“Mongolia? As in Inner Mongolia? On your own- with Eleanor?”
“No, Mongolia as in the separate country between China and Russia. Yes on our own, Martin is teaching in a summer school organised by DHSZ.”
“Wow, you are…brave… That’s amazing… Why?”
Just some of the conversations I had with people when discussing our summer plans. The Why question was the easiest… a country with horses, riding across a wide open space… well why not? I also wanted to give Eleanor a different perspective on life. No iPads, phones, television, internet, shopping malls, hotels with swimming pools, just green space, blue sky, clean air.
The holiday was in jeopardy in June, when Eleanor who was learning to ride, and was doing very well, fell off. Admitted into the RVH in Belfast she was given the best treatment possible, with x-rays on all parts of the body (save her right leg!), CT scan and MRI scan. With a little damage to the top of her spine/base of her neck she was not allowed to do any sports for a month… There were six weeks to Mongolia would she be able to, and would she want to get back in the saddle?
Eleanor was extremely shaken as you can imagine, as were my parents who watched the accident. I was in London and caught a red-eye flight from London City into Belfast City. Eleanor has now made a full recovery, is now playing football and vying for a place in the under 9’s team and is about to swim 3 times a week and compete in the Elite Junior Swim Team for the under 8’s for Dulwich College Suzhou. She has been very clear with me… “Horse riding is your thing Mum, it isn’t mine. Swimming is”.
The holiday was organised and booked through a French company, Rando Cheval, I knew that it would be Eleanor and I together with a Dutch Mum and her three children. On meeting her…she too had had the same questions as me (except for the inner Mongolia one that was China based friends only!)
With the heat at 39 degrees celsius, Eleanor and I, with riding helmets, boots, jodhpurs body protectors and 2 rucksacks left Suzhou bound for Wuxi airport on the morning of Friday 29th July. We transferred at Beijing for Ulan Bataar and at 6.30pm we landed.
Flying over Mongolia we could see the specks of white of the yurts dotted on the plains with the mountains rising up. This was a vast country and both of us were very excited. Once we left the plane, we saw many people take out their phones, they were not texting as is usual, they were taking photos and so I had to get in on the act…
Landing cards completed, we met our driver who would take us to our hotel for the night. Hotel Nuranbulag was seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I had booked it not knowing where it was in relation to anywhere, it was cheap and it was basic, the beds hard as Chinese beds, but the hospitality was friendly – they opened the hotel restaurant for us as neither Eleanor nor I wanted to explore, the staff also couldn’t tell us where the centre was either. We were tired and hungry and took the easy option.
In the heat of 30 degrees, Eleanor and I went to bed, there was no air conditioning. In a country where there is only 3 months of summer it is easy to see why there would be no air conditioning, but it was an uncomfortable night. It was also light at 10pm. Not unusual in Europe, but where we are in China, it is dark at 6.30/7pm.
On Saturday 30 July, our holiday would begin properly, we would get to meet our Guide and the other family, but first I needed to get Mongolian money.
Saturday 30 July
I had taken out a lot of RMB in Wuxi airport on the understanding that when we got to Mongolia I would exchange it. However, despite the hotel saying they could, they couldn’t exchange that much…I needed enough to get a taxi from Nuranbulag to the Dream Hotel, our hotel for one night with our tour group. Having left Martin in Suzhou, I was very much on my own as to currency calculations (married to a mathematician is great on holiday!), so I got about 100 RMB changed (pre Brexit about 10GBP) this got me over 25,500 MNT. In three notes – 20,000, 5,000 and 500. A taxi was duly called and I stupidly forgot to check that he has his meter on. So upon arrival at the “Dream Hotel”, I was told it was 7000 MNT. I offered my 20,000 note but that was clearly too much for him to give me change for, so I gave him the 5,000 MNT note. He snorted and complained, but when I pointed at the meter he capitulated. He knew he had fleeced me.
We checked in, checked out the “softness” of the beds (marginally softer than the night before) and went out for lunch. I didn’t find an open currency exchange, so I went out to the cash point and withdrew 520,000 MNT. (Only after I had been on the first “tour trip”. In total I had 536,500 MNT and a lot of RMB… I had the equivalent of 196 GBP (1727 RMB). Would it last the 10 days?
**Spoiler Alert… It did, save for using a little RMB to buy a book and food at the airport.
Stay tuned for Part 2