After a long 10 hour drive across the lands south of Ulaanbaatar to the north of the Gobi Desert, we finally arrived at our lodging in Baga Gazriin. Soyoloo had tried calling ahead but our hosts did not answer. I wondered if it was normal to arrive without notice. Soyoloo told me that they always expected guests, more so in the summer months but also in the winter. As we pulled in I noticed the isolated tranquility of the three gers. I watched the smoke billow out of the chimney and I looked forward to getting inside and having some hot chai. When I stepped out of our truck, it seemed like we were in the middle of what felt like nowhere. Aside from the stable next to the gers, there was not much out here. In the stable I saw some horses, cows, and of course, a herd of goats.
We were greeted by one of the sons of the proprietor of the guest house (ger). He was just driving out on his motorcycle to check on some of the animals grazing nearby. I took a photo of him on his motorcycle noticing the large arm warmers that I have seen on so many of the motorbikes here. The long sleeves of the Mongolian jacket are inserted in handlebar gloves preventing the icy cold wind from blowing up the driver’s sleeves. The son directed us to the main lodge where the mother of the house was busy preparing the family for winter.
When I first walked in I was a bit taken by surprise. The entire ger was full of large bowls of goat parts. It seems that we arrived right in the middle of “wintering down” for the cold season. Part of preparing for winter includes storing meat for the cold months. Just prior to our arrival our hosts had slaughtered 9 goats and were in the process of butchering them and parting them out based on body part.
Soyoloo looked visibly nervous; he was not sure how I would react. He asked if I was troubled by the butchering that was going on as we arrived and I told him not to worry about it. I explained to him that this was not a first for me; as a deer hunter, I have hunted and harvested deer. While I understand and respect the feelings and beliefs of my vegetarian friends, I hope that they respect my practice of eating meat. I do believe that having to kill and butcher your own meat gives you a higher respect for where food comes from – a lesson that could be taught to many Americans who waste food with wanton abandon. I also explained to Soyoloo that I came on this trip to see and experience the local culture, customs, and lifestyle of the Mongolian people. What better way to see the daily lives of Mongolian herders than to arrive at the peak of the winter slaughter? I felt privileged to be able to see their unique way of life and to watch firsthand how they survive in this harsh environment. I hope that any reader of this story would have an appreciation for a hearty people who raise and produce their own food; there is no McDonalds or 7/11 on the corner here.
Regardless of my wishes, the family hurried to clear the main ger of the bowls of goat parts. The woman of the house served us hot chai and inquired of Soyoloo the latest news and gossip. The daughters and granddaughters of the home scurried about moving the goat meat to another ger. They continued processing the goats out of my sight. In the interest of those who do not want to see dead animals, I would recommend skipping the next blog post.
After finishing some warming Chai, Soyoloo and I went outside to help Simya cover the truck. He explained that it gets so cold that the oil will freeze up and it will be impossible to start the car in the morning. Part of the strategy, in addition to covering the car is that Simya will go out at 9 or 10 pm and run the engine until it is warm. The warm engine covered in the canvas tarp should stay warm enough until morning and then he will go out again at 5 or 6 am and run the truck to keep it from freezing over.
After we finished covering the truck, I asked Simya to take my photo in front of the gers. His driving was ok, but his camera work could use some practice judging by the angle of the shot – LOL. You can see the solar just over my shoulder. It powers the lights at night and the television during the day and afternoon. All you need is a 12 volt car battery, a solar panel and a voltage converter for the tv and lights. It is a great way to have lighting at night way out in the middle of nowhere.
I wanted to test out my new boots & hat so I took a walk through the ankle-deep snow until I was a good distance from our ger camp and then I took the shot below. It was quite cold but I was coping OK in the new boots. Away from the chatting of the family, I could barely hear the wind as it blew over the snow blown landscape.
I enjoyed the silence and the cold wind as it blew loose snowflakes across the barren landscape. I continued taking photos as the sun set and enjoyed the tranquil view…
By the time I came back to the gers it was getting quite dark outside. One of the sons was feeding a goat and a calf and I took a moment to talk with him and ask him about his life here in the desert.
Inside out ger, Soyoloo took my photo. I was quite shocked to see how colorful the ger was as we had only a candle to light the room. The colors of the carpets did not show in the candle, they only appeared in the camera’s flash.
I continued to be impressed as Soyoloo created a culinary masterpiece of rice & seaweed, potatoes and carrots, & beef. I cannot sufficiently describe how good this meal tasted; it was truly wonderful.
After dinner we were invited to our host’s ger for more chai. After I arrived I witnessed a ritual that seemed to be tied to the goat slaughter earlier in the day. A large bowl of goat meat was passed around and each person took a piece of meat from the bowl, cut off a portion and ate it. After a piece was eaten, the bowl was passed again. While we ate goat meat and drank chai I asked many questions about the family and learned that our host had 8 children and many grandchildren. Three of the girls that I met (ages 18, 19, & 26) were his daughters and the 17-year-old girl was his granddaughter. His 26-year-old son and daughter-in-law had a 1-year-old baby.
The entire time that the goat meat bowl was being passed, the family cat looked on with great interest. Eventually, he was given some goat meat which he heartily ate up. In many ways this family is like families from America with the family cat and family time after dinner.
Outside it was so clear that I could clearly see the Milky-Way and thousands of other stars. Even on my silly little Sony Cybershot camera I could capture these stars:
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