Heading back to last summer (or rather, summer of 2014), and my trip to Mongolia with my friend Jason for this post. I’ve had this sitting around for ages, but hadn’t bothered to get any photos in, and then…..other travel happened, life happened, and I just generally forgot about it. Then I had my wisdom teeth taken out, and man – I had a lot of time on my hands. So here we go – Mongolia part 2!
The good news is that while there, I didn’t fall off a camel and break my arm. The bad news is that my travelling companion fell off a camel and broke his arm.
Let me back up a little, and give you some context to this.
After our tour with Intrepid (see here) we spent a day in UB, and then flew down to Dalanzadgad, to do a four-day tour of the Gobi, with Gobi Mirage. Our flight was uneventful, although delayed by a couple of hours. We arrived just before lunch, and were greeted at the airport by the owner of the ger camp, his daughter, our guide, and our driver.
Driving toward Yolyn Am
They were all wonderful (more about this later) and we drove to the camp, dropped off our gear in our ger (hehehe) before heading out to see Yolyn Am, a gorge in the mountains near Dalanzadgad, known for having ice longer than the rest of the Gobi.
Upon arriving, the first thing we did was take a tour of the small museum, detailing the wildlife that was historically to be found in the area (things being what the are, unfortunately some of these animals are no longer to be seen in the Gobi.). The museum was a little tired – some of the animals were a little…worn. But it was still interesting – this is an area that I’ve always been fascinated with, but didn’t know all that much about the flora and fauna. (I knew lots about the dinosaur bones, but not much else.) After the museum, we headed into the gorge – with Jason and I deciding to ride horses. Things started off okay, until my horse decided to be stubborn (alas, no one told the horse that you never argue with a Barrett girl.) We had some tiffs – with me making the horse stop and wait before continuing, hoping to show that I was, indeed, in charge. Alas, Mongolian horses are, apparently, just as stubborn as mid-aged Irish- Canadian women, and we did not come to an agreement about who, exactly, would be giving orders. So off I popped – not one to invite more disaster – and declared I would walk the rest of the way.
Only I popped off into a puddle. And decided “%#?@ this &*!%” and turned around and walked back to the car. Where I proceeded to sit, relax, and stare at everything.
After Jason and our guide returned, we headed back to the camp, and dinner. We had a free evening before heading to the sand dunes the next day.
Myself, our driver, our guide, and my unlucky travelling companion
We headed out mid-morning, stopping once to watch how farmers water their animals in the desert. I grew up in the country, and my mom worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, so this was actually pretty interesting to me. We watched as one farmer used a bucket to haul water up from a well, slopping it into a trough for the animals. Jason and I each got our turn to try – definitely harder than it looks. Shortly, another farmer showed up – this one with a generator, who pumped the water directly into the trough – a much easier and quicker way to water the cows and goats!
Setting up the generator
During this, I wandered away to look at the vast emptiness that you see in Mongolia. After nearly 3 weeks, it still amazed me how empty this country was. While I stood there, two Mongolians (a man and woman) came over to me. The woman grabbed my right sleeve, yanking it up, and she started petting the tattoo there – a large tree with two birds (this tattoo stretches from my shoulder to my elbow.) This wasn’t the first time that my arm had been manhandled by Mongolians, but I still wasn’t used to it. I didn’t feel threatened, just weirded out. “It’s still attached to me! That’s ME you’re grabbing!” I wanted to shout out.
After my impromptu modeling session, and a few photos of the Gobi, we hopped back into the SUV and headed to a camel herders ger. The camels didn’t look too happy, but then when do camels ever look happy? We climbed aboard, and head off – first a camel guide, then myself, then Jason, then another guide (a young girl, about 8 years old), then our guide.
Everything was fine at first – we trundled over the ground, heading towards the sand dunes. We saw another camel train off in the distance, and a few people atop the dunes. Otherwise, it was empty, and very quiet.
When everything was going well
Until suddenly, the lead camel spooked, and reared up. As if in slow motion, I saw the camel guide slide off the camel sideways, to land on the ground. My camel took off at a dead run, and I could hear Jason yelling from behind me. I tried to turn around, while still gripping the camel, to see Jason trying to wave while saying “I think I broke my arm!” I turned around, wondering a) “how do you stop a camel” and b) “how do you get a camel to bend down so you can get off?” and also c) “what does he think I can do, I’m on the back of a camel running across the desert?”
The lead for the camel was trailing on the ground, and I tried to reach for it but couldn’t grab it. I was on this camel until it decided to stop.
I think the camel only spooked for about 30 seconds – we stopped not far from the rest of the group (who had all been thrown off by their camels). But I was still stuck on top of this camel, with no way to get it to kneel down. It was too tall for me to slide off, and honestly – I was scared that it would spook and take off again.
Just then I noticed a car coming towards us. I waved, and it stopped, and a man got out. He came over and started to urge the camel down. The camel was still a little spooked, and he got a little “dancey” – making me think he was getting ready to take off again. Fortunately, the camel decided it wouldn’t, and knelt down so I could (shakily) get off. At this point, I ran towards the group, and saw that our driver had noticed the problem, and was driving over to us.
Back at the group, everything was a little chaotic – Jason’s arm was broken, and everyone was trying to decide what to do. Our guide-guide had a headache, and the little girl was a little sore, but otherwise the Mongolians came out unscathed.
We jerry-rigged a brace for Jason’s arm (the headrest from the front passenger side seat), and started to race off across the Gobi. Our guide turned around and told us that we were going to a “doctor” (her words. In reality, it was more of a field medic.)
We doused Jason with Tylenol, the only thing we had. We arrived at the “doctor’s”, had to wait while the dog was put away, then we trouped in. And trouped out, got back into the car, and took off for the nearest ger camp to buy vodka, to hopefully numb Jason enough to set his arm.
Back at the “doctor’s”, a quarter bottle of vodka later, Jason was sitting on a chair, the driver was gripping his shoulders, and the doctor was steadily pulling Jason’s arm down. Just at the point where Jason screamed in pain…..the bone popped into place. The doctor used some stiff cardboard to brace Jason’s arm, used my bandana as a sling, and sent us off to Dalanzadgad (with a pit stop at the ger camp for our gear.)
Our ger camp in the Gobi, where we only got to stay one night
A few (or 8) hours later, we rolled up at the urgent care clinic/hospital. We were met by the owner of the ger camp, and his daughter, who helped translate. Jason was taken off for x-rays, and I sat down to wait.
It was only a couple of hours later that Jason came out with a cast up to his armpit. They wouldn’t give him anything for the pain, and couldn’t do anything for his arm. We’d have to go to UB, to the international hospital, to have it fully looked at.
At this point, it was midnight. The ger camp owner got us a hotel room, and told us that a driver would pick us up the next day to take us to UB. Jason and I went to our respective rooms and crashed. The adrenaline rush was over, and exhaustion set in.
After breakfast, we hit the road. 10 hours later, we rolled into UB, and went straight to the hospital, where we were met by….ok not the ger camp owner, but his son and daughter-in-law (who spoke excellent English). Somewhat anti-climactically, nothing was done. Jason had more x-rays, another cast, and was sent off with a note that he was to go home immediately for treatment, with a “non-medical personnel” so I could accompany him (Because someone had to handle the bags.)
Meanwhile, back home, the then-BF was working to get us on the next flight out. He worked with Flight Centre to get us on the next Air France plane. Jason and I again crashed out at our hotel room, and upon waking I had an email – we were booked to fly out that afternoon.
We scrambled for souvenirs (we had thought at the beginning of our trip to leave them until the end, so we weren’t trucking them around the country), and hastily packed. We had the hotel call us a taxi, and off we went.
But of course, the story can’t end there. Because Mongolia is, well….Mongolia, I noticed that the taxi driver spent a huge amount of time staring at me in the mirror. (This wasn’t the only time that I was an object of fascination in Mongolia – it happened a LOT when I was in UB). And then, as I grabbed our bags out of the truck of the car, the taxi driver tried to offer me his jumper cables. What I would do with jumper cables, I don’t know. Why he thought I should have them, I also don’t know. I just shook my head, loaded myself up like a mule (2 backpacks and 2 carry-on backpacks) and headed into the airport to go.
Epilogue: Our flight to Beijing went off without a hitch, Ross had booked us a fancier airport hotel for ‘comfort’ (food and booze), and the next day we flew Beijing-Paris-Montreal, where Ross picked us up and drove us home. As for Jason’s arm: the doctor said it had been set correctly, but if he wanted to opt for surgery to repair a bone spur, he could. (Which he did, and everything is fine now.)
On a side note: Intrepid warned us that riding horses was dangerous. Horses in Mongolia are semi-wild, and can be difficult to control. However, riding camels – that was deemed safe. Yeah, right.