Diary – Ulaanbaatar to Moron

This article describes our journey from Ulanbaatar to Moron. If you want to skip reading about our morning debacle and how we organised it, skip to “The Trip There”.

Before We Left…

We heard that there were two ways to get from Ulaanbaatar to Moron. The first was getting an overnight train to Erdenet and getting a bus from there, the second was getting a 12 hour bus the whole way. The day bus didn’t sound appealing, but we also didn’t want to lose a day, so we decided to get the 8 AM bus the next day (the other buses leave at 6 AM or 3 PM).

Arriving at Dragon Bus Terminal, we met our translator who we had met the night prior. We were glad to see her and be at the terminal early since we had two problems that could have completely derailed our plans. First, the hostel had forgotten to take back our laundry from the laundrette. The laundrette was closed until 9 AM and there was no way to get all our clothes in time, though they did offer to bus all our clothes to Moron. Preferring not to be estranged with all our clothes except for what we were wearing, we pressed the receptionist to keep making calls until we got our laundry. It worked! Second, our translator marked the wrong location on our offline map, but gave us the correct bus terminal name. We had no idea which was right, the location or the name and with no internet we had no way of contacting her if we arrived at the wrong location. Luck was on our side in many ways, as she had also bumped into a driver offering to take us to Moron for the same price as the bus (32,000MNT, $21 USD). So, we had a private car the whole way, along with two other Mongolians.

The Trip There…

From dreading the day, we began to actually enjoy it. As we left Ulanbaatar, we saw what Mongolian villages looked like – a random hotchpotch of gers and small buildings surrounded by wooden fences. Due to the vast open space, the Mongolians don’t assemble their land in any organised way since the land available is practically limitless, such is the vastness of their country and the lack of large populations. It’s also worth noting that each roof is a different colour, so the villages look like a palette within a painting. We wove our way across mountains and over the Mongolian steppe as the Mongolian countryside undulated gracefully.

Just as we were surprised by the colour of the villages, so too were we surprised by the colour of the landscape. Whereas the truly wild parts of a country are usually confined to national parks, the space in Mongolia allows for wild grasses and plants to grow naturally. The result? Large valleys covered in yellows, lilacs, purples, reds, dark greens and light greens. Sometimes these plants and colours intermingled, other times one species would dominate the landscape and colour the hillsides yellow or red. It added a nice variant to the constant of large, flat valley floors and mountainous terrain lining the horizon. Though, I’ll add, I never got bored of looking at that, the vastness was truly mesmerising.

The other main variant apart from the colours was the animals. Herds of semi-wild animals roam free here in Mongolia. You see herds of sheep, goats, horses and cattle by the roadside or moving slowly across mountains. There are no fences here, no barriers. Farmers will track them down on horses or and you occasionally see them being rounded up by a lone farmer. At night, some farmers may wish to bring the animals back to a small village, where they fence their animals in to prevent theft, whilst others will allow their animals to continue wandering over the steppe.

An Unexpected Stop…

Earlier in the trip, the old man in the back of the trip had been dropped off. I hadn’t spoken to him much due to the language barrier, but he somehow managed to understand some of my questions to my translator and would give an answer to farming or wildlife questions in Mongolian to be translated for me. The other man in the car was being dropped off at some point between Erdenet and Moron. When we arrived at a small village, we were told that we’d been invited for lunch and that his wife was already cooking for us. We entered the compound, and found his wife in a traditional ger. We were given extremely milky tea and a mutton soup to eat (nearly all Mongolian food includes mutton).

In the ger, we were able to get an insight into the local culture. Families prefer living in the cool ger during summer, but then live in the small house during winter. Sarah learnt that walking through the middle of the ger is frowned upon after getting some shocked looks (it’s bad luck). In fact, Mongolians seem very superstitious, or at least their traditions come from superstitious belief. A bone tucked under a beam near the entrance of the door was to bring good luck to the inhabitants of the ger, for example. The same practice is said to bring good luck to untended herds of horses in other provinces.

I also utilised Akjol, our translator, to learn more about the driver and the other passenger. The driver had been driving trucks for most of his life, but changed to driving cars as he got older. He said he’d driven quite a few foreigners and was trying to learn some English. He knew some basic words, but couldn’t say a sentence. His best experience was driving around a couple on his honeymoon, his worst experiences were with Koreans, who he said were too stingy. The passenger was a builder who had been working on a mining project south of Ulaanbaatar. Out of nowhere, he offered to kill a sheep for us and cook it in a traditional way using hot stones. I was flattered and intrigued, but ultimately I knew that Sarah would eat little and that we were scheduled to arrive at 10 PM already so, against my curious nature, I politely declined. The passenger and his wife were continuing the journey, apparently, so we all went to Moron together.

Arriving at Moron…

We had a local meal at a restaurant after we arrived. We also learned that nearly every car doubles as a local taxi. Just ask them to zero their odometer, and they will charge your 1000 MNT ($0.40 USD) per km (or 800MNT in UB). We were being taken to stay with a local family. When planning the trip to Khovsgol in Ulaanbaatar, we realised that by chance, the restaurant owner was from the area. She suggested that we stayed with her parents in Murun, so we took up the offer. Her parents were very hospitable and gave us a night’s rest. We were able to learn more about how locals live and how Mongolia is changing. There was no indoor shower, the showers were public showers down the road. There was no running water, this had to be carried from the well down the street. Though, this was due to change as running water is currently being installed in houses in Moron. The toilet is a cesspit in an outhouse in the yard, similar to those we’d seen on the way travelling to Moron. Apart from that, the house was relatively normal, with a television nearly always on, sofas, armchairs etc. In the morning, I tried to teach the kids “it”, but the youngest kept running inside. We said our goodbyes, and set off to find comfort in a local hotel, but not before a local “taxi” decided to start driving with Sarah only half in the car 🙂

Next…

We’ll be continuing our adventure and writing up what happened next shortly. When we do, we’ll create a link here to the next post. We’ll be seeing the ancient deer stones of Moron next, and then venturing to the far North to mingle with those who ride reindeer in the inhospitable mountainous regions near Russia.

Comments

  1. Den

    Excellent blog Will and Sarah. That will keep a certain lady very happy ! Have a great time.

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