Van-ride through the Gobi Desert
We received this question many times when we announced Mongolia as our chosen destination for Easter vacation. The best answer I can come up with is that we wanted to go to a place where we knew almost nothing and therefore had very few preconceived ideas about what things should look like and how things should go. We wanted to be surprised by everything- and we were!
Mongolia is HUGE, but has one of the lowest population densities in the world at 4.4 people per square mile. Almost 50% of the population live in the capital city, which makes for a very sparsely populated countryside, which is where we spent most of our time in Mongolia. We’d read a few blogs about touring the countryside and the Gobi desert in a Russian-style van, and we decided it would be the best way to see the huge country in the short amount of time we had. We booked an 8 day tour, which is something we have never done before but we opted to let someone else do the planning for once so that we could just sit back and enjoy the ride.
There are many things that can go badly wrong on an 8-day van tour; you could get a run-down van, you could get an annoying guide or a bad driver, you could be grouped with people you don’t get along with and then forced to spend about 40 hours trapped in a van with them. Luckily, none of these things happened to us! We were with an awesome British couple named Rachel and Phil with whom we immediately bonded with and whom we thoroughly enjoyed chatting with throughout the trip. And they played cards with us each night! (which endears any person to us).
The itinerary was similar each day; eat breakfast, drive, stop in a town for lunch, drive, do some kind of excursion, drive to camp, meet the family, chill in a ger, eat dinner, play cards, go to sleep. The thing that varied most was the type of excursion and the setting of our camp. Sometimes we were next to a mountain, sometimes an endless plain, sometimes on a rocky hill. We were usually surrounded by bleating sheep, crying goats, and snorting camels as well.
My favorite excursion was climbing the sand dune, but I also loved the hike to the frozen waterfall. We also went to the Chinggis Khan statue, to a crumbling monastery, and to some beautiful cliffs. We rode camels (which felt a little to touristy and contrived for our taste) and rode ponies while watching an awesome Mongolian herding his sheep from the back of his horse. We ate more meat than I have had in the past year and drank fermented milk. We played a game called “ankle bones” using real ankle bones. We saw more stars in the sky than we ever have before.
The experience was incredible. I have never felt so isolated or unplugged as I did on this trip. It was refreshing to the mind and spirit and just what we needed!