About Me (2)
General Stuff (9)
New York (3)
People I've Met (6)
Preparations and Inspiration (3)
Lurking Around on Travel Sites
In My Own Bed
Pray For It
Seattle and Interesting Uses of Pyrex
Heading to Seattle
Weekend Out of Hippyville
The $330 Trip to the Oregon Country Fair
July 4th, 2004
More Books I've Read
Why Are These People Talking to Me?
There And Back Again
I Wanted To End It All
Summing Up the Gobi
June 10, 2004
Summing Up the Gobi
I have returned after spending 10 days out on the road here in Mongolia.
Overall, we would spend about 5-7 hours a day driving in our Russian made tank-like van. We would then stop at the various point of interest for a few hours and then move on to a ger to sleep for the night. A ger is the traditional home of the Mongolian people. Inside it has some furniture and almost always has the same layout.
On our first night in a ger we didn't know the correct etiquette and we fumbled around a bit. You are supposed to walk into the left and then sit in the spot reserved for guests in the left back, making sure you don't have your back to the family shrine or point your feet at it. Also, whistling is bad luck, as is writing in red pen, and never touch someone else's hat. You should always support your right elbow with your left hand when accepting food and try a little of everything offered to you. This was the hardest part, especially on the first two nights.
Our driver, Utsi, would roll up to these random gers and ask if we could stay with them for the night. We knew there was some sort of payment going on, but it couldn't have been much. We were usually offered goat/sheep's milk tea, and usually some kind of super potent goat's cheese- I'm talking cheese that is so harsh you grimace while eating it. There was often another gooey substance that our little expedition never identified, but it came from the boiling down of some animal's milk, often done late at night.
On our very first night though, we were made dinner which consisted of buuz, a steamed mutton dumpling. I'm a huge fan of steamed dumplings (or breakfast buns) but these were a bit gamey. The gamey flavor was explained by the decapitated goat's head sitting behind my stool and the racks of mutton around the ger. I forced down about three of these "tasty" bits before I thought they might come back up. That said, the first ger was really the most "local" or authentic. We slept with the family and played with the obviously bored ten year old son.
We proceeded to some of the sights in the area. There is a frozen river in the middle of the Gobi which you can walk on because the ice is 3+ feet thick. It was a weird sensation to be in the middle of one of the driest climates in the world, and to be walking on ice so cold and thick, it's blue in places. Another stop was at some massive sand dunes. The largest one is said to be 880 meters high and 150 kms long. I trudged up three quarters of the way up the dune before giving up. When I climbed (actually skiied) back down, I saw just how close I was to the top and I nearly cried from the stupidity of my decision. I was SOOO close.
Our Friday night fun was watching the goats fight. They jump up, and them ram the shit out of each other with their horns. The people we were staying with had a very small pen they were keeping the smaller animals in, and the herd was getting very worked up. Several of the goats tried to stir up trouble by whacking random other animals in the ass or side but then the bid daddy ram came over and laid down the law. The troublemakers relaxed for a bit before starting up a ruckus again. There was one naughty goat we called Rockabilly who kept stirring things up. He had a very snazzy haircut and goatee, with a bit of tannish hair mixed in with the brown, giving him a punk appearance. He was our fav.
This was our general mode of entertainment until night seven, when our driver, Utsi, decided to go on a vodka bender. He brought out a bottle of vodka that smelled like hairspray. Bryce of New Zealand (at a whopping 33), being the oldest got the first "shot" which in reality is more like a triple. Then came my turn, followed by our two Brits, Chris and Katie, and finally Dutch Haarem. We thought the bottle was done, but another appeared, and then another. Utsi was highly drunk at this point, started getting a bit too friendly, and I had no idea what he was saying. When he got too loud we made like we were going to sleep and Utsi went out the truck, turned it on, and said he was driving to Ulan Bator. Bryce stepped in and yelled at him to "go the fuck to sleep" (really funny to hear when you've had the equivalent of 6-7 shots of hairspray) and took his keys. As an added measure, we locked the ger shut from the inside.
Since Utsi was locked outside, he couldn't help the guys build the much needed fire that burns in the center of the ger. There was plenty of wood for fuel but no paper or anything we could use for kindling. I realized I had finished the second of the Earth's Children series, The Valley of Horses, and offered it as a sacrifice to the common good. It burned well, and we were kept warm for the night.
The following morning, I decided to go for a dip in the river nearby the ger camp. WHen I felt how cold it was, I quickly decided instead on a sponge bath to clean off the bits of the Gobi Desert that had accumulated on my skin. It was like a scene out of movie. I had to scramble down a massive wall of rock, only to come out to a lawn of soft green grass, next to a gurgling river. I put on my sarong underneath a tree and relaxed while happily washing myself to semi-cleanness. It was heaven. That is until I had to go back UP the rock wall and got half of what I washed off, back on me. Either way, it was a refreshing experience.
The last days were relaxed but spent mostly on the road back to UB. Utsi's driving made me impatient. Whenever there was a bit of flat dirt track (there are no real roads), he'd floor it and terrify the group by overtaking the one other vehicle around. Then, when we reached tarmac, he never left third gear. I wanted to throw him out of the driver's seat and gun it. I may sound like I'm giving Utsi a hard time. He was a good guy and did a great job- he got me back here in one piece.
Speaking of being back... on my last post about Ulan Bator, I mentioned some negative things about the city. When I met up with Mike and his friendly wife (whose name I can't begin to spell) he said that much of what I wrote was untrue. So coming from someone who knows this place, I'm full of shit. :) I can't say I KNOW a city just because I've been here a few days, fair enough.
I do know this... I am glad to leave. It's not the friendliest of places and as I walked to this internet shop to write this, a man spat water on me. If that's not a hostile and unfriendly act towards a random stranger, I don't know what is. I might have expected it from a broke and down on his luck drunk, but this guy was obviously affluent and had all his wits about him.
I've enjoyed the company I've had here in Mongolia, from the nomads to Mike who I haven't see since Stevens days to our group to the Gobi to a Polish guy I met in Laos who I bumped into in a stairwell, but I am glad to move on and start the journey back to the States. I'm highly ready.
Posted by Claudia on June 10, 2004 02:58 AM