Our driver Oogi knew a family near an extinct volcano at the edge of a beautiful lake. He asked if we wanted to go visit them, and of course we jumped at the chance! We had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. This family had about three gers that they lived in, and as guests we were put in their main living quarters. We felt a little bad about this, but they were extremely insistent (and of course we paid for the privilege). We spent a day just hanging out, playing with their kids, and riding horses all around the area. We hiked up to the extinct volcano, peered in the old crater, and then the head of the family took us to a nearby cave that was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen. The entire floor of the cave was covered in about six inches of water, but underneath the water was solid ice! We never did find out if it ever completely melts, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that there was always permanent ice there.

That evening we were fed fresh mutton for dinner. In fact it was so fresh that we got to watch the sheep being slaughtered and prepared. Mongolians don’t like to waste any part of an animal, so they’ve developed a unique way of killing their animals that preserves everything, including every drop of blood. You start by catching the sheep, and then rolling it over on it’s back…then you take your trusty Mongolian army knife and make a slit in the sheep’s chest, just below the rib cage. Next, reach your whole hand in there, feel around for the aorta connecting to the heard, and rip it in two. The sheep will bleed to death internally, only taking about 45 seconds to lose consciousness. We’d thought that our driver might have been a bit of a city boy until we watched how expertly he went about helping the family. The whole family helped, doing everything from skinning the animal, to emptying the intestines out. They cooked most of it for our dinner, and then the rest went into the refrigerator…or as they call it, under the bed in the guest ger!

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