Friday, September 30, 2005

My horse just loves farting

When we got to the famous big "Hofsgol" lake we rented horses. We got horses with a normal saddle and not the local wooden saddle. My horse was too short for me but all Mongolian horses are quite short. We started riding slowly but after a couple of minutes I started going really fast. Rami managed to control his horse also but Avner and shlomit were behind us most of the time. After maybe 15 minutes I turned around and saw Shlomit losing control on her horse and heading fast towards a big tree. She tried to avoid hitting the big branch with her head by lowering her head but that made her fall. It was a big and funny fall but I only allowed myself laughing after I saw her getting up in one piece.

We continued riding and then I started hearing loud farting noises. My horse was farting. He was farting according to the way he was moving, flarp, flarp, floorp, flarp, flarp, floorp! For the whole ride who took around 4 hours he was just farting all the time! Flarp and floorp and sometimes flirp, so I decided to call him "hazarzir" the Hebrew name for "Piglet" from the Winnie the pooh story.

Riding the horse felt really natural for me. I enjoyed every moment of it, going slow or fast. The view around the lake was breath-taking. The lake was aqua blue, the mountains around it were beautiful and the sky were blue in a way that I've never seen before. the nature around the north of Mongolia is amazing.

In the end of the first day's ride we got to a Ger camp, sort of a hotel in Mongolian terms. They had a ping-pong table there and I was really happy to find out that Wire'e, the driver, knew ping-pong and in fact was the son of a professional ping-pong player. We started playing and I quite bit him up. He was very skilled with the technical part but was weak with his strategy, so I won most of the games.

The second day we had another 5 hours with the horse and we continued riding around the lake. This time we did it on a hidden dirt path, going between trees and having a great view of the lake. I felt like I want to this for the rest of my life, move to Mongolia, buy a Ger and a horse and travel in this peace forever, and then I heard "hazarzir" farting again, well I think I'll just go back to Israel and my air conditioned car...

Moron, where all the morons live...

The third day we got to a small city called "Moron". It wasn't really a city, more like a small town, filled with morons.

The atmosphere over there was just scary... The sky were red and covered with clouds, the streets were dirty and busy with lots of ugly people who looked violent and hostile. Everyone were looking at us as we went out of the car, but they didn't carry the typical smiley, oh here's a nice tourist, look on their faces. I think it was more like a look of, I wanna smash you heads and get you money. If I try to find some parallel place that I can compare Moron to, it will be the 1880's Texas we've all seen in the movies.

We only got there to get more grocery products for our cooking. We stared heading to the store and Avner decided to get a photo of the place. He pulled out his camera from his bag and pointed it to the back of the road, probably to get both the red sky and the people. Suddenly we heard someone yelling at us. It was a man, around 50 years old, very ugly and even more than that drunk. He raised his bottle at us and started crossing the dirt road on our direction. Some local people who saw that got him and dragged him back to the stairways where he was sitting before. We moved on to the store but we couldn't find anything there so we continued to the black market.

Moron streets were bad enough so you can imagine the black market over there. Right on the entrance to the market we heard some dog crying and then we so the dog running out of the market while some other drunk moron is kicking him. All that we wanted is to finish our shopping as soon as possible and get out of there. After 10 minutes we got out of the market and went back to the car, getting the same looks again but now with an extra of "I want your grocery bags too".

Moron was terrible, and I swear they were all morons, but a few days after on the way back we had to go through Moron again. The sky were still red and cloudy, the people were still morons and wanted to smash our heads but this time no one actually tried that.

Wild beasts outside the tent on our first night of camping

It's the first night, we go to sleep in the tent. Not too easy to fall asleep in a tent after you are used to a big bad in a room with air conditioning. It's pretty cold in Mongolia even though it is only August. The days are very warm but at night you can feel that winter is arriving. At some point I fell asleep. I don't know how long I slept but after some time I woke up cause I was hearing weird sounds from outside the tents. It sounded like some animal was kicking the tent. I raised my head and looked at Rami and Shlomit, they both woke up. What is it? I asked. Might be some wild beast, maybe wolfs, Rami said.

We were pretty scared. I got my pocket knife in my hand. Didn't quite know what I'm gonna do with it but thought it's still a good idea. I started thinking to myself, man that was obvious, what the hell were you thinking? This is nature, there are wolfs in Mongolia! The "beast" continued kicking the tent gently, as if it was trying to understand what's in it, and then we heard another sound. I think it's a horse, I said. Well, it might step on me, I was thinking, since it was kicking my side of the tent. Well, it might be, whatever... said Rami, and then we all decided to go to sleep.

It took me a while but I managed to go to sleep. The next morning we told this to Tegshe, the guide, and he started laughing at us, city boys, saying that it was a horse and of course there was nothing to be afraid of...

Sometimes, when you change environment, especially if it is a radical change, you find out that some of the things you learned in life and helped you getting around in your natural environment are not valid for the new place, and in tha t new place you have to learn some basic things from scratch, just like a little kid, in order to to find your way.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Tegshe & Wire'e (the guide and the driver)

It's about time to tell you about these guys...

Tegshe

Tegshe, the guide, is 21 years old. We met him in the train station right after arriving to Ulaan-Bataar. Many people came to us and offered us a guesthouse or tour services, but I had to pick Tegshe. I picked him only because his look - he was dressed in the most bizarre way you can imagine, a jeans with knee holes, like back in the early 90's, a normal t-shirt and... a tie! He also had a well designed Mohawk on his head which made him look a bit more ridiculous. I just thought to myself, man, this is the right guy!

But when we went to the country side and our trip started he changed his outfit radically. From now on he would only wear the same clothes all the time - a Russian army jacket, Russian army trousers, USSR t-shirt, high army boots and a pair of huge knives hanging on his belt. When I asked him if he was pro-Russian, he said he hates the Russians. When I tried to explain that it does not make any sense, he replied that he was wearing these clothes so that the children would know about Mongolia's history with the Russian and would hate them too. Now that's a real patriot...

Tegshe was the group leader, which basically means that he was giving us orders and we would follow them most of the time. He was a bit militant I'd say. But he was also a fun guy and a pretty good cook. We had a couple of traditional wrestling sessions with him and he kicked our asses even though he was a skinny fellow.

Tegshe had another hobby besides wrestling, he liked killing animals and little bugs. He was very much into fishing but we kind of enjoyed that I guess. But besides fishing he was killing almost any grasshopper that crossed his way, butterflies, mosquitoes, small bugs, big bugs and any kind of bug that exists in Mongolia. He also told us he likes hunting, as if that one wasn't obvious.

Wire'e (the next "Han")

Wire'e was just the opposite of Tegshe'e. He was over 40, a bit chubby, and looked like a sweet father. He was also into fishing but he was very calm about it and just enjoyed standing by the water and starring at the river. He almost spoke no English but still we managed to have a few nice conversations with him. Long time ago he studied "Economical-engineering" and tried to do that for some time, but it wasn't paid enough (less than a $100 a month) so somehow he found himself working as a driver, getting paid well and enjoying the fishing and the company.

Wire'e had an original phrase of his own, in English: "Oh yes!". Since his English wasn't really there, he used this phrase most of the time, sometimes to let you know that he understood what you were saying and sometimes just for no reason. After a while we got caught up with this phrase and we couldn't stop using the "oh yes!" our selves. We fell in love with Wire'e and decided that we would like to see him as the next "han" (king), like the former Jighiss Han. I decided that when I get back home I will take one of his photos and use it to make a t-shirt with his face and the famous line "oh yes!" and we will then start the campaign that will get him the "Han" title. Oh yes!

"Shimshon and Yovav"

Fishing and laughing, laughing and fishing, that's about all that these two did. In the famous "Pinokiyo" story they had two funny characters, the cleaver fox and the funny fat cat. In Israel their names were "Shimshon & Yovav". One day it hit me that Tegshe and Wiree were just like these funny characters. Tegshe was of course the fox that always had the plan and Wire'e was just following his orders without arguing.

Most of the places they took us were rivers or lakes. So that they can fish. They had a passion for fishing and most of the time they did well. In cases that they weren't doing to well, Wire'e would just come back to the camp and play cards with us, while Tegshe spend another hour or two before he admits his defeat.

I can say now that this couple gave us some good time and we enjoyed traveling with them. And any of you that ever lose his mind and decides to go to Mongolia, please contact me and I'll give you their details so you can contact them.

On our next episode: "Wild beasts outside the tent on our first night of camping"

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Ride in the Russian Van

So we got a Russian van. But what is a Russian van you might be wondering?

Well.. it is a van.. but.. Russian. Which means that it is not like any other car you have ever known before. I guess it had all of the Russian characteristics - tough, reliable and makes no sense to anyone that is not Russian. It seems like they've been producing this car for a few centuries cause it is just so good, and it is. The outside of the van reminds the old 60's Volkswagen van, but instead of the lovely colors and flowers on that German brother this one just wears a military olive green color. How militant.

We spent so many hours in the car, jumping on bumpy roads, feeling nauseous 90% of the time and hitting our heads every minute or two. And I'm talking about 4-10 hours for a typical ride. Mongolia is just huge. I became so tired during those rides, starring through the window like a zombie, not digesting anything from the scenery. The bad smell was getting worse and worse every day because of the food at the back and the garbage adding up. We also had a permanent problem with some gasoline licking and burning our lungs. Some times it was a real nightmare to sit in that car but somehow I made it without throwing up not even once. Oh yes.

But there were also some good sides to these rides. We had some stops :)

And I don't just mean any stops, I mean stops to take photos of eagles, camels, yaks and some great mountains. Another kind of stops that became typical was the holy places. In Mongolia they have this really cool thing that they can just pick a spot for whatever unknown reason and decide that it is sacred. To mark that the wrap the whole area with some wood branches and blue ribbons and that's it. It is sacred. And if you ever dare to touch it or break it, you'll have billions of people rushing at you from any spot in Mongolia, putting you deep in the ground and wrapping the whole area with some really nasty colored ribbons. At least that's what the guide told me. Did I tell ya already how easily they get offended?

In the car we also had some good times, with good music, good humor, some good sleep and then.. oops.. flat tire! We had 3 of them during the whole trip and numerous technical problems, but somehow we always managed to continue after a short while, mostly thanks to our experienced driver.

So that's it as for the Russian van. On our next episode: "Tegshe & Wir'ee" or in some normal words - our guide and driver, two real characters :)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Nature Life

So... it's been a long time... and many things have happened so it will take me a couple of times to update ya with all the Mongolia story. Let me just start from were I stopped last time for a small detail I forgot to add in, and then we can start the story as it is supposed to be told.

The evening before we left for the countryside we met another Israeli guy who came to our guesthouse, Avner. Avner just arrived from India after traveling for over 9 months. He immediately decided to join us for the trip. Very cool. Now let's start.

The Nature Life

As for Mongolia, I will tell stories and details from the whole period, and not necessary in any chronological order. I will start with the most basic thing, being in nature - shower!

Showers

In 21 days I took 3 showers. One of them was in a nearly frozen lake. But I can say that at some point you just don't care anymore and you don't smell your own stink. In fact, you only smell it AFTER taking a shower and trying to wear the same clothes. Only then you realise that you've been wearing the same clothes for a week and that they stink just like the traditional clothes of the Mongolian you were laughing about.

Hair

For the first 2 weeks I didn't wash my hair. I got to the point that I almost had dreadlocks and had to decide if to comb my hair now or never. I combed it. And lost half of my hair in that battle.

Weather

It was cold. Not as cold as I imagined (meaning not minus 20), but it was cold. One morning when we were sleeping in a Ger (a Mongolian nomad house) instead of our tent, we woke up and found the bottle of oil completely frozen. I don't know if oil freeze at the same point as water but I guess it means that it was cold enough. It rained a lot at nights but was very hot during the days. A few of the nights we got some water through our tent but it wasn't that bad cause we were to tired to notice or to care.

Space

In Israel I was living in a private house, 2 floors, 4 rooms and a garden. Here I had a tiny tent which I was sharing with 2 more people, and I tell ya this - if you have nature as your home in the day you don't need more than that at night. I mean, what the hell did I need all that in Israel?? I guess that over there it is just different cause the outside is never yours and therefore your house is the only space that is really only yours. Sure, you can say that nature isn't really yours as well, but I swear, here in Mongolia it is. You can walk in the countryside for an hour and not meet any human being. Could you do it anywhere in Israel and not get to a road after 5 minutes?

Food and cooking

We cooked a lot. And I have to say I was surprised with the quality! I used to cook a lot and in the last couple of months with my Mom in the hospital before she died I just didn't have the time or power to do it. In Mongolia I fell in love with cooking once again. Rami was a good cook too and our guide and driver were great cooks also. Shlomit was also good with the pasta so we had some good food. Also, since both our driver and our guide were addicted to fishing, we had a lot of fish. Oh yes! On the other side, while trying to eat in restaurants along the way we found out that the Mongolian food is built from mainly one dish - potato noodles with mutton! So we had to pick between the mutton for our noodles since me, Avner and Shlomit are veggies who eat fish.
Mongolians also have a national drink called "Airag". It is horse milk that comes in two variations - basic, which is served warm like tea, and alcoholic which can be mixed with vodka as a cocktail. It tastes OK but after a couple of times you don't want to see it ever again. Mainly cause it is served everywhere. Another odd drink is the salted tea, which is normal tea but with salt instead of sugar. I just convinced my self that it is soup and drank it. I mean, I had to cause Mongolian countryside people get offended for almost everything. So sensitive you can hardly believe that these guys once ruled over both China and Russia, 2 countries populated with some really tough bastards :)

Water

In the beginning, like any fresh tourist, we were afraid to drink the water without boiling them and purifying them with our magic pills, but after a couple of days we started drinking water from just about anywhere - small rivers, big rivers and lakes. The water in Mongolia's lake and rivers are just so good. The big lake "Hofsgol" in the north has top quality water and contains 2% of the world's pure water. So we had no worries about water.

Day dreaming about food

Indeed I said that the food that we cooked was surprisingly good, but still, many times we found our selves talking about some good restaurants in Israel, tasty meals we had and, and, of course, the best Houmos places we've been to in Israel :) A typical conversation would go like that: "hmm... I really feel like eating Falafel..." and someone would say: "oh yes the Falafel near my house is the best!" and another: "No, no, believe me nothing is good like the Falafel in Ra'anana! hmm..." and then: "guys! the crappy pasta is ready!"

Well guys, that's it for now, I have a lot to tell and I hope I can manage to write it all, that was only chapter one, see ya soon in chapter two: "The ride in the Russian van"