The next morning we meet our driver/guide/”translator” and set out in our awesome Russia van on our private tour. Our tour was going to be a bit different than the typical tour, since it was just Liz, the driver and myself, and we were between typical tourist seasons. The plan was that everything was going to be done communally, setting up camp, cooking, etc. That sounded great to us. We were excited that we’d probably get to do somethings we wouldn’t have on our own and overall just thankful that we weren’t starving to death in the rain walking back to civilization without any horses.
As we made our way toward Tavan Bodg National Park we got to experience another first… Russian Van Races. Out here there is nothing paved, roads are more like tracks through a field and are completely optional. Passing is done whenever, wherever and why ever. And they drive FAST! I mean REALLY FAST. Especially if the drivers know each other… and there is some pride on the line. With a bit lost in translation it seemed that the loser provided beer at the next stopping point.
Once in the park we stopped to visit and Eagle hunter. No. No. Not someone who hunts eagles, but someone who hunts with eagles. It’s basically the traditional Mongolian version of falconry. It was pretty cool. From there it was on to meet the family we’d be staying with for the next few days.
We pulled up to 2 gers with 6 or 7 kids running around and about 500 goats. We were quickly greeted by the kids, our host Erbolot and his wife. They invited us in and promptly offered us tea and an assortment of cheeses. We’d be staying in their ger and experiencing ger life for the next few days before Erbolot escorted us on a 5 day horseback ride around Khoton Lake.
From the outside gers are pretty nondescript and all look exactly the same; big round white tents. But on the inside they are absolutely beautiful. Decorated with brightly colored handmade wall coverings. There is a warm stove burning in the evenings and no shortage of dairy products. Liz and I quickly settled in to ger life, milking the goats, eating cheese, playing with kids, and experience the dominant culture in western Mongolia, Kazakh (From Kazakhstan). Oh, and zero English.. It was a great opportunity to practice our Kazakh language skills… which consisted of one word “Рахмет!” which means thank you and is pronounced Rax-met! With a deep guttural hack for the “Rrrrackmet!” They always laughed when I said it but I think they got the idea.
Over the next few days Erbolot and our driver took us to visit waterfalls and other ger families and to some of the regional historical sites. Which, our driver who didn’t really speak much English at all, explained to us as “dead people.”
Ger life moves pretty slowly on steppe … even after almost a year of travel and being out of the corporate rat race, coming to grips with South American siesta, and being OK with only accomplishing maybe one thing for the day, it felt slow. Glacial would be a good way to describe it but it was really nice to relax and just enjoy the wide-open spaces.
Then came Liz’s expertise; The milking. After a quick tutorial (broken English) she was alternating in with the rest of the ger girls and filing buckets. The oldest daughter (who was learning English in school) was so impressed she asked Liz “How many goats do you have?” … thinking back on it we’re not so sure that wasn’t a joke.
And finally once all the mama goats have been milked and removed from the rope it’s time for that last step and most important step; letting the babies out of the pin.