Along for the drive – Mandela

You’re probably surprised to see a change in the topics that I’ve been blogging about this week.  Yes, this is still gfchopstix –  don’t worry, you’re not lost! I took on the challenge of writing a blog a day for the whole of November, to help with my blogging skills. I seriously had NO idea what it was all about. Little did I know that I was actually going to have to be typing about myself! ha! Creating new, delicious, gluten free recipes is what this blog was all about.  Was…

There are many aspiring writers blogging, and little did I realise, that I’m actually one of you. I’ve been writing about a road trip, which I was very fortunate to be a part of, and thankfully returned in one piece.  There were some hair-raising moments, some near misses, and some personality clashes.  However, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I was proudly part of it.

My ‘book’, as it were, is admittedly in a mess.  I’ve typed up all the places we travelled to, but that’s it.  No editing – yet. No photos added – yet. No publisher found – yet. I really hadn’t thought about blogging about the road trip, but since this assignment came up, I realised that this would be a perfect opportunity for me to get constructive criticism, and maybe, just maybe….Random House will be reading? You never know!

Mandela – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela?

When one thinks of the name ‘Mandela’, images of the great late South African leader come to mind. A man who was admired not only by his people, but the world.  Whilst travelling through Inner Mongolia, we spotted a road sign. ‘Mandela Mountain’.  We had to go and have a look.

We arrived late in the afternoon, and drove towards the signboards, ‘Mandela’. We turned off, onto a long dirt road, and passed under a strange-looking metal archway over the narrow road. There were no other cars in sight. No people. It was eerily quiet.  We drove around a bend, and there ahead of us was a house, and a ticket office. Closed. M got out and went to inquire.  A sprightly old man opened the door, and they had a short conversation.  M returned to the car, and the old man followed him.  The site was closed for the day, and so we would have to return in the morning.

Since it was already almost dinner time, and we didn’t want to travel too far away, we turned back onto the main road and headed towards the cluster of buildings ahead of us. Mandela town is a small community of people, living on either side of the road. There are no hotels. No hostels. No decent restaurants.  This is it. M happened to see a sign outside a restaurant, offering accommodation, so he went in to have a look.  I waited in the warmth of our car.  It was getting dark, and the night chill was setting in.
Since there weren’t any other options, we decided to spend the night. Our room cost  about sixty bucks for the night. We parked our car right outside the room door. The restaurant and rooms are owned by an elderly couple.  Their restaurant, with two bedrooms leading off the dining area, is on the main road, and behind it, in a yard, they’ve built four rooms. Two they rent out, and the other two are for storage.

The room we stayed in had four beds, with electric blankets on all the beds.  There was a coal stove in the middle of the room, which was lit, and warmed the room up, but no bathroom. Not even an outhouse.

To get to the toilets, which are public toilets, we had to exit the yard through a back gate, behind the row of rooms where we stayed, walk across a field, and there they were, very crudely built.  No lighting. No stalls. Just a building separated by a wall. Men on the left. Women on the right. No sit down toilets. No running water. Just a trench down the middle.  Fortunately, I carried a torch with me.

We ate dinner at the owners restaurant, and the food was awful. I have no words to describe it. It was just awful. I don’t even remember what we ate. We were cold, tired and hungry, and so ate up and headed to our room.

I chose the bed at the back, in the corner, hoping that I’d be warmer, and bundled up in my warm duck down  sleeping bag. M took the bed near the door. He was concerned,  because the door did not close properly, and we could not lock it. He would sleep through a rocket being launched next to his bed, so I don’t see how that would have helped, but the thought was there.

In the morning, we packed up, got our snacks from the car, boiled water on the stove in the room, and ate our instant porridge for breakfast. We then got into our car, and waited for the owners to open up for us, so that we could leave.

We drove back along the road we came on the day before, and took the turn towards the strange metal arch once again, on the long dirt road.

When we arrived at the Man De La rock paintings, the old man who runs the place, was waiting for us.  He happily took our money for the tickets. He offered to escort us around, at an additional fee, and explain the various rock paintings to us. We agreed, and boy, did we battle to keep up with him! He is in his 70’s, and hikes up the mountains everyday. He is fit, healthy and full of energy.

We first had to walk past some uniquely shaped boulders, where over the years, the wind has carved holes through the solid stone, and continues to whistle and howl as you walk through. Then,  there were stairs. Oh no! Stairs!

889 stairs to the top - worth the view!
889 stairs to the top – worth the view!

I’m unfit as it is – but stairs?! They just kill me. My lungs felt like they were going to pop. I dragged myself up the stairs, one at a time. My legs heavy, my chest tight and burning. I kept stopping to catch my breath and drink from my bottle of water (just as well I had taken it along). M and our tour guide went on ahead, chatting away, and kept stopping to wait for me. It felt like an eternity when I finally caught up and joined them at the top of the 889 stairs. Oh yes, I did count them. On the way – down!

We were rewarded with a wonderful geological sight. All around us were rocks of different shapes, sizes and colours ranging from grey to a rich black.  On most of them, were hand drawn pictures, or images etched into the surface.  We wandered over the rocks scattered around us.

We were excited to spot a few with drawings on, but our guide wasn’t impressed with the ones we chose, and rather took us to the biggest and best, and explained what the images meant.  He showed us family trees, camels, goats, houses, people, and even hunters on horses. The sun was shining brightly on that icy cold morning, and it lit up the images like a spotlight.

A family tree
A family tree


We also spotted some ‘new’ rock art, which according to our tour guide, is what today’s generation has left behind.

We spent about two hours walking around, taking photos, and listening to all our tour guide had to tell us about the paintings. 

We then made our way back down, admiring the amazing views and oohing and ahhing over the different shaped boulders.

At the foot of the mountain, we bid our tour guide farewell, and drove off in search of food.  It was lunchtime.

Some history about the Man De La Rock Paintings:

The paintings date back more than six thousand years ago. There are more than 4600 rocks covered in paintings. They depict daily human lives – hunting, dancing, family, religious rituals and so on.

A map of Inner Mongolia, showing Mandela Rock Art
A map of Inner Mongolia, showing Mandela Rock Art



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