Mongolia is so cool!
I'm not quite sure where to begin. We arrived in Ulaan Bataar on the 5th and after a brief, and very chilly tour, we headed out to the countryside. We were soon out of the city and on dirt roads that bumped us up and down and side to side. Actually, "road" is a bit of an overstatement, basically they were just slightly worn tracks. We watched the rolling hills and vast plains that surrounded us, and then, out of nowhere as we reached the top of a hill, our ger camp came in sight. There were about 10 gers - the housing that the nomads live in - just plunked in the field. That was where we were staying. The gers are so cute and cozy! They are round tent-like structures with a small door painted bright orange (that I bumbed my head on many times when entering). They are the covered in thick layers of felt and canvas to keep it warm inside, with a stove and chimney in the center. All the support beams were also bright orange with colourful paintings decorating them. Other than that there were beds, a table and a few stools, and a vanity. Basic, but effective.
Our first night was filled with vodka and Mongolian drinking games that revolved around throwing sheep ankle bones like dice. Our first drink of the evening was a healthy shot of vodka turned bright red with paprika. Toktoi! The Mongolian cheers seemed to be ringing out continously.
But the camp wasn't the highlight of our experience. Although I did have an enjoyable time there, learning archery - well, learning that I'm horrible at archery - and wandering the endless hills and plains. The real treat was going to live with the herdsman family. We rode there by horse and arrived to find 3 gers, and a corral. Our new, temporary home. Bathroom facilities were an interesting experience, I'm getting to experience a whole range of toilet quality. This was just a small pit dug a fair distance away from the gers, with a waist height metal screen around it. Still better than the trough though because at least this came with a fantastic view! Haha.
We were given some bread and fresh creamy butter that was delicious. And some cheese that nearly chipped a tooth. Then we moved to the next ger where we got to try some fermented mare's milk. Mmm-mmm! No. No no nonono. Not tasty at all. The smell when we entered the tent nearly made me gag, and when they passed the bowl to me, I thought for sure I would lose my lunch. I managed one extremely unpleasant sip, then resorted to faking it everytime it came around to me again. Blech, truly vomitrocious.
Our time with the family was brilliant. The first day was a bit tough because our interpreter was a no show, but the next 2 days were amazing. We went riding several times, and the feeling or galloping across the land, dust flying out from beneath my horses hooves, wind in my face, sun on my back and nothing but grass and hills stretching for miles all around...it's so wonderfully liberating and exhilirating, just thinking of it brings a glow to my cheeks. We rode out to help a family that was moving in preparation for the winter, so we got to help build a ger! So amazing! We also got to herd the horses, bringing them back in from pasturing. Racing along in this herd of horses, our Mongolian guide trilling and shouting commands, that's an experience I'll never forget.
The nights were cold out on the Mongolian Steppe, but the stars were mesmerizing. We all huddled together and lifted our heads to the sparkling sky. More constellations than I knew existed, the milky way wisping delicately from one corner of the sky to the other, and plenty of shooting stars to keep us oo-ing and ah-ing. Does it get more perfect than this?
We're back in the city now, enjoying the conveniences and comforts it has to offer - internet, showers etc. I'm left feeling amazed that people still live like that. It was like stepping back in time. They had the essentials, they worked hard, they sustained themselves. They were really generous and happy, and they had this wonderful huge family with so many children and grandchildren and in-laws and cousins... Everyone visits each other even though they're so far apart. No relying on phones and text messaging or email. They were all so close. A part of me is really envious of them.