Four of us from the Geekcorps expedition have successfully returned from a trip out to the countryside of Mongolia. We left Friday afternoon, and headed out to a place called Tsaggan Nuur, or “White Lake”. We borrowed a Toyota 4 runner, and drove about 6 hours northwest to get to our destination. According to my GPS, we were only about 10 kilometers from the Russian border, but there was a big mountain range in our way so it wasn’t possible to actually go there. We stayed with a Mongolian family, who didn’t have any running water, and electricity for only a few hours a night.
Staying with the family was our first exposure to how much arkii (vodka) that the Mongolians actually drink. Our first morning we set out to visit a local herder, and have a picnic near the Selenge river. Before we left the house we’d already finished off a bottle of vodka, and by the time lunch was cooked, we’d finished two more! We did learn the proper Mongolian way to open a new bottle. It involves an elaborate ceremony where you offer a splash to the sky, a splash for the mountains, and a final splash for the ground. To do this you dip your fingers in a bowl of freshly opened vodka, and using your middle and ring fingers, you flick the vodka in the three different directions. If there is a fire nearby, you have to offer a splash to it as well.
After a lunch of mutton stew and noodles cooked over a fire we headed off to a herder’s ger. Apparently this family was fairly well off by local standards. Wealth in the steppes is measured by the size of a family’s herd of animals. This family had been lucky and survived the previous winter with few losses. This was our first experience with traditional ger hospitality. We entered (making sure not to step on the threshold), and sat down with the men walking to the left, and the women to the right. We were offered snuff from the man’s snuffbox, and his wife offered refreshments of milky tea and bits of hardened goat milk curds. Eating in the countryside is requires one to not be picky about what’s offered. Luckily it’s not at all bad tasting! The only person who had any problems with the food was Ryan who was vegetarian. We listened to the couple talk for a while about their life and family thru Hulan, our embassy liaison and translator.
That night it was decided that the men would go deer hunting, Kazakh style.
You might want to skip this part if you’re squeamish…..
So I figure deer hunting is going to be similar to the states. A bunch of guys get rifles, and go look for deer tracks, and stalk the animals. No…mongolian hunting is similar to an activity in the states known as spotlighting. Illegal in the US, and unfair everywhere. Basically the idea is that you drive around in your jeep at night shining a spotlight around, until you find a deer. The deer freezes in the light, and someone shoots it. Then, you run up to the deer, slit it’s throat while it’s still alive, and collect some of it’s blood in a cup. Add vodka to the cup, and pass it around. Yum. It was tasted a little weird, but I figured, when in Mongolia do as the Mongols do. Other than that, it was fantastic.
When we got back from the hunt we found that the women had been entertaining themselves quite nicely. They’d opened a few more bottles of vodka and were smashed. The matron of the house was singing traditional songs to the rest of them, and they were all cracking up together despite the language barrier.
The next day, hung over but happy, we headed back to UB, to try to recover enough to go to work the next day.