Sunday, November 13, 2011

To Ger or Not to Ger, Day 3: Intellectual Games and The Art of Wood Carvings

We started the day off with more Boorskt – the least offensive (and at times decent) of the Mongolian food.  Its an easy breakfast, dipped in the tea the stale biscuits soften up nicely, and the bits of dough left in the tea allowed me to deem all the other bits floating in the tea: dirt, dust, and assorted other unknown debris as boorskt bits.  It worked for everyone.
Boorskt.  But watch out for the few curds mixed in there.
After that it was time to ride.  I was most excited for this portion of the trip, galloping through the Gobi desert, wind at my back, no one else in sight; it was shaping up like a great day.  Then, a bit of a problem.  There were only two horses for the three guests.  And, of the two horses, only one had a western saddle.*  Thankfully, I snatched up the western saddle leaving Jesse and Dan to decide for themselves who would cram into the back seat of the motorcycle already overstuffed with our luggage, and who would take on the hard wooden saddle.
Group shot
But, before any long trips you know what you need to do?  That's hit the john.  Or the half-john.  Or whatever you want to call this...
Yup.  That's it folks.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.
Note the alarmingly situated planks offered up to support you while you do your business.
And if they fail, well, lets just say its not a pretty landing.
What to do, what to do.
After that we actually got on the road, path, we just headed directly into the desert.
Sweet set of wheels.
Oops, sorry Dan, you won't actually drive the motorcycle.  The 12 year boy will.
The ride through the Gobi was epic.  My horse galloped faster than the motorbike, and I was free to run wherever I wanted.**  Without trees or any other obstructions you could see for miles, and all we had to do was reach the next Ger by lunch time.  And believe me, I was in no rush for that.  (And that is not something you see me writing very often).

Some comfortable looking horsemen.  And Dan (off to the left).
Looks like the Gobi Desert Diet is working...
Love it.
At one point as I galloped past Jesse on her motorbike she began screaming and gesturing as women are apt to do.  I obviously ignored her and galloped onwards.  What she was trying to do, however, was inform me that at some point during my ride my backpack had opened, leaving Fatty-D and who knows what to tumble out in the Gobi desert.  Having lost Remy just a day earlier, this was a major blow.  Gesturing what had happened to our guides (a series of charades including taking photos, a camera falling out of a bag, and turning back to search), I eventually just wheeled my horse around (I know, such an accomplished rider) and began what seemed to be an overwhelming and surely impossible search.  Finding a smallish black camera somewhere in the middle of the desert; a desert filled with smallish black and gray rocks.  A desert I had wildly galloped through, free as the wind, following no path or discernible course.  Trotting back, from a distance every rock looked like Fatty-D.  It was a depressing ride.  But then, in the distance a rock looked darker than the others, and sat somewhat less firmly in the ground.  Kicking my horse we picked up speed, and there, about a kilometer back, was Fatty-D in his case.  And he still worked! (Sort of.)  Unbelievable.  A triumph in the Gobi if there ever was one. 
We walked through the desert on a horse with no name
Dan refused the horse, non-western saddle, and refused the back of the motorbike,
so he literally just walked through the desert.
Eventually we arrived, with Dan refusing to ride the horse or the motorcycle and Jesse in great pain in her Mongolian saddle, and things, as they always do around mealtime, took a turn for the worse.  For lunch today: Mutton with soupy rice.  And old, greasy khooser, made with mutton liver.  Oh boy.  But as before, Dan was clutch.  Taking down his bowl, my bowl, and more than his daily recommended liver intake he pleased everyone in the group.  Mrs. Tsogtsaikhan couldn’t believe how much this white boy liked her chow.  Jesse and I also couldn’t believe how much he liked her chow – and even better – liked it out of our bowls!
Mutton, soupy rice.  Delish.
Ooooh, khooser.  Lukewarm khooser.
Yeah, looks like a liver.
And then we saw it.  The meat locker.  The dry aging of the mutton that we enjoyed in each of our soupy rice and soupy noodle dishes.  Air drying, resting along the side of the Ger.  Using our 4-page English-Mongolian dictionary I quickly struck up a conversation with Mrs. Tsogtsaikhan about her dry-aging the mutton.  We discussed how the air drying makes the mutton not only more tender, but also concentrates the flavor producing meat that is superb in taste and texture.  Actually, not.   But it did give me second thoughts on eating any more mutton on the Gobi desert trip.
Strips of mutton dry in the side of the Ger. 
I guess its nice for a late-night snack being that it was directly next to their bed.
Dramatic Reenactment
J (pointing to the book): "Oh, you dry-age your mutton for 21 days?"
Dave (off-frame): "Hey, that is just like Morton's"
Mrs. Tsogtsaikhan (responding by pointing to dictionary): "Yes, 3 weeks of dry-aging strikes that perfect balance of tenderness while preserving the strong mutton flavor necessary to stand up to the soupy rice I serve it with.
And then, more food safety:
Boorkst drying on the roof of the Ger
More boorskt.
What's remarkable is that it is so desolate out there no animals came to eat this.  Not even birds.
(Or was it because of the taste?)

After the meal we all just hung:
The spread.
Don't think that was actual Sprite, just boiled water in a Sprite bottle.
From left to right: Dan, Mrs. Tsogtsaikhan, Jesse, Mr. Tsogtsaikhan, and me.
After so much food Dan had to lay down and rest.  Jesse, on the other hand, had eaten so little over the past few days, she also needed to lay down to rest.
Or maybe after seeing how the meat was stored they both felt a bit queasy...
And then it was time to go...
We rolled by horse cart.
Not a lot of traffic out here
But pretty awesome views.
Here a young man is herding goats on horseback
Gers in the distance
Next up: an 11 kilometer journey by horse cart to meet our Mr. Chimiddorj, arguably the handsomest man in Mongolia, and his family.
Why hello, handsome.
Jesse I may have had a bit of a crush on him.
Mr. C and his family were really nice and after setting up our tents, we were invited into the Ger for some dinner.  Dinner was a bit of a surprise.  The Chimiddorjs, it seems, are a more wealthy family, and it showed in the food.  They served up, mutton, rice, and, wait for it, potato!  Yum.  Well, not 100% yum, but the potato bits were of a familiar flavor and texture, and we ate them all straight away.  But then, what were we left with?  Mutton and soupy rice.  Oh boy.  Chalk up one more dash for the “your food is so good, but I am so full, how about a game of Shagai?” dance.
Oh, hello potatoes.
Best meal so far.  Easily.  Bottom 10% of meals on the trip so far.  Easily.
This is where we'd set up our tent.
Here I cruise the Gobi with Twinny Brown.
Mr. Chimiddorj on his bike
Mr. Chimiddorj deep in thought as the sun sets.
I imagine him pondering things like, why have these foreigners come here?  Are they 100% crazy?
Mr. Chimiddorj showed us the "campground" and briefly helped us set up our tents.
Then he sent Mrs. Chimiddorj to help Jesse execute.  The men helpfully supervised.
Success.  Two little tents in one big Gobi.
Another awesome sunset.
That evening we successfully endured our first night of camping in the rain.  In the Gobi desert!  I know.  The desert, where it rains like once a decade!  But rain it did.  Thankfully, our Ger to Ger tent was a champ and we stayed plenty dry.  Cozy even.

* A western saddle is a far more comfortable saddle than a traditional Mongolian one.  And while it can be uncomfortable to ride on a western saddle, it is nearly torture for a westerner to ride on a Mongolian one

1 comment:

  1. Ah Mongolia, how I miss thee... It realy is another world all the way over there! Hope you guys are well.


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