I have gained a new appreciation for things we take for granted in the western world. For example, flush toilets. I do not mind outhouses if they have a seat to park my butt on. I have even experienced a circular hole in the floor for squatting. Here, outhouses all seem to be alike. The hole in the floor is significant and almost big enough for me to fall into. In essence, the floor is made of 12” wide planks and one is missing and the hole is about 4 feet long. Oh, BYOP (bring your own paper).
This morning I experienced a racket that I have never heard so loudly before. Barking dogs woke me at 5 am and it wasn’t just a few, it was a few dozen of the loudest most persistent non-stop barkers.
I wasn’t the only one who was awkened strangely, Jig (our interpreter) had a bird fly into her room at sunrise and it took some doing for her to get the bird back out the window.
Talking about western experiences, showers are something we take for granted. Here in these small towns (soums), there are only centralized showers in two block buildings that charge 1,500 Tugrik per shower. I was so happy to at least have the service I didn’t even mind that the water just drips from the shower head or that the hot water lasts only a short time. The shower is about 3 blocks from my hotel.
Breakfast is served in a café at the hotel but is cooked off-site at the owner’s house and driven in somewhere between 40 minutes to an hour later than agreed. I was served milk tea and soup with flour and meat. Actually, the tea is good but has no resemblance to the tea we drink. The soup dish was also quite good and as tradition has it, meat is the primary ingredient in everything Mongolia offers.
Today throughout this is Nadam. This is like a community holiday and festival. The town is celebrating with bareback horse races, archery contests and wrestling matches.
I observed 3 races at the finish line and all the riders are young boys from about age 9 to 13 and are bareback for these 18 to 22 km races. It was truly amazing that none of them fell off their horses. They make Genghis Khan proud.
I was really fortunate to be invited to ride along with one of the horse’s owners in the 4th race. He is the owner of the hotel I stayed in and has a Toyota Land Cruiser which is the ideal vehicle for this rugged terrain. We were at the starting line drove along side his horse throughout the race which was really exciting. Unfortunately, his horse came in fifth.
After all the races were over I joined a circle of owners and drank mare’s milk alcohol (airag) and vodka until the bottle was empty. They know how to celebrate.
We were invited to a horse herder’s ger to have a celebration and dinner. The herder trains many horses for town people plus he has a herd of horses of his own that are all prize winners.
Just before dinner, I went into the fields where the mares were and watched the herder’s wife milk some of the mares. It looks much more difficult than milking a cow. She also needs a herder to hold the colt in front of the mare to keep her calm. The entire mare’s milk I tried had a particular taste that we believe is the result of the unique grasses they eat.
More and more, it became obvious that one of the most popular ways of getting around during the summer is on one of the Chinese made motorbikes that are 150cc and still have carburetion and drum brakes. Most of these are brand new and cost about $1,000. It is common to see three and sometimes four people on a motorbike including mothers with their babies.
-- Gary Seveny