Interview with Sandy Casey – guest on Mongolian Odyssey
MONGOLIAN ODYSSEY & THE GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVAL Sept & Oct 2019 Sandy Casey was a guest on our inaugural journey to Mongolia. She was kind enough to share her thoughts on the tour.
WHAT WAS YOUR OVERALL IMPRESSION OF THE TOUR?
The tour was absolutely fabulous. In fact I tell anyone who will listen that they must go to Mongolia. It really feels like the right time to visit, before Mongolia is discovered by more tourists.
I really couldn’t fault anything.
HOW DOES IT RANK COMPARED TO OTHER TRAVEL YOU HAVE DONE?
It is truly one of the best trips I’ve done in a very long time. I have done a lot of travelling in my 70+ years and it ranks right at the top, in a similar way to Egypt, Afghanistan and India. What I truly loved was the quiet. Mongolia has a small population, few tourists and an incredible landscape which contributes to an overall feeling of peace and calm.
HOW WOULD YOU RATE THE TOUR? On a scale of Poor – Good – Very Good – Excellent
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THE ACCOMMODATION
The Shangri-La was wonderful. It was so nice to stay in a luxurious hotel in Ulaanbaatar. Of course it is like most international hotels but it was really lovely.
The Three Camel Lodge was absolutely fabulous. The gers we slept in had ensuites and they were unique and extremely comfortable. Definitely felt like a 5-star standard. They have their own greenhouse and grow fresh vegetables and herbs so the isolation did not mean we went without fresh food.
The Ger Camp we stayed in during the Golden Eagle Festival was more of a 3 to 4 star standard. The setting was just beautiful, close to a lovely, wide, fast running shallow river where people were fishing. The interior of the ger was more rustic than the Three Camel Lodge, but was totally comfortable and adequate. There was a separate bathroom ger close by, with quite a Japanese feel. The staff were so attentive, there was plentiful hot water and they would stoke the fire inside the ger to keep it warm.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE MEMORABLE HIGHLIGHTS?
Without doubt it was the Golden Eagle Festival and meeting the young woman who at 13 won the tournament a few years ago. She was the first female to ever enter, and she won! We managed to meet her and take photos with her. She is about 17 years old now and was very gracious.
We loved seeing the amazing outfits the men were wearing during competition, and the way the eagles flew down from the ridges to land so precisely on the arm of their owners. The other wonderful thing happening during the festival was the chance to meet so many native Mongolians at the market which was set up close to the festival. Even though no one really spoke English, we loved the opportunity to engage with them and admire the wares they were selling. It was really interesting and a definite highlight!
HOW STRENUOUS WERE THE PHYSICAL COMPONENTS SUCH AS WALKING to see the Havsgait Petroglyphs
There were only a couple of quite short walks and walking poles were provided.
I was a little unsure about the walk to the petroglyphs because the trail was a little steep and gravelly underfoot, and I found it challenging at first. My daughter encouraged me to stop, take some deep breaths to oxygenate my leg muscles (she’s a nurse!), and I found it fine after that by going slowly. It was well worth it as the views across the steppe were amazing.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE MEALS?
The food wasn’t elaborate, but I really found it all of a very good standard. Virtually every meal began with a dressed salad, there was often soup, and meat or fish were served occasionally. There were plenty of greens and a lovely selection of wine was often available.
Hot towels were usually offered before each meal.
TELL US ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THE TRANSFERS & TRANSPORT
Everything went well, from meeting us at the airport at the beginning to our final departure. Our driver spoke only broken English however he was always smiling and very helpful.
HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR GUIDE’S KNOWLEDGE & ENTHUSIASM?
He was wonderful. He seemed to go out of his way to ensure that we visited many of the sites at different times to any other tour groups, which meant fewer crowds to deal with. His English was really very good and we were able to ask him lots of questions. Nothing was too much trouble for him.
HOW DID THE TOUR SCHEDULE WORK COMPARED TO THE WRITTEN ITINERARY? WERE THERE ANY DELAYS?
In general the timing of everything went really well. Our guide was always on time and allowed for traffic and so forth.
We only experienced one delay, which was when we were flying from Gobi back to Ulaanbaatar. Our flight was delayed by several hours, so we had the option of driving instead. Some people chose to wait for the flight, however we decided to drive. Although this was about a 9-hour drive over incredibly bad roads, it was absolutely amazing. The drivers were so skilled at negotiating the terrible roads! We stopped a couple of times and actually visited a supermarket which sold some really interesting produce, and we even bought some items which we hadn’t seen anywhere else in Mongolia, like really beautiful and delicate handcrafted Belgian chocolates. It was extraordinary and an unexpected adventure.