view of boats through Trojan Horse in Canakkale

Canakkale, Turkey

During my two-week tour around Turkey with G-Adventures, our final night’s stay was in Canakkale.  Canakkale is a seaport on the southern coast of the Dardanelles with a population of nearly 200,000.  It is a good base for those wishing to visit Troy and Gallipoli.


Turkey: Pamukkale and Heiropolis

I actually signed up for this G-Adventures tour, a budget National Geographic company, specifically because the itinerary included Pamukkale.  Pamukkale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which features natural travertine terraces of thermal pools.  I saw a picture of the famous site in a National Geographic magazine at least 10 years ago and have wanted to visit ever since.

Take a Soak!
baby yak in mongolia

Our First Horse Rides on the Mongolian Steppe

Lapis Sky Ger Camp

Finally, our first day in Lapis Sky Ger Camp! We awoke to see what our ger looked like in daylight.  It included two cots, a sink with a river water dispenser, some shelving and hooks for our clothes, a table and a wood burning stove.  The furniture was quite colorful.  The door as usual faced south to protect from the cold of the winter wind.  The cart-wheeled shaped opening at the top of the ger known as a toon was covered by an örkh which could be opened and closed via ropes from the ground.  We opened ours so we could see given the ger lacked electricity.

Pranayama Yoga

Breakfast wasn’t scheduled until 9:30am as we needed to wait for the yak milk to come from our nomad neighbors.  In the meantime, several activities are offered.  I tried Pranayama for the first time beneath the cottonwood trees by the river.  Two yoga oficionados and me…hmmm.  I crossed my legs and my knees were supposed to touch the ground.  That was a joke! 

I required rolled up yoga matts beneath my  rear cheek bones as well as beneath both knees to simulate resting on the ground.  I don’t know how my counterparts could sit with their feet in their crotch with their knees touching the ground.  Even with practice, I’m not sure I could succeed at that.  Anyway, we practiced a few breathing techniques, which I did backwards.

By the second breathing exercise of the thirty-minute session my left leg was asleep and my hips and back were aching.  Clearly, this was not the exercise for me, but at least I tried it.

After Pranayama, it was time for our photography walk.  Our guide Tom Kelly is a National Geographic photographer which is quite impressive as that is tough position to acquire.  His son Liam, who was born and raised in Katmandu and now attends Prescott College, is quite an accomplished photographer as well. 

Yak Milking

We walked with him to the neighbor nomads where we got to photography Ankha milking the yaks.  The yaks are milked once a day, the goats and sheep twice a day, and the mares four times a day!  Needless to say, the women are very busy in the summer and clearly have the technique down.  I, on the other hand, gave it a try and managed to eek out a few dribbles.  If it depended on me to deliver the yak milk for breakfast, we wouldn’t be eating today!


Eventually, it was breakfast time.  A simple meal of bread, pancakes, oatmeal, and fermented mare’s milk yogurt which was extra sour.  The breakfast was provided in buffet style.  I’m so used to eating eggs and fresh fruit in the morning, that this breakfast of mostly carbs was a bit challenging to me, but it is not an easy feat to get any food to these camps.  Regardless, we filled up our bellies and prepared for our first horse ride and assessment of our journey.  Our group of tourists ranged from never having ridden a horse to professionals, so our experience ran the gamut.

me trying to milk a yak

Mongolian Horses

Mongolian horses are small and compact compared to other breeds.  They have a quick gait and are known to spook.  The Mongol cowboys brought their horses over the hills from different camps for us to ride.  When my handler Jagi led his horse from the hitching post to me to mount, I asked his name.  My horse’s name was Mojo, and it was the only horse of the entire group that had a name as Mongols don’t name their horses.  Instead, they have 56 words for brown!


Feeling special, I wondered how I ended up being assigned the only horse with a name, and I was curious to know how he earned it.  There had to be an iconic story.  Sarah, a staffer from Montana who came to manage the cowboys after being a guest on the trip seven years ago explained, Galen, Tom and Carroll’s younger son, came up with the name because he had a lot of energy.  Somehow, I think there is more to the story than that, but they probably didn’t want to scare me.

me on Mojo
Me on Mojo

Ride Through the Valley of Teel

After everyone mounted their horses which required a staff member or cowboy to stand by the horse so it took a while, we headed away from the camp through the beautiful green Valley of Teel.  We stayed on flat terrain and mostly walked as we familiarized ourselves with the horses and vice versa. 

Getting back on a horse after a twenty-five year hiatus was fun.  Mojo was responsive, though spent most of his time shaking his head and kicking at the atrocious flies.  Fortunately, he didn’t spook ten-feet sideways at a patch of wool resting on the ground like Page’s horse did.  Without “riding legs” which use completely different muscles than any other sport, I may have hit the dirt.  Given Page still rides regularly, she remained seated!

Lunch and Shower

Lunch came next and then a quick shower.  I opted for an afternoon shower while it was sunny and warm as the evening air cools substantially when the sun goes down.  Having said that, I think I will be showering sparingly as the make shift shower house with solar bags filled by heated river was crawling with earwigs.  While bugs don’t bother me much, sitting my bare butt on an earwig or having them drop onto my head didn’t appeal to me.

Second Ride Across the Tamir River

Our second ride took us across the Tamir River next to camp, through the valley, across the river again, and up and down a hill before we returned to camp.  We got to go a little faster.  We trotted a little and a select few galloped up one hill.  At the top of the hill was a deer stone believed to be erected by nomads around 1000 BC.

We also circled an ovoo which seem to be all over the place. I guess it is very important to worship the sky gods so that rain will come and the grass for the herds will grow.

Each of our rides were about two hours across simple terrain.  They will become more demanding each day.  I’m looking forward to more.

Archery at Camp

Upon our return, we tried out our archery skills which were rather lacking! With an off balanced, man-made bow, we drew the arrow back on the outside as the Mongls do since it is quicker to load the arrow this way while on horseback.  The arrows rarely flew straight, but eventually, the few of us that tried our hand, finally hit the target.  Our success rate was about one in ten attempts.

Mongolian Nomads

From archery, we entered the dining ger and met with Badambazar and Doljin, grandparents who once lived as nomads, but now live in town.  We discussed the life of nomad with them.  Nomads tend to move about four times a year in order to feed their herds which rely on the natural grass.  They pack up their ger to move to their summer, spring and fall camps and settle into a more stable structure with their ger for the winter.

Most nomads raise yaks, goats, sheep and horses.  Owning diverse herds of lifestock ensure the nomads won’t suffer a complete misfortune should their animals succumb to a hard winter known as a zud which cause animals to starve to death from the inability to graze.  Today, a nomad is considered successful by the number of animals in their herd.  The benchmark is 1,000.  This, however, is tough on the land on which the animals live, and some believe it might be better to own less, but healthier herds.

Most nomads have several children at a young age.  Badambazar and Doljin had eight!  The kids go to boarding school during the week and come home on the weekend, weather permitting.  Interestingly, the animal herds go to the youngest child rather than the oldest, and the herd is not split up among the children.  As such, the youngest stays a nomad while many of the other children will move to the city in search of better opportunities.  Because men must attend to the herds, women tend to hold the skilled jobs in the city.

Chicken Dinner and Music

We had a nice conversation with them, though I’m sure they sat wondering about our terrible ger etiquette.  Virtually everyone sat with their legs crossed…a no no!  Anyway, it was finally dinner time. and we enjoyed great chicken and pineapple along with several sides.  Little did we know how hard it was to get chicken.  It is too cold in the winters for chicken in Mongolia, so they are imported from China!

After dinner, Liam’s girlfriend, Emma who is Irish, played Irish tunes on the ukulele and sang beautifully.  She even belted out a Britney Spears’ song.  What fun!  Not only is she a talented musician, she was the resident massage therapist for the trip and made a mean muesli.  The Irish really know their muesli.  It was some of my favorite when I visited Ireland.  Overall, we enjoyed a nice day in the countryside.  ETB

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The Beijing Airport

We arose bright and early at 4:45am for a 9:30am flight to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  We allowed an hour to get to the Beijing airport. Miraculously at this crazy hour there wasn’t much traffic so we arrived sooner.  Arriving prior to the three hour check-in time at MIAT Mongolian Airlines, we waited in line for a while before finally receiving our boarding passes and heading to immigration.