Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Finally, the final post...

Rush hour in Umnudelgaer soum

I guess even horses need to fill up here

The entrance to the Zoos Hurd credit union

Some of its members

Visiting the site of the new credit union building with some of the staff

Meeting the governor of Khentii aimag

B gets dressed up at a textile business the credit union helped get started. Apparently, these women can sew anything. They loved B's Icelandic sweater and examined it doubt replicates will available all over Mongolia soon.

Bruno presents the credit union with a gift from Canada

At the meat market...yes, these camels are waiting to be sold, probably as food. Bruno said they had to make a stop here so that his host's son could sell two sheep skins in order to buy an IPod.

B bids farewell to the goats

It's time to hit the road back to Ulaanbaator

Watch out for those marmot skins along the way...

The last meal in Mongolia...deep fried bools (dumplings filled with fat). Note the sheep bones on the table...a fun game! B has brought one home.

The final entertainment

If you want to follow the further adventures of Bruno (his volunteer work is now finished so it's time for vacation) ...check out "' where B meets Wendy in Korea, continues on to Singapore and ends up in Bali.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Aug 14th ... Make Your Own Road Day…

grazing goats

We sleep on the top floor of the two-story cabin... once again all three of us have to share a room. We grimace ... and I can tell my travel mates are as sick of sharing a room as I am. The outhouse is a real gem. It’s a bit of a walk from the cabin in the dark. We have to walk past the dogs, the sheep that follows and keeps nudging at us, and we have to make sure we don’t fall into the hole at the front of the outhouse. The owners appear to be putting in a new hole and haven’t had time to move the outhouse so it’s just a large open pit that we have to jump over to get into the actual outhouse. Yes...and no seat... just like that last one. Plank and hole, what comfort!

When I get out of bed the next day, I realize that I haven’t been able to shave for three days, and other than swimming in the river I can’t remember the last time I had a shower. My clothes are all dusty and I have nothing left that’s clean. I haven’t been able to wash any clothes as we have had no time or water.

Before we leave I go for a breakfast of bread and cream. I’m a bit leery of the bag of cream but give it a try. I put the cream on the bread and add some white sugar on top. It’s actually really good so I have two helpings and then gave the sheep my third. Bugs are eating us alive as we step out of the cabin so I am glad to be moving on again.

pouring tea

Breakfast cream...or milk tea?

good tea!

On the way to our new site Undurkhan Kentii...which is still about 220km away from Ulaanbaatar. It doesn’t seem like a far distance yet it’s another world in the back country. The dirt road system is so bad that it could take days to get back to UB. On the way to Undurkhan we stop and visit a few members' Gers and are treated with the traditional milk tea which is one speck of black tea in warm milk. Yuk… I take a few sips and decide that I have become lactose intolerant for the rest of my stay in Mongolia.

...spinning a prayer wheel, not generating power

The Ger’s are really cool. All of the ones I have been to have flat screen TV’s, satellite dishes and generators or power that they take directly from a power pole. They all have computers and cell phones. It’s so weird as they seem to still do so many things in the traditional way and prefer their Ger’s over wooded structures. Cow dung is stacked and drying next to the Ger as it will be used as a heat source by burning it in the winter.

Mongolian saddle

Bruno in the saddle

We make our way to the next Ger and this time I get to ride the owner's horse. This horse seems really small when you are on it. They are really nice to ride and have a smooth gait. Now I have ridden a horse in Mongolia. Not many people can say that.
I’m also treated to some of the social programs this Credit Union is doing. One is water conservation. We stop at a corral-like structure surrounding a small amount of water. It’s a natural spring and the water comes up from the ground in a small amount. It provides a water source to all the herder families in the area. It has to be protected from the animals as they will trample it down to a mud pit.

This is the only source of wonder B has been sick!

heading to the spring

We arrive in Undurkhan and see an actual 'hotel' sign. We check into our adjoining rooms with a shared toilet. Ken and I still have to share a room but at least we have a room for Mongo. However a shower is only available at the public shower house. The shower room turns out to be a real treat. It’s absolutely spotless and disinfected after each use. It’s the best hot shower I can remember having.

Is this hotel five-star??

Hmmm...maybe not

Clean and fed, we return to our room and people keep poking their heads in. I try to lock it but there's no lock on the exterior door. Later the housekeeper comes by and lets us know that the hotel is full and our water closet is the main one for the hotel. She then hands us a padlock key for the toilet and locks our bedroom doors. All night long and all morning it was a steady parade of people using our so-called sink. I finally get out of bed, open the door between our adjoining rooms to get to the water closet and find her outside my door. I’m just in my undershorts, but she had no issues with that and takes my hand leading me to the sink to show me how clean and shiny she has kept it. So I wash my face and then go over to the toilet room. She unlocks it for me, throws a bucket of water into the toilet and flushes. Then she lets me in and points to how clean it is. She then shows me the incense and matches and shuts the door. I then realize she must have been outside my door all night guiding each person through the same ritual and cleaning after each one. That’s why it was so noisy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Travelling in Mongolian Time

We are up at 7am as we have to pack and have our last meal with Nassa. Of course we have to have a final toast and he pulls out the Vodka at 8:30 am. I keep telling myself that it’s medicine and necessary after each meal…

I’m really excited to leave as our work set the Credit Union up well, and although I really like my coaching partner and interpreter, we have spent way too much time in the same room. At 9 we would be off to our new location and then have a fun day to relax. That’s what the plan is supposed to be. At noon we are still in our room waiting. No call from the host picking us up and no sign of her. I’m not surprised. One wrong turn on the unmarked dirt roads and you could end up in Siberia. We decide to go for a last swim in the river and cool off. We get the call that the car got stuck in the mud and they would be collecting us after lunch. I was hoping to avoid another meal in Binder Soum or having to use the washroom facilities again, it’s torturous.

We finally get picked up and pack our stuff into a luxury Toyota SUV. Things are looking up... No hold on...No sooner do we leave the village than we have to turn back as our new host Narra has to purchase something at the store. Its now close to 4 and we are finally leaving. We drive like crazy in the dirt, avoiding potholes and multiple dirt paths. At one point our driver decides it’s time to get off the road and drive through a field of grass straight towards the mountains.

Now we are making our own road. It’s a lot smoother then the dirt road however we do have to drive through rivers and bogs. Not sure what we will do if we get stuck. I asked Narra how they managed to get out of the mud. She said they waited for a herder to come along on his motor bike to get a push by hand...however, Narra looks impeccably dressed and is wearing high-end glasses, matching purse and high-heeled shoes. She said she was covered in mud and had to stop and clean by the river and then dry her clothes. That’s why she was late. I guess that’s what we will do also. Just then, a clear plastic bag filled with cream falls on my lap. It’s breakfast Narra says and then holds it on her lap for the rest of the trip.

We come across some unusual stone carvings that stick straight out of the land. Narra explains that they are Deer Stones from the Ottoman Empire. Very cool ... you can barely make out the dear carvings.

The mountains are really just large hills with some larger rocks and at a high elevation. We get to our first destination... dinner at a herder’s summer home. Narra says as we arrive “There are many members here to greet us and hot pot is on the stove... You will be expected to make some speeches and possibly sing karaoke please enjoy.”

I was able to sit in the Ger and get in a few formal toasts and make my introduction while my interpreter restated everything in Mongolian. I actually see the hot pot before it comes off the stove and they let me photograph the cooking and preparation. The stones help regulate the heat. Once cooked you take the stones out, let them cool briefly and then try to hold them... moving them from hand to hand before they burn through your skin. They are all greasy and slimy from the lamb fat. The hot fat and rocks make your hands super soft. It’s actually disinfecting as well as we are about to eat with our hands, no utensils.
After a delicious dinner (it was!) we start up a generator and turn on the computer and speakers and get the microphones going. People begin to pick the songs and I get myself out of it by being a so-called judge. Close call, not sure if I can avoid singing for the next week

The Mongolians are very persistent when it comes to telling your story through song. First up the young herder and his wife... he begins to sing and the cows all look up and begin to come towards the Ger. It seems that a stampede is about to run through our camp any second. The cattle stop about 100 yards away and listen to the singing and appear to be enjoying the show.

It ends after a short time and then we are rushed off to a convoy of 4 cars and a motorbike. We are now headed to a camp in the mountains, but first the monastery... one the largest in Mongolia, home to some 1500 lamas. It was destroyed by fire in the 70’s and they have been restoring the main building. I was lucky to find a old photo of the entire site in the 20’s and photographed it. Today it’s just two buildings. This was an important training ground for lamas up until the communists started to kill them off. The lamas eventually all left for Tibet. It’s a sacred area well known around the world and they get many visitors. Very cool! The sun sets and the monastery closes .

The next part of our trip is in darkness through rivers and on dirt mountain roads. We get stuck going up a high mountain road and decide that the road is just too much for the SUV we have. I was a bit shocked as we had done so well in the other areas. Then I find out it’s not an SUV it’s a front wheel drive made to look like an SUV. Its fine the driver says, we can try another road. There's always a road or you can make one. We get to the cabin in the woods, set up and settle in for more hot pot and vodka, and yes more singing. I have an excellent sleep but wake to what I think is a cold coming on.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I'm just going to post these one after the other...they go with the last posting below, so click on "Lost in Mongolia" to understand their context.

The road to Binder Soum

Scenes along the way


Bathing in the river after a long, hot day at the office

The office

No Bridge!

Chinggis monument

The bedroom

The Hallway

Meat for dinner...