This page is going to take me a while, but I intend to post my day by day journal that I wrote in while I was in Mongolia, with some pictures that go with the days. I have already posted my pictures from Mongolia in my Picasa web albums. Every now and then, I will be adding a day from my journal onto here. Along with my journal of what I did each day, I will be adding suggestions on what I think someone should bring if preparing for a trip to Mongolia. I stayed with a Nomadic family for 9 days, and fortunately was pretty well prepared for the unique experience. But I think this page should eventually have enough information on it to help future travelers.
I arrived in Mongolia last night about 11pm. The flight was fortunately uneventful and I met a nice older Korean gentleman named Simon Park on the way. While talking to him, I realized I had no idea where in Mongolia I would be, and didn’t even have my host’s phone number. Simon wanted to meet up for dinner when I came back into Ulaanbaatar, so he gave me his number in Mongolia.
My bag was, as usual, one of the last to come off the plane. But at least customs was a breeze. Once I left the baggage claim area, I went to the exit which was full of people. I was instantly worried about not being able to find Tsogoo and Munkhjargal, but shortly afterwards I heard Tsogoo’s voice then Munkhjargal’s. When we left the airport, Tsogoo insisted again that we leave for the countryside tonight. Now this was a continuation of a conversation we had already in Korea, when we were all there for the 5th International Horseback Archery Competition. When we were there, discussing my upcoming trip to Mongolia, Tsogoo (who speaks only Mongolian and Korean, so everything he said I heard through Munkhjargal ) said that since my flight got in so late, we should leave for the countryside, but sleep in a tent for the night when we were about half way there, because it is a long drive. But he then mentioned to Munkhjargal that during the day he can control his actions; at night he can’t take responsibility for himself. I told Munkhjargal to tell him that if he tries anything I would beat him up. Munkhjargal quickly suggested that I stay in a hotel for my first night in Mongolia, and then leave for the countryside in the morning. Anyways, After meeting everyone at the airport, Tsogoo said he would see me in the morning and left, then I got in the car with Munkhjargal.
Munkhjargal and his wife took me to go get some dinner. We went to a little place near my hotel, it was one of the only restaurants open late close by. I had a plate of rice and goat meat with vegetables covered in some kind of delicious gravy. Munkhjargal’s wife said that she was worried about my health, because I was eating “hot” food and drinking “cold” water. Apparently they have similar superstitions about “hot” and “cold” foods to the Chinese (at least it seems like it from what I remember from my Chinese history class). Munkhjargal explained to me that she said that because the goat meat is considered a “hot” meat and that she suggested I drink some hot tea instead of water.
After dinner they dropped me off at my hotel, and I went to bed. In the morning, I tried to take a hot shower, but apparently the hot water comes from another building, and they were all out for the night because of broiler issues. Munkhjargal came to pick me up. Tsogoo was late, so we went to the bank to get my money exchanged. Afterwards, Tsogoo picked me up in his Toyota Land Rover with his daughter, who is to be my translator for a couple days, and his son Temujin. We went to get some groceries for my stay, and lots of bottled water, then picked up a rather large man named Ghana. After Ghana picked up a couple things from the store, we began out couple hour drive to the country side.
The roads are much like back country roads in the US; it was a long, bumpy, and beautiful ride. We passed many heards of horses, cattle, goats, sheep, yaks, and little yurt communities. Then we took a sharp left onto a road obviously much les traveled. It was actually more like a two track goat path. Shortly after passing one more family, they had two yurts, we arrived at our single yurt over the hillside.
I met the family, then Tsogoo left me there with his kids. Just before he left, he pointed to all the surrounding hills calling them “toilet,” then looked at me and said, “OK?” with a smile. While Tsogoo was driving into the distance, Ghana told me to hop on his motorcycle with him. We went to go see all of his horses at the watering hole. As we arrived, two kids were getting ready to herd the horses back near our family gur. When we all got back, we rested and ate some goat meat that had just been cooked. It was delicious, but the boss (Ghana) kept telling me to eat more, and handing me more bones with meat. We also ate some rice and barley that I think was cooked in some kind of broth. Everything was delicious. My only complaint is that much of the meat I ate still had some goat hair stuck to it, and that hair was almost impossible to get out of your food.
Later in the evening I went with the two young boys to go gather the horses who had wandered off. It was so much fun! The saddle I was riding in was Russian. It took me a little while to get used to the saddle, and to the horse’s unique gait.
While we were gone, Orsoo had been boiling milk , and was getting ready to strain it into some kind of cloth bag. Her and Tsende worked together to pour the yogurt/milk into the bag, then strained the liquid out and hung up the bag to drain some more.
The older of the two boys, and the other men, began roping wild horses from the heard, and wrestling them down to put bridles on them. Once they had a couple caught, the older boy saddled them one by one, jumping on behind the Mongolian saddle (so sitting on the horse’s hips), gave the horse a few whacks, and away they went! Once the bucking wild horse was tired and under slight control, he rode them back to the gur and the men cut off the horse’s mane, then tied it to their line.
Right about sunset, Ghana and I rode on his motorcycle, following the younger boy who was riding one of the younger horses bareback. He raced up and over the hills and then back to the gur. He appeared to be training the horse to run like a bat out of hell.
We had company, so I slept in the tent this night. My hostesses beef noodle soup is great!
A note on food: Mongolian jam is blueberries, apple, hippophae (H. rhamnoides), and sugar. It is delicious. Tea is milk, water, and some kind of dried hay/grass.
I woke up and watched cattle milking. Temujin, Tsogoo’s son, holds my hand and drags me everywhere. As Orsoo was boiling the new milk, I watched her and Temujin cut the milk that was dried in the bag yesterday. She then put it on a wood board, and sat it on top of the gur to dry more in the sun.
The two boys, Saikna, and I, herded the horses and cows to the watering hole. We waited around the water hole for a couple hours, and then brought all the animals back near the gur.
We all took a short nap, and hung out in the gur, then the older boy and I went over to the neighbors to drink some aireg. It had a flavor unlike anything I have ever tasted. But the fermentation gave it a similar after taste to bitter beer. The texture was the more difficult part for me, and the fact that there is no such thing as clean bowls or cups in the gurs.
Later Tsende sent me off on my own to go gather the stray horses and bring them back to the gur. At first I was really confused what he was asking me to do, since most of our conversation was body language. I think he was very surprised that I was able to ride out alone and navigate the hills, and come back with all the missing horses. Tsende was a little rude, and I think to him this was some kind of test. He seemed to think me useless until I showed up running a herd of about 50 horses that had wandered.
After I came back, some men showed up with a truck to take some horses that I think were here for training. After all the men left, I slept in the gur with the hostess Orsoo, Saikna, and Temujin.
Helped milk cows…