Day 15, August 2nd – Galloping!

Today has been very tiring. We packed up as usual, and managed to get away be ten past eleven.

Today, our riding would be different – today, we had the opportunity to gallop! We’d always kept to trotting before, especially since we would carry items on saddle bags, and if we went into a canter the movement of the bags would frighten the horses. Wearing back packs would also alarm the horses. Everything alarms the horses. We live by their whims. Now, the bags were off and stored in the van, and we were ready.

Well. Everyone else was ready. I was too nervous to attempt it during the first hour,but after a rest break I, and everyone else who been worried, grew bolder. We shed our saddle bags and urged our horses into something far better than a sometimes painful canter.

If you have never galloped across the Monoglian plains, rising up and down in your saddle with loping jolts, your stomach undecided where to go, grasping your reins in one hand, hanging grimly onto the front of the saddle with the other, the wind blowing your shirt out behind you and whipping your face, you haven’t lived.

It chafed. A lot. But it was worth it.

As the horses slowed down and we headed towards out camp site, the clouds grew more dark threatening. Aloysius seemed quite tired from the run, and fell further and further behind, no matter how I dug my heels in or ordered him forwards. I didn’t dare be more forceful, for fear he’d buck me off and hurt me, or just leave me behind. Soon I was very much alone, with everyone else just blips on the horizon. I anticipated being stuck in the middle of a plain when it started pouring.

Then one of the wranglers came back from where he was leading Georgie’s horse, and smacked Aloysius on the flank with his whip. Aloysius sped up again. Aloysius began to run. I began to slide sideways. The rain was just beginning and was splattering my sun glasses. I could barely see. I could barely hang on. I was slipping further, until I was nearly hanging off Aloysius’s side. I could just tell we were now on rocky ground as Aloysius ran up into the hills. I could see rocks flashing past, when I could see at all.

I remember thinking “I’m going to fall off and smash face first into a rock and the helmet’s not going to do any good.” I was very calm about it. There was no room for fear, only for holding on.

But then I could see the camp where everyone was pulling rucksacks out of the van and setting up tents,  and then Aloysius was slowing down and slowing down until at last I could jump off and hold myself and breathe for a moment and be surprised I was still alive.

Working together, we all managed to get our tents set up. We pulled on waterproof trousers and jackets and crammed into the ‘porches’ of our tents. We huddled together and watched the lightning. There was very little in the way, and we were able to see so much of it. We felt very alone and vulnerable, afraid that we’d draw the current down from the sky, with only canvas to protect us.

Once the rain stopped and the sky cleared, we managed to get a fire started and cooked supper. We had one last vodka party with the wranglers, as this was our last night of horse trekking. The vodka tasted like communion wafer gone mad. I only had a small glass; other members of the group drank far more, and were disturbing me long after I went to bed at half eleven.

Georgie later woke me up to ask me for some of my water. I directed her to where it was stored, then actually got up to see what was going on. Georgie had to pour about a litre of my carefully iodized water down Emma’s barely conscious throat, so that she didn’t need a stomach pump or choke on her own vomit in the night. I had to start the iodization process again with my now empty water bottle, prepping the iodine solution to dilute and slogging to the water tanks to get more, then returning to my sleeping bag – where a drunk Emma then proceeded to shove her feet in my face all night long.

Just say no to vodka. It’s not worth it.

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Day 14, August 1st – day 2 of horse trek

We spent a great deal of time riding today around more of the lake, before turning up into a large valley to camp. Most of the horses were fairly well behaved (Amit and Georgie’s horses having been traded during the night for more docile creatures) but Chris’s horse almost ran away after it sat down and Chris, in the advice if the wranglers, got off just before it rolled over. Fortunately this was rare. Aloysius is a little badly behaved, but hasn’t done anything really bad while I’ve been riding him. Kaz’s horse was also traded; she got a new one and christened it Attitude Junior.

Was rather drained while setting up. Leadership is been very stressful, even though it’s the last day, still not very organised. I like to think that I made things work.

This fiekd that we have camped in is rater bumpy and full of flies, as cattle graze here when’s it’s not being used and leave their droppings. It’s not very nice to camp here, but it’s only for one night.

For a change, Kaz and Mr. Postle cooked for us, and the menu was consuderably perked up. Though we had a vegetable stir fry and pasta as we always do on alternate days, for starters there was garlic bread, and a delicious fruit salad in pineapple juce fr desert. In addition, the wranglers drove off in the van that’s been accompanying us to carry extra supplies, and broght back and slaughtered the first of their two sheep. they borrowed one of our mixing/washing bowels to catch the blood and various organs (we washed it very thoroughly afterwards!) and as thanks invited us to share in the barbeque.

Mongolian barbeque, made with freshly killed mutton, is sumptuous.

I also practised making flatbread with water, flour and salt, which everyone liked Some people are asking how to make it. We will need it in the days to come, when we run out of shop bought bread.

The evening (or rather night) ended with the group having something of a vodka party with the wranglers for the second time in as many days. I went to bed early, as vodka is not my thing. It was probably just as well that I did – when Will woke me up getting Emma and georgie’s tents so the could sleep in Leslie and Ellie’s tent and ‘not disturb me’, it was 2 o’clock. If I were still leader, I’d put a restriction on them doing that –

– but I’m not any longer. Meh.

Day 12, July 30th – time at the Great White Lake!

Today was a fairly quiet day, sine the head wrangler still hasn’t turned up yet, and we can’t set off until he does.

We rose fairly late for us – those who weren’t cooking at 8.30, those who were a ittle earlier – and enjoyed rather better porridge than we cooked earlier in the week. For one thing, it didn’t burn.

Despite our not setting off, we all had an opportunity to ride upon the troupe of horses that had been arranged for us. The one I rode today was a very temperamental animal – it didn’t start walking for the longest time, and when it finally did so, it strolled along very slowly. However, it did speed up nicely, giving me an opportunity to practise my rising trot – even though i didn’t nee to use it, in the end.

We even galloped for a few moments, but by then my poor bruised pelvic bone had had more than enough, and called a halt. I can’t see that my cycling shorts underneath my trousers made much difference, but I feel happier for knowing they’re there, and I look very smart in my new riding boots – even if I look like a prat in my hat.

I am the leader for the group for this day and the next two. I have to communicate a good deal more, and tell people what to do rather than do it myself, or do as I’m told. Organising what other people do is hard, but Kaz, the team leader, is helping me a good deal by giving me hints at what to do.

We decided not to cook the evening meal in the dusk and wash the dishes by torchlight, for once; we confounded the fates by starting the fire at 5 o’clock, and eating at 7. As a result, we were able to take part in a series of volleyball matches on the beach of the Great White Lake as the sun begins to go down, against the local wranglers – and at the moment we’re winning 8-5.

I feel very happy and contented. Here’s to it lasting.

Day 11, July 29th – Reaching Tariat, and the Great White Lake!

Today set off to a good start, with a heavenly breakfast at Fairfields, an English speaking restaurant run by an Australian couple, right next door to the hostel we were staying at. The variety of the menu meant that pizza and chips could be ordered without anyone blinking any eyes, though also available were sausage sandwiches made of frankfurters and lovely thick, crusty bread. WE were making up for potentially paltry breakfasts later on and it was well worth it!

Mr. Postle, before our disbelieving eyes, consumed eggs, tomatoes, sausages, bacon, toast and pancakes, as well as tea and coffee! Such food all together is so uncommon now as to be almost alien, and we’re just over a week in!

After driving through the hot sunshine we stopped at a roadside shrine to feast upon cucumber sandwiches. Many members of the group were slightly nervous at the sight of three circling birds, obviously giving us the beady eye, which on an obscure form of eagle is quite a sight to see. Mr. Postle said they were portentous, but we told him that was only vultures.

Before leaving, we all walked around the shrine three times, and several of us left offerings. Typically you’re meant to left vodka or food, but a limited budget meant that symbolic stones were top of the list. I like to think the spirits appreciated the purple flowers that I found.

Stops came three more times; to take pictures of a famous gorge, a tree with supposedly 100 branches, and the largest of Mongolia’s volcanoes (at the moment dormant). All three sites were adorned with prayer shawls, which at first sight look more like batter blue plastic bags – being ravaged by the elements didn’t help – but have great spiritual importance.

Finally, we reached Tariat, a small town on the edge of the Great White Lake, and drove to the spot where we would meet the wranglers for the trek – only they hadn’t arrived yet.

We are camped on the shores of the Great Lake, on a plain surrounded by rocky hills, and inhabited by strange moths that click their wings together as they fly. At least we have plenty of woods for the fires, and a ready made fire pit for we to start news ones. The horses that are grazing nearby are very noisy, though.

We have worries about them coming to eat out tent guy-ropes.