Last night was freezing cold. With my sleeping bag and a heavy blanket I struggled to stay warm. In the morning, luckily, one of the women who helps run the guesthouse came in at 06:00 and lit the stove inside our ger. The fire immediately began to warm my body and the next three hours of sleep proved to be much more comfortable. The Israelis and I then woke up at about 09:00, ate breakfast (eggs, cold sausage, jam, and bread), and prepared for our separate treks. Today my plan was to do a horseback ride up the west side of the lake; the Israelis were going to start their 12-14 day adventure to meet up with the reindeer herdsmen.
At about 11:00 my guide was ready to go with his horse and mine. I walked out to meet him and before I knew it we were on our way; leaving me without a chance to say “goodbye” and “good luck” to the Israelis. I jumped up on to the saddle of my horse (thankfully a western-style leather saddle as opposed to the rigid Mongolian-style saddle I used while in the “Mini Gobi”) and much to my dismay, the reins were far too short; this meant I always had to have one arm extended while holding the reins, unable to rest, and even then it felt as though I was pulling on them causing the horse much confusion as to whether he should move ahead or stop. But, as in the grand tradition of life, I had to make do with what I was given.
An automobile drove by as we started off through the town and the horse I was on became frightened and tried to break free from the guide; luckily he held him steady with the lead and calmed him down, but this didn’t fill me with any confidence in regards to my means of travel. Actually, both horses were stubborn and had no interest in traveling today; my horse stopped many times during the ride and wouldn’t follow commands; the guide’s horse would occasionally rebel against his directional commands. Maybe they missed their breakfast or just wanted to start a revolution. I don’t know.
As we rode out of town, we passed some horses roaming freely to pasture. My horse began to neigh at the other horses and I momentarily feared that he may have a ‘call of the wild’ moment, bucking me off, and running away to join his fellow species in relative freedom. Fortunately, my fears remained just that, never to materialize in reality.
We then passed through open fields and closed forests, riding past multiple groupings of grazing cows and yaks. As we rode out of the woods and back in to the open, I could feel the cool breeze off the icy lake chill my blood. This required me to zip up my jacket and think warm thoughts. My guide led us north to a hill overlooking Lake Khuvsgul, which we reached in about two hours of riding and which was too steep and covered in loose rock to allow the horses to continue, so he tied them to a tree and I hiked up to the top to capture the view on camera. In the far distance I could see the mountains on the northern end of the lake, as well as large fields of ice still coating the Lake’s surface. On top of the hill were two conical structures built out of tree branches by the Shamanistic people with multiple ribbons tied to them – blue being the dominant color again.
After journeying around the hill I sat with my guide for few minutes to enjoy the view and breathe in that fresh, pure, pine scented air. I realized today, that wherever I end up living, it must be somewhere with that crisp evergreen air; that air that I breathed before whilst in the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and the Bernese Alps; that fills you with calm vigor and makes you feel young again. God, I love the outdoors when done right.
After relaxing, my guide untied the horses and led them downhill on foot for a while; I followed close by, but not too close for fear of spooking our insubordinate horses. We then jumped back on to our respective saddles and rode alongside the lake shore. We stopped again to allow the horses a refreshing drink of ice cold water; in the meantime, I just played with the ice along the shore. Afterwards, we soon rode back into the woods and to the guide’s ger. He tied the horse up and invited me in for a snack. I had süütei tea made from yak’s milk, yogurt made from yak’s milk, and bread and butter – the butter was also made from yaks milk. The guide made sure I added copious amounts of sugar to the butter spread and the yogurt; I’m not sure this was necessary, but it all tasted great (I need to buy myself a yak). As the guide talked with his wife, his young son showed me multiple drawings he made and I would point to certain depictions and speak the English word for them in the hopes it would help him learn English. As we left I taught him “goodbye”, which he repeated over and over again inside the ger, outside, and as we were riding away.
The guide then led us back through town and back to the guesthouse, which we reached at about 18:00. I thanked and tipped him and then stretched out my legs – my knees and bum were sore from riding all day. I then strolled through town, shopped at a couple markets, helped some locals practice their English, and I tasted some seabuckthorn juice for the first time (sweet and tangy). I then went back to the guesthouse and met up with a French couple that had stayed in the same guesthouse I did when we were in Ulaanbaatar; they had left on the night of the first by train, then by bus, and then by another bus, traveling three days total to reach Khatgal – this makes me glad I traveled by plane, even if it meant paying ten times as much. I also chatted with a Turkish man who has a Mongolian friend here in town and has invited me on two trips, one tomorrow (to meet locals and fish) and one the next day (to attempt to see the reindeer herdsmen who apparently have traveled south for summer – Yea!). We then all ate a late dinner together (stir fried beef and bell peppers, pickled french fries, and noodles) before breaking off to go to sleep.