Nate and I both ordered the traditional Mongolian breakfast from the hostel. It came with Mongolian cheese, fried bread, and milk tea with millet and cream to put in it. The cheese was hard and sweet, more like a candy. The milk tea was hot and the cream and millet made it taste really good. I’m beginning to feel like I could get used to the stuff. Nate dunked his fried bread in his tea.
After breakfast we crammed more people into a large van then should have been able to fit we were on our first three hour drive for the first part of our tour- to the grasslands!
We got stopped at a checkpoint halfway there. We were told that we needed a bigger bus! We had to wait an hour for a bigger bus to drive all the way from Hohehaote.
We were told to pull over in a large parking lot. At least we were able to get out of our cramped seeing positions and stretch our legs. “Well I”m going to go use the bushes,” I announced. I left the edge of the parking lot, eyes on a good clump of bushes to squat behind, “ow,” I looked down to find piles of sharp bur like hitch hikers stuck to my pants! Not a pleasant way to pee.
Our Jinan crew was a pretty big group, so we only had three newcomers: another man named Dan, Daisy, and a little girl named Wilma, who was a complete wild child. What happens when a group of teachers are left, bored on the side of the road? We play name games! By the time the big bus pulled up our group had gone from “the Jinan crew plus three strangers” to a solid group of friends.
On the plus side, when the big bus arrived we all had a lot more space! Back on the road I watched out the window. The landscape was dramatic, with big mountains rising up on either side of us. I felt like I was part of one of the Chinese painting I liked so much. Watching the mountains go by, it was hard to believe we were headed to such a large expanse of grasslands. And yet an hour and a half later there we were.
Our new home base was at a small cluster of four yurts. We would be sleeping traditional Mongolian style in the yurts for the night.
Stepping out of my yurt, all I could see were big tuffs of grasses waving in the wind. The only thing that broke up the slight sloping of hills and grassy tuffs were the brightly coloured Mongolian prayer flags waving from a triangular shaped structure over the hill. I took a deep breath of fresh air. I had a strong urge to find a horse and ride from one end of the grasslands to the other. Riding was, after all, on the agenda.
Inside, the yurts were surprisingly comfortable. They had padding, pillows, blankets, and most surprisingly electricity!
We had a delicious family style lunch around a table with the staff. Lunch was another Mongolian stew and more milk tea. “Where’s the bathroom?” I asked after eating.
“Everywhere.” One of the girls who worked there laughed. At least this time there were no burs.
Nate and Joe, the tallest people in our group, were put on the tiniest horses! Their feet almost touched the ground.
My horse did not seem to respond to any of my commands. Instead the whole heard was moved only by the guy who held the whip.
We rode out to another one of the monuments covered in waving prayer flags, and then turned back. Our guide took off after a heard of sheep, and brought them back with us!
After our horseback riding we were put to work collecting poop!
Our yurts would be heated by a poop fire. Since there was no wood in the grassland this type of burning was common.
I guess the rule is if you want the heat you collect the pooh. And not just any pooh either. We were taught how to recognize a properly dried paddy by the colour.
We had hot pot for dinner, but done slightly differently.
All of the hot pot items were in the pot before we started eating, while in Jinan hot pot was always a “add your own foods to the broth” type deal.
After dinner we played archery. I was the first one to hit the target! We had to have someone on cat duty at all times, the resident cats kept wondering into the shooting range!
Once it got dark and the poop fires were burning we crawled into bed, in need of a good sleep after such a long day.