Friday, November 18, 2011

The Gobi

So it's been almost a full year since my last blog update. I guess I should apologize for that. It isn't that nothing interesting has happened, just that I never feel like typing out blogs about any of it.

I've been trying to keep a journal and I've been writing letters, so that's where I put all the cool stories. That said, sorry for not updating if any of you actually wanted to read this thing.

I just got back from my first real vacation in Mongolia, so the topic I wanted to write about is getting supplanted by a vacation summary.

I went to the Gobi last week to the Southern Gobi province of Mongolia, Omnogobi. In total I took a week off from school (during the school break, so all I really missed was cleaning), 2 days of that was just for travel, but the other 5 nights I spent in or around the provincial capital of Dalanzadgad. I was visiting some of my closest Peace Corps friends and seeing one of the most well-known sights of Mongolia. Aside from the Great Wall of China, it's probably the only Mongolia-related landmark/place that most Americans have heard of.
The Gobi is huge, so I only saw a small portion of it (practically none at all) and the part I saw wasn't even sandy or really flat. Parts of it reminded me of my home town in Texas: lots of yellow grass and scraggly bushes that stretch on for miles (kilometers). But the mountains made all the difference; my part of Texas doesn't have mountains. The grass and bushes stretch on for ages until mountains rise from horizon. It really was a beautiful backdrop. But not quite the prettiest thing I saw in the Gobi.
For two nights, I stayed with my friend in a soum (village) just outside of the capital. I went on a hike one of those nights and while exploring probably stayed out too late. The sun went down and the moon came up. My friend and I had a lovely (and cold) moonlit stroll back to the village. The moon hanging over the (not actually) dunes of the countryside was a striking sight. Because I'm not very poetic, the best comparison I can come up with is lunar. It looked like I imagine the moon to look. I'm also a bad photographer, so I'm afraid that I have no pictures to supplement my incredibly detailed imagery.
That was the most impressive natural sight I saw, though I'm sure many would claim the 'three beauties,' the mountains of the southern Gobi are far more impressive. My friend and I took a drive with some of his fellow teachers out to the middle beauty (named for its location not relative prettiness) and walked/climbed around for a few hours. This was my first time climbing around a snow covered mountain and after the Mongolian summer, I had forgotten how cold snow can be. We went in search of a snow cave which supposedly has a frozen waterfall or two all year round. We saw plenty of frozen waterfalls and frozen rivers and streams, but the cave eluded us. I managed to get some decent pictures at the mountain until my frequent falling finally frustrated my camera into shutting itself off. It was a lovely trip.
Non-natural wonders of the trip included a Monastery where i discovered that the Lunar Zodiac is more complex than I thought. I now have a necklace depicting the god who supposedly protects my birth year. Or maybe he's just supposed to be a spiritual guide or something, I couldn't really understand the saleslady. I missed out on visiting the museum, but saw lots of tributes to the city's history all around town. Dinosaur statues are all throughout the city park and even in the movie theatre and outside of one of the shops (that one glowed).
Of course no gathering of Americans in Mongolia is really complete without a lot of baking (at least not in my opinion). Another of the trip highlights had to be eating homemade apple bread (rather similar to banana bread) on an old Soviet tank that was riddled with bullet-holes. The apple pie was also delicious, and the cheese cake (from a box, provided by my dad) couldn't be topped.
Overall, it was a splendid trip. Between the train and the bus, the trip takes over 24 hrs each way, but I'm glad that I got to see where my friends live and spend some time with them.