The Alternative Olympics: 12 July 2006 (Wednesday)


I guess none of us should have been too surprised that our leader Robin wasn’t around for our Naadam departure at 9am. The groggy voice that answered my insistent knocking could hardly be called human. Poor Robin had had a very bad night. He had fallen out with a friend subsumed with alcohol and an argument over the fairer sex. All this we learned much later. We left him be and instead hopped into a single van (Scott had to lie down on the floor to fit) and were led by Jargalan. We were to see traditional Mongolian wrestling, archery and anklebone throwing.

The wrestling was done outside and resembled sumo wrestling. I’m not sure what the rules were but the combatants locked onto each other regardless of weight and size until one wrestled the other to the ground. Apparently a wrestling much can last up to several days. While the two were locked at the shoulders struggling with each other, the referees moved around them slapping the contestants on the butt. Why? I have no idea, maybe it was to get blood flowing, maybe it was to speed things up. Maybe they just liked having their butts slapped.

Around the corner were the other major events: archery and anklebone throwing. As you can imagine from their military prowess 800 years ago, Mongolians were some of the greatest archers in the world. In today’s events, men and women were accurately shooting about 200m or more at the targets which were small cans surrounded by judges. Yes, the arrows flew directly at people sometimes and I’m sure they would hurt despite the arrows being tipped with cork.

Anklebone throwing was perhaps the most unique of the sports. Inside a small warehouse, three men sat on the floor squared against each other flicking bones from a launch board made of wood. The targets were a pair of anklebones on a table. This itself wasn’t that unusual but the process and surroundings certainly were. All the contestants and judges who sat around in a circle were continuously chanting deep notes in a very weird and apparently luck inducing harmony.

After these two events we were supposed to head out to see a monument but with heavy rains seemingly moving in, most of our van decided to return to the hotel, do errands, get laundry done and so on before we would have to leave in the morning for the countryside. As it was, the weather cleared up and the other group had a spectacular time.

When we had arrived, Robin had finally exited his room. Actually, Derek walked into his room unannounced while Robin was apparently contemplating in the nude. Derek opted to stay in while the rest of us headed out for food and groceries for our trip. Scott and I picked up a bottle of vodka each and in a fit of insanity picked up three dollar bottles of wine (labeled “Madness”) and a Mongolian liqueur.

Lori was incredibly happy about having discovered a replacement backpack. Apparently she had bought her current backpack over the Internet only to discover that it was a top-loading pack. She hated not having the ability to open it up like a suitcase. She has vowed to donate her second backpack to a deserving person during our trip.

Our plan for the evening is supper at an Indian restaurant, sleep and early morning rise to start our journey across Mongolia.

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