We got back from the Mongolian countryside a few days ago and I've needed some time to recover before writing this! On the first day, we got taken to a ger from where we went camel riding for a back-breaking 10km to a Buddhist site. The site was a little disappointing, consisting of rocks, much rubbish, and some blue silk scarves hung up. Then it was back on the camels for the 10km back to the ger. Another couple, who had also come on the camel ride, was staying at the same ger. We'd been given a lesson before the trip on what not to do when visiting nomad families - sit only on the west side of the ger, never step on the doorway threshold - but this seemed to make the other three so nervous that I was the only one who tried talking to the family. The family didn't seem that interested in talking though.
I slept reasonably well and the next morning, Kristen and I went by horse to the second family's ger. We were both already sore from the camel ride the previous day so the ride involved some excruciating pain! We also went through marshy land and there were moments when we felt we were about to fall off. Arriving at the ger, the family made no effort to welcome us but eventually gave us some lunch. We waited around because we were supposed to be being taken to a religious site but with no sign of anything happening, Kristen and I set off for a walk in the sand dunes. We'd seen a campsite on the other side of the dunes earlier and when we got there discovered a place where we could have drink a beer each and Kristen was able to get some vegetarian food. Then we set off into the sand dunes to go back. Somehow we got lost, as the dunes seemed to last a lot longer than the first time. We walked and walked and eventually came out of the dunes but not before some worried moments. We also came out miles from our host family's ger but luckily a nearby family gave us a ride on a motorbike back to where we were staying.
After visiting some buddhist stupas the next morning, we made our way to the third family's ger. This involved a horse-ride again and this time through the sane dunes! It was pretty tough going and Kristen dismounted to walk most of the way. At one point I felt very like John Wayne as I rode my horse down a steep sand dune, with the horse slipping and sliding, me hanging onto the saddle with one hand and pulling back on the reigns with the same hand while pulling the lead of another horse behind me with my other hand!
By the time we reached the third ger we were too tired to do anything the rest of the day. There were other tourists staying at nearby gers and in the evening we all ate together. This ger site was very unhygienic though, more so than the others, with animal feces surrounding the tents. The next day I was hit by the most severe stomach upset I've ever experienced. There were no toilets (or showers) at any of the gers, so I had to trudge off into the desert steppes to go to the toilet, having to dig and fill in a hole each time (and I lost count how many times). We got a jeep ride back to Ulan Bator that afternoon and I've been resting up since.
Overall I'm glad we did the trip though at times it was very challenging. But I guess that's the point. We've booked tickets on the train to Ulan Ude in Russia on August 29 so until then we will explore UB a bit more. Not sure if we'll be taking any more trips to the countryside though!