Sunday, June 7: near Tariat, Mongolia
8:00 We are about to leave our ger camp and there’s an issue with a missing towel. It turns out that one couple used a towel to plug a hole in the wall of their yurt. I can’t say that I blame them as it was damn cold last night. The manager isn’t happy with this so Neill and Rachel decide to give her some constructive criticism. Cold showers, a severe lack of firewood, and Western style food (warm weiners for breakfast) are all mentioned. We all agreed that while traveling in Mongolia, we’d prefer Mongolian food. This is a shock to the manager.
9:30 We stop in Tariat and my cook group buys vegetables that we will use for tonight’s stew. We spend 36,000 Tugriks (CA$22.26) on a hearty meal for 20. The market has “I Love NY” plastic bags. I’m guessing these were shipped from China to Mongolia when plastic bags were banned in NY.
11:00 We arrive at the Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Lake) National Park and hike to the top of the Khorgo Volcano which last erupted about 200 years ago. The crater is deceptively wide and deep yet Bayaraa, our Mongolian guide, scrambles to the bottom in about 5 minutes. It takes him 40 minutes to climb out. (See white speck in centre of the crater photo below).
12:30 We arrive at a local family’s ger camp for a pre-arranged meal. Within 30 minutes of arriving we see rain, sleet, hail and snow. I explain the difference to some of the southern hemisphere people who think anything that’s white and falls from the sky is snow.
12:40 A gallon of water, about 50 hot rocks, and layers of meat and vegetables are placed inside an aluminum cream can which is then taken outside and placed on an open fire. Lunch will be ready in an hour.
12:50 While waiting for the meal to cook the man of the house mentions to Bayaraa that he recently shot an eagle that had been killing his baby lambs. Bayaraa, Amaraa and I each cut a talon from the carcass. Endless entertainment is provided by a boy of about three who rides his “horse” around the camp. He has a long stick and a piece of cloth that he uses as reigns. When he’s called inside for lunch he ties the stick to a post beside the yurt. Like father, like son!
14:00 After lunch we decide to stay for the night rather than move on and risk camping in wet, snowy conditions. At least here about half of us will be able to sleep in a warm yurt. I elect to sleep in a tent. Why I volunteered to do that is still a mystery to me.
15:15 Claire must head back to Beijing to resume her job as a tour guide so she has hired a local guy to give her a ride into Tsetserleg. It’s about 150 km and they will do it on motorcycle in near freezing conditions. From Tsetserleg she can catch a 14-hour bus to Ulaanbaatar and then a flight to Beijing. I have to give her full marks for bravery!
15:45 Claire calls Bayaraa from Tariat to say that the boy has been pulled over by police and his bike has been impounded. He may have been drinking and he didn’t have a license on the bike. Bayaraa is dispatched to Tariat to sort this out for Claire.
16:00 Some of us get back in the truck and take a short drive to the Yellow Dog Ice Cave. It is indeed a cave and there’s thick ice at the bottom. Let me remind you, it’s June 7. June 7.
18:00 Bayaraa helps the family shovel lamb shit into the back of a small truck that is used as a manure spreader. The truck stalls several times as they drive it up the hill and most of the load slops out. I have to give Bayaraa credit for taking off his shoes and socks, rolling up his pants and wading into wet, cold shit to help the family with their chores. I don’t imagine that was listed on his job description but he does it and he never stops smiling. Incredible.
19:10 My cook group mixes leftover lamb with the vegetables we bought this morning to produce a soup/stew concoction. I’d probably send it back if I was served it in a Canadian restaurant but here it’s piping hot and delicious.
20:20 I’m in my tent. It’s freezing cold but I manage to sleep until 10 minutes after midnight.
00:10 I’m jolted awake by the sound of 1000 yaks being herded within inches of my head. At least that’s what I imagined it to be until I opened the tent flap and watched the family corral about 200 goats. They will stay warm enough if they huddle together in the small pen. The sheep are well equipped to survive a cold night so they are left outside the pen.
03:10 Several sheep are sniffing at the flap of my tent. I clap loudly and they scamper away.
04:30 I’m awake again. It’s windy and about -10C. At this point I’d gladly welcome a few sheep into the tent but they’re playing hard-to-get. I think back on the day and decide that it was the best day of my trip to date. Despite harsh conditions, it does’t get much more authentic than this! I’m absolutely loving rural Mongolia.