Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another day of Naadam

The morning was cold and crisp with rain still occurring on and off.

We all gathered in Atic’s ger for breakfast. Again a delicious meal that was far too heavy for our western appetites. It was another stick to the ribs meal that would carry us several hours.

After breakfast we packed up our luggage and headed for the Naadam day of horse races and wrestling in Orkon Falls.

This time, the credit union manager had his two horses in races and we drove our minibus at full speed beside the horse and rider for the entire race. His horse came in second. Again these races are run over a course that is 22 km long. It is simply amazing the stamina of these small horses. No wonder Genghis Khan conquered the world.

We watched other races from the finishing line and the credit union manager’s other horse came in first and was his crowning achievement for the day.

We all loaded up in the minivan and travelled to a nearby ger for lunch. The herder’s wife had cooked us Yak which was delicious. As custom would have it we shared several bowls of mare’s milk alcohol followed by a bottle of vodka. I think I am getting used to this or maybe I am developing a tolerance.

We returned to the Naadam site and watched several wrestling matches that allow people in the audience to pit themselves against the professional wrestlers. A couple of audience participants actually beat the pros even though they were sometimes mismatched by 100 pounds of weight and significant height differences. No one got hurt and all seemed to have fun.

I met several tourists from Switzerland, Netherlands, England, Norway and a fellow from Italy who played the saxophone for everyone. His music was upbeat blues and he played very well.

As the event was winding up and prizes were being bestowed, we waited for the credit union manager who was to travel back with us. He decided we should join his winner’s circle of friends to have more vodka. Afterwards, he advised us that he was getting a ride back in a better more powerful Land Cruiser so we all started departing for the same river crossing.

We got to the crossing first and noticed the water was at least one foot higher than normal due to all the rain and the current was very fast. We knew from the prior day's experience that the minibus would certainly get stuck mid river.

We waited for everyone to catch up to us at the crossing and watched many a brave soul stall halfway across including several motorbikes, cars, trucks and minivans. They actually were blockading each other from being able to cross.

Along came our friend in his Toyota Land Cruiser and he went to the middle of the river and towed out one vehicle after another. Then he came back for us and towed us from shore to shore and it was a good thing as the water came in above the floor boards.

By this time it was almost 9 pm and getting quite dark and we had several hours travel to get back to our hotel.

The rain had changed all the dirt roads into slippery treacherous mud trails. Several times we got stuck and had to get out to push. One time we stopped dead as the undercarriage of the minivan hit a rock sticking up from the trail. I thought for sure there was major damage but the driver was confident that all we had to do was push the vehicle off the rock and we would be on our way. It worked and we were underway again but it was worse than ever since it was pitch black and there were always four or five trails that we could take and it was too dark to know which was right. Shortly after midnight, we arrived at Bat-Ulzii and had only to cross one more river that was two feet deeper than the last time we crossed and the current now looked like rapids.

Our driver lifted the hood to the engine and loosened one of the manifolds for reasons I do not understand but is common practice when the water will be over the top of the engine. Next he lined up the minivan to take a solid run for the far side but at an angle that was going up river against the current. It was touch and go but we made it only to be confronted by town streets that have no drainage gutters so the entire streets are mud patches and holes that caused us to slide uncontrollably and to spin around more than once. It took us over half an hour to go about 3 blocks in this tiny town.

I was never so glad to get to the hotel. I was wet through and through and freezing cold. I put the heaviest dry clothes and socks on and went to bed and finally warming up a bit when the sun came up.
-- Gary Seveny

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