinner was 1 chicken leg, salad and rice with a chocolate bar for desert. Very strange combinations. Won’t gain weight eating like this. Fire at 9. Wonderful - much milder than last night. Although when the sun went down, it got very cold. Still light at 9:15 and light by 5:30am.

Sunday, June 4th:
Watched the ger take down and set up. Very efficient operation -- took approximately 3 people an hour for the take down and set up. Said goodbye to our camp and made our way to Kharkhorin. On the way we stopped at an Ovoo (a shamanistic cairn) usually made from rocks or from wood. Ovoos are often found at the top of mountains and in high places, like mountain passes. They serve mainly as religious sites, used in worship of the mountains and the sky as well as in Buddhist ceremonies, but often are also landmarks. When traveling, it is customary to stop and circle an ovoo 3 times in clockwise direction for a safer journey. Usually, rocks are picked up from the ground and added to the pile. Offerings in the form of sweets, money, milk, or vodka are also left. Honking of the horn while passing by the ovoo will also work if there is no time to stop. I had a fabulous fire last night in the ger. Must’ve been close to 70 inside. Such a difference in temperature - daytime can be between 65 and 70 --nighttime can go down to 35.

Monday, June 5th:
The ger maid came in a 5:30 to start the fire -- amazing how it warms up the ger. Buffet breakfast at 7:30 of eggs, pancakes, cereal and yogurt. It was an absolutely beautiful morning - a little hazy and cool but warming up. The staff here are very smiley and friendly. This ger is right outside of a small city of 7,000, most are employed by the state. Our trip this day was to Khoshoo Tsaidam, the most famous of Mongolia’s stone relics. The 2 stones date from 732 AD, and are almost same size of 3.3m high x 1.3m wide, both have inscriptions in Turkic (a language belonging to the Turkic language family. The Turkic peoples are a collection of ethnic groups that live in northern, eastern, central and western Asia, northwestern China and parts of eastern Europe. They share certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds) The stones dedicated to the Turkic khans who ruled Mongolia between 6-8th centuries. Then it was back to the ger camp lunch. We left again at 2 for Khar Balgas, the ancient Wiegar capital. Imagination really comes into play here -- absolutely nothing to see except vague outlines of a city in the grass. No distinguishing marks. We were back at camp in time for dinner. After dinner, there was a wonderful show starring 2 fantastic Tuva throat singers. They made amazing sounds with their voices. Never heard anything like that.

Tuesday, June 6th: Back to UB city
Left our ger camp by 7:30 for our 7 hour ride back to UB city. Almost no other cars or trucks on the road (such as it was). Wide open countryside with sheep, goats, cattle and horses on both sides of the road, often on the road. Bus driver needed to beep the horn many times to get them to move. Saw lots of “dog” -- they all look alike. At 12:30, we pulled off the “main” road to an even smaller dirt road to get to Khustai National Park and our lunch stop. The area was wide open with mountains on all sides. Quite beautiful. We had a delicious vegetarian buffet lunch and saw a short film on the wild horses of Mongolia. The horses looked more like donkeys. We took a 90 minute jeep ride into the park to see them. They are a breed unto themselves -- they do not mate with horses. They are native to the steppes of Mongolia and became extinct in the wild. The Takhi wild horses have now been reintroduced to the park. Good fun! Then back to the bus to UB city.

Wednesday, June 6th: UB city to Lake Khovsgohl
Fabulous Kempinski breakfast. We repacked and left 1 bag in the hotel, we would be gone for 3 days. We had a short flight on a small SAAB prop plane and arrived at Moron at 12:30. Our 4 jeeps and drivers were waiting to take us on the 3 hour off road ride to our camp at Lake Khovsgohl. The plan is to have the road finished by the end of of June for the tourist season (don’t see how) Nothing but vast expanse of mountains, flatlands and nothingness. Occasionally we’d pass a truck or workers. Just one stretch on 10k was paved. Every once in a while, we’d pass a ger, but mostly open spaces. Land is free for the taking. Families with 4 or more children get special recognition from the government and a small stipend. Mongolia is the 17th largest country in the world and had <3 million population. As we continued on this dirt and gravel road, one of the jeeps had a flat. We all stopped. A herd of yaks lumbered by. Suddenly, a little colt wandered over, we learned that she was only a couple of days old. Somehow she got separated from the mare. Our guide tried to take her back to where we last saw the horses, but she kept following him back. Suddenly, we saw her fall into a large ditch and could not get out on her own. All the drivers rushed over to pull her out. Another car came by and the people said they would take her back to the mare. Our guide got suspicious and was sure they were going to take her to the market to sell her as dinner meat. We sent one our vans to the closest ger that had their own animals, and hoped that at least she would be raised with their flock. The ger camp was beautiful -- new and modern and right on the lake. We met again at 7 for dinner. Delicious brisket type meat -- good food!! Beautiful gers with heat -- no fireplaces. Watched a woman herd the yak on her bicycle. Saw a bufflehead duck on the lake. Very close to Siberia. Our guide said that even though this is such a remote spot, the gers are fully booked for July and August.

Thursday, June 7th: Lake Khovsgohl
Walked down to the lake this morning, ice has receded somewhat. We heard that the wind pushes the ice further to the east. After breakfast we met for a trip to the yak farm. We walked for about 20 minutes - we saw the cutest little girl about 2, and when I said Saanbanu (hello), she giggled. We arrived at the farm and watched the women milk the yaks. We were invited into their home. The hostess served us bread with yak butter - it was creamy and delicious. She has a set of twins and 2 other children who are in college. They look more well to do than other families we have seen. They have lived in the same wooden house for about 20 years but go with the yaks to pasture in the summer and they live in gers.This has been the driest summer she can remember. Next was about a 90 minute jeep ride to visit the reindeer people and the shaman. The shaman is very respected and everyone is very careful around her. She is a white shaman who can heal. Then a picnic lunch in the field with yaks all over the place. They, as well as dogs, are not petted -- the yaks may kick and the dogs may bite. Then a long ride back to camp, stopping to see the beautiful Mandarin ducks and the Mongolian grey goose. This area is a bird migration flyover . Lots of gulls, buffleheads and other birds. Dinner was unusual -- it’s hard to tell what we’re eating, but it’s fairly tasty. They do try! After dinner, the staff (all kids) performed. They are all students at UB studying art and music. I took a long walk along the lake watching the ice flow.

Friday, June 8th: Lake Khovsgohl
We were scheduled to go horseback riding along the lake this beautiful sunny morning. Horses were fairly tame. The lake was glistening and we could actually hear the ice melting. Then it was back to the camp for a lunch that was called borscht, but more tomato-ey, also spaghetti with rosemary sauce. We sure have been eating unusual foods on this trip. The afternoon plan was to visit the small former Russian ship and port. We were divided into 2 groups since there was only 1 boat. My group gathered at 2 and we were done with the tour and back at the camp by 3:15. We had fresh fish from the lake which was quite good. After dinner, 6 of us played Horses with our guide. It’s played with the ankle bone of a goat or sheep, spinning the bone and if it lands a certain way, you move forward. I was the winner, the first place winner, and will be getting an SUV in UB city :-)))). We gathered again at 9:30 at the lake for a big bonfire. We were served sashimi, wine and freshly caught fish from the lake. Then the sing off between the staff and the guests. Good thing Margaret and I were early childhood teachers -- we did our whole repertoire including YMCA. It was freezing and we wore all the clothes we had.

Saturday, June 9th: Lake Khovsgohl to UB
We were on the road by 8am. Long bumpy ride back to the airport -- again vast expanses of land interrupted occasionally by yaks, sheep and goats and an ovoo or 2. The flight to UB city was 90 minutes. We sat in traffic almost as long to get to the Kempinski. We collected our stored luggage.

Sunday, June 10th: UB to the Gobi
Up at 4 -- packed and down to the lobby at 4:45. No traffic at this hour and we made it to the airport by 5:20. Checked luggage and waited for a 7AM boarding for the 90 minute flight to the Gobi Desert. Gobi is quite different from other deserts I’ve seen - no sand, just grit and gravel. After our 70km ride on a nice big bus, but on dirt paths, we arrived at our ger camp. We are now in luxury gers with toilet and shower facilities attached. What a treat to find these facilities in our ger. There was nothing as far as the eye could see except an occasional horse or 2, maybe a ger in the distance. We met for lunch in the beautiful dining facility. Weather is sunny and quite warm -- about 75. Went for a little walk - no way to get lost -- everything is flat and open. Suddenly the wind picked up and I headed back. We gathered at 7 for dinner of delicious cream of mushroom soup and spaghetti. We saw a wonderful sunset over the Gobi. Played horses and camels again -- I should not have defended my championship, since I lost big time -- came in dead last. To bed at 9. No heat, but the gers stay warm -- had 2 extra blankets. Pitch black -- not a light -- not a star. Pretty amazing!!

Monday, June 11th: Gobi
We left for Vulture Valley by 6:30. Yet more amazing scenery -- sharp mountains all around. We began to walk through the valley and saw hundred of pika like creatures (like prairie dogs). We are now in South Gobi Province with a population of 100,000 -- 35% are true nomads. This is the largest province of Mongolia. The mining community is not counted as part of the population. Gobi means 3 beautiful mountains. We hiked out about 30 minutes to an amazing glacier that stays frozen all year. It was sunny, but much cooler in the valley (~50 and windy). Another long bus ride back. Nice lunch of slaw salad, Mongolian beef noodle soup and meat. Quite good. Got very hot -- into the lo 80’s. Saw a herd of horses. Stallions were play fighting. Herders round them up on motorbikes. Meals have been tasty. Pizza slices, soup and salad.

Tuesday, June 12th: Gobi
Left for the northeast part of the desert. More like the Sahara with its sand dunes. Visited a true nomad family who own the camels. Dad had just been in a motorcycle accident and we pooled our meds (neosporin, aspirin, bandaids, alcohol wipes), mom was making camels from camel hair and we all bought one. We then all got to ride the bactrian camels. First time on a 2 humped camel; we rode for about 20 minutes to a huge sand dune. We climbed it and wandered along the top. Then lunch at another tourist get camp near the Flaming Cliffs. We hiked for about 1/2 hour -- it was very hot. The cliffs are sandstone and pretty awesome. Dinosaur eggs ere found in this area - they are now exhibited in the National History Museum in NYC. Next stop was an oasis where about 50 families own 6‘x6’ plots of land where they grow carrots, cabbages, onions, and potatoes. They plant wind breaking trees north and west because that’s where the wind blows the hardest. Dinner at 7 of tempura and beef curry. Suddenly we looked outside and saw a sandstorm approaching. The sky was actually split, half the sky was bright blue and the other half was brown with the sand approaching. We could hear the sand whooshing in. Ger tops were blowing - -we were not in any danger, but it was eerie. Everything turned brown -- horses galloped back to their corrals. When it calmed down, I walked back to my ger and there was fine sand all over. Fortunately, I had my cameras with me. A glass of wine and another sing off. More good fun!

Wednesday, June 13th: Gobi to UB city
We left the Gobi for UB city and drove right to the restaurant for our farewell dinner.

Thursday, June 14th: UB city to Beijing
Our 11AM flight got us into Beijing at 2:30. Sunny and humid in Beijing. Overnight in Beijing.

Friday, June 15th: Beijing to Boston
We will be picked up about 11 for our 2PM flight home.

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