I woke up today to the first lousy weather I’ve had since I started my trip. Ulaanbaatar was covered in clouds and rain was falling from the sky. I showered, dressed, and got my bags ready for my flight this morning, leaving all non-essential items behind in the guesthouse (there’s a 15 kg weight limit on checked and carry-on luggage for domestic flights). I then went outside in the cold rain to get a taxi to the airport. The first taxi I grabbed started to drive me there, but then the driver pulled over and demanded more money. I left him behind in his greedy misery and immediately grabbed another taxi whose driver agreed to a more reasonable, not quite as bad, “fuck foreigners” price.
On the ride to the airport I became concerned about a delay in flight, or worse – a cancellation. Luckily, the rain storm would not affect my travels. At about 10:40, the plane took off, and at about 12:00, it landed safely in Murun. Outside the Murun airport I met two Israelis who were on the same flight and were traveling to Khatgal as well. We caught a ride with two American Peace Corps workers (thank you JFK) to the Murun’s town center. From there, the Israelis and I started searching for the Immigration Office since they needed permits for their horseback adventure which would take them close to the Russian border. I would love to join them on their journey, but alas, I have a self-imposed schedule to keep – all the more unfortunate since I learned it’s too early in the season for the reindeer herders to trek south to Khatgal. This means I will not see reindeer during my sojourn in Khatgal. It’s also to early to fish in the lake and, just like everywhere else I asked, it’s too early to sample airag (fermented mare’s milk). Apparently airag isn’t created until about mid- to late-summer. I really wanted to try airag, but I suppose I’ll have to just milk a horse and ferment it myself back home.
Anyway, after walking up and down one of the main avenues in Murun looking hopelessly for the Immigration Office, a man came up out of nowhere and offered his assistance and a ride to Khatgal for a reasonable price of 60,000 ₮ for all three of us. After waiting an hour for the bureaucracy to finish lunch, the Israelis applied and then received their permits. The man then drove all three of us up to the guesthouse we would be staying at in Khatgal. I couldn’t help but notice that Northern Mongolia, like Central Mongolia, has very vast hills and mountains, mostly covered in short grass and with few forests; if the majority of Mongolia is like this (excluding the Gobi of course), not only would I hate to get caught anywhere outside during a lightning storm, but this means they could theoretically build a 3,000,000-yard length golf course across the country (Par 22,000?).
In Khatgal we made arrangements for our separate adventures and then bought supplies in the local market(s). Afterwards, I walked out to the lake to take some pictures. Along the way I saw the following curiosities: a dog carrying in his mouth an amputated horse’s leg (from hoof to knee – quite a treat!), an advertisement for playing billiards with the weathered billiard table outside right next to the sign (the table might be just a little warped), and the usual crumbling Soviet-era buildings (left over from when this village used to be a truck stop for vehicles coming from the USSR). Upon my return to the guesthouse I ate a tasty dinner of stir-fried beef and bell peppers, rice, and what tasted like pickled french fries. I then had some beers and talked with the two Israeli travelers about my future plans, being sure to get the skinny on Nepal since they had both just come from there. Finally, I retired to our ger to sleep the night away.