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.

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