Pig's Ear Park and Other Adventures

Month: July 2019 (page 1 of 2)

Social Studies Outing

Today we stopped at the mouth of the Poutama River , hopped ashore, walked for two kilometres over former Soviet Potato Paddocks, now a mass of wild flowers to see some Bison. 

Originally here in the time of the mammoths then died out- eaten to extinction? 90 were imported from Canada in the 1990’s , now 200 of the hairy brutes!  

Would make lovely mats. They are not roaming free and had to be bribed with a salt mix to come and hsve their pictures taken. 100 ha has been given to them- no idea who is in charge and where the funding comes from.

We walked back to the ship, flowers were still there as were the sandflies. 11 am activity over for the day.

Still warm, about 25c with no wind.

The Lena Pillars

The Lena Pillars are’a natural rock formation along the banks pf the Lena River.’

We went South and there they were  80 kms of Cambrian Limestone  PIllars filled with  fossils. It si now a UNESCO site and the National Park covers 4850 km2.

Lots of forest, larch, beech and alders. Wildflowers everywhere. Obligatory white shaman who made everyone dance in a circle- a few holdout kiwis… then have their foreheads daubed with charcoal.

Most people then walked up into the bush along a

well maintained track/boardwalk up to the top of one of the pillars. I went as far as the steps and gave it a miss. Lovely and peaceful walking back thru the bush but the warning signs for bears were a bit daunting.

Very dramatic landscape.

There is a big group of Swedes on the boat- they are huge people, have been nicknamed the Vikings.

Getting on board yesterday was painless, my cabin is fine, dreary decor but whole ship is  shades if brown.

Food is Ok but will seem monotonous after far plenty of vegies. We stopped at a supermarket on the way to the ship and everyone who drinks stocked up with nibbles and vodka. We may need kore supplies the way we are going!

Sprayed myself liberally with anti bug this am and had a huge allergic reaction, sniffled sneezed  etc still at it hours later, Bison tomorrow!!!Have turned around and heading north again.200 passengers on board.




On the Trail of…

A Russian sim card. Well I have one installed but it is proving strangely reluctant to work.

We had free time yesterday afternoon until we went off to a local Indian? /Eskimo tribe for a traditional welcome. The Mammoth Museum was closed. So before the time to go to the welcome I scuttled off to a phone shop. $12 for a month. Internet should be accessible at the odd place on the river. If you do not hear from me I have wasted $12.

Welcome was long and full of chanting and waving burning feathers in our faces. Ended with more chanting and the placing of a furry beaded pendant around our necks. Very hot with 18 of is jammed in and the need for a fire for part of the ceremony.

I declined dinner  and came home in stately splendour alone in the bus. Later this morning we  transfer to the boat for lunch then back ashore to do a shopping a round, diamonds and supermarket for more vodka!!!

It is cooler here morning and night but hot during the day, biteys are out, so head net on foe the first time yesterday. Bitten on the bum by a horsefly!! 

Irkutz and Yakutz

Last day in Irkutz was spent rather pointlessly belting along in a hydrofoil for six hours plus three hours ashore . We spent an hour going down the river from Irkutz then out into Lake Baikal to look at some tunnels which had been built in the late 1800’s for the Trans Siberian Railway. Does not come around this part of the lake anymore but is used by excursion trains both steam and diesel. 

Hovercraft was old and jam packed with holidaying locals , kiwis, us and a few Chinese. One of the places we stopped was v pretty and one was nasty and steep, I did the donkey trick and refused to budge. Next stop was lunch at a homestay place. Trudged thru the forest for a mediocre home made lunch. Had a pretty flower garden, even had delphiniums. Now do not get me wrong I am not grumpy but it is a bit same old same old. 

The meals we have had in Russia both then and at hotels are served quite strangely. Salad and sometimes dessert will already be on the table, soup is delivered pdq and last night at the hotel the main- basic was delivered before some had finished their salad. Makes for a lot of dishes on the table.

So about 9 am we all trudged off to bed to be woken up at 12.30 for a 1 am departure for the airport, flight leaving at 3.30 am…..sigh.

Slept a bit before leaving then again on the plane. Getting on and off was interesting, no pushing and shoving, only a few allowed on at a time same getting off  and no gates, bussed on and off and quite reasonable sized airports. New guides met us, one with us now till we leave and one just for here. Hope they are better than the last one, she was pretty arrogant, been a maths teacher. No tip for her.

Hotel Polar Star is comfy , good bed hot water, food and vodka what more could you need.We had breakfast and were sent to bed until lunch at 1.30pm.!!!!  Definitely a drinking group and a non drinking group, more in the former!!!

This pm off to the Mammoth Museum!!! There is an old  town nearby, walking distance. Some of the saggiest old wooden houses I have ever seen on the way from the airport. Basically seems to be Soviet style apartments and office blocks and very dusty .

Has a wild west feel about it, pop must be about2-300k.

We leave tomorrow pm  and not back here and the internet until Aug4th so if I am needed contact Pukekohe Travel. The ‘tour leaders’ mother died last week  and he elected not to go back. Funeral would have been over before he got there!!!



Having to write this in the lobby as fir some strange reason my phone will not connect in my room. Had a pleasant day in Irkutz yesterday, quite hot, about 32c. Feel a bit sorry for the guide as we were all a bit unresponsive, still a bit stunned by the last five days.

Irkutz has a population of 500,000 and seems very quiet and well behaved trafficwise after UB correspondingly the people are a bit dour. Did the Russian Orthodox church round in the am, three of them, all beautifully restored after having been used as bakeries and various other uses, storehouses, whorehouses(?) during the communist regime. Went to a monastery with a lovely garden full of our old fashioned flowers, golden rod, etc etc. We terroised a poor monk  with our cameras as he was trying to do a contemplative walk, nasty tourists. Quite a few tourists around, Japanese and Koreans in the majority. Good lunch, beef stroganoff on mashed potatoes with truffle crumbs. Plus borscht and weirdly a croissant for dessert.

Quick trip to a diamond outlet where I found at a good price a replacement for the earring I lost in UB, searched high and low for it but no joy, new one not quite as nice. Then out to the House of one of the ‘Decemberists’ a group who tried to revolt against Alexander2 (?) in 1825. Army officers who wanted philosophy and art to dominate rather than fighting and drinking. This was during the Romantic era in Europe. Banished for twenty years to Siberia to work in the mines, 9 if the wives came too… These women had a profound effect on Irkutz society and the prison camp. They stayed initially in Irkutz then went and stayed  with their husbands in the prison camp. The house belinged to…. full of beautiful antiques including delicate embrodiered garments.

we were treated to a musical soiree representative of the time, Chopin et al. Two fabulous sopranos plus a pianist followed by champagne. Soiree held in the ballroom, big house where  x and x lived after his release. They lived to a ripe old age. 

There are still quite a few old wooden houses beautifully decorated, it was not till St Petersburg was finished  that stonemasons were allowed to work anywhere else, the churches were stone.

Dinner a bit ho hum then back to the hotel and bed. Good day. 


Takhi or PrezewalskiHorses

Another post! Too tired last night to write about the above. It was thought all bands of wild horses had died out all over the world. These are the ones with the head different to todays domesticated horses , think cave painting horses, but the Polish guy above  discovered a few in the Central Gobi region  in the 1890s. A few were shipped back to  Hanover and ? .

Sometime in the 60’s, check google for accuracy a decision wasmade to bring some back from there to whence they came. This area of thousands of hectares became Khustai National Park. There were only  28 brought back and nowadays there are 500 in the park looked after by16 rangers. There is an information centre, 35 gers, a reasonable restaurant , all 250 ks from UB over secondary roads and many dirt ones so you need to be keen. They were the nicest gers we stayed in.

There are also breeding kennels for the bankhar dogs in the park, curses C as I never reread the article till I was on the train.

We all piled in to two Russian 4 wheel drives about 7 pm and headed out over a windy narrow dirt road driven by a Stirling Moss Ranger to find the horses. Saw hinds, 12 stags on a ridge, and marnots, big rabbity things(saw dear wee jerbils a few days before) and a few horses. All an identical creamy colour with darker manes, small gene pool.

After about an hour and only a few  horses in the distance , we turned back and lo and behold just on dusk there was a harem, as it is called, two stallions and about 12 horses, drinking at a huge puddle on the road. We took zillions of photos and returned to the camp feeling very David Attenboroughish.

The park is run by a NGO and we had an interesting   lecture on the horses  by a staff member before we went out.

Also saw loads of wild flowers, alliums, pink comvolulous, white astilbes, wild thyme and loads of chamomile. Pasture was much lusher in the park as no herds os goats etc. The farmers in the group said it is noticeable that there is overgrazing in many places, due to the increased goat herds, oh dear better return my cashmere. 

Birth rate in Mongolia is static since abortion was made legal. Mothers of four children receive a Mothers Medal, each child thereafter they receive a higher grade of recognition . Plus there is a family pension paid. Saw some old crones with several medals on their chests but never managed to get a pikkie.





An Adventure!

I will start with the worst moment of the trip so far!!

You all know about my dodgy radiated innards , well this one is the worst experience yet but it definitely has its funny side. There I am on the Trans Mongolian Express, 24 hours from UB  to  Irkutz. Sharing a cabin , one toilet between 20 . Decided about 7 am must go, really really must go, trotted down to the loo, locked!!! Approaching a station so the Brunhildes lock the loos. What to do??? Only one thing for it back to my shared cabin, Heather still asleep, root around and find my TipTop container , try to shut the door, no way would not budge, damn hot so all slept with doors open. Luckily yesterday in UB before boarding the train I bought a floaty dress and was wearing it.

Mission accomplished, just had to wait for the loo door to be unlocked before getting rid of the  evidence!!!  Thank heaven for Tip Top Light Vanilla.

So back to the real highlights of the last five days, driving across endless rolling plains  with misty mountains in the distance, large groups of horses happily grazing, watching a stallion being chased by irritated herders as it refused to be penned up with the mares during a mare milking session  and on and on. Large herds of goats, now far outnumber sheep because of the price of cashmere, 50$ a kilo versus 60 cents for sheep wool. Cattle are a bit scrawny, sheep a bit scraggy and goats goaty. The horses won my heart with the camels and their twitching humps a close second.

Roads are often atrocious, we drove 15 ks on a dirt track and it took us 45 mins to negotiate it. The Mongolians drive their vehicles the same way they ride horses, very fast. One day we all had to get out and walk a k as it was too steep and rough to risk us in the bus. This was in the way toUgii Lake, a bleak place  but the godwits land there!!! Plus locals camp and poop along its edge. The gers are OK but they smell of sheep wool which is to be expected as that is what they are made of.

So four nights in gers(enough) and one on a train, now in a nice hotel in Irkutz.

Oh yes, the monastery at Karakorum  was lovely, but only three of hundreds of temples left the Communists destroyed them in the thirties. 

K was Ghenghis Khans capital in the 11c. I think if I took up a collection for an assasin I would get enough, the man mentioned earlier is getting close to being roundly abused and not necessarily by me.

And good news the boy who fell of his horse while in the lead at the horse races came in third, I have never seen such a burst of speed. 


Nadaam 2

Out bright and early on an overcast day . Off on our trusty brocaded wheeled steed to the National Stadium. Built in 1953 to hold 15000  on Nadaam Opening Day tickets for 20,000 are sold at 25$ ea  . Some temporary seating goes in but we had covered stand tickets along with about 500 other foreigners.

Seats are very very close together you have knees in your back but we were in a good spot. View down the stadium. Parade started at 10.30 and the opening ceremony at 11 am. Then a performance that went on for two hours think Olympic Opening Ceremony with dancers, costumes and loud music towards the end Korean Pop  which is v popular.

The performance told the story of the development of Mongolia from 1 BC to the present day, an epic and done very well. On the running track endless parades if horses, camels( did you know they waggle thier humps when annoyed?), reluctant bullocks pulling carts, soldiers, gymnasts on skegways!!!! It was all there…

The President, small man, brown traditional costume and black hat  spoke lengthily… 

Many locals were in traditional dress, women a cross between a cheongsam and a belted robe and the men in long sleeved tunics sometimes with a jacket over the top with one side tucked under the arm to enable them to hold a bow  apparently. Ornate belts, tight pants and yummy boots, topped off with a bog standard brimmed hat.

Performance o er we went locally for lunch, pushing and shoving thru 20k people then back to the stadium to watch the mens wrestling- lots of pushing and shoving not much throwing, heats go on for three days. Then over to a knuckle bone throwing competition, very serious, aim is to knock the bone off its base from 15 m with another piece of bone. Then the archery, 75 m for men 65 for women. Looked great with some spectacular whatever archers call their shots.

Then  more cashmere buying , dinner and bed. Great day

Nadaam Festival

The Nadaam Festival is on, started yesterday. It is the Mongolian equivalent of Waitangi Day but more proscribed. Competitions are held in three events, wrestling, men only, archery and  horse racing. The festival in UB is held over four days but in the smaller towns only one or two days. It commemorates the three major eras of Mongolian  history, the Khan era, the Buddhist era and the socialist era. The latter being the shortest.

Yesterday started with a huge parade in the Main Square, every service in their dress uniforms and medals. We then drove for what seemed like hours , two actually out into the countryside for the National Horse Racing  event. Two races are run each day, we saw the three year olds race. It is a bit like the child camel racers in Dubai, the riders are aged between 7  and 12. The race is twenty ks  but of course it is twenty ks out then a race back. All very exciting particularly when the lead rider left the track and fell about 100 m from the finish, he was up in a flash and still came in fifth. I got quite excited  by it all.  A few riderless horses by the end. Over three hundred horses. Rain was threatening all day but luckily never came to much, still around 28c. Group starting to look a bit rough around the edges,,long days. Twice now  when it is obvious people are tired, out comes a large vodka bottle and a tray of glasses, everyone perks up amazingly. Provided by the local guide called Oonya, she is smart!!!

Loads of people at he races ,,a few busloads of tourists. Then the long haul back to town via a cashmere factory, very modest purchases, a scarf and a hat. Good prices but not much in my size.

Also had a visit to the National Museum, golly the age of some of the exhibits. 4 BC and upwards. Excellent museum guide . 

Off to watch some wrestling and archery today and probably more cashmere. Food is still good,

The second to last photo is the dust cloud raised  by 

the riders, seen long before them!


Ger Time

Monday 8/7/19

Set off in our decorated bus , interior has brocade hangings along the windows and brocade seats to match plus faux crystal on the hand grips to get in and on the gear stick. Have not checked the steering wheel, some gear changes suggest clutch difficulties.

First stop was the giant Ghenggis Khaan statue, we knew him as Ghengis Khan.

Plonked in the countryside, cost 4 m , made of stainless steel. A zillion steps up  inside and you stand inside his hand!!

A thriving set of businnesses have been set up around it, double humped camel rides(local camels have two humps and are very hairy), hold the golden eagle or a vulture(not popular) ride a pony or drink a local hooch. I fif not give to the local industries.

very soon after  leaving UB we were in rolling countryside, complete with herders , sheep, horses, cattle and goats plus gers. All very National Geographic. Countryside is quite green as good rain in early June. 

All Mongolians are entitled to a .75 ha piece of land , so you see odd fences off bits, some with gers on, some with nothing, some with dead trucks and some with little brick houses. Better off people in the countryside or in the towns build log houses. 

The chopping up of land has the potential  to muck up the nomadic herders lives and livelihood.

40% of Mongolians are herders , was 60% so declining.  Nowadays Farm bikes are used as much as horses . The horses are beautiful, not large but not ponies either.

Finally arrived at Terelj National Parkr. A lovely valley with a river , big rock formations and lots of larch and poplar trees. Obviously been no planning or oversight as to where the ger camps can be set up, so lovely pristine landscape is being desecrated by ugly blots of the ger camps. Most have about twenty-thirty gers and a dining room of varying architectural quality. Gers are lined with felted wool but covered with white canvas so hard to disguise.

My ger was identical to its neighbour , you tend to walk round and round inside!! My planning re toilet worked- thank you Lorraine and Jill.

Food was good, very similar food everywhere to

home- no boiled mutton yet! 

Next morning two hours back to UB , a visit to a buddhist monastery, in central UB. There are a lot of buddhists in Mongolia but from 1923 on till 1952 they wete persecuted by the Chinese then the Russians. Thousands of monasteries were destroyed.

Next stop the last Kings palace complex. A series of lovely traditional style one level Chinese influenced temples and alongside that, a present from Czar Nicholas, a white two storey palace/house really. Quite incongruous, contained various collections including a lot of taxidermy. Our kiwi eyes spied a kakapo and a takahe!!!! This was all built and collected early twentieth century. King was deposed 1923. Some sublime silk embroidery.

Back to the hotel, room not as good as first round plus aircon not working, suspect it will not be during my three night stay.

Cultural display  followed by another good dinner. The cultural display/concert was excellent, throat singers , cossack style dancing, ballet, etc etc even two very bendy gymnasts concluded with the Mongolian State Orchestra.

So far so good, only two in the group who I would cheerfully hire a hit man for.




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