Saturday, September 14, 2013

Spring Forward; Fall's Back!

My last week has gone by in a cherry-coke fueled blur.  I have done really well at building good habits in the last year, and that has kind of all gone out the window.  Luckily, tomorrow is another day, Ms. Scarlett, and hey, when we've actually got cherry coke in Mongolia, can you blame me for a little...indulgence?  I've also spend quite a lot of the last 24 hours indulging my other addiction - reading.  My knickers have been in a twist ever since the most recent October Daye book came out, and I've had no way to read it - my Nook broke and it wasn't available for Nook for web yet.  I finally broke down and ordered a hard copy from Amazon (along with a bunch of other stuff that I honestly probably didn't need...), and then yesterday, I checked Evil's account, and it was ready for the web reader.  I got an hour into it before I had to meet my friends, and it was hard to convince myself that I should go have lunch with them...or dinner, rather.  We were actually trying to have a cultural experience, but after an hour and a half on the bus without making it as far as the British school, we gave up and went to have Indian instead.  Worse things have happened.  When I got home, I started reading again, and I just finished the book about an hour ago (yes, I slept.  Surprisingly).  It was excellent.  The problem, of course, is that now I have to wait another year for the next one.  :-(
Last weekend, on the other hand, was more interesting.  I've learned something new about Engrish: I don't have to ask if she wants to go to the countryside, because apparently the answer will always be yes.  I wanted to visit Amarbayasgalant Monastery, but Enkhe suggested a different option - the Tsenkher hot springs.  So off we went, with Geek in tow.  The downside to this trip was most of the driving was from UB to Kharkhorin - having seen it before makes it a little boring when you're driving for five hours.  On the upside, I got to add another animal crossing to my list - cranes, or togoruu in Mongolian.  And Geek had never seen the phallic rock in Kharkhorin (their driver wouldn't take them), while I discovered that the big phallic rock had been moved before our last adventure.  Good to have that figured out...now to just track down what happened to it.

We drove through what Lonely Planet calls the "prettiest aimag capital in Mongolia," Tsetserleg, but didn't stop.  Enkhe found the side road that he needed and started toward the hot spring.  The scenery in Arkhangai was magnificent...lots more trees and hills and rocks.   Enkhe said he thought he was lost at one point, which we didn't believe, but didn't care too much either way, because it was really that beautiful, and eventually his awesome sense of direction was proven right and we saw the ger camps surrounding the spring.

There are at least three of them there.  Two are listed in Lonely Planet, and we ended up staying at the expensive one (35,000 tugrugs a night not including food is expensive in Mongolia, although it's really only 20 bucks, and none of us minded paying for a little luxury).  Duut Resort is fairly new and looked nicer than the first one we poked our heads into.  Their food was good, although also expensive - the stir-fried beef we had for lunch was 18,000 tugrugs a plate, but it really was beef, which is always nice. 
After lunch we went for a little walk - hike seems like too strong a word - because Enkhe didn't think we were stressed enough to truly appreciate the hot springs.  We visited the source of the spring, and the water was REALLY hot.  It came out of the rock in little trickles, and there were man-made pools to catch it right there (you can see Geek sticking her finger in).  It was really soft, too, but I'm not sure what mineral gave it that quality - the only thing I've ever felt like this water was Dead Sea water, which has a sort of slippery feel (yeah, I know, it's kind of funny to call water "slippery").  I know the Tsenkher water didn't have salt in it, though.  Trust me - after foolishly opening my tortilla chips with my knife I would have known if there was salt in that water!
This is kind of the beginning of fall, here, and the color was coming up in the hillsides.  You can start to get an idea of what the forest looked like from this photo.  There were wild strawberries and some sort of other edible berry, as well as all the beautiful foliage.  After our pathetically short hike we were ready to hit the baths.  The pools were lined with stones, and it was nice sinking into a nice, hot bath...I've really missed the Korean bathhouses.  The manager on duty (I guess - he could just be their in-house English speaker) was very accommodating, and made the water hotter for us.  Their pools were segregated by gender, but there was no screen to hide you from prying eyes or splashing kids (the former wasn't a problem - we went with their "recommendation" of wearing swimsuits - but when we went in before bed there were three rowdy kids that eventually Engrish banished to the men's pool by virtue of her mad Mongolian skills and their lack of a mother in our pool).  The men that were out were playing some music, which we started singing along to, and it turned into a karaoke party featuring me and Engrish belting out Adele's best.

This trip also prompted a lot of thinking about whether I shouldn't do another year here.  There are just SO many amazing places in Mongolia, and there's no way I'm going to be able to make it to all of them.  The one I wish I had time to go to right now is Sukhbaatar aimag - they witness a huge migration of swans each year, and Engrish said it was amazing when she went.  There's also the fact that I kind of want to buy a ger.  My parents would probably NOT be thrilled with me if I brought yet another thing home to leave, but we could set it up in the corner of the field so I'd have my own little home, and the Princess, Dirt Devil, and Bunny could use it for a playhouse when they visited.  Also, I would definitely have the coolest "tent" at family reunions...if I could get my dad to agree to bring it with us!  I don't think I can afford to buy all the bits of the ger - about $5000 according to Enkhe - and ship it home this year, and this random, somewhat crazy sort of desire may fade before long.  A much more compelling argument is that both Five and Domestic Goddess both really miss Mongolia.  You get over it eventually (most of the time - there's always a little part of me still yearning for Korea), but at this point, I really love my life.  I love my students and just about all of my coworkers, I've adjusted to the changes from last year, and the negative things - first and foremost, the ridiculously cold winter - I've gotten used to (seriously...you wouldn't believe how tolerant I am of the cold.  I hardly even noticed the dung fire that the herders made for us our first night never really burned).  But we'll see.  As I've said, the world is a really big place and I haven't even begun to see it.

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