**please note: if you don't know what a yurt is, please look it up. I could explain it to you but it would be better if you had a picture. And I know you can since you're using interwebs. Thanks!!***
After being rudely awaken, we got packed and headed down. Since they had storage at the guest house, we were able to leave our big, bulky packs and just take our small bags. "Pack warmly" we were warned. I however, being a VTer, did not think it could get THAT cold, and also, I didn't pack too many warm clothes - I was planning for SE Asia and a summer in Australia! But still, I packed all the warm clothes I had. Backpacks filled, we headed off into the Mongolian national park called Gorkhi-Terelj national park. It is known for it's turtle rock, a giant boulder that was naturally formed.
The trek out was long and bumpy, our driver knowing the way and which road it was better to take at times- the destroyed "paved" road or the dirt road. He didn't have a fancy car, a Nissan sedan of some kind I believe, but we made it there alive. We snoozed for most of the trip, but stopped at a store to pick up some food. "do we really need it?" we asked the driver. "maybe," he replied. "You don't get a lot of food, maybe some beers and snacks." vouching out of the beers, we picked up some chocolate, snacks, and some juices and then headed back on the trail. It was interesting to see the road towards the park in comparison to the city. Road stands that showed hunting eagles and vultures, some with huge wingspans! I'm talking like 8+ feet from tip to tip! Also, instead of houses, there were yurt; some behind fences of metal, some in open fields, usually one to four in an area. It was dirty too, not like Russia dirty, but piles of trash, clumped in areas, some large, some small. It made us put in perspective what the driver was talkig about with rich and poor Mongolia.
When we arrived to the main entrance of te park, there was a small village of brightly colored houses. It was beautiful and strange all at once as we had been passing the the yurt communities. We drove for another 35-45 minutes (total time about 2.5-3 hours) on dirt roads and through some cows, including some that didn't want to move even after honking, but we arrived alive and well. There were 3 people leavin when we arrived and we had a few minutes to chat with them. We asked about what to do, if it got cold and how was the food. They informe us that unless we liked to hike, there wasn't much to do, besides the horseback riding but that was only for 2 hours. Then they asked if we had sleeping bags from the guesthouse? Confused, they told us that since it got really cold at night, we would need more than the one blanket supplied (we took four more from the other unoccupied beds that night). They too told us the food was not a lot and it was good we brought some (just some yogurts and chips). The kid who came with us had a HUGE box of food and drinks, which really worried us.
So after they left, Tom and myself explored and the other kid (he was from Korea and the owner called him Korea so that will be his name from now on) explored as well. Tom went to the top of a few, including one which had a cave and in the entrance of the cave was a goat carcass, mostly eaten and some large paw prints. Needless to say he didn't stay at that peak very long. I, on the other-hand, decided to wander arpud lower, taking some artistic (i think) pictures of flowers and the hills/mountains. We did that for about 3 ish hours. Then it was lunch. Expecting the worst (I was thinking cheese sandwiches on white bread with MAYBE a piece of lettuce-that was our lunches in India), we were pleasantly surprised to find out lunch was French fries, rice cucumber slices and a fatty ox stew, which was really pretty good, especially after walking around all morning. Another car came and four more people joined us, or rather we joined them as they had been there for the last few days. We talked during lunch about ourselves and where we had been. 3 of them were from France and one was from Poland. Upon knowledge, Tom started speaking Polish and they chatted about stuff. I chatted with the other three a little and learned that one of the guys and the Polish girl were headed to India to work, as he had an French teaching position there. I told him a bit about what I experienced in Kolkatta, about how the people were nice but there is a lot of poverty. I told him that "Slumdog Millionaire" was a good representation. He was surprised, but happy to know beforehand than rather be completely overwhelmed.
We had been told earlier that day that we would horseback ride at 5, so when the two couples said that they were going at 3, I was a little jealous. So at 3 they went down to the horse area and started getting ready for their ride, when the owner told us that we could go too. We went down and he asked us where Korea was. We didnt know, so we did a quick search for him. His wife just pointed us back down, as we didn't know where he was. So we went without him. He was staying a few days anyways so he could go tomorrow. We headed down and I was unsure if I wanted my rain coat on or not, and as I was starting to unzip it, the owner's son told me coat on. "He knows better than I do, as he's always riding here," I thought as I mounted my horse.
Now, Mongolian horses aren't full sized horses, but are a bit bigger than a pony. So when getting on, the guys all looked oversized on them, their legs hanging down low. I got the owners horse, as he wasn't coming, jut his son. His was bigger than the rest, so I felt tall in comparison to everyone (who were also taller than me). We headed off around the park, going nowhere in particular. This was Tom's first time on a horse and his was a frisky one, always wanting to go fast. Mine was pretty mellow, trotting when I asked it too than walking. When we got about halfway, there was big field. Then most of the horses wanted to go fast. Yelling "Chou Chou" helps the horses go. The son had a young 2 year old who wanted to gallop and gallop he did! We were all envious and then Tom whized by me! He was galloping too! I remembered from when I horseback rode that I never galloped, in 2 years because I kept switching trainers or the rings were not big enough. And here's Tom galloping first time! Mind you, they don't tell you how to ride, how to hold the reins, how to hold yourself, or how to place your feet. They literally let you get on and go.
Soon I was galloping too, but my horse was in control, not me, but I got him to slow down as he seemed he wanted to go one way and not the other. Halfway, 4 people switched horses, their slow horses for fast ones, so Tom had a slower ride back. My horse wanted to get back, so I let him canter (not super fast, but not slow) as that was the most comfortable ride for me. I had a big grin on my face when we got back, but as we were dismounting a girl was taking her coat off when I was getting off, and my horse started moving back, as I had a foot in. Thinking I got off wrong, I quickly hopped off and backed away. The owner grabbed his horse from me and started yelling at the girl. "I tell you keep coat on you keep on. I tell you off you keep off. I told you no take off!" he kept yelling and the girl (being french) started talking back in French. He told her "sorry my English no good, but you no listen!" and he threw the saddle on the ground (and by saddle I mean a piece of wood, a pillow, an some straps). Tom and I knew better than to stay and so we walked away, as the son was yelling to his dad in Mongolian.
After the ride, Tom and the couples took a steep hike up, while I decided to meander around the location. I ended up hiking pretty far up- there was some snow on the ground in shaded areas! My hike was laxidasical though, as I would hike to a point, look around, sit and think, then walk to another point. It's nice to have some Alone time, especially when you've been traveling with someone or staying around people for a while.
About a half hour later, dinner was served, similar to before, but with bread and potatoes instead of rice and fries and a different type of stew. It was again, really good after a long horse ride and hike. I was late due to wandering, but the sun was setting over the hills. Tom told me he ran down the mountain so we could watch the sunset together, but when he got down, I wasn't there. But we still got too anyways.
We asked the couples about breakfast and they told us it was just hot water (no tea) and bread and jam. Tom and I unfortunately forgot our tea, but we had bought juice at the store. It started getting dark and with no campfire, we all headed to our yurts (it was about 7-730). Korea, Tom and I stayed in one and the other four in another. Tom and I prepared our bed with blankets (we shared a twin in sake of staying warm) as Korea tended to the small wood stove. When we went outside to brush our teeth, it was an amazing view of the valley as the moon was full. When we walked up to the small hill behind our yurt, you could see the other communities of yurts by the glow of their chimney; just small dots across the landscape.
Then we went to bed, and by golly, it was fracking cold.