Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To Ger or Not to Ger: Day 4 - Nomadic Art of Felt Making and Trekking through Mongolia’s Monolithic Ih Gazriin Chuluu

Trekking through Ih Gazriin Chuluu
Like each day before, it was a rough morning. That mutton, rice and POTATO soup we had for dinner last night was now this morning’s breakfast. But, of course, all the potatoes were gone, and the rice had turned especially soupy. Oh boy. Another morning with boortsog and tea for breakfast.
Yeah.  Now that's a good way to start your day.
And based on the Ger to Ger itinerary, “Today is the day that you have been eagerly been anticipating.” Because today, we “would start an unforgettable 13 kilometer trek through Ih Gazriin Chuluu and be truly over taken by the massiveness of this location. Like a National Geographic documentary, let your imagination free, 65 million years ago these were ocean canyons and before that it was the stomping grounds of herds of TREXs.” Don’t worry, at first we didn’t know what a TREX was either. Some sort of giant earth-mover or other massive piece of machinery? A souped-up ATV that we could take dune blasting? No, TREX is the king of the dinosaurs, the tyrannosaurus rex.
TREX shawdows
The hike was spectacular, with scenery unlike any we had seen in our lives. Some low lying clouds brought a light rain, but it didn’t “dampen” the experience.  We walked the 13 kilometers.  Our luggage, along with Mr. Tsembeldorj, went by motorbike.  I was only slightly jealous.
We wrapped up the hike at Mr. Tsembeldorj’s Ger. Where we did some more trekking through the truly impressive Ih Gazriin Chuluu area. We even made a quick visit to the monument erected in memory of Mongolia’s most famous long singer, Mrs. Norovbanzad. We have heard plenty of Mongolian music on our bus rides to appreciate a good long Mongolian song. The only kind I liked more was a short Mongolian song!  And because many of you readers won't have the chance to visit Mrs. Norovbanzad's monument, I've included a few extra photos.  My favorite?  The parking sign the Mongolians erected to handle the massive crowds coming to honor Mrs. Norovbanzad.

And, of course, a few more TREX poses
That evening, we returned to the Ger for dinner. But Tumenbayar (Mr. Tsembeldorj’s wife) was rolling out fresh dough for noodles! Perhaps tonight would be the night we fell in love with Mongolian food! After a quick dry on the very clean roof of the Ger she sliced them up and boiled them with, you guessed it, mutton, but also potatoes, onions, and even a speck of carrot! And the soup wasn’t bad. Served with a dark green spinachy vegetable (we still don’t know what it was) for the first time both Jesse and I joined Dan in the Clean Plate Club (Ger style). And though Dan went for a second bowl, Jesse and I were content to just stare at our empty bowls. The only downside of Tumenbayar excellent cooking? Her bucket of cow-dung served a dual purpose: the dung served as the fuel for the fire, and it also served as the cooking utensil holder. We just tried not to think about that as we slurped down our well-mixed soup.

Fresh noodles (with just a hint of roof), mutton, potatoes, onions, and even a few carrots!  Whoa!
And it wasn't so bad.  In fact, it was actually pretty good
(to be fair though I think our taste buds were slightly off)
In any event, look at that!  Clean bowl club.  Bam.
Good for fuel.  Bad as a utensil rest.
After dinner we sat with the family and enjoyed some freshly fried bootsog, which were really nice. Soft and lightly sweet, you could really taste the fat dissolving and coating your tongue.
Hanging with the Tsembeldorj family.
They played us some traditional Mongolian music on the horse-head fiddle.
The fiddle is made from wood, not a horse's head.  I know, I was dissappointed too,
Instead, the name comes from the top of the fiddle was has a carved horses head.
And in case you were wondering what exactly our English-Mongolian dictionary looked like?
Here it is.  Pretty limited.  Our favorite?  "Hold your dog!" 
It turns out this is a pretty important phrase because Mongolians keep big mean dogs for protection.
The Tsembeldorjs, however, had the cutest dog I've ever seen.
He just laid outside the door of the Ger waiting to play with any of us.
[JLM: In fact, he was so cute that I petted him for about an hour. Later in the day I tried to give a little love to the other dog. The first dog then attacked the second dog and I was in the middle of a crazy dog love triangle, or in reality, a vicious dog fight. The family had to throw shovelfuls of dirt on the dogs to separate them. That was the end of Gobi dog affection for me.]

With our bellies full we had our final evening activity. Building a mini-ger next to the real Ger. It was interesting to see how they built their homes that they deconstruct and reconstruct multiple times a year. It was also fun to place the miniature furniture they had to make the experience more authentic. We especially liked the fairly accurate oldey-time TV, think rabbit ears (well, satellite dish) and big clunky channel knob. We’re still not sure how will it would hold up against a TREX.
How can we teach children to learn how to read provide Mongolians homes if they can't even fit inside the building?
What is this? A school ger for ants?
The Ger has to be at least... three times bigger than this!
But the model was remarkably accurate.  Seriously.
Model Ger (foreground).  Actual Ger (background).
Inside the actual Ger. (Dan sits quietly reading)
Inside the model Ger. (Dan shoves his hand through the roof to give perspective)
Here Jesse tries to catch a signal on the TV from the model Ger kit.
Even in the Gobi there is still nothing worth watching...
But, of course, the final test for any Ger is to see whether it could stand up to a TREX attack.  And while thankfully we didn't find any actual TREXs, I did my best simulation.

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