Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Author: Meg Noble Peterson (Page 1 of 24)

COMING HOME TO KATHMANDU….

What a marvelous journey to Kathmandu this year! Cary and I are singing the praises of Korean Air, having traveled the ten plus hours to Seoul on two ample coach seats with extra space. Because of a long layover, we were comped an overnight at the Grand Hyatt in Incheon (5 stars!), complete with sumptuous dinner and breakfast buffets, before continuing our flight to Kathmandu.

The Shechen Guest House in Boudhanath greeted us like family and we settled in for a week of kora around the stupa, shopping in our favorite shops, visiting old friends, and enjoying new acquaintances who flow through the gardens and restaurant from a plethora of countries.

The Boudha Stupa never fails to thrill, especially at night with a full moon, and the lights shimmering on the prayer flags.

Navigating the narrow alleys with motorcycles speeding by in all directions is no worse than other years, but takes getting used to each visit. One new experience for Cary and me, however, was the three cows coming our way on the sidewalk. Just as they were approaching, oops! one was a bull that decided to mount one of the cows, resulting in her suddenly running toward us at a great speed. Luckily no vehicles were on the road when we jumped into it, just in time to avoid the stampede. I’ll save sharing about other mishaps for a more detailed post when I return!

We spent a lovely day with Jwalant Guring of Crystal Mountain Treks, who has planned many of our recent adventures. It also gave us a chance to visit his parents in their newly built home, and Cary a chance to talk gardening with his mother, Anita. The next Friday we attended a lecture given by his sister, Jenny Gurung, with whom we had circumambulated Mt. Kailash in Tibet in 2004, going to the top of Drolma La (18,000 ft.). Jenny, who works for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), spoke about “Reviving Cultural Links across the Mt. Kailash Sacred Region.” It was great to see her again and hear about the important work she is doing.

Here we also meet people who are giving their time unselfishly as volunteers, a welcome antidote to the negativity we are bombarded with these days. For example, we met a firefighter from Denver, CO, who is making his third trip to Sermathang to help rebuild a school after the earthquake. We visited Sermathang in 2015 and saw the devastation first hand. The non-profit he volunteers for is Team Rubicon, an organization that works with veterans and disaster relief.

One of my favorite visits of the past week was with B. P. Shrestha in Dhulikhel, an hour east of Kathmandu. I first met BP in 1987 when he ran a small guest house in the old city center. Since then he has been mayor, and initiated tremendous growth and change, including the addition of a regional hospital, university, and water treatment plant, all of which have greatly helped the health and prosperity of the community. BP also built a beautiful hotel with a view of the mountains, The Himalayan Horizon, where we stayed overnight. His grandson, Chhitiz, was a wonderful host, and it was great to all spend time together, as well as see some of BP’s new projects.

I will spare you photos of the unbelievable traffic, which I have written about ad nauseum before. It is amazing to me, as an impatient American, to see how calm and philosophical the Nepalese people are in traffic jams. There is no shouting, no gesturing, no honking. Just quiet acceptance of the situation, and waiting patiently for their time to move forward.

I can’t resist one photo of the power and telephone wires that line the road. How they figure out which wire goes where, I don’t know! One big improvement is that there is no longer “load-shedding”, the rationing of the hours of power each day. Kathmandu now has electricity 24/7, and there are also a lot of solar panels for power and hot water. Plus the wifi is terrific at the guest house and little cafes, making previously difficult endeavors, like this blog post, much easier.

Two days ago, as we were returning from the stupa, a young man followed us into a store where we were buying incense, and said “Cary, Meg!” Cary exclaimed, “Tenzin!” How marvelous to reconnect with this young man, whom we had met years ago when he was a student at the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school is Suja, India, and had been sponsored by Adam Bixler, my youngest grandson. We had lunch at his mother’s small Tibetan restaurant… delicious momos. We look forward to returning after our trek for her thukpa.

Buddhi, our guide, came by this morning, full of his usual enthusiasm and buoyancy. We head out early in the morning for Pokhara and our trek in the Annapurna region.

Stay tuned!

 

GUESS WHAT? IT’S BACK TO NEPAL WE GO!

I’m sure this comes as no surprise that Cary and I are resuming our yearly sojourn to Nepal, adding a week in South Korea at the end of December. There we will visit Shawo, a Tibetan student we first met ten years ago at the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school in Suja, India, and have been in touch with ever since. He is studying at Dongguk University in Gyeongju, and has planned an exciting few days to acquaint us with this country, its culture, and terrain.

Our time in Nepal is more unstructured than usual, by choice. We may visit Lumbini, where the Buddha was born, and we certainly will visit Dhulikhel and our old friend, B.P. Shresta. We have a ten-day trek in the Annapurna region, but it will be much shorter than the full circuit I took in 1999 when I met my friend, Jon Pollack. We decided not to go the usual route by Poon Hill, but head over the Khopra Ridge. Our guide tells us that it’s not so crowded and more laid back. We’ll fly to Pokhara, drive to Kimche and hike to Ghandruk. From there we go by way of Isharu, Bayeli, and Christibung up to the ridge. I have a new Sony camera, so I expect to dazzle you with my creations. That is, once I learn how to use it! Cameras are better and better these days, as well as more and more complicated. But I’m told it’s good for the brain, so I soldier on!

As we reach the end of the growing season and wrap up the farm activities until early spring, I’d like to share with you the end of the year festivities at the fabulous school farm that Cary started here on the island. For me the ending is always a bit poignant, since I will have to forego fresh produce for these upcoming winter months. But, selfishness aside, the season went out with a bang—the school Harvest Feast. Friends and family enjoyed a sumptuous repast of kale salad, mashed potatoes, carrot sticks, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, all made by the students from veggies grown at the farm. You can read the school farm blog HERE, with new end-of-the-year and Harvest Feast posts coming soon.

And now it’s off to Asia, wishing you a wonderful holiday season and glorious New Year.

MY FINAL HOURS….

I stood up from my desk and, suddenly, the room started to rotate. I made my way into the living room, bouncing unceremoniously against the walls, clutching furniture along the way, and collapsing, heavily, into my reclining chair. For half-an-hour I prayed to the gods that be to clear my mind. I promised to stay off my computer and eschew any electronic devices in the future. I forgave all those who had transgressed against me during my lifetime, and asked, only, that my precious travel journals be spared the recycling bin. Then I called my daughter.

“Cary, I feel very, very strange. I think you’d better come down.” I tried not to slur my words.

Cary arrived. “What have you eaten today? How much water have you had?“

“Not much. A friend came over and he shared a mo mo and half a mango.”

“That’s not enough. Here is some water. Did your friend feed you something else?”

“No.”

“What have I told you about eating? You’re obviously hypoglycemic.” She started searching in the refrigerator for high calorie foods. Out came orange juice, figs, bread, chili….

I stood up to protest, whereupon my legs and entire body started to tingle and shake. I looked out the window. “OMIGOD, the mountains are all golden and shimmery. When I close my eyes the images turn purple. It’s lovely….Oh, dear, I feel sick to my stomach.”

Cary took out the frying pan. “You need to eat. You have all the symptoms of someone whose blood sugar is low.” She had been hovering over her iPhone, searching for relevant medical information.

So I ate and things got worse. “I’m so tired. I think I’m dying. I’m having a stroke, just like my father. The world comes and goes. You either like it or you don’t like it. I feel so unattached. It’s lovely and it isn’t lovely. Am I making sense? I think dying is very relaxing.” I was slurring my words and I felt extremely stupid, which made me start to laugh and move my arms as if I were trying to swim to the other side, wherever the other side was.

“Mom, why don’t we lie down together and rest?”

“No, no. If I lie down I’ll die. I know it.”

Cary called a friend who is a doctor, and she said to call 911. Then she asked me to write my name. I couldn’t get to the end of it before I slumped into my daughter’s arms and could no longer speak.

911 asked, “Is she breathing?” “Yes, she’s breathing.”

This is it, I thought. I knew I was dying, and I felt so young, so not ready….

The next thing I remember is my doctor, bless her, standing over me and asking me questions. I think I was laughing at my silly answers, and begging her not to think I was crazy. Then came what seemed like ten young men hovering over me asking me more questions as if I were in kindergarten. “Don’t talk to me like that,” I remember saying. My blood pressure was 70 over 40, causing alarm. I didn’t care about anything or anyone. I just wanted to pee, but didn’t want the whole army to come into the bathroom with me. I was totally humiliated and felt like a non-person. How much worse can it get than that?

I couldn’t open my eyes, but remember being bumped down the stairs, hoisted onto a stretcher, and moved into a waiting ambulance. More wires and tubes than I thought existed were plugged into me and wrapped around my arms and legs and under my breasts. EKG, IV, all to make sure I’d make it to the hospital.

Blood work, another EKG and one CAT scan later a catheter (that’s the worst!) provided a urine sample, which answered the question hovering over me. How could I be so loopy and incoherent, when nothing seemed to be wrong?

At 11 pm, the attending physician strode in, slightly stern. “All your tests are good, and your urine is clear, but….


Mrs. Peterson, tell me about your marijuana usage.”

“I hate the stuff. I lose my memory, I get horny, I never touch it.”

Cary looks at him, mouth agape. He continued, “Your urine tests positive for marijuana.”

I was gobsmacked.

Cary now turns and looks at me and, suddenly, the light goes on. Oh, dear, now I’m in trouble. This afternoon, after my friend left, I was so hungry that I started rummaging in the freezer, hoping to find something to assuage my hunger. I came upon a slice of what I remembered as hazelnut bread, given to me by my neighbor a couple of years ago, when I was suffering from jet lag and couldn’t sleep.

“Try this, Meg…but only a tiny bit at a time. It’s an edible. That is, cannabis baked in my fabulous hazelnut bread.”

“I won’t take it. I had a terrible experience with three small cupcakes fifteen years ago.”

“Take it. You never know. But be sure to label it M for medical.”

He was so generous, I thought, and maybe one of my friends might need it some day. So I put it in the freezer, forgetting to label it.

So, if any of you, my dear readers, wish to experience the prelude to death, which I do NOT recommend, I have a friend who can help you. But please take just one tiny piece. Don’t be like me…a starving fool who ate the whole thing!

They discharged me from the hospital with a diagnosis of marijuana intoxication, and the nurse dutifully read me the handout on substance abuse and where to get help. I begged them to add “accidental” to the diagnosis. Behind the professionalism, their eyes sparkled and I do feel they believed me and were all delighted at a good outcome and a good story. Oldest yet to succumb to edibles!

I share this story with you, not because I’m proud of my ill-advised behavior or because most people have found it rather hilarious (so much for sympathetic friends), but because now that marijuana has been legalized in so many states, we all need to be aware of the ease with which anyone can overdose on edibles. You usually don’t have any effects for at least an hour, and I have had friends who, because they felt nothing at first, ate more and more, and had very disturbing experiences. It is no laughing matter. We need to be fully aware of the impact of this substance on us, individually. Can you imagine what could have happened had I been behind the wheel of a car when “my trip” kicked in, rather than bouncing from wall to wall in my living room?

So these weren’t to be my final hours after all. Dramatic they were, to be sure, but also rather freeing, once the fear had gone and acceptance replaced it. And the lesson learned is still, two weeks later, lingering in my body and my mind, having had a profound impact on my rather frantic OCD ADHD life. I’ve had many moments of soul-searching, something that usually follows such a crisis. And when I lighten up a bit I am reminded of that wonderful Sondheim ballad from Follies, sung so poignantly by Elaine Stritch, I’m Still Here. Yeah, and very glad to be!

A FAMILY SUMMER

Family can mean so many things and be expressed in so many ways. Happiness, struggle, warmth, disagreement, and unconditional love. It can be long lost friends who brave the ferry lines at Mukilteo to pay a visit and share the joys of a jaunt up Ebey’s Landing.  It can be relatives—aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, you name it—who touch base at the cottage or on a woodland hike to remind me that we are still family. And then there is the ever-changing and growing Whidbey Island family that moves throughout the myriad summer festivities and barbecues with the promise not to lose touch when the rain and cold of winter arrive. And this year I found a new family at our Island Shakespeare Festival, feeding my love of language and theater. I feasted on Twelfth Night, Sense and Sensibility, and Othello, over and over, again, starting in the warmth and late sun of June and ending in the chilly nights of September. These accomplished young actors became my family, and helped fill the void that has persisted since I left New York City. And is there anything better than open-air theater?

Twelfth Night cast members after the closing show of the Island Shakespeare Festival season

And then there was that one last look at beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee before the summer ended.

You knew I couldn’t resist mentioning my yearly sojourn to New Hampshire, even though I have inundated you over the years with my reminiscences of time at the family summer cottage. (See my blog post THIS OLD COTTAGE.)  This year I enjoyed the best weather of my lifetime—temperate, sunny, clear—with only one rainy day, which didn’t spoil swimming, but added a touch of mystery to an overcast lake.

You can imagine how special this was for a Northwest transplant who spent weeks this summer dealing with a blanket of smoke blowing in from the Canadian fires up north, the direct result of global warming. Some days it looked to me like Delhi or Beijing, and four weeks ago I drove my daughter, Martha, to Vancouver, B.C., because there were no planes, large or small, flying out of Seattle. Not even a small seaplane. She had arrived from Denver early in the morning and had twenty students waiting for her at a destination that looked almost impossible to reach. It was strange to speed north through forests of fir, which stretched high into the gray sky like misplaced ghosts. Fortunately, however, Martha caught a small plane flying to Campbell River, and connected with a water taxi to Cortes Island, where she taught a course, Move Without Pain, at the Hollyhock Lifetime Learning Center.

I think the best description of what is happening here on the entire West Coast appeared in an article written by my niece-in-law, Jessica Plumb of Port Townsend, for the Seattle Times.

Meanwhile, back in New Hampshire: My two youngest sons, Robert and Tom, joined me during my two weeks. But before Robert arrived, Tom and I spent a pleasant afternoon at the historic Castle in the Clouds, a 16-room mountaintop estate in Moultonborough, NH, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee and the Ossippee Mountains. We walked through its woodland paths and enjoyed the falls, in an area very reminiscent of The Flume.

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Naturally, no summer is complete without at least one strenuous hike. This summer it was Moat Mountain in Conway. I had no climbing shoes or poles, but I survived. Good practice for the upcoming trip to Nepal this November!

When Rob arrived, he and Tom decided to break all records in a killer climb up Boott Spur trail on Mt. Washington in the White Mountains. I found this clip on YouTube that gives you some idea of the trail. When Rob was taking shots of the summit with his iPhone, it was blown out of his hand by a fierce wind! Fortunately he had used his new Sony a6000 for the photos of their climb.

The day was long, but they arrived back at the cottage in time to grab a few artsy photos around the cottage and some stunning shots of the sunset. Rob is quite a photographic artist!

Ready for a swim

My photography tends to be more muted, but I love these shots of the sun going down behind Rattlesnake Island, taken before Rob arrived.

At the end of our stay, we were treated to a short visit from my niece, Rebecca Magill, her husband, Paul Benzaquin, and their daughter, Amaya, They had just returned from one month in Ethiopia and treated us to a slide show of their work and travels in the country of Amaya’s birth.

On the way home, I left my sons at the Manchester airport and headed for Peterborough to visit my older sister, Anne Magill, and her husband, Frank.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t visit my younger sister, Cary Santoro, in Harrison, NY. Will save that for my next visit East.

Then it was on to West Hartford, CT, to visit Judy Wyman-Kelly, a longtime honorary member of the Peterson family, her husband, John Kelly, and daughters Leah and Sarah. She had generously lent me a car for two weeks, and now gave me a great send-off from Bradley Field, the airport where I started my first overseas travel, leaving on a World War II DC-3 propeller plane for a 22-hour journey to Paris by way of Gander, Newfoundland…in 1949. Can you believe how long it took? I was part of a student group with the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), heading for three countries to help in rebuilding war-town Europe.

This is the second year that I haven’t hiked and camped in the Northwest with Jon Pollack. His death ended our nineteen-year exploration of the Olympics and the Cascades and has robbed me of one of my most treasured and simpatico companions. His buoyant spirit, humor, and love of nature filled my summers with delight, and it will take me a long time to recapture, if ever, the joy of exploration into the wild that I enjoyed with Jon.

I spent a lot of time roaming the beaches on Whidbey Island this summer, and especially enjoyed low tide on the Langley waterfront, when I can walk all the way to the marina.

The tide came in and it was dusk.

And then came the sunset over Puget Sound.

The following day I visited friends living high on the bluff off Sills Rd., and got another view of the Sound at sunset.

And so, until next year, I say goodbye to summer and welcome the autumn, with its own special beauty.

90…IT’S NOT ALL THAT BAD!

By popular request, for those of you who missed my gala party or might be freaked out to find that I’m still navigating this world at such an advanced age, I have been persuaded to share some of my thoughts on reaching ninety and becoming the prehistoric valentine in my neighborhood.

On paper it sucks. In reality nothing’s changed, except the constant chatter from friends and family, who cannot just introduce me as Meg Peterson, Cary’s mother, but have to add my age for effect. They love the oh’s and ah’s and “I hope I’m like you at that age. You are my role model” responses. I have threatened to wear a placard on my back with huge letters declaring, “YES, I AM 90!” to save the need for such an announcement.

And I can’t resist noting that the pat answer to every complaint, whether a mosquito bite or the forgetting of a name is, “You ARE older, you know.” “Yes, I KNOW, and so what? There ain’t nothin’ I can do about it…so please don’t keep reminding me!”

In all fairness, most of us have been guilty of such admonitions, including me, who, when in my fifties, used to be amazed at how agile my 70-year-old friends were. So my chickens are now coming home to roost. Lesson learned. I’m just grateful for my friends and my good health, and that’s the end of it.

If you’ve ever lived in the Northwest you know that the next three months are very, very special. All year, as we watch the rain and the fog, and try to find something good to say about it…romantic, mysterious, poetic…we wait, and we wait, and we wait. As a newcomer to the area I do more waiting than most, who are acclimated, and really do find rain romantic. Ah, but our waiting is finally rewarded with the most glorious temperate, sunny burst of heaven, combined with cool breezes over Puget Sound. Even a few setbacks at the beginning of June, which is humorously referred to as Junuary, cannot dampen spirits. Bliss has arrived, and the hiking, boating, climbing, biking, swimming, music-making, and street-dancing begin. Glutted with overflowing largesse, Islanders come out of their caves and into their gardens and all that waiting was worth it!

But I digress….

June 2-3 was a busy weekend. For most Whidbeyites it was the real beginning of summer. Even so, with many folks heading off-island, over one hundred friends, relatives, and well-wishers, including fifteen from the Midwest and East Coast, came to celebrate my birthday with music, dancing, gourmet food, and the zip line, until late into the night.

Pictures will speak better than I. Over 1,000 were given to me after the party, so you can imagine how difficult this has been for someone who is known to have trouble making choices. A good practice, however, as I joyfully, resignedly, and gratefully step into my tenth decade.

Many thanks go to Lee Compton, Tim Clark, and Jenny Vitello, my roving photographers.

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Added to the festivities was live music by the inimitable Chris Harshman, Troy Chapman, and company, with solos from Nancy Nolan, David Edwards, and a birthday poem from Judith Adams that brought down the house.

The potluck, with the theme of sampling food from around the world, was superb. The cake, made by Erinn Cameron-Edwards and her daughters, was over the top! Husband David Edwards did a yeoman’s job of carving, down to the last crumb.

One of the highlights was the spontaneous singing of Happy Birthday. It started out as a simple acapella rendition, and after the first singing, several strong voices, like David Edwards, began, again, and branched into amazing three-part harmony that blew me away. I will never forget it!

How blessed I am to have such a group of upbeat friends!

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Many thanks go to Lee Compton, Tim Clark, and Jenny Vitello, my roving photographers.

Just before dusk children and adults had a ball on the zipline. Check out these intrepid souls.

Pure delight

With night coming on it was time for a bonfire. The perfect way to end a perfect day.

The bonfire burned out that night, but, 90 or not, the fire still burns brightly in me!

LAST DAYS IN MONGOLIA

July 27-28, 2017

The sun and the animals greeted us early in the morning on the last full day of our road trip. Not far from the lush permafrost was semi-barren land, once again, and tranquil streams in which the sand-colored mountains were reflected.

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Last call for pancakes, slathered in honey! And strong coffee to help us survive another day of going off-road in search of a short-cut. The scenery was especially splendid, as if to say goodbye in a way that would remain indelibly imprinted on our hearts and minds. Huge granite peaks hopscotched with small piles of lighter rocks that seemed spaced like a temple complex.

Mongolia is being impacted by climate change, which is causing desertification of pasture areas as shown in the following video. You can also read more about it in a recent article in the Washington Post HERE.

More ancient burial grounds rimmed swaths of pasture where hundreds of sheep and goats still grazed. And, nearby, a group of enormous yaks flourished.

I had forgotten how big these animals are! To be on the safe side, we chose a lunch spot a safe distance away. After lunch we saw one very young yak, possibly a newborn, wandering around. His mother seemed to have abandoned him. Fortunately, we passed two herders on horses as we drove away. When we told them of the little fellow, they signaled their thanks and took off to check the animal. Let’s hope they found the mother.

Later on we were treated to numerous groups of horses, much to Tamara’s delight.

Then came the camels. Again, I marveled at these creatures, which were so strangely put together, with their haughty expression and imperious manner.

It wasn’t long before we entered a real desert with windswept dunes and heavy sand, piled like snowbanks, the result of the driest year in a long time. Thus began another discussion about global warming and its deleterious effect on Mongolia. According to Algaa, he had been in this area two months previously and said that there had been pastureland at that time. It had been the worst drought he had ever seen. It didn’t seem possible that so much sand could have accumulated since spring.

By mid-afternoon whatever road tracks had existed were gone, and we were all alone in the vast desert. The drifts were gorgeous to behold, but caused even the van to get stuck.

Again, we all piled out, and twice Algaa had to resort to digging. We walked along, feeling helpless, while Bogie pushed the van. At one point we reached a high ridge and Algaa masterfully maneuvered the van over the edge and down the steep slope. It looked as if it was skiing on its tires. Oh, how I wished my video camera worked, but the battery was dead. It was actually a lot of fun, however, to slip and slide in the sand all the way to the bottom…with utter abandon.

It wasn’t until after six that we got out of the desert and onto the sparsely-grassed steppe. A few gers appeared and the mountains seemed closer. We breathed a sigh of relief and started looking for a stream so we could camp. I ached all over because of the bumping, but a night’s sleep under a starry sky was the perfect antidote.

Our last morning started early as we drove out of the desert and headed for the airport. We were treated to more of the craggy, solitary scenery we had seen the day before, only this was grander and more rugged.

The Uliasti airport is a neat little place. And we enjoyed our wait, mixing with people from various countries. There were several Peace Corps volunteers and teachers, all with an appreciation for the unique gifts one gets from tasting the bounty of another country, thus enlarging their own world. These were interesting, adventurous people, who weren’t afraid to try something new and immerse themselves in a culture totally foreign to theirs. That’s what I love about travel!

This was our farewell to Algaa, and it was difficult. We knew we would see Bogie when he returned to Ulaanbaatar with our heavy items that couldn’t go on the small plane, but we would not see Algaa, again. And he had been a delightful, cheerful, and strong companion throughout our bumpy journey. Bless you, Algaa!

I love little planes. They go close to the ground and you always know the engine is running, for it’s practically in your lap. And you can also see some marvelous scenery…those isolated hills that not even Algaa’s van could penetrate.

Our last two days in Ulaanbaatar were an adventure in itself. Just getting from the airport to our apartment was a new experience neither of us wishes to repeat! We had to locate the owner’s brother to let us in, but we also had no real idea of our address, except that it was in a certain section of the city. And it was getting dark. And, of course, we didn’t know the language. Oh, Bogie, how we miss you! But, then, isn’t it challenges that make life interesting?

When we got settled, our first thought was to try to explore some of the places in this big, complex city that we had missed at the beginning, but it quickly turned into a frantic last minute shopping spree to buy unusual and exquisite handwork for friends and relatives. All of this we did while suffering from extreme heat after coming from the higher elevations. And nothing was air-conditioned! Well, I thought, consoling myself, it’s better for the environment.

We soon realized that the highlight of our journey through Mongolia was not the city and its restaurants and shops and temples. It was the expansive, wild nature of the land; the wide-open plains with their gers and welcoming nomads; the steppe; the mysterious desert; and the mountains.

Nobody could have asked for a more generous, thoughtful guide than Bolormunkh Erdenekhuu, our Bogie, a man who loves his country and knows it in the minutest detail. But his knowledge is not limited to his particular corner of the universe. He can converse about world issues and human relations, and revels in solving present and future problems. He is a real joy to know. And during our month together, he went out of his way to anticipate our needs and be flexible in his plans. In the final hours, Bogie drove me to the airport and stayed with me until my plane left for Seattle at 5 A.M. This man typifies the sort of hospitality and generosity we experienced in Mongolia and will always remember. I look forward to the time I can host him on Whidbey Island and introduce him to the wonders of the Northwest.

~~~~~

Final travel note:

I keep hearing people complain about dreary, cramped, seven-hour plane rides on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, where the only thing you dream about is how soon you’ll be able to get off the thing! Well, after making numerous 20 and 24-hour journeys, this falls on deaf ears, and I feel obliged to give a few tips to the traveler who is contemplating a trip to Asia. Mind you, all the grief is worth it to me, but you might like to have a few details so you won’t complain about simple trips to Europe…even from Seattle.

I think I described a rather pleasant layover I had some years ago at the two Tokyo airports. They were well-organized and had cubicles where, for a few dollars, you could take a shower or catch up on your sleep in a clean bed. Of course, the challenge was to find such services in the enormous terminal, but that just added to the adventure. After spending all your money you could then recline on long comfortable couches in quiet lounges, disturbed only by the snoring of fellow passengers as tired as you were. And if you were lucky you had enough change left to buy a simple sushi after your nap.

Beijing airport is another matter entirely! Sleepless, I arrived at 8 A.M., and endured eight hours of going from one terminal by bus and train to another. Believe me, I was happy to get on the Dreamliner and collapse. It was as strenuous as any Himalayan trek, ‘though it lasted only one day.

After six hours I had been told where to find clean water (Don’t drink it, unless you’re on a desert island and the alternative is death. I did, and had some nasty repercussions), immigration, and how to transfer from terminal three to terminal two. While riding on the train and bus that brought us to the main terminal, I had seen a town totally enveloped in a fog of pollution, There were some lovely gardens and parks, but everyone was wearing a surgical mask. And many of the workers at the airport did the same.

One bright spot was the blessed carts for luggage, which are free everywhere but in the United States. Nobody could negotiate the endless red tape of this airport without them, where one line ends and morphs into another. After about a mile of walking in circles, you come upon the immigration/passport control line. Then you double back once more and wait in the “transfer” line. More stamps. More questions. More small slips of paper to be filled out. Soon you find yourself in the center of the vast terminal looking for the “down” escalator to take you to the bus, which takes you to terminal two. Oh, no, I forgot the previous step, which was to crowd into a train, which went to C-1 from where you could get the transfer bus. Are you confused?

At this point I was nodding off while sitting up, and my neck pain was reminiscent of how I felt on one of Algaa’s road escapades. But I was meeting a lot of interesting, albeit disgruntled fellow-travelers, which lightened my mood considerably. Once I arrived in terminal two I had to wait an hour until the Hainan Airline desks were open. It was packed, but I must have looked half-dead, for a nice lady sent me to the business class line (with a wink), and I was checked in and given a boarding pass immediately. This time I was careful not to lose my baggage tags that checked me through to Seattle. But you don’t have time for that story! Be thankful for small blessings.

I had thrown away the tofu saved from last night’s dinner, since it tasted like cardboard, but food was the last thing I wanted. I couldn’t wait to board the plane and sit back and maybe even crack a New Yorker. I’ve never had a layover where I didn’t even have time to read! Forewarned is forearmed….

A LAKE, A MOUNTAIN, AND ENDLESS SAND….

July 26, 2017

This was a day to remember! It started with an influx of goats into “our” lake, joining us in our morning dip.

And what a satisfying dip that was for me. I floated way out over a rocky bed beneath crystalline water, let my hair float free, and welcomed the heat of the sun. The cows and sheep arrived later, during breakfast. Afterwards, Bogie and I went for a hike, wading to the other side of the lake before heading up a steep incline of black shale and scree.

He ran. I inched my way up the deceptively steep slope, slipping precariously and wishing I had brought my poles. Exposure is something I do NOT like, and I have many horror stories to prove it. Give me trees or big rocks on at least one side and I can climb anything! Put me out in the open with nothing but eternity down below, and I freak. By sheer willpower I reached the top, turned around, sat down, and inched my way toward the bottom. Halfway down I stood up, determined to make my way back, not looking down, but straight across. After all, I had my reputation to uphold, as if Bogie cared. As is the problem with all these hills, they have no trails. I don’t do well on piles of slippery stones.

Bogie traversed the ridge to take pictures, and returned to find me cooling my sore feet in the water, and keeping company with a gorgeous dragonfly. I dared him to swim back to camp and he did, after unloading his gear on me. I must have been a funny sight dragging along, carrying Bogie’s camera, binoculars, clothes, and pack, and wearing his jaunty hat. Our late arrival necessitated a rush to pack up camp and be on our way by mid-afternoon.

Click on photos for slideshow.

Just before we left, one of the nomads approached me with the offer of a long horse ride. I told him it was a camel ride, or nothing! He had been staring at me for some time. I think it was the wild hair that intrigued him. Shortly after leaving, we sped by a beautiful lake. In it shown a perfect reflection of the Tsetsen-Uul mountains. Oops, too fast for a photo. Another scene to put in my memory bank.

We were still in Zavkhan Province and approaching the small town of Santa Margate. Masses of birds—sand martins—were burrowed into the riverbank.The whole colony would congregate in the village on the electric wires in the parking lot of a housing complex, which was surrounded by wooden fences. The houses were close together, each with a different colored roof.

There was a park nearby with statues, one of a camel…which looked like the closest I’d come to riding one on this trip. Evidently, because of the dry weather, the camels are loose on the prairie, or desert, and only the few who are trained for tourists are for riding. I should have taken advantage of the one that came around on our first day of camping! If only I had known.

Now began another cross-country sojourn over the desert, bumping all the way. I learned a very helpful phrase: amaa tat, meaning shut up. Sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it? Algaa taught it to me and said he would use it if I didn’t quit complaining about his driving! I didn’t….Repetitio est mater studiorum.

After stopping for yogurt and milk at a ger, and managing to spill most of it, we loaded up on lamb bones, which everyone ate, but me. Sheep and large cows grazed a few feet from where we rested. While the buying was going on I grooved on the munching sound of the animals eating. They sure keep the grass low! I also noticed how cruel most of the Mongolians were to their animals, especially dogs. They throw rocks and stones at them, behavior similar to that of the Indians and Nepali.

At last our search ended and we arrived at a lush permafrost pasture near a winding stream and jagged mountains. There was a sweet odor permeating the air. Bogie said it was the plant, artemesia, related to sagebrush. Dinner was perfect: homemade noodles and lamb stew, Mongolian-style. Just as we finished, a crescent moon appeared overhead. It was, indeed, a heavenly campsite!

“SEARCHING FOR A ROAD, STILL SEARCHING FOR A ROAD”—DESTINATION: BAYAN LAKE

July 25, 2017

Vanity has definitely gone out the window on this trip! I looked at myself in the early morning. My hair was like a straw bush hanging in my face, my chin and neck were covered with bites, and my legs and ankles were itchy and flaky. This trip was certainly exhilarating, but not good for the ego.

The day was warm and sunny and we all felt better after a leisurely breakfast. I lazed around, listened to Mongolian rap, which I liked a lot, and, despite being chided constantly, continued to sterilize my water with my steri-pen. Bogie went out of his way to prove to me that the water from the stream was safe. I would have none of it. I’d had one bout of giardia. That was enough for one lifetime!

Soon we headed for Zavkhan Province, passing the dam and reservoir where we had tented previously. On the way we visited another ger family, this time from the Dorvod ethnic group. Bogie had gotten hot milk from them in the morning, but, unfortunately, they had no yogurt. In fact, not even the stores had it. They told Bogie that they had come from the southern part of the lake, but were disappointed to find bad grazing…more evidence that global warming has had a disastrous impact on this part of Mongolia.

I can’t believe how excited I was when we reached a very smooth highway, flat land with mountains in the distance, no animals, and very little ground cover. It was nice and peaceful until Algaa decided to go off-road through the bumpy desert. This took us close to a beautiful lake until he suddenly veered left and headed over the open field. What was he doing?

This almost intolerably bumpy road lasted for an hour, until I thought my neck would splinter. By 2:30 we were begging for a water break and a bite to eat. We were also pretty upset with Algaa, who just seemed to be searching for some phantom road in the middle of nowhere. He was totally unperturbed and we couldn’t stay mad for long. Soon our discomfort turned to laughter as we started a contest to come up with the best title for our Mongolian trip and its search for the hidden highways and byways. Bogie spent a lot of time reassuring us that “We are almost there.“ It was as if he were placating his impatient children. I decided to time him. Tuul convulsed with laughter when I announced that Bogie’s “almost there” was forty-five minutes!

We soon came to a real desert, like the Sahara. But, of course, it was another part of the Gobi. All sand and stunning black outcroppings with sand trailing down their sides. I had moved to the backseat, so got no photos…only memories.

Around 5:30 pm we reached a section where huge convoluted rocks rose out of the sand. Algaa stopped and Tamara and I explored closely, walking over the ground stubble and sand until we reached what looked like temples…all made by nature. There were caves we didn’t explore, but found crystals at the entrance and were sure it held stalagmites and all manner of cool formations. It had an Egyptian feel to it. All Bogie could tell us was that it was part of the Margaz Mountains.

Click on photos for slideshow.

A road, at last!! But it was all sand and rather dubious. A mile farther down, stuck in the sand, were some Englishmen in a Prius. Can you believe? They were chagrin and asked for help. Ever-ready, Algaa towed them out of the sand and waved at a young boy way ahead on the road, who had been sent for help. God knows when help could have been found. I wonder where the poor devils are now. I took no photos. They were embarrassed enough.

By 7:30 we had gotten to gorgeous Bayan Lake, a fresh body of water surrounded by sand dunes. It was a bit mushy where we camped, but sandy farther on—the best beach so far. There was a compound of horses and a car with several nomads, nestled high on an adjoining hill.

Thus began an evening of socializing with men of varying ages. They really were a handsome group, including a young boy, who loved the ball and bat that Tamara gave him.

Tamara, Bogie, and I were elected to get dinner and give Tuul a night off. Bogie decided on a rice, potato, and veggie soup, and boy, did we cut and chop! It was massive. We used up all our left-over green veggies, and added turnips, squash, garlic, onions, carrots, and ginger. Really, really good! Naturally, the whole nomad “neighborhood” was invited and sat around on the beach enjoying Mongolian hospitality.

As the sun was setting, the young boy who had received Tamara’s ball and bat continued to pop flies to whomever would pay attention. He was dogged in his persistence and continued long after sunset.

Bogie was in his element…always up for a challenge. Such energy! He and a really large, long-tunic’d nomad decided to wrestle. I thought they’d kill each other, but Tuul just watched and chuckled as they threw each other on the ground, repeatedly, and got up, laughing. There were three matches and I took videos. Here is one. It’s quite dark, but it’s fun to listen to the men talking to each other.

At 11:30, as I finished the dishes and left the party, the stars were starting to pop out. It had been a lovely evening, ending with two sips of vodka and a hug from Algaa. It can’t get much better than that!

CANYONS, LAKES, CAMELS, AND MYSTICAL ROCK FORMATIONS

July 23-24, 2017

We took off early in the morning, returning to Olgii by the same canyon-like gorge, with mountains unfolding upon each other, complemented by dramatic, undulating hills of colored rock and serpentine roads. Click on the photos to start slideshow.

After arriving back in Olgii we had to visit the local market. Naturally. Bogie was a riot! He kept warning me about the danger of pick-pockets and tried to shoo me back into the van. But I stood my ground and survived. I wanted to take in all the local color I could find.

The afternoon ride was gorgeous! We drove through the great lakes depression, passing Khur-us and Hyargas Lakes, as well as navigating more deep gorges before reaching desert-like plains. There were very few animals, and the colors of the rocks on various mountains and outcroppings made the vistas look like oil paintings.

Around 5 pm, Bogie had us stop at Achit Lake for a swim. Another disaster for me! He dived in and I sank down into marsh water, pursued by an army of angry mosquitos and “no-see-ums (that’s New Englandese for tiny black insects you can’t see, but who bite ferociously).

Bogie seemed impervious to the insects, but the pain caught up with him later and he welcomed my benadryl.

After miles of off-road searching we came to a deserted government complex (the district center of Khovd county). There is a meeting here twice a year, but the windows are broken and it looks in total disrepair. The grounds are surrounded by a rickety picket fence and the mountains guard us from a distance. We pitched our tents on a sandy area.

How different the complex looked in the morning! Actually, quite beautiful. We still had no idea what was being stored in the abandoned buildings or where people could hold meetings in such dilapidated structures.

The territory was extremely varied all day, from a few patches of lush pasture to a Gobi desert -type landscape. The large tufted plants are caragana, of which there are fifteen species in Mongolia. All over the bushes we saw what looked like cotton. Not so. It was camel hair. We also went through a few small towns and, of course, stopped for supplies in the local grocery store.

Camels at last…and in abundance! I think they’re so funny looking with their necks making a large dip, coming to an end where two floppy humps begin. And what a face! Haughty, amused, bewildered. Put together by a celestial committee, I’d say.

Now came some amazing gorges and an extensive area that had an undulating clay-like landscape with no vegetation.

We stopped at a huge beach, but it was too windy, so we moved on past several more ger camps until we came upon a deserted beach with tufted grass. A lovely lake stretched beyond a rocky hummock. Camp at last. Too bad there was no sand. And in the desert no less! I attempted to do some washing, but the undertow and rocks were too much for me. Kept me from lingering for sure!

A perfect campsite, a peaceful night, a brilliant sunset.

FROM PRISTINE LAKES TO THE ANCIENT STONE FIGURES AND BURIAL MOUNDS OF THE ALTAI TAVAN BOGD NATIONAL PARK

July 21-22, 2017

Our days were filled with hiking and birding, as well as more practical activities like washing clothes and cooking.

(Click on photo to start slide show)

Bogie and Tuul took off on a birding expedition, so I decided to do my own exploring in the afternoon, climbing a steep hill behind the campsite. It was exciting to be in Kazakh territory! From the ridge I could take in a vast panorama, and watch groups of animals wander by me, while I absorbed the stillness.

When Bogie returned, we started on the evening meal, knowing there would be many visitors from the nearby gers eager for tea, food, and company. I especially enjoyed the complicated making of dumplings, which looked to me like the Tibetan mo-mos I had eaten on previous trips to Dharamsala.

We interacted with some of the same people as the previous evening and, of course, Bogie had to submit to a wrestling rematch with one of the nomads! The man had been sitting around with Algaa much of the afternoon, waiting for Bogie’s return. He lost the contest, again, but, as usual, it was very friendly, reminding me of the enthusiasm with which my young sons used to challenge each other to displays of manly strength over the years. There seems to be a competition in the male that doesn’t quit at any age, and there’s no stopping him. Here is one of the many videos I took over the next few days.

While waiting for dinner I enjoyed listening to Bogie’s recordings of quartets by the Mongolian composers, Jantsan Norov, and Byambasuren Sharav. Lively, plaintive, and, at times, sad. I was also introduced to the music of the pop singer, Javhlan. What an amazing range! Check him out on YouTube. He is now a member of parliament and fighting for Mongolian mining rights, which are being usurped by several western countries. At the airport, when I arrived in Mongolia, I met several Canadian men whose companies were extracting these precious metals. This is an ongoing controversy.

That evening a patrol car came by, driven by a border guard. He was clearly upset that we had stayed an extra day. It only took a few dumplings and some heavy schmoozing on Bogie’s part to ameliorate the situation, but it spoiled our evening plans. By 10:30 I retired, although it was still light.

In the morning I was awakened by a loud mooing. I was sure it was a cow wanting to be milked, but, instead, it was a huge bull. I peered from my tent, not wanting to get in his way as he thundered and roared around the campsite, finally departing for more fertile grounds!

As we were taking down the tents, Algaa threw a few morsels of meat to the birds…possibly vultures. They were huge and black. I can never remember which of the big birds is which! Here is my attempt to take a video of them circling.

Today we headed back in the direction of Olgii. As I’ve mentioned before, the Tavan Bogd region is the western-most part of Mongolia and straddles the border between Mongolia, Russia, and China.

In late morning, not far from another lake, we suddenly came upon a very barren stretch of land in which were worn statues and sharp black perpendicular rocks in rows, near large piles of stone. They were Turkic and Tuvan stone men and stone burial mounds, solitary standing stones, and Kazakh cemeteries. Probably commemorating high officials. These relics range in size from two to six feet in height and can weigh several hundred pounds. But we only saw small mounds and stone images. Faces, hands, tools, and other features are carved into the rock. The stones, and other blank monoliths, are usually a part of massive stone complexes that serve as either burial sites or shamanistic temples. In fact, in 2006 at one burial mound in Bayan-Olgii, the complete mummified remains of a Scythian warrior and horse in full battle armor was escavated.

The statistics vary widely as to the number of such sites in Mongolia. Some say there are as many as 400 and they date back to the Stone Age, and others give 700 AD as their origin. It was fascinating to walk among these isolated artifacts of a bygone era.

We decided to have lunch near a rough-hewn bridge over the Kovd Gol River. It was also near a checkpoint where we stopped to show our passports, since we were very close to the Russian border. It was just a formality, because there were almost no cars and few people touring in the area.

A very pleasant father with his children, about to head over the bridge.

The landscape for the rest of the afternoon was varied and unusual. One time we were going between massive hills that gave me the feeling of pyramids. The rows of grass and rocks looked almost like steps encircling the great structure and often there would be rocks, like cairns, piled on the top. Other mountain ranges reminded me of a row of one-humped camels, black and foreboding, as nighttime approached.

We camped way off road in a charming spot next to one of the small streams leading into a lake. It wasn’t far from the village of Sagsai, where we had met the eagle hunter.

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© 2018 Meg Noble Peterson & Site by Matt McDowell