After a poor night's sleep, it was a relief to be greeted at Ulan Bator by a charming young man who spoke perfect English. As we drive along, he gave a running commentary of the capital and surrounding countryside.
Buddhism has regained it's rightful place as the main religion since the time of social change. We were invited to participate in a Buddhist custom of walking three times round a decorated wooden pole. We had to toss a stone making a greeting and a wish.
We stopped briefly to view the focus Turtle Rock before going to visit a local Mongolian family. We were offered nibbles and drinks. The nibbles looked like popcorn and were made from dried yoghurt. Not unpleasant but possible tooth breakers. Small bread cakes with home made butter were delicious. Süiütei tsai, a salty, milky tea was equally tasty. We were offered some airag. This is fermented mare's milk. I took a mouthful. My taste buds went into overdrive. The most intense sour flavour I have ever encountered. I took another mouthful for the sake of politeness but could handle no more.
The family's two children seemed fascinated by us and I was fascinated by them. They would stroke my hair, skin or clothes, then give the most adorable smiles. I was smitten. We were walking around the homestead. One little hand crept into mine, then another. We chattered and giggled. I swung them in circles and they asked for more. My time with them was short-lived. A photo shoot then farewells.
Number 2 ger awaited with door open. Our orange painted furniture with coloured stencils could have come straight from a Disney movie - the one with the dwarfs. We followed the tradition of entering by the left foot and moving in a clockwise direction. We had been warned not to walk between the central poles as this would bring ill feeling between man and wife. One tradition not explained was ' Always duck well on entering or you will see stars before bedtime'. I made my eyes water several times.
After washing a few clothes, we followed the example of others and draped the around the ger. They dried very quickly outside and we learned later to hang them inside from the beams for the final airing.
We expected simple fare here. How wrong can you be. A four course lunch:-ham and boiled egg mayonnaise starter, a herby, meat soup to follow, meat rissoles with perfumed rice and gherkins for mains and ice cream with black currants for dessert. All presented beautifully and delicious.
Mid-afternoon I felt shivery. I don't think it was the food. I think I was over-tired. A toilet stop was imminent so I hot-footed it over to the modern block. Even the soap dispenser is automatic. Feeling cold, I signed for one of the guys to light our stove. Within two minutes our ger was like a sauna. With a dose of Imodium and a nap in the warmth, I felt 100 per cent better.
Supper at seven comprised chicken and chips Mongolian style. After chatting to the Japanese couple, we headed for home. Time passed quickly as we read the guide book, solved puzzles and wrote blogs. For the previous sentence, please exchange I for we. Hubby was once more asleep. I snuggled down in my own wooden bed. I drifted off.
I was woken by a gentle tap at 5am. It was the petite fire maker. I felt so guilty that she had to rise so early. If they had given us matches, we would have lit it ourselves.
Prior to breakfast, hubby had practised his Japanese, using his IPod, hoping to impress our neighbours. I was still at the itchy knee stage. His face fell when he realised the had already eaten.
Have you ever had chicken soup for breakfast? It's quite tasty and filling. So filling that I could hardly squeeze in the omelette, smoked sausage, tomato and cucumber that followed. I passed on the bread and jam.
With great effort, we decided some serious walking was in order. Either that or we would have to invest in some new clothes.
As we walked along a track, we saw the Japanese couple, wearing builders' hats. There was no construction around, so we stopped to see what was happening. It also gave hubby chance to demonsrate his language skills. They had booked six hours of riding each day, for the following three days. They were novices. We thought some John Wayne walking was imminent. We took their photos and promised to email when we had Internet access.
For hikers this place is a paradise. For game players, you can indulge in 'I'll Name that Rock' or 'Spot the Alpine Plant'.
Higher and higher we climbed until we had a glorious view across the valley with mountain ranges all around. Grasshoppers chirrupped and raptors soared. A falcon-type bird hovered then plunged to the earth, seizing a poor ground squirrel. The air was fresh and cold. It felt good to be alive.
We descended and freshened ourselves before lunch. A light lunch. On your bike. Another four course feast. The highlight was the main course. Beef sizzler on a red hot platter. Fantastic.
We had no option. We had to go for another walk. We headed in the opposite direction, passing a sports area. I could not imagine donning a bikini to play volleyball on the sand court. The wind had a bitter edge to it. Beanie hat and gloves were donned.
A local dog adopted us. I kept telling him I hadn't had my rabies injection. He walked all afternoon, keeping an eye on us and pointing the way home. He would have come into number 2 but we told him it was time to go home. Sadly he went on his way.
We watched the ger crew, men and women dragging huge birch trees down the hillside. Later a fresh batch was delivered and our fire lit. 'Mamma' (that's me) was given a lesson in how to tend the fire.
The evening meal was just too much for me and my legs could not bear another hike. I ate a little of the burger, egg, potato, buckwheat and coleslaw before admitting defeat.
Time for reflection. Would I recommend this ger camp. I most certainly would. Any regrets? Yes. I would have liked a longer stay here. I hope life gives me the chance to return here one day!