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Entries about forest

Life in the cabin at the lake

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

semi-overcast 15 °C
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It was a great feeling to know that we had made it all the way to Carol and Pete’s place on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Even though all of us had enjoyed the last months of living in the camper van, none of us was sad to move into a room and sleep in a proper bed. Rather the opposite: We were all really looking forward to some time without any driving and just being in one and the same place.

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And what should I say: it is a really nice place. Once we arrived, Pete and Carol showed us around their cabin and the surroundings. Admittedly, the cabin could probably be also called a house and it is situated very nicely in the woods right above Hagerman Lake. Before even looking around the house, our first destination was the pier with the motorboat, the kayaks, the stand-up paddleboard and the water bike.

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We really enjoyed our days at Carol and Pete’s. There was so much to see and to do that there was no way for getting bored.
Whenever the weather was nice enough to do so, we headed out on the lake. After a short round alone in the kayak, Max decided to rather opt for the motorboat. Even though he clearly wanted to go out alone with the motorboat, he was not allowed to do so. But he really enjoyed going out with Pete and was thrilled to being allowed to even steer the boat himself. Sam preferred the water bike, and I mostly used the kayak.

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Whenever we were not out on the water, we took long hikes through the woods and into the nearby Ottawa National Forest. With Max using his bike, we were able to cover quite some distances. Along the way we found lots of mushrooms - not edible, but very pretty!

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The first couple of days, we enjoyed very nice and sunny fall weather. And with the leaves turning colors, this was a marvelous sight. Not to forget about the fabulous sunsets!

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But there was much more as well to keep us busy: Sam decided to get an appointment with a local dentist. The good news was that he confirmed after an x-ray scan that there only seems to be an irritated nerve and no real major issue.
And we had long expected visitors coming in: Janis arrived on Friday evening with her son Charles and my parents. It was so good to have them around. After all, it had been five months since we last met. Max had been already excited for the last couple of days that his Opa and Oma would be coming. And Sam and I were glad to see how much fun Max had when Pete or his grandparents spent time with him.
But even when the weather turned to be a bit more unpleasant with rainy cool days, there were lots of options to keep us entertained. While Max and Sam built LEGO castles, trucks and star ships, I got started with some puzzles eventually culminating in a 1000-piece puzzle of Yosemite. And once almost everyone had helped to finally get the puzzle completed, we started playing Farkle and Herzeln.

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Had I mentioned already the hot tub and the sauna or the open chimney? The cooler weather was the perfect excuse for our almost daily dip in the hot tub.

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And let me also mention the food: There was also no possible way of ever staying hungry. After breakfast, we did not have to wait too long for lunch. In the afternoons, there was classical German ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ (even though we stuck to tea vs. coffee) and in the evening there was once dinner. And no matter what Carol prepared or Pete put onto the BBQ, it was excellent: steaks, shish kebabs, taco salad, sloppy joes, local pasties, bratwurst… And as soon as we thought, we’re just absolutely stuffed, there was some kind of dessert coming our way, such that we ate as if we had been starved for weeks: lots of varieties of cookies, plum cake, brownies, icecream, chocolate fondue – you name it.
The food we had in town one day was ok, but there was no way whatsoever to live up to the cooking of Carol. Still, it was the perfect opportunity to combine the trip into Iron River with a trip to the car wash to vacuum our van. And we spent quite a lot of time in the garage trying to get the insides of the van as clean as possible. To make sure that the van is also well maintained, we had one last oil change done and eventually were happy that we were done.
As if all of that would not have been enough, one evening we got a heads up that there was a chance of seeing Northern Lights as south as Michigan. So we checked it out and in fact saw a slight glow towards the north. Nothing absolutely spectacular, but still quite cool. And as it was a nice and clear night, we even got to see the Milky Way as well.

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We could have spent lots more time at the cabin and it felt great to take a break from traveling. We had not done so few miles for ages – probably not even during the last couple of months back in Germany. Still, after ten days it was time to go back to Chicago respectively Glenview.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:38 Archived in USA Tagged food lake sauna kayak hike forest cabin puzzle tub lego waterbike Comments (0)

Closing out a great year 2016

Valley of the Giants, Walpole – Nornalup NP, William Bay NP, Albany

overcast 22 °C
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The Southern Forests are dotted with national parks. Their most well-known attraction is the tree top walk in Walpole-Nornalup National Park through one of the rare red tingle forests. As we reached the carpark, it was apparent that this is the time when all Aussies seem to be traveling. It was like a zoo with people. Luckily we somehow found a parking spot and got our tickets.
The tree top walk itself was simply spectacular. Via a ramp we walked up to 40m from where bridges connected various platforms at that height. It was a completely different perspective of the forest, but also the structure itself was fascinating.

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The walk along the bottom of the tingle forest was very nice as well. And luckily, the masses dispersed a bit as we hiked on. Still, it was really crowded and we only realized when leaving how lucky we had been to arrive early in the morning. By the time we left, the line to buy tickets ended all the way out in the carpark while in the morning there was hardly anyone in front of us. It had been nice seeing the tree top walk, but we were not sad to leave the crowds.

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We headed to the coves of William Bay NP. Elephants Cove was really nice and we enjoyed seeing the big rocks in the turquoise waters. Green’s Pool on the other hand was extremely crowded and after having had a glimpse, we decided to rather head on.

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After all, we did not have a reservation for a campground yet and it was already 4pm in the afternoon. While Sam and Max went shopping in Denmark, I called one campground after the other to find out that most of them have been booked out already for weeks. Eventually I was lucky after all: Carol at the Albany Holiday Park promised to keep a site for me if we arrived by 5pm. Even though Albany was still a 50km drive away, we managed and were happy to have a site secured in this busy holiday period.
With New Year’s Eve approaching, we did some research and found out that the only firework displays in that region will be taking place in Albany and in Esperance. Rather than rushing those 500km east to Esperance, we decided to stay in Albany until New Year’s Day.
Albany is a nice town to explore with lots of historical buildings from the early settlement of Western Australia remaining. It is also known for its role in world war I having been the last port of call for the troops heading to Europe and ultimately Gallipoli. That might also be the reason that it is the location of the national Anzac (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Center, that had been built for the centennial celebration of the forces leaving in October 2014.
We opted to rather explore the nearby Princess Royal Fortress vs. the Anzac Center in Heritage Park. The reinforcements in the hills with its cannons protecting the harbor reminded us a bit of what we had seen at Fort Casey or Fore Ebey in Washington State. Except that in the Us we would probably not have come across a bandicoot.

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Then it was time to go into town. We had deserved a break in a local café. When strolling by the old town hall building a little later, we were invited in. Just then an art exhibition of local artists was opening and we were among the first people getting to have a look.

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Back at the campsite, we had a great BBQ and worked on our blog in an attempt to catch up. Considering how far we’re behind, this effort continued also on New Year’s Eve. Anyhow, after a couple of days in a row of exploring, it helped to have a rather quiet day again.
In the late afternoon, we headed off to a rather special skate park called snake run, winding its way down a hill. There was quite a crowd of people at the skate park. The adults sitting together having relaxed chats while their kids hit the track.
Seeing some probably five-year olds hit the snake run on their tricycles at top speed, it was obvious that they did not do that for the first time. Otherwise their parents might not have watched them with such an ease of mind amidst the excitement and fun of all the other onlookers. But an older guy taking on the track sitting on a skateboard had the full attention of the crowd and caused a big roar of laughter when he eventually fell off.
Amidst that fun, Max hit the track with his bike. And a couple of minutes later Sam joined him on a bike he borrowed from one of the people watching who lived next door. Its hard to tell who of the two had more fun.

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Eventually, Sam had exhausted enough energy and sat down for having a chat again, while Max continued with his seemingly endless energy. Unfortunately, his concentration is not endless and eventually Max jumped and fell hard. Luckily, he had been wearing his helmet and other than a bloody lip, a bruise on the forehead and a scratched elbow.
While we would have preferred for Max not ending up in a fall like that, the incident got us invited at the New Year’s Eve party of the people living next to the skate park. The party also celebrated their good bye before heading off on a yearlong travel through New Zealand and Australia. We found enough topics to talk about.
Eventually, we joined them in hiking up the hill behind their house to watch the fireworks from Mount Clarence. Conveniently enough, most Australian cities offer two fireworks: the family fireworks at 9pm and the midnight firework. It was a great firework and we all enjoyed the displays. with its smiling faces and the outline of Australia lighting up in the harbor below us.

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An hour later, we were home again and Max was sound asleep in the roof top tent. With private fireworks being absolutely forbidden and not even available for sale and the official firework displays taking place a couple of kilometers away in the harbor, this marks probably the quietest year change we’ve experienced so far (and potentially ever will?!?). Also at the campground no one seemed to be celebrating, so Sam and I were on our own dancing the traditional Viennese Waltz at midnight and toasting with sparkling wine. And thanks to Irmi and Lotte’s well timed call at one minute after midnight, we even got to exchange new year’s greetings with family – just as usual. And yes, we could not refrain from sending out some messages to friends and family to tell them that for us the new year has already started seven hours earlier than if we would have been back home.
Despite the fact that 2016 was seven hours shorter than a normal year, it definitively was filled with many more impressions and learnings than probably every single other year in our lives so far. And the outlook is very positive for 2017: almost certainly, it will be an equally exciting year as well!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:13 Archived in Australia Tagged fort rock forest quiet firework anzac newyear cove skate treetop Comments (1)

The very South

The Catlins, Invercargill, Monkey Island

semi-overcast 18 °C
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After almost two weeks on the East coast of the South Island, we were ready to discover Southland. We did not take the highway, but ventured along the Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins. Our first stop was Kaka Point. We admired the fact that the lifesavers were on duty with flags posted along the beach despite the cold and rainy weather. Surprisingly, there was not a single swimmer but two surfers enjoyed their ride in the water.
By the time we reached Nugget Point, luckily the rain had stopped and we were able to take the nice hike to the lighthouse and back. The seals were not only laying lazily at the beach, but some of the also ventured out into the sea and jumped dolphin like in the waves.

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The drive was very nice – sunbathed rolling hills with the ubiquitous sheep dotting the landscape. Due to the heavy wind gusts, we were forced to drive very slowly anyhow and consequently had lots of time to enjoy the scenery.
The hike to the Purakaunui Falls was short but impressive, as it led through a dense rainforest. For the first time, since we arrived two weeks earlier, this felt like classical New Zealand as you would imagine it. The ferns and silver fern trees are just special and in our mind strongly connected with New Zealand.

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We camped in Papatowai close to the estuary. It seemed to be low tide, as it was easily possible to walk all the way to the beach. Even though the water was absolutely clear, it was heavily stained by the tannin from the rainforest.

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The next morning, we realized that the tide was even much lower then as the estuary seemed to be almost completely dry. So we headed off quickly to make sure we arrived in Curio Bay while the tide was still low. We wanted to make sure that the rock platform with the petrified remains of a Jurassic forest was still accessible.

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Once we had excessively explored Curio Bay, we headed over to Porpoise Bay for our lunch break. Even though it is just around the corner, the wide sandy beach there seemed like worlds apart. After a while we realized that there were not only some swimmers and surfers enjoying the surf in the bay, but also a pod of the small (and rare) Hectors Dolphins.

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On our way to Waipapa Lighthouse, we passed Shole Point, the southernmost point on the New Zealand mainland. That made us realize that we were just further south on our planet than we had ever been before. After all, New Zealand is further south than Africa, Australia and Tasmania. With the obvious exception of Antarctica and the islands of the Southern Ocean, one can get further South only in Chile and Argentina. And while we have been to both countries before, we had not gone that far South.

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For the night we stayed at the Lignite Pit Café. Its obvious feature is the former pit of lignite (admittedly we had to look up what that is and found out that it’s just the scientific way of saying ‘brown coal’). For the last couple of years the pit has been transformed by a garden lover into a marvelous place featuring secret places, lookouts, bridges, islands set around the water filled former pit. Both Sam and I agreed that while we loved the place, our mothers with their love of plants and gardening would have probably appreciated it even more.

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The next morning, we enjoyed the heat and the sunshine in the morning. And luckily we did so, as just a bit later when we reached Invercargill it started raining heavily. We used the opportunity to do some shopping, but then quickly headed out of town.
As we passed some stretches of coast line and a lake, we wondered how nice the landscape might look in more favorable weather. But the grey day did not help to set a nice scene. Consequently, we ended up at our free camp at Monkey Island Road without further stops. That left enough time there to keep ourselves busy in the camper (once again congratulating us on renting a camper vs. camping in a tent) by playing Lego, publishing the blog and reading.
In the evening the rain stopped for a short while, just enough to allow us to hike to Monkey Island during low tide. We were treated to the light of a beautiful sunset. Sam used the opportunity to test his photography skills. Eventually it got too dark and we returned to the campervan just in time before it started raining again.

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The next morning it was dry and we used the opportunity to hike along the beach. It was extremely windy, but wild and beautiful.

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Continuing along the coast, we realized that it is probably always so windy there. At least all bushes and trees were clearly oriented towards inland. With those last impressions, it was time to wave good bye to the Southern coast. The almost impenetrable Fjordland Nationalpark was waiting for us.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged coast beach island garden forest seal lighthouse dolphin fern petrified pit Comments (0)

Westland or should we rather say Wetland?

Haast Pass, Jacobs River, Fox Glacier, Hokitika, Greymouth

rain 20 °C
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From the northern end of Lake Hawea where we had stayed for the night, it was only a short drive over to Lake Wanaka. After a nice drive along its shore, we started heading up towards the mountains.

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After having talked to an English traveler the night before, Sam had all of our excursions for the day planned out. The first stop was at the Blue Pools. We hiked 15 minutes through pristine forest to reach a swingbridge. After hiking along a bit further, we got to a second swingbridge spanning the Blue Pools. Their color was amazingly blue and the water crystal clear. Still, the main attraction proved to be something else: we got to watch a whole group of youngsters jumping from the swingbridge into the water underneath. It was not nearly as high of a jump as the bungy jump we had observed the day before, but this time without a rope. And surprisingly enough, there seemed to be much more hesitation and thrill involved in doing the jump into the holes. Quite a crowd had gathered around the swing bridge to applaud and it was great fun.

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Hiking up towards the car park, we came across a busload of German tourists. Looking at the age group and their immaculate trekking outfits, I told Sam that I’d take a bet that up in the carpark there’d be a Rotel bus (the German travel company that is famous for having their travelers stay overnight in rather small sleeping compartments in the back of the bus or in a bus trailer). Up at the carpark, I was disappointed to see only a ‘normal’ bus, but Sam pointed out the ‘Rotel’ sign to me quickly enough. And later that day in Haast we saw the sleeper unit of the group: a full-size truck trailer converted into the usual sleeping setup. We were happy to travel independently!
Eventually we reached the Haast pass. It’s named after Austrian explorer Julius von Haast who made the crossing back in 1863. Up there we were greeted by the sign ‘Welcome to Westland’. Sam rightfully pointed out that it might as well be more suitably named ‘Wetland’, given its infamous amounts of rain of about 5m annually.
Thanks to the rain in the last couple of days, we were rewarded with waterfalls showing off the full force. After a first stop at the Thunder Creek Falls, the valley started opening up and the narrow valley with its steep sheer-sided walls gave way to a rather wide valley with the road gently snaking along the riverside.

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The Roaring Billy Falls were our next excursion. While the falls were nice, the actual highlight was the walk there. We passed through a wonderful forest of large fern trees and felt like dinosaurs might be lurking just behind the next curve. Down at the river we spent some time skipping the perfect flat stones on the river. It had been a good decision to do this part of the journey on a nice day!

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All along the road we saw lots of vintage cars. After wondering for quite a bit what was going on, we talked to a couple and found out that it was the Timaru vintage car club having an outing doing a tour of the South Island for a week. It looked like a lot of fun. Probably it would be not nearly as much fun when it’s raining – after all many of the cars had no real rain cover!

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In Haast we were lucky to fill our tank before the next stretch of almost 170km without a gas station, but were surprised to find out that there was no mobile reception. For the first time in years I did buy a phone card and used it to call our campground for the night to reserve the last powered site. Sam was so surprised. He checked twice why I had bought a new SIM card, before realizing that this was a really old fashioned phone card like the ones I used when I was still studying in Munich.
Having our campsite secured for the night, we could take a leisurely stroll at Ship Creek. We got to see and touch our first Westcoast beach with its round pebbles and rough sea. We did both walks, starting with the Dune Lake Walk which led us through sand dunes and stunted forest to a nice viewpoint of the beach. The Swamp Forest Walk was as swampy as expected and featured enormous trees. Once more, a great stop on our way.

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At Knights Point we appreciated the nice view of the coast before the road headed inland for a bit. Still, we continued to make only slow progress, as the road continued to feature more curves than straight stretches. Heading north, we did get glimpses of Aoraki / Mt. Cook and it felt much longer than just those two weeks when we stayed just on the other side of it.

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Later than expected we arrived in Jacob’s River at the Pine Grove Motel. Two weeks ago, we had stayed just on the other side of Aoraki / Mt. Cook.
There are two ways how we could get back there. By car the shortest route would lead us via the Haast Pass and would take 439 km. The direct route would be just around 40km by hiking up the Copland Valley Track to Welcome Flat Hut and from there crossing the flanks of Mt Cook an effort which should only be undertaken by serious mountaineers.
We only realized later that in fact the Copland Valley track was temporarily closed that day due to the projected heavy rains of up to 150mm. And we can confirm: indeed, it was raining heavily.
As we arrived in Fox Glacier, we did get a nice view of the top of glacier from the viewpoint south of the bridge before heading to the glacier itself.

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Despite the rain, we also hiked up to the viewpoint above the glacier to see its lower end. Despite the 450m distance to where the glacier currently ends, it still looked very impressive. And it is - together with its twin glacier Franz Josef a bit further north – the only glacier in these latitudes coming down so close to the ocean, surrounded by rainforest.

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When hiking down again, a ranger passed us and upon reaching the carpark we realized why: he had closed the hike due to the heavy rains and subsequent risk of flash floods.
A bit further on, after passing through Franz Josef Glacier we left the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and simultaneously also the Te Wahipounamu Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area which encompasses 2.6 million hectares of wilderness.
We drove to Hokitika in pouring rain. The rain was atrocious. Once we had reached the dry heaven of the camp kitchen, none of us was keen to run back to the camper van to get something. Max played with the toys he found in the camp kitchen while Sam and I took turns on the laptop and read. And we were also there just in time to watch the final part of the Superbowl. What an exciting game and an unbelievable catch up of the New England Patriots winning 34-28 after the Atlanta Falcons had been leading already 0-21.
It rained until we went to bed that night. Our weather app recorded 49mm of rain for the day. After all the wettest place in NZ and one of the top 10 in the world is just a couple of kilometers away from Hokitika. Cropp River – a tributary to the Hokitika River - gets over 11m rainfall in an average year, with records of 18m in a single year and over 1m within 48h. Just for reference: the wettest place in Austria gets 2,5m of rainfall per year.

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The next morning we could hardly believe our luck: it had stopped raining! So we could finally go into town. Hokitika is mainly known for its jade carvings and we checked out one of the local workshops and galleries. We did check out how comfortable one can sit on a jade bench costing 220,000 NZD, but decided against it. We rather opted for a nicely painted stone featuring a kiwi for 3 NZD. Chatting with the artist, we found out that the stone is actually called ‘Grauwacke’ and might similarly be found in the German Harz. We immediately suspected that we might be talking with an emigrated German, but in fact he was South African.
A couple of doors further, we visited a glass blowing workshop and got to watch how the cute penguins on sale are made. It was great fun to watch and we admired how quickly and nicely the artist was creating the penguins.
Down at the beach we got to admire lots of driftwood sculptures which had been created as part of the annual driftwood festival just a couple of days earlier. It was fun checking out the various sculptures and deciding which one of them we liked best (every one of us had another favorite).

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Even though Max had been interested in seeing the workshops and the beach, clearly this kind of sightseeing is not his favorite pastime. So we made sure to provide him with some sights that are sure to please him. We stopped at the skateparks of Hokitika and Greymouth. In the latter, he managed to his big delight to trade his bike for a skateboard (at least for a couple of minutes) and really enjoyed trying out the skateboard.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 01:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sea rain beach lake river glass waterfall pool swamp forest dune jump drive pass Comments (0)

Something is in the air

Bayanzag via Saikhan Ovoo, Khujirt to Kharkhorin

semi-overcast 17 °C
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After nine days of traveling through Southern Mongolia, we had reached the half way point of our trip and started heading north again. We headed up a pass to cut through the mountain ridge and were rewarded with a nice view back towards the singing dune. Time to wave good bye.

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Passing through a valley we reached the northern side of the Gurvan Saikhan National Park and were driving along the mountains towards east. It was a beautiful landscape: the mountains on our right and flat lands on our left bordered by another mountain ridge in the distance.

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We could already see a difference vs. ten days earlier: the rolling steppe was much greener than before – probably to the big pleasure of the many herds of animals we passed. What looked like grass, were in fact often chives – easily noticeable by the nice aroma we got to smell every time we got out of the car. No wonder that we saw quite a couple of moves to the spring pastures.

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Unfortunately, today the Mongolian saying that seeing a move brings luck did not hold true. By the time we were ready to leave Bulgan after shopping, getting gas for the car and filling our water canister, Oogii and Amgaa had such an argument that they stopped talking to each other. We had no clue what it was about and given the tense atmosphere in the car, did not dare to ask.
Soon after that incident, we reached the flaming cliffs of Bayanzag. The landscape was spectacular and it was fun to hike around the area.

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But the area is known even more for its finds of dinosaur skeletons – the ones we had seen in the Dinosaur Museum in Ulaanbaatar. We did not find any bones, but we did find quite a lot of plants growing in the dry sand. There were signs of spring - even here in the desert!

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Max made an effort to find some dinosaur remains at our campground at the bottom of the cliffs. He was soon distracted by playing with his cars and consequently forgot about his mission. Sam did not forget about his mission though, to take nice pictures of our camp and the surrounding cliffs at sundown.

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While Oogii made excellent dinner for us, Amgaa had left to make some repairs on the car. His prediction of being back after an hour proved to be very wrong: five hours later when the sun had set already, he had still not arrived. Luckily, we had taken all our stuff for the night into our tent already. Oogii was not so lucky, so we had supplied her with surplus blankets and a sleeping pad such that she’d be able to sleep. Eventually, Amgaa arrived and Oogii was able to get her stuff after all.
We did not get any explanation for Amgaa’s absence and given that he still did not talk with Oogii, the atmosphere at breakfast was not too pleasant. We were hoping that things would improve again, but given our remote location, there was no choice anyhow.
Our first sightseeing stop of the day was in the biggest saxaul forest of Central Asia. What sounded very impressive, turned out to be not quite like the picture we had in our minds when there was talk about a forest. The saxaul trees are the only trees present in the Gobi and are prized by the nomads as excellent firewood comparable to coal. Even though the forest we visited was very old, we did not see any trees much higher than 2 meters. So in our books, we had visited an area of rather sparse bushland.

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Heading north, we passed enormous areas of a joint Mongolian / Korean project attempting to grow saxaul. The project is called the Green Wall and aims to alleviate desertification by planting saxaul on an area of 3000 hectares. While it sounds nice of the Korean government to support Mongolia, there is an expected side effect as well: Korea has a massive health issue with dust in the air and this project might help to decrease the amount of desert dust being blown from Mongolia to Korea.
What followed was a track that was probably the worst we’ve been on so far. In the area where the river Ongi disappears in the desert, large salt pans have formed. In early spring, it is still dry enough such that there is no big risk of getting stuck. Still, we were able to see many deep tracks that were proof of much more difficult conditions during the rainy summer season. The deep ruts in the track were sometimes very hard to see in advance. Amgaa was trying to detect all of them on time and break before we were hitting them. One time we were flying after all and our Furgon was suspended in the air with all wheels losing touch.

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In the early afternoon, we reached our destination for the day: the monastery of Ongi. We built up camp on the river banks, just downstream from the monastery. The spot was just great – super idyllic and peaceful. We praised the fact that we were traveling outside the major tourist season. Otherwise the place might not have been nearly as peaceful, considering the big tourist ger camp just next door. There would have been many more tourists around and all of their drivers would have parked along the river to give their vehicle a proper car wash – which is also what Amgaa did. After about three hours of work, our Furgon was shiny as new.

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Even though the ger camp was still closed for another month, for a small fee we were able to use their facilities. It felt great to have a proper shower again after a couple of days!
It was sad to visit the old monastery. It had been one of the major Buddhist monasteries of Mongolia – sometimes even compared with the Potala Palace in Lhasa. At times, up to 10,000 monks had been living here. As part of the communist activities in the 1930’s the monastery was destroyed – as most others in the country. Today, only a few ruins remain, and very few buildings have been reconstructed with a few monks trying to bring life to the place again.

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Sitting at a lookout, Sam and I got philosophical. After all, we were nearing the end of our travels: in four weeks, we’d be back at home with Sam’s family. On one hand, we’d certainly know of enough interesting places to go to fill at least another year of traveling. And we could easily go on for even longer than that. On the other hand, it also feels ok to go back home. After having been away for over a year, it also feels good to finally see friends and family again. And knowing that we’d be going home with the Trans-Siberian Railway – an idea we had already for ages – somehow sounded like a perfect end for our journey.

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Back at our camp, Oogii was already busy preparing our dinner. For me, it was time to get our laundry done. And the location next to the river was just perfect. Our clothes got cleaner than expected and it dried quickly on the grass in the sunshine.

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Once the sun was setting, Sam headed out to take some nice shots. He headed into the hills on the other side of the river. Once he successfully returned from his venture, he had not only made a couple of nice shots with his camera, but he had also found some nice crystals. By the time he was back, temperatures had fallen significantly and suddenly wading through the river was not nearly as tempting as it had been in the late afternoon.

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That evening we were not alone. Oogii and Amgaa’s boss Ure was in Ongi as well together with her client Tomm and a driver. They came over to have a beer and snacks together. Tomm was scouting Southern and Central Mongolia as a potential location to organize the 2018 GS Trophy, a BMW sponsored motorbike event with participants from all over the world. Sam was delighted and chatted the whole evening with Tomm. After all, it’s not too often that you meet someone who has participated in the Paris – Dakar motorbike race and can tell stories of his many adventures.

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The next morning, we simply enjoyed our relaxed breakfast. None of us was really keen to leave this lovely spot by the river and to exchange it for a day’s worth of driving. Eventually we managed to head off after all. All along we imagined how it would be, driving along these tracks on motorbikes instead of a Furgon.
We passed Saikhan-Ovoo, which translates to ‚the beautiful cairn ‘. We must have missed the cairn, but could not fail to notice the square kilometers of garbage on the Southern end of town. In our eyes the more appropriate name for the town should have rather focused on that. On the other hand, we did produce enough garbage ourselves on our journey and unfortunately in a country without a properly organized garbage system, it is hard to tell, where our garbage will end up – not matter how sure we’ve made that we dispose of it into official garbage containers.
Lunch was a bit earlier than usual. But as we headed into an area with heavy rain clouds, it was a good idea to eat while we’d be able to stay dry.
There was already a faint smell of rain in the air. A couple of kilometers after we headed off again, it started raining. At least we can now confidently say that we’ve experienced all kinds of weather in Mongolia – sun, sandstorm, rain and snow. Despite the weather, we briefly stopped at an ancient megalith, a so called deer (or raindeer) stone.

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The rainclouds created a very special light. And being able to sit in the car, it was actually quite pleasant. Probably it was not nearly as pleasant for the many herd animals outside. Most of them huddled together and were standing in the direction away from the wind. Only the yaks with their heavy wool seemed to be fairly unimpressed by the weather.

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We also came across lots of birds. There were cranes and geese who must have arrived recently form their winter habitats in Southern China and India. But also the local birds of prey were present – most notably an eagle who was busily eating while we watched.
Our original plan had been to stay in the valley before the spa town of Khurjit, known for its hot springs. Considering the rain storm we were in once we reached our designated camping spot, we kindly declined and all agreed that it would be a better option to stay in a yurt.

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We had a couple of errands to run in Khurjit. The town was the largest one we had been in for a while, but that is a relative statement. There were still calves feeding in the middle of main street. We soon realized that shopping was done quickly, but getting money from an ATM proved to be impossible. By the time we were done with everything, the weather was back to perfect again. There was only a slight breeze, the sun was out and there were only some few small clouds. There were no rain clouds to be seen anywhere around.

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So we changed back to the idea of camping in our tents after all. The idea was great, the execution awful. The unplanned camp so close to town sparked another disagreement of Oogii and Amgaa which resulted in Oogii getting out of the car.
Sam and I were pretty fed up with the disagreements. We asked Oogii to translate to Amgaa that we have had enough of the constant fights and that we expect both to work together. Eventually I asked for a phone and explained the situation to Ure, who we had met the day before. I asked her to explain our expectations to Amgaa.
Luckily it turned out that this was the only intervention required and that as of then, life continued normally. While it was not the warmest interaction between Oogii and Amgaa, they at least talked again. It would have been a pity having to go to the extreme of having to ask for another driver to take us for the remaining five days of our tour through Mongolia.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 18:03 Archived in Mongolia Tagged river monastery forest cliff dinosaur Comments (0)

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