Alright, so getting physically assaulted in the Gobi by an insane Dutchman isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, but enough good things happened in the desert that I can’t regret going. Here are some of my Gobi highlights!
1) Ger Raising with a Nomadic Family
Most of the families we stayed with tended to park us in a ger and then leave us to our own devices, but our very first family out in the Gobi was so nice that when they asked for our help putting up their extra ger (in which they would presumably put future backpackers and leave them to their own devices), we obliged.
They were much impressed by the fact that I am a ger-raising expert.
So much so that they attempted to hook me up with Mr. Sexyman–herder of goats, drinker of vodka, and proud owner of a motorcycle decorated with teddy bears.
Alas, I lack the language skills to say, “I’d rather not throw my dreams away to wade through goat shit, thanks,” but even if I could actually say that in Mongolian, I doubt the ladies would have taken no for an answer. They had a mission, and that mission was to have me wed within the week. As a result, what was supposed to be a group picture turned into a golden filament from my most elegant hour: one of the ladies trying to make Mr. Sexyman hug me, and me being really, really awkward about it.
2) The White Stupa
Honestly, I have no idea what this is. Is it a canyon? A cliff?
Whatever it was, it was beautiful. Looking at them from the bottom was even more spectacular. If any of you ever find yourselves at the White Stupa, hike down to the bottom, it’s the best part.
I did not mess with these colors, for the record.
3) Yolyn Am, the ice canyon
Deep in the Gobi is a canyon that, despite the fact that it lives in a desert, still stays frozen until sometime in July. Yolyn Am turned out to be spectacular for two reasons. One, canyon:
Oh and three, hiking.
I mean, really? Stop it, Mongolia. Just stop it.
Yolyn Am was also one of my favorite places because it was the first and only time I stayed in a ger camp with the other tour groups I had befriended along the way. After three days of only the Douchey Dutchman for company, getting to talk and laugh with legitimately cool people made me feel like a real person again.
4) Khongoriin Els, the ginomous sand dunes
Most of the Gobi is scrubby deserty nonsense, but tucked away in one corner are a couple 1000-foot (300-meter) sand dunes.
I didn’t truly grasp just how motherfucking big a thousand feet is until I was standing in front of a thousand-foot dune trying to figure out how I was going to get up it.
Well, one foot at a time, I suppose.
Climbing the dunes was hands-down one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because for every step I took, I sunk and slid backwards. Halfway up I saw a small group of people standing there watching me, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if those were my friends from yesterday?” Three-quarters of the way up, they started chanting “TINA! TINA! TINA!” and I smoked the rest of that goddamn dune.
I was an exhausted, sweaty mess, and I ate half my body weight in sand but it tasted like victory.
This was the view of the land behind the sand dune.
This was the view fifteen minutes later, when we realized a massive sandstorm was coming right towards us.
And that’s how I rode out a sand storm at the top of a thousand-foot sand dune. The wind was punching me in the face, I couldn’t see, and I’m pretty sure I ate the other half of my body weight in sand. This time, though, it tasted like badass.
Seriously one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me.
The desert, I discovered, doesn’t quite do it for me like giant mountains do, but the Gobi has some really, really cool parts. You have to do a lot of driving to get there, but it’s totally worth it. Despite my trip’s bad ending, I’m glad I got to experience southern Mongolia.