Thursday, November 10, 2011

To Ger or Not to Ger, Day 2: Desert Trekking and "Shagai"

Desert Trekking
We woke up to another misadventure.  And it had nothing to do with our tent.  It had to do with breakfast.  What we thought was a strange looking omelet turned out to be Urum – the thick layer of skin that is formed when boiling milk is stirred with a wooden dipper as it cools.  Supposedly, this is a real treat.
It had a milky flavor (no surprise there) and was thick and creamy, but not in a good way.  Like the thickest yogurt you can imagine, but without any tart or tangy flavor.  So, we mostly stuck to the milk tea for breakfast.

Next we enjoyed our host’s foreign coin and currency collection.  With coins and bills dating back to the 1930s it was an interesting collection.  We contributed some Chinese Yuan, Korean Dong, and Nepalese Rupees (the least value coin in the collection).  We said goodbye and began a short trek 2 kilometer desert trek to Mr. Nyamsuren's Ger.
All the money was so cutely stored in plastic zip-lock bags.
Some of the bills were really old, like 1920s and 1930s.  Cool.
We said goodbye to the kids.
We walked.
Our luggage went by motorbike.
We said goodbye to the adults.
We were received with traditional Mongolian hospitality, with hot milk tea and aruul.  Aruul, as you may know, is curdled milk dehydrated in the air and the sun.  There is no limit to its shelf life.  There is also no limit to its grossness.  Actually, as far as traditional Mongolian food goes, the aruul was far from the worst.  It tastes like really hard parmesan cheese, really hard, really sour, bad parmesan cheese.
You think those look like delicious shortbread or cookies?  Wrong.
Just curdled milk, dried.
After nibbling on the aruul we again gestured how full we were.  The awkward silence was thankfully broken when the little girl recruited us into a game of “Shagai”; the national Mongolian game.  It is like playing “marbles” but you use the ankle bones of sheep.  Seriously.  This game became a great way to pass the time with our host families.  We quickly learned the rules* and often called for it whenever there was a dull moment, or we needed to divert attention from the minimal amount of food we were able to take down.
Looks like a winning flick.
The look of a Shagai master
* Rules of Shagai: You toss a big bunch of ankle bones onto the floor of the Ger.  As you know, a sheep’s ankle bone can land in one of four positions: horse, camel, sheep, or goat.  Using your fingers you then flick the ankle bones into one another.  But, you can only flick those bones that have landed in the same position into one another.  That is, horse onto horse, camel onto camel and so on.  If you miss, or can’t play (there are no similarly positioned ankle bones) the next player picks the remaining bones up and tosses them to begin his or her turn.  Fun, right?

Here Mr. Nyamsuren shows me another Mongolian pastime: wrestling.
Thankfully, I didn't have to break out any of my varisty moves because Mrs. Nyamsuren served up lunch.
(but I think Mr. N was in for a big surprise had the match not been interrupted...)
For example, right after we learned Shagai we were served lunch.  It was mutton with soupy rice.  We struggled mightily, but could barely get it down.  Dan, as always, crushed his bowl and definitely took seconds, maybe thirds.  The ladies of Gobi sure loved feeding him.  After stirring and picking for a respectable amount of time, we, as you now know, went to our tried and true gesturing of how good the food was and how full we were.  And, then broke right into an enthusiastic request for more Shagai!
I thought to myself, "maybe it will look better once its served"

Actually not.
Actually not at all.
 This was going to be a struggle:

And I take the tiniest bite I've ever taken in my whole life.  But, its a real bite.
And I look around expressing how delicious I find it to be.
And I try to sneak bits into Jesse's bowl.
Faker!  This is a fake.  Look at Ms. Shifty Eyes.
Not a drop is she eating.  NOT A DROP.
Meanwhile, not everyone shared our view of the Mongolian cuisine:
And this little loved it so much he got to lick the spoon!
I guess its all a matter of taste.
As our visit at Mr. Nyamsuren's Ger came to a close we loaded up onto a camel cart (a giant wooden plank hitched to the back of a camel) for the 10 kilometer desert ride to the next nomadic family.  But first we took some obligatory fun double-hump camel pics!

Ger to Ger described this portion of the trip noting that “traveling by camel carts touches the romantic senses in most people, please note that it is definitely an experience and a humorous one in most cases too! But experiencing is believing.”  It was a cryptic description before the ride, and remains one even after we experienced it.  Whatever it meant, the ride was fun (though when the sun pounds down on the shadeless Gobi it can be brutally hot) and we soon arrived at Mr. Gundambuu’s Ger for more milk tea, khooser (mutton dumplings – but this time they were room temperature, which is worse than lukewarm), and boorskt (slightly sweet, usually stale, fried dough).  We stuck mostly to the boorskt and milk tea.  Though at this point we shared some of our goodies, a delicious, juicy, sweet clementine – I don’t think fruit has ever tasted so good – and a large bowl of spicy Korean ramen noodles.  The host mother tried to take a bite, but ended up with almost the entire noodle mass in her mouth.  We all had a good laugh over that.
Room temperature khooser
Inside of a room temperature khooser
She struggled with the factory-produced mass of ramen noodles
(she is reaching for the single bowl that she uses for all other meals)
I offered to demonstrate the proper way to eat, enjoy, and savor a Gobi ramen...
The rest of time with the Gundambuu family was delightful.  We wandered around the Gobi, taught the kids how to unlock and lock and relock our luggage locks, saw a larger goat milking operation and read our kindles as the sun set in the Gobi.
The amazing Gobi
Our super-cute little friend.  She loved our tent.
Neither she, nor I, loved having our faces washed
It's a lot of goats.  I'm glad I had no role in this milking
This guy loved twinny brown so much.  He even loved taking our luggage to our room tent!

Sunset in the Gobi
Other Assorted Day 2 Photos
Camel and camel cart
Horse friends

Checking out some of the day's photos

Its a big place

1 comment:

  1. No wonder you look thin in these pictures, you had barely eaten all week (not that I blame you...I wouldn't have eaten anything either). Love, Mom


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