Well we made it through our first real weekend in UB, and it was a doozie: a glimpse into what this country really looks like, some fresh air, and our first visit to a real live herding family in the countryside.
Friday wrapped up language school for the week, and then off we went to start our weekend with a VSO welcome dinner. On the menu? Indian food. “Welcome to VSO Mongolia; please enjoy the Indian Buffet we have prepared for you.” Lovely. It even came with a warning from the Country Director: “I hope that you enjoy the food and that it does not give you diarrhea.” Again, lovely. For those inquiring minds, we did in fact enjoy the food, and it did not in fact give us diarrhea. Score two for the whities.
Saturday morning we were up early to catch the 33 bus southbound towards the mountains. We were instructed by another volunteer to take the bus to the end of the line – when we saw the children’s prison, we were there. Take the bus to the end of the line we did, and – alas – there stood an innocent little turquoise building with a quaint little primary colored gate, all surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. We had arrived at the starting point for our hike, so off we went.
The neat thing about hiking in Mongolia is that you can hike anywhere, as there are trails just about everywhere. So we climbed the first hill we saw, and that hill led to another hill, so we climbed that one too. Carry on in that same pattern for a few more hills, and you find us here:
We’re walking around an “Ovo,” which is a type of monument built by traveling Mongolians. When they pass one along their journey, the stop, break out the vodka, follow a symbolic ritual of circling the ovo three times in a clockwise fashion, dropping off stones along the way, and throughout the journey enjoying as much vodka as they would like. We did not have vodka, but we had plenty of stones, so we fulfilled that bit of the ritual to the best of our knowledge.
Following the ovos and about six more miles of hiking, we wound up here:
The panorama shows pretty much the entire route we hiked. Following the ridgeline, we walked about 8.5 miles in a horseshoe shape. Throughout quite a bit of the journey we could see UB in the distance, but there was also quite a bit of time when it was just us and the woods. We never once passed another person close enough to say hello. We did, however, pass a number of goats that would not let us get close enough to say hello (much to my dismay).
All in all the hike was wonderful. We had thoroughly exhausted ourselves and hopped on our trusty 33 bus home. Trusty 33, return us to the guesthouse! Wait, what? Trusty 33, where are you going? Ohhhh, you are taking us far from home…to a ger district? Hmm…that’s odd. Trusty 33, you are doing a K-turn in the ger district? Again, odd. Also odd are the looks we were then receiving from the driver and ticket taker, as we were the only people left on the bus…and there were five of us…all white…and clearly not from there. So it goes.
Anyways, trusty 33 finally brought us home, and we all admitted that we were pleased to have received an impromptu city tour. Thank you, trusty 33.
Sunday morning we had a VSO organized trip to the countryside to visit a herding family’s ger. Despite our driver’s constant desire to slam on the brakes for no apparent reason, the drive was incredible. The scenery is simply breath taking in that the land is so vast and the people and buildings so few. We drove for about 70 km out of the city – the only comparison Chris and I could make was that it looks similar to Montana but with little tiny yurts sprinkled here and there. Finally we arrived at our destination:
The quiet when we stepped off the bus was remarkable. The land is so pristine…so untouched. And there are simply very few people. Evidently there are casual rules that no family will plant their ger within a kilometer of another family’s ger, so the homes are quite dispersed. The families still view one another as neighbors; they just don’t live as close as we might picture neighbors to be. The government will drill a well for each ger community, so they do have a water source, but it too may be located a few km from the home. In that sense, the families are all grateful for horses and the children to ride those horses to fetch the water (these kids have A LOT of chores).
Luckily for us, we found our own kid to ride the horse that fetched the water. He seemed to be a bit oversized for the horse, but he looked right at home nonetheless…
At least until he got stuck in traffic…
Anyways, the visit was wonderful. We enjoyed our first tastes of fermented mare’s milk (which was not entirely fermented and therefore tasted quite strongly of yeast), homemade yogurt, homemade cream/butter/cheese (which was it?), and some deliciously tasty buuz (traditional steamed dumplings). AND we got to see the herd:
Most of all, we have both concluded that Mongolia is a wonderfully beautiful place despite the mutton.
Until next time!