pictured above: (left) Dalaihan’s brother, Khavlet, Scott, and Dalaihan (right) enjoying chai (tea) in Altai Village
Our drive continued until dusk. When we finally arrived in Altai Villlage, there was just enough light to make out the ground under our feet. Baatar directed Khavlet to drive us to the local store so that we could buy provisions before it closed. When we got out of the Scooby-Doo van, the cold air bit into my lungs like I had never felt before. I would later find out that the temperature was about -20C (-4F). At my first breath, I coughed uncontrollably, it felt as if I had sucked acid into my lungs. I had to learn to breath more gradually when going outside in the cold conditions. Baatar made his way inside while I made my way to the outhouse. Another lesson in cold weather: do your business fast; its not only the hands that get cold.
I made my way towards the “general store,” front door. On the way there, I smelled something familiar. It smelled like a metallic fleshy smell. It smelled like blood. I looked down and saw a dark black circular swirl of liquid on the ground and another 3 or 4 feet away and third about ten feet away. My initial feeling was that an animal had been killed here - and recently. I opened the door of the “general store,” and saw blood and drag marks all throughout the fourier. They all led to the door on the left. I peeked inside and saw what could best be described as a goat and sheep slaughter session in progress. There were animal parts and a few women with cleavers going to town. Just then, Baatar popped his head out of the other door (the door on the right) and said, “Over here, come his way.”
I made my way into the second room to at last find the “general store.” We loaded up on potatoes, some vegetables, and some other staple foods as well as vodka (as a gift for our hunting team), some chocolate for the kids, and a few beers to drink with dinner. Baatar excercised his experience and purchased a few packages of baby wipes. These would later turn out to be invaluable for washing whenever warm water was not available.
Altai Village “general store”
After the store, we drove to Dalaihan’s house. Dalaihan is the owner of the Ealge that we will be hunting with. His son, Alpamys also owns an eagle and is training it to be a hunting eagle. Immidiately on arrival, I was invited into the living room where we had chat (tea) with goat milk (top photo). On Dalaihan’s wall I could see some of the trophies from his previous hunts, several fox pelts and some rabbit pelts. I also saw several photos of him on previous hunts with German, French, Italian, Japanese, and Korean tourists. I also met Dalaihan’s wife and daughters. The family was very friendly and made me feel welcomed in their home.
After we finished our chai, we loaded into the van to drive to Shar-Gobi, the location of Dalaihan’s winter cabin. His son, brother, and his brother’s wife and children were wintering at the lodge and would be taking care of us during our hunt. After I loaded into the front seat I heard a high pitched chirping sound. I turned around and to my surprise there was a huge eagle sitting behind me; I had almost forgot that he was coming along for the ride!
After we piled into the Scooby-Doo van, we began driving out of Altai Village heading towards Shar-Gobi. We came to several creeks and rivers and we jsut drove right over them. They were not completely frozen and several times, one or more of the wheels cracked the ice and slipped a little. The whole time, the ice groaned and creeked and gave me a very uneasy feeling. Even during the day the roads were rough, at night, they were just as rought but it was harder to see the pot-holes. We bounced around and around, the eagle chirping the whole way.
Well Kris, you requested video, here it is. I shot this video as we drove from Altai Village to Shar-Gobi. You can see how dark it is, how bumpy the road is, and you can hear the eagle chirping all the way.
Eventually, we began to slow down and Baatar asked me to put my camera away. I asked him what was going on and he said that we were approaching a military check point. The truck slowed and then stopped at a gate arm. I couldn’t see anything and then suddenly, a Mongolian soldier came into view from the left side of the truck. He was very tall and wore huge boots, a thick hat and a massive jacket. He had an AK-47 rifle slung across his back and with each breath a huge bellow of steam came from his mouth. With the engine and the heater of the truck turned off, the piercing cold bit right into me. I hoped again that my “loaner” jacket, gloves and hat would be available. The soldier called to an officer who came out and examined our paperwork and eventually let us pass.
When we arrived at the hunting lodge, it was quite late. Dalaihan’s boys were still wide awake and eager to see the western visitor. His wife, Khashy, had hot chai waiting for us. The men all sat in the living room and chatted about the drive. We broke out some beers to toast the hunt. When Dalaihan started looking for a bottle opener, I reached into my bag and pulled out my leatherman. When I opened it, the Kazakh men’s eyes opened wide and then they asked to see my multi-tool. It was passed around and they all complimented its design. After a little while, Khashy brought out a huge dish of potatoes, carrots and sheep meat. It was heavily oiled and hot; after a long drive, it had to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Knowing that we had to get up early, we went to bed right after dinner.
Dalaihan checks out my leatherman multi-tool
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