Blog written by Annika, Inge and Akira
A lovely, warm sleep in a Mongolian ger provided us with the energy that we would need for our long day ahead. We had a quick breakfast of a fried Mongolian pastry, apricot jam, a chocolate-hazelnut spread and tea or coffee, packed the 4x4s and headed off into the dusty horizon.
The 4x4s dropped us off at a designated point, where we grabbed our daypacks, chose our lunch and camping spots, calculated the coordinates, typed them into the GPSs and took off for what we expected to be roughly 20km of hiking.
Mike and the team presented us with a photo competition to incite us to pay closer attention to our surroundings and the diversity of the animals, insects and bird life around us. We were all surprised to find the amount of animals we saw, considering that we were in a desert steppe! We saw a variety of insects, including some green ones that looked extraterrestrial, some very cute baby lizards and pika – which are small chinchilla-like mammals with relatively large ears and a short tail, and are related to rabbits.
Initially we were making very good time and were walking roughly 5.9km/h but the terrain soon started to fluctuate as we approached the Zuun Sayhany Nuruu (means East Nice) mountain range. We found ourselves going up and down as the terrain got steeper and steeper, changing from rolling fields to jagged mountains. The going was quite tough as the mountains surface was mainly loose stone and gravel. There were parts of the mountains covered in Juniper and Salsola Tragus shrubs and patches of Stipa grass. We hiked up the highest mountain in sight for our short and only water break and summitted the 2500m peak.
We continued up and down this fascinating terrain for approximately 6 hours, passing through the famous Yolyn Am gorge, where we saw various shrines and a lovely, clear stream with petite waterfalls and locals selling handcrafted artefacts. Mike, Annika and Inge decided to follow the GPS coordinates instead of the guide and take the “road less travelled”, and arrived at the lunch spot 2 hours and 4km after everyone else since they tackled the mountains and did some bundu-bashing.
We finally had our long anticipated lunch at 16h30 and we were very relieved to find the food not only edible but very nice in fact. We were all initially a bit anxious as to what food we’d be eating during the next 10 days since a Mongolian cooking crew would be joining us on the Gobi leg of the expedition. The best part of our lunch was fresh orange slices since we were all craving fresh fruit, which is very scarce in Mongolia.
After lunch we set off to our campsite and once there pitched our tents and set up camp. We listened to a YEP Gobi Mix CD and we were all dancing and singing while selecting our competition photos. Tirza’s photo won first place with Annika’s coming second. We had a group meal of Mongolian stew with steamed buns and ended off the meal with coffee and tea.
We are all relieved to give our blistered feet a bit of a rest as we will be covering 130km over the next 3 days on horseback – and we’re crossing our fingers in the hopes that we do NOT get Russian saddles. We’ll all be crawling into bed soon since there is no firewood (since there are no trees) and therefore no fire to tell stories around and keep us warm – so from us; goodnight folks!
Asia’s largest desert area, the Gobi desert is spread across Southern Mongolia and Northwestern China, covering a total area of 1,295,000 square kilometers (500,000 square miles). The term Gobi has been derived from a Mongolian word which means ‘very large and dry’. The Gobi indeed is one of the driest deserts on Earth.
The Gobi is often imagined to be place of unbearable heat and lifeless sand dunes, similar to the inhospitable and uninhabitable Sahara desert. Whereas the reality is quite the reverse. The Great Mongolian Gobi (the western part is located inside China, now) has high mountains, springs, forests, sands, steppe lands and rich animal kingdom, and has been inhabited since ancient times. Despite the fact that the Gobi desert has a harsh environment, 33 different types of animals are known to inhabit the Gobi desert, due to their superb adaptation skills. The most popular animals found here include jerboas, which are similar to kangaroo rats, golden eagles, wild camels, Gobi bear, gazelles, snow leopards, …