Sunday, September 03, 2006

Cowgirls Aren't Afraid of Vampires or Zombies

On the evening of my 4th day in UB, I met Maurice, from Amsterdam. He asked if I’d like to join him on a 2 hour bus trip to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, about 55 km north-east of UB, the next morning. I accepted the invitation, having felt a building restlessness for the entire day, and taking the suggestion as a cue.

In mid July, when I conceived the rough outline of the 4 month trip that I’m now on, I intentionally didn’t plan much of anything. The rough outline was, roughly, Mongolia for 1 month and India for 3, with arrival at my mother’s scheduled for Christmas. It has been 4 years since I’ve had a family Christmas, and I’m looking forward to it in a way that I haven’t anticipated a holiday since I was a child.

I left my itinerary vague because I planned this trip as an experiment in me, rather than a mission to see a specific number of things or places. By this I mean that what I wanted was to put myself in a situation of general interest to me, and then see how I react to the specifics moment by moment. By this method, I hope to learn some new things about myself, and recognize where I should go from here.

And this is not always easy: the pressure of travel is to see and do as much as you can while you can, whether you really feel like it or not. With this in mind, I put a few things in my small bag, strapped my tent and sleeping bag to the outside, and left the rest of my things in a locked room in the guest house. I thought I might camp one night in the park, if I enjoyed it enough. Maurice and I arrived at the end of the bus line, a small cluster of ramshackle structures, around 1 in the afternoon of my 5th day in Mongolia.

Mongolia, where old Seoul buses go to die

After wandering around for a while we found a ger camp (ger, pronounced “gear” is the Mongolian word for the Russian word, “yurt”) where we could rent some horses for a few hours. I was already smitten enough with the scenery to know that I’d be staying the night, so I asked the camp caretaker if I could set up my tent in his woods. Yes, for $1.80 and night.

This is what I call a "ghetto ger," not a country ger

Maurice and I got on some horses, and for him it was the first time. I on the other hand, had some experience, and I expected to master the horse with ease. In fact, I could not; it was the most stubborn and slow animal I’ve ever ridden, and we ended up taking a Mongolian guide with us just to get “Granny” to move. Boy, was I mad. I thought I was a cowgirl, and I was defeated so easily by this animal. After 3 hours, I was cursing that horse!

Looking happy on the horse, at the begining of the ride

Maurice caught the 7pm bus back to UB and later that night, I met The Daniels Three (three guys each named Daniel), from Germany, who were staying in the same ger camp, and after a companionable vodka apple juice in their ger, I headed out into the pitch-black night to try out my new tent.

It’s one of those tiny one man tents that look like a coffin, and that brings me to the subject of vampires. Laugh as loud as you like, but it’s a fact that as a child, adolescent, and young adult, I was really afraid of vampires. Anywhere dark and lonely, I feared not rapists, murderers, or thugs, but vampires. Without realizing it, I have not thought or dreamed about them in at least 2 years, that I can recall, but I lay down in my tent that first night, and, maybe because if the shape of my tent, the possibility of vampires occurred to me. And I immediately thought, without a twinge of fear, “How ridiculous! Who believes in vampires?”

Happy and amused to realize that I was inexplicably rid of a longstanding fear, I developed a replacement. I became worried that a cow or yak might step on me while I slept. But I quickly reassured myself with the idea that cows and yaks, unlike vampires and some humans, sleep at night. I was safe and sound, and so I went to sleep. But not for long, as I had no sleeping mat between me and the hard, hard ground.

The next day, two of The Daniels Three and I decided to take horses for the day and explore the park. Being a woman, I was given “Granny,” as we came to call her that day. Daniel the Talkative was given “Medium,” and Daniel the Stylish, mounted “Miss Evil.” The names speak to the characters and speeds of the horses, and poor Daniel the Stylish was taken, to the great merriment of Daniel the Talkative and I, for breakneck speed, circular rides for the first hour of our journey,

We switched horses throughout the day, and took several pleasant rests by the river we were following. Each of us became accustomed to the horses, and gained better control. And then the cowgirl in me proved herself. I was riding Miss Evil, who always wants to run. I was letting her do just that, when my saddle slipped forward and I found myself riding her left side, legs wrapped around her side and arms wrapped around her neck. How exciting! And funny for the onlooking Daniels, I'm sure.

Yaks are cows with more hair and horn

I had such a pleasant day that I decided to stay another night, but not on the ground, so I asked for a ger. I was given one all to myself, for $3 a night, which was great after sharing a room with 6 people in UB, so I spread out and settled in. I had a simple dinner, cooked and served by our Mongolian host, Ergyl, in The Daniels' ger.

A ger has a round, open space in the center of the ceiling which is opened in warm weather and covered with tarp or skins in cold. As I was laying in my bed, looking at the half covered, half open circle, a picture of "Night of the Living Dead" style zombies pressing their rotting limbs against the tarp, moaning and groaning and hunting my flesh, came to mind. I have no idea where these thoughts come from. I've never been afraid of zombies, and wasn't at that moment either. The mind is a funny thing to watch.

The next day I had planned to go hiking alone, but there was intermittent drizzle, so I read and napped in my ger till early afternoon, and then hiked for a few hours in spite of the weather. The evening was graced by a rainbow.

And I was graced by the feeling that it was time to move on. So, leaving my vampires, zombies, and Daniels behind, the next morning I caught the bus to the city.


Anonymous dolferl said...

Sorry, but I just stumbled in your Blog for the first time and I´m a little bit confused about it. As I see it, you´re writing down the memories of an earlier 4 month trip to India and Mongolia, right?!
Of course the headline about Zombies, Vampires and Cowgirls was "colourful" enough for me to read your actual article... very funny. But it also would be interessting to be informed when your trip took place - would be a good information added to your profile, which indeed is not that detailed.
Oh.. my "School"-english is not really good and is getting worse from time to time.. by the way I´m from Germany (so I had to smirk when I read about the three Daniels *g*)...
But I think I´ll come back here again to read more next time!
Bye, dolferl

3:04 AM GMT-5  
Blogger troeee said...

well, you went there to get to know more about yourself, and it seems that yr off to a great start. maybe the zombies and vampires are the things that you left in the states, coming back into your consciousness...

6:06 PM GMT-5  

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