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China 1 – Heading to Inner Mongolia

November 17, 2009

August 22, 2009.  Our trip started with a Saturday 3:15am alarm, ugh… then it was off to the airport.  We were on our way to China!  We flew to Chicago then had several hours layover before we boarded our direct flight to Beijing.  After 4 movies and several meals we were in Beijing.  The airport was a modern wonder of design.  After fetching our bags and getting some Chinese money we made our way to the hotel.  The 30 hour trek went by without a hitch!  The hotel was beautiful and new, as were all our China hotels (except for Inner Mongolia).  The room was large and the bathroom was perfect.  

As we settled in at the hotel, I thought I would check out the food.  The restaurant was classy – all the wait staff in black suits, linen table settings, mmmm, looking good!  However, no one could speak English and the menus were in Chinese only.  So I started guessing on the menu… the first thing I pointed to ended up being dog and the second was horse.  I went back up stairs and we went to bed with a nice meal of snack bars.  Don’t get me wrong – I do believe in trying the local cuisine.  I was just too tired for the challenge.  

The next day we flew to Baotou, a bustling city of almost 3 million in Inner Mongolia.  We drove and drove and made our way to Resonant Sand Gorge to begin our adventure in the Gobi Desert.  This was like a trip through western Nebraska, miles of rolling land with only an occasional house.  Our driver was determined to make time so he would pass cars anytime, anywhere.  He seemed unconcerned with approaching traffic and held his own, even going up hills.  No one slowed down – it was a game of chicken.  As our driver pushed on, the approaching traffic would veer to the side of the road to avoid collision.  Eventually we got to the Gobi Desert and prepared to ride camels.  

The camels patiently wait for the next rider

The camels patiently wait for the next rider


I guess the excursion to Inner Mongolia gave us a few surprises (we had lots of surprises during our two weeks).  The web site said to bring sun screen etc. since it could be a hot sunny day.  This was late August so it should have been hot, but the weather was already turning colder… the temperature was in the 50s and 60s with lots of wind and driving rain.  We bought rain coats ($2 each) and went to the camel corral.  There we learned we needed to remove the rain gear so we wouldn’t frighten the camels.  Anyway…  The ride on the camels was great as they slowly plodded over the hills of sand.  It was quite a site to see a long line of camels crossing over the hills of sand.  I later learned this area has crazy weather.  The desert is on a plateau and can reach over 100 degrees during the day, yet frost at night.  Also, when the winds come out of Siberia, everything cools down.  

Mary speeding through the Gobi Desert

Mary speeding through the Gobi Desert


Lunch was at a place that seemed like it could have been a 1950s Communist party recreation center.  We went into a large industrial type building and the cooks put the food on a table in large cooking pots (they looked like they would hold 4-5 gallons each).  People would take large spoons and fill their plate (a metal tray pressed with sections for your food).  As we approached the table, people would shove and push and hip check in order to get to the pot first.  Once you tasted the food, you wondered what the tussle was all about… 

Genghis Khan Mausoleum

Genghis Khan Mausoleum


Our trip to Inner Mongolia also included a visit to the Genghis Khan Mausoleum, a horse-back ride, a Mongolian show and more Mongolian food.  Finger mutton (you got it, you eat it with your hands), rotten vegetables, not so good.  The pork and mushrooms was a nice surprise, but, I will admit, by now the bar was pretty low.  We spent the night in an unheated yurt with a concrete floor.  The bed was a blanket on a hard board platform.  The pillow was a bag of dried seeds – it was like sleeping on a bag of soup beans.  The bathroom had hair and dirt all over the floor and the next morning we noticed it was in the bed too.  We had a thermos of hot water that was to last the two of us all day for our bathing needs.   

The yurt village where we stayed

The yurt village where we stayed


The evening ended with the Chinese guests (we were the only two westerners) singing songs around a fire with busted-up lumber, a fun touch.  There are so many stories from Mongolia… But, I will not go into all the details about our car breaking down in the rain or the driver getting lost several times and making U-turns in the middle of major 8-lane intersections in front of the police, etc.  This part of the trip could easily be the material for a “Vacation” movie. 

Please don’t get me wrong, we did enjoy our adventure to Inner Mongolia.  The people seemed very nice… we just could not talk to anyone but our guide for about 3 days.  Some of the food was tasty… I think I’ll end the story there.  🙂 

Off to join the Mongol army

Off to join the Mongol army

One Comment leave one →
  1. barbara moore permalink
    November 20, 2009 6:40 pm

    Well, you had quite the culinary and hygiene adventure. I love the photos of you and Mary on the camels. I want to frame one for my office. Camel hair is all the rage these days for knitters and spinners. Did anyone seem to be collecting it or using it?

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