After moving to Mongolia I had two weeks of induction and training, and then it just so happened to be a full week of national holidays. The first part I spent at the Naadam festival, and the last few days I spent at Terelj (Терелж) National Park an hour from Ulaanbaatar.
The national park is enormous, and it would take months to explore. My friends Matt and Kate and I picked a modest route, up the main valley from Terelj village, and then climb the ridge line to see how far we could go before turning for home.
The first hurdle leaving the village is a thigh deep river that feels about 5C degrees. We were heartened by seeing a Mongolian family drive their Prius through it, but there was still a bit of suffering for three minutes as we slowly waded across. After that it was just a very long walk up an open valley. We followed a dirt road, and passed ger camps and cattle the whole way, until we finally turned off for our climb onto the ridges.
The stand-out highlight was when an ambitious Mongolian driver tried to take his Landrover through a river crossing that turned out to be just a little too deep in the middle. He floated slowly away until the truck sank to the bottom of the river and stopped moving. We were on the verge of jumping in to help, but he scrambled out at the last moment and was able to swim the last couple of metres to the bank. On our way back the next day we got to see not one, but two more trucks get drowned in the same crossing! I don’t want to apply our western nanny state approaches to the freedom of Mongolia, but I think that river justified a warning sign if ever one has.
Our progress up the valley was hard going on a 30C day. Coming from New Zealand I am much more used to walking in wild forests than open fields, so it was a little dull to start with. The ridge line gave us a much better chance to get a good view and find a few trees away from the road. The only downside was thousands of flies, both the annoying buzzing kind and the large biting kind. It was easily the worst fly plague I have ever seen, and I’ve spent four years living in Australia!
The hike was great, even if we didn’t stop moving for two days to keep the flies off us, and spent all our resting minutes zipped up in our tents. The scale of the park is so large it needs more than three days to see anything meaningful, but it is great if you just want to hang out. Apparently the flies are only really bad in summer, and in our part of the park. Ironically there were far fewer in the farmed areas.
Oh yeah, the other downside was some damned rats or squirrels or something that nibbled holes in the bottom of my tent. I brought a very limited supply of duct tape with me to Mongolia, and I’ve used most of it patching the holes!