*Disclaimer – I know I am totally butchering all the names of these places…. Sorry about that for all you purists.
** Second Disclaimer added a few days into the trip… This is going to be a very long blog because we are truly truly in remote land and have not gone through anywhere to upload a blog! So I’m continuing to keep it and will post all at once when we get back to civilization or maybe I’ll still do it in parts… I’m so decisive today. LOL!
*** Third Disclaimer
(Funny how I keep adding these huh?!) This trip is not only Astronomy Meets Adventure but it is also a Leadership Program. This blog is incredibly long just talking about the sites we are seeing so I’ve decided to do a completely separate blog entry about the Leadership portion of this so stay tuned for that in a few more days.
Now onto the real stuff…
I must admit I was picturing a plane full of goats and chickens to fly is from Ulanbattar to Dahlanzgad but it was actually a pretty nice Fokker 50 run by Mongolian Air. It was a short 1 hour 13 minute flight and I have to say the pilot was actually decent!
Upon arrival we were met with 5 large all terrain vehicles that will be our transportation for the week.
We have a fairly large group – 25 including various high school age students from Australia and their principal and teacher (Annecke who was a student at Mission Discovery in Adelaide), some people from the UK, an astronomer from the UK, 4 from the Columbus State University Coca Cola Science Center in Georgia (who we met a few months ago and are so excited to work with!), Chris Barber, myself and Ken. Everyone is fantastic and it’s great to see all sorts of new friendships forming already.
We pulled into camp which is in the middle of nowhere and there stood 15 gers for us to reside in for the night.
We did our first bit of leadership work over lunch and then we headed off to Yolyn Am which is translated as Valley of the Eagles or Vultures. This area was nothing of what I expected in the middle of the Gobi – huge rocky hills and glacier type ice!!! Absolutely gorgeous and striking. I can’t wait to post pictures for everyone to see. We hiked an enjoyed the beauty and the serenity of this place. I was very amused by all the small rodents running about – they looked like a cross between a gerbil and a prairie dog. Of course they were very elusive (wouldn’t you be if you were a small animal living in an area called the valley of the vultures?!?) so there may have been a few different kinds of animals.
We are living on Gers which are similar to yert if you know what those are. Honestly quite comfortable living given that we are in the middle of nowhere! Plenty spacious for 2 people.
The next day we hopped in the vehicles for a rather long trek to our next destination. It was more than a 5 hour drive and needless to say there aren’t really any roads out here. It’s true off roading and I think we were all a bit shook up when arrived but we all arrived in one piece! This is how each day will go – we will leave the camp we stayed in and then set out for several hours drive to our next location so we can see as much of the Gobi as possible.
I was extra excited about today because today we get to ride camels!! Some people were a tad bit apprehensive about this but that’s part of what an adventure like this is about – to step out of your comfort zone. These camels were different than the camel that we got to ride in Dubai – these are Bactrine Camels as opposed to Dromedary Camels and they were clearly really working camels instead of “prettified” tourist camels.Some people had camels who were well behaved and responded well to “commands” – I was one of those lucky folks. My camel and I bonded immediately (I named her Priscilla – as in Queen of the Desert) and we helped lead the pack. Several times Ken and his camel attempted to overtake me but their efforts were to no avail. Priscilla nudged them out of the way and we arrived at the sand dune at the front of the pack. I have to say these camels sure are smelly – they fart a lot and have nasty breath! But they are really incredible creatures.
We all then set off to climb the sand dune and each of us had different goals as to where we wanted to reach on the sand dune. I think many people did not realize how difficult it is to climb up sand but they all persevered and kept at it. I was determined to make it to the top. Climbing the dune reminded me so much of playing at the dunes near Lake Michigan as a child. Me being the way I am I was bound and determined to get to the top. What a workout!!! I frequently had to stop and catch my breath because every step forward I slipped back about half a step because it was so steep! Two thirds of the way up I realized my plan of attack was not the best given the plants I had hoped would give me more traction didn’t and that area was significantly steeper than the other options. I was certainly huffing and puffing and my legs were tired but I made it and was rewarded with a beautiful view! I was happy that several others were up there with me to see the great views. Coming back down was MUCH easier than going up (obviously!) and we were all sand covered by the time we were done but laughing and smiling!
After dinner we had a wonderful presentation about the history of the Transit of Venus from Rhodrii an astronomer from Cardiff University. The Transit of Venus has only been viewed a little over a handful of times EVER in the world. 1631 was the first predicted one but it wasn’t seen then. 1639 was the first time it was actually seen and only by 2 people. Since then The Transit of Venus has only happened 5 more times and after tomorrow it won’t happen again for 105 more years!! Oh in case you are still wondering what the heck is the Transit of Venus – its where Venus is going to pass between the Earth and the Sun.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 6
Transit of Venus Day
We have been a little worried the last couple days because there has been a fair bit of cloud cover which is quite odd and suprising here in the Gobi. (In fact the reasons we picked the Gobi are that it’s one of the few places you can see the entire transit – 7 hours – and there was the least chance of adverse weather.) Upon waking this morning we were disappointed that there was a bit of cloud cover but we kept our spirits up because we just knew good karma would win out and we’d be able to see the transit. Though we missed first contact (the leading edge of Venus at the edge of the sun) the clouds broke shortly after it and there it was!!! While you do have to protect your eyes with special glasses or lens coverings it is possible to see it without the aid of a telescope!!! I am so happy for our friends from Georgia because they are webcasting this event which is absolutely historic!! Certainly we all knew there was a possibility that we might not be able to see the transit at all but of course we would be lying if we said we wouldn’t be disappointed if that were the case.
I feel so incredibly fortunate to be here in such an amazing place viewing something absolutely unique and historic. What is also so amazing to witness and be a part of is (as Ken so eloquently put it) the human spirit being willing to travel to the ends of the Earth because of a desire to learn and observe an amazing phenomenon.
As an intermission from the viewings we observed some local wildlife – a hedgehog which in Mongolia is called Zara. What a cutie. Unfortunately Ken wouldn’t let me bring him home with us!
We spent the morning til early afternoon (6am-1pm) watching the Transit off and on. Just as it was about to be over we all waved to Venus and said “Bye Venus” several people commented on how beautiful Venus was and without missing a beat both Michelle (different Michelle than me obviously – she’s also known as Legal Eagle) and I at the same time busted out into “Yeah Baby she’s got it…” from the song Venus. Of course we couldn’t help but bust out laughing as we realized what happened and Ken couldn’t help but shake his head and mutter “Oh my.”
So far MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! But so much more to come… stay tuned…..