Sunday, 16 September 2012

Living with the Nomads

"Why is there a car parked in the middle of that intersection?" "Maybe it’s broken down?" "No wait ... you're kidding me, seriously ... that car has actually fallen into the pot-hole and is stuck. Wow, that’s a first."

To say Mongolia's roads were bad was an understatement. Although someone had funded a bitumen highway at some point, maintenance was practically non-existent, with pot-holes seeming to occupy more surface area than actual road. To deal with the suspension-destroying drop-zones, the drivers either drove fast over them or crossed over to oncoming traffic to avoid them, or both. Oncoming traffic did the same thing. Sure made for a swervy, bumpy ride, and this was the major highway out of Mongolia's capital city. We were glad for the lunch break with a view.

Ben in the Vast Mongolian Steppe - Somewhere in Mongolia
After several hours we pulled off the highway onto a rough dirt track that took us to a collection of four gers that was to be our home for the next few days.

A Ger and a Cloud- Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
In one ger we were sat down next to a freshly butchered goat, whose innards were presently being chopped up and stuffed into fried pastries. Okay, here we go, I thought as we politely accepted a taster and the boys chivalrously took up positions next to the goat's head. I didn't think it was too bad, but Ben looked queasy.

Ben, Dave and a Goats Head - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Our host was a quiet woman whose husband we were told was out herding. She warmly welcomed us with fermented mare's milk, a mildly alcoholic beverage enjoyed by all Mongolians and traditionally shared by drinking an appreciable sip from a communal bowl and passing it around. To describe the flavour, I would say take some yoghurt and add a dash of beer, then get the stinkiest horse you can find, dissolve it into your mixture before wolfing all that horsiness down. Yes, everyone drinks it and enjoys it.

The Youngest drinking Fermented Mare's Milk- Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Ben Drinking Airag, Fermented Mare's Milk - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
And no, that box of fermented mare's milk biscuits will not cleanse the palate. Neither will airag, a clear, distilled fortification of fermented mare's milk. Straight vodka might though.

Vodka, again, I thought we had left Russia, at least its better than the fermented mare's milk - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
At this point we were introduced to Nigel and Sarah from the UK, guests of this neighbouring ger and travellers on a quest to circumvent the globe in 80 days. Unfortunately, they were pulled back from an enjoyable hike up the nearby hill by their Mongolian guide Neesa, who felt it necessary that all foreigners meet immediately. Despite this, we all hit it off really well - inevitable really, with so much fermented mare's milk being sloshed about. So after a few rounds of milk, our guides got to cooking our dinner. Our offers of assistance were refused, so we simply hung around and took stock of our surroundings.

The Mongolian Horse - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
The kids from the neighbouring ger were playing. Hang on, it looks like they're fighting. No it's all good, they're just practising their Mongolian wrestling techniques.

Mongolian Wrestling- Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Kids showing me some Mongolian Wrestling- Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Naturally the kids saw us as a bunch of new big kids, here to be harnessed into the fun. Their laughter was so infectious that we couldn't help but be roped in.

Learning to Fly - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Dizzy Little Rascal - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
The Little Rascal - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
I swear he is not our kid - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where(Don't worry Mum, it's not ours)

Drawing in our Book - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
This boy seemed like a creative one, so Ben let him have a go at shooting with his Canon 5Dmk2. Not sure how many he's used in his lifetime, but he did pretty alright with this set.

Who is the Big Kid now - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Its just like riding a horse - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Fun times - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
and his Trusty Steed - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
A sharp call from their mother meant that play time was over as there were evening chores that the boys needed to do before sundown. Such as rounding up the herd. The ease with which they handled their horses was amazing.

These kids can Ride - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Bring the sheep back the the protection of the Ger's - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Meanwhile, the mares were being milked. Three times a day, Enkee said. They really did like this stuff.

Milking the Mare's - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Nic theorised that perhaps it was like beer - an acquired taste. It seemed to be their only source of fluids. Speaking of which, I could feel nature calling. Boys had it easier, but where do girls go? "Anywhere you like," said Oyuun, gesturing to the vast expanse of flat grassy land surrounding us, "but you cannot dig holes." I see ...

The view from our Ger - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Dinner was a simple affair followed by everyone huddling into our ger, out of the ensuing night's chill. The fermented mare's milk bowl continued to be passed around, with the holder encouraged to perform a song from their homeland for the audience. Needless to say, we heard more Mongolian folk tunes than Australian or English.

Our nomadic hosts and the children went off to bed, and we were all ready to do the same. However our guides and drivers wanted a party, drowning us in vodka bottles again. The Russians sure left their mark we thought, as it all went downhill from there. We knew it was bad when we found ourselves dancing in the headlights of three minivans blasting music from their stereos.

Dam that Vodka - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
I wondered how authentic this nomad life experience was, as we stumbled back to our ger to sleep.

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