Tuesday afternoon’s adventure was to go see the “reindeer people” who live in the area. We were to be treated to a Shaman dance if it was possible, but as the water continued to pour from the heavens, we realized that no self-respecting Shaman would attempt to entertain annoying foreigners in such weather. Nevertheless we visited their encampment. The “Reindeer People” are Mongolians whose livelihood derives from their domesticated reindeer. They are more shamanic and less Buddhist than the rest of Mongolia. Instead of mare’s milk or yak milk, it is the reindeer that provide their cheese and so on. As they say you can pretty much milk anything with tits and an udder (get it out of your head… you can’t milk me!). They live in teepee like structures which immediately bring to mind North American Native peoples.
We visited the one family who had just moved into the area. Supposedly they are very nomadic and moved ten times or more a month. The family was quite inviting despite the man shivering under covers in the dwelling. Turns out he had fallen off a horse and suffered a serious concussion. Their Shaman had gone to find someone who could “massage the brain back into the right place”. Despite this tragedy they were all very nice as they were turned into a human zoo. Ugh. I guess all peoples must make money despite setbacks.
The plan for the evening was a bonfire created by the camp staff. When they say “bonfire” in Mongolia, I know now they mean a giant blaze with enough heat to melt one’s face off. Music blared and vodka warmed as we danced the night away to everything from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack to “Barbie Girl”-type dance mixes. The lovely local folks also saw to it that they play some Bhangra rock music seeing as how I looked Indian and all. Well into the wee hours of the morning I danced and drank and had a lovely time chatting with a girl named Nirgwe whose English was as good as Jargalan’s.
Some interesting developments happened during the day an night. Our intrepid leader Robin got closer to Jargalan. We (Derek, Scott and I) had been suggesting that Jargalan was interested in him. He had talked to her all afternoon only to be told that she had a boyfriend (or something). Later that night though they hooked up in some form. Details have been omitted as loose tongues need tying up. Derek, Scott and I were fine with it all, just “don’t let it interfere with the trip”.
Wednesday was hangover-central. I think I had had too many vodkas than was necessary. Our drive took us from Khosvgol Lake, through Moron again and finally to a homestay on our way to White Lake where we were due to spend two nights. Sarah was in fine form during the trip where she launched into such classics as “Oh McDonald” and other children’s songs. No penmanship can possibly describe her brilliant ability to mimic farm animals and especially the goats alongside the road. Derek had apparently discovered a fascination for “Bon-Aqua” water. Meanwhile, Danielle’s iPod ran out of juice and decided to alleviate her boredom by tormenting me. We created a new driving game: “Punch Twinkie” based on “Punch Buggy”. We were to punch each other if we saw another Twinkie on the road. She won. The conversation turned to Sarah’s realization that female cows in Mongolia had horns and were not male at all, unless, she said, “they were transsexual cows wearing horns to hide their femininity!”
In the more bouncy Green Twinkie, Robin’s hangover was deteriorating at a rabid pace. The poor guy was looking haggard by lunch and near comatose by the time we arrived at the homestay. Did I mention that today was his birthday? I daresay he felt many more years than his young 28. We will be celebrating his and Jargalan’s 21st birthday the next night when we arrived at White Lake. We picked up the wife of the person whose Gir we would be staying in at the wonderfully named town of Moron and drove about three hours to her home.
Having had most of our entrails bounced to hell, in inquiring “How much farther Papa Smurf?” we were given the answer, “Not much farther now, Twinkie Smurfs, only ten more kilometres”. In most countries this would normally give an accurate depiction of distance remaining. In Mongolia, time and distances are warped in a fashion only Dr. Who could possibly understand. The ten kilometre journey turned out to be literally over the hill and five minutes away. It could also be that a traditional response to any distance is “ten kilometres”.
At one point in the Twinkie, Sarah initiated this conversation:
“Hey Jargalan, do Girs come in any other colour?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, can I have a pink Gir for instance, I’d like to have a pink Gir!”
(laughing) “No Sarah, that is not possible, Mongolians only have white Girs!”
Well, what do you know… in the distance at the homestay were a number of Girs shining white in the evening light. Shining even pinker was one Gir. Jargalan was speechless; Sarah was ecstatic. To her dismay it was not to be her Gir for the night and wasn’t even erected in her honour.
Apparently the family had just moved into the area and were just settling in building Gers, sheep pens and so on. This family was larger and wealthier than our last home stay judging from the state of the Girs and the number of cattle. Our supper was to be barbecued mutton prepared by Grey Twinkie driver and master Mongolian chef, Naidam. The meat he cooked may just have been some of the best meat I have ever had. As noted earlier, I have given up all pretense of vegetarianism whilst in Mongolia, where the animals roam free and have happy lives before being placed onto my dinner plate. It also means that after I leave Ulaanbaatar if I want to have meat I will have to fly to Mongolia. Them’s the breaks!
The family was really cool and allowed me into the goat pen to capture goats for milking. It was a lot harder than it looked. The downside was that my clothes stank of goat for the next 24 hours. I pity the rest of the crew.
Of note was the soap-opera involving Robin and Jargalan. The two had decided to go have a chat or what not for a couple of hours during the cooking. By now, most of the group had realized that something was up. Unfortunately the two decided to do this at a time when we were requiring the translation and guiding services at a home stay. They also decided to do their “chatting” on a hillside viewable by all. I had decided to climb a hill in the opposite directions and the drama was only explained to me on my return. Everyone had noticed the pair and had used zoom lenses and binoculars to find and watch them.
Meanwhile, Derek had also gone hiking up the hill. He stayed on the hill for several hours and missed the meal in order to capture some spectacular sunset photos. I have yet to ask Robin or Derek what happened when Derek caught up to the pair, and frankly I could care less. The group, for the most part, seemed annoyed by their timing. Ah well.
Our sleeping arrangements were pretty simple. We had two Girs shared with the family, one for the boys and one for the girls. In order to ensure sanity, Steve had kindly offered to sleep in the van, he being the loudest snorer. Ironically, he likely had the best sleep. We had to follow Mongolian tradition and sleep with our feet facing the door, which unfortunately led to our heads being downhill. Despite the pooling of blood in my brain by the next morning, I actually had a fairly good night’s sleep. The girls in their Gir did not.
The story was that the wife’s husband, a rather portly gentleman had come to sleep with his wife in the girl’s Gir. They decided to perform their coupling duties despite the foreigners in the tent. There were many theories on this. Did he want to show those foreigners who was the man of the house (Gir)? Or was it a simple case of a different culture where the closeness of people in a Gir is not a big deal? We will likely never know. What we do know is that the girls were treated to headboard shaking, moaning and groaning.
The morning dawned bright, cold and clear. After the groups switched vans off we disappeared into the Mongolian sunrise and roads less travelled. Our goal for today was to reach White Lake, a lake surrounded by extinct volcanoes. Naturally, up to this point the health of our Twinkies have been too good to be true. The Green Twinkie was now overheating and a few times the gasoline just bubbled out of the tank. I’m beginning to wonder what a roasted Twinkie would look like.
Along the way to White Lake, we ran into two girls and a guy from Australia. This being a small world and Mongolia being smaller, it turns out that these were folks with whom Sarah had shared her train from Moscow. Naturally the two girls were cute and we attempted to keep tabs on them as they would be at White Lake as well. Let me tell you, riding the Green Twinkie on these Mongolian roads is no picnic. I think this time my innards switched places a couple times during the bumps.
Despite the bumpy ride we arrived at the tourist Gir Camp at White Lake at the appointed hour. Scott had come up with a rating system for the tourist Gir camps. We suggested ths camp is a “three horse and a goat” camps. Despite the cleanliness and the well-run facilities, it cannot beat the four horse rating of the Blue Pearl at Khosvgol Lake. The difference was in the hospitality.
The lake is surrounded by hills and mountains and some of these flat tops look like the extinct volcanoes that we were supposed to find here. Scott and I are sharing a Gir this time.
Tonight is the night of the big birthday celebration for Robin and Jargalan (her real birthday is tomorrow though). We started after supper (and much needed showers, laundry and use of various facilities), we then moved the party to Steve and Barbro’s Gir. Much vodka was drunk and finally with the fire crackling in the hearth, our Girs facing the white capped lake, we pushed into a deep sleep.