After our first day and night on the Vodkatrain, with a lengthy stop at the Chinese-Mongolian border to get our passports stamped and change the bogies on the train, we chugged into Ulaanbaatar. With our three Australian tour buddies in tow, Mongolia greeted us with freezing cold temperatures and insane traffic jams but we loved it straight away. Our honcho for this leg of the trip was Odka (just like the drink) and she enthusiastically laid out the plan for our four day stint in the land of horses and fermented milk products. She took us to a Mongolian BBQ for dinner following a cultural show involving throat singing, folk dancing and of course a contortionist. One of the Australian boys was quite taken with the latter. The following morning we were collected from our hotel and driven out to Terelji National Park to enjoy two nights in a traditional style Ger Camp in -38 degree weather. On the roadside halfway out we stopped to get up close and personal with some rather large birds of prey before continuing on to our accommodation. The huts were small, three bed abodes with a coal burning fire in the middle and doors made for hobbits (I have an egg on my head to prove it). The difference in temperature between inside and out was about 60 degrees at some points and a lovely Mongolian woman came in three times a night to stoke the fire to keep us baking. On the first day we were given the option of riding wild Mongolian horses on the proviso that they could find the horses first. They did, and eventually from over the hill came trotting a local horseman with six ponies in tow. We sized up the 'horses' and then the boys and had serious doubts about whether the SPCA would approve of us riding the poor creatures. Unable to voice our concerns, we were instead ushered onto the fluffy beasts and set out on our epic journey across the plains. The boys were allowed some control over the docile animals whilst Kiah and I had our reins bundled up and were towed the whole way. I'm not sure if this was a sign of chivalry or blatant sexism but I was happy not to have to steer. Chinggis Khaan led 100 000 soldiers on horseback when his empire spread across the world - somehow we had expected something a little more hard core than the little walk we took down to the road and back. Never the less we had an awesome time and returned feeling like we were a little more at home in the frozen mountains. The following day was pretty special as it was Mongolian New Year and huge family celebrations were going on throughout the park. We were taken first to the Ger of a lovely old woman with 9 children and 25 grandchildren and fed things that I would rather not think about in any detail ever again. It is incredibly rude to turn anything down so we reluctantly downed milk vodka, fermented horse's milk and ate strange crispy things made from curd. This is probably why they drink so much vodka - to get rid of the taste. The company was great though and when we moved onto the next home we were greeted by a local legend of sorts. An 'elephant' ranked pro wrestler, now 70 years old, had put on an amazing spread of alcohol and traditional snacks for us. The honchos (we had joined with another group of five for the day), our drivers and ourselves had many drinks whilst he told us stories about Mongolian culture and how to be a great wrestler. We learnt the correct way to handle a snuff bottle and enjoyed plenty of Chinggis (the vodka not the man) along the way. On the way back into town we had to stop by the pharmacy and load up on the prescription only meds they sell over the counter for our myriad of cold and flu symptoms but it had definitely been worth it. I think the most important thing we have taken away from the last few days is that when in doubt one must ask, what would Chinggis do?
Rachael and Jeremy