Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Heading to the countryside!

Mongolian man smoking his pipe.

The beginning of our 12-day journey began on June 14th. I woke early to have an extremely cold shower, packed our belongings, and dragged Jay out of bed. Once we made it down stairs to our 4-wheel drive Russian van, we were greeted with eager and smiling faces from Mishka(driver) and Miga (translator). Mishka was from the North Province of Mongolia and has been driving with UB Guesthouse for over 11 years. He knew the roads the best(this is true, he proved himself)! Migaa is a professor at Ulaanbaatar University and teaches Mongolian and Russian language.
As we pulled out of UB Guesthouse, we were immediately stopped by the police. He appeared to be checking Mishka's passport and the safety of the van. Migaa informed us that this is normal and happens when departing the city to the countryside. As we headed out of the city, heavy traffic filled the streets and we witnessed two car accidents in less than two minutes apart. The ride started off bumpy and it only got worse once we hit dirt roads.
Migaa appeared eager to begin the journey with us and immediately began discussing the types of homes that nomadic people reside in. In the city, people live in apartments, houses, and Gers pronounced "gears." A ger consists of a circular wooden frame carrying a felt cover. The felt is made from the wool of sheep. The frame consists of one or more lattice wall-sections, a door-frame, roof poles and a crown. The felt is additionally covered with canvas or sun-covers. The canvas can be that of different colors varying in accordance with how wealthy a family is. The typical color of a ger is white. This symbolizes purity and the milk of the mare. The frame is held together with one or more ropes made from animal hair. The wooden frame is typically painted blue, representing the sky, and orange, representing religion. When entering a ger, you must walk from left to right, never walk in the middle. The left side of the ger is for guests, the center for the father, and the right side for the wife and children. In between the guests and the father, is a shrine dedicated to their religion, Buddhism.
About twenty minutes into our journey, four white-tailed gazelle sped past the van. Mishka sped up beside them and they were running at the rate of 70-80 km/hour! They ran in front of the van and Mishka honked is horn profusely. We were amazed at the rate these creatures could travel! Throughout the remainder of the day, we saw herds of cows, sheep, goats, and horses.
We saw the perfect photo opportunity of two goats that were standing in the middle of the road. Mishka stopped and as we approached the adult and baby goat. The adult goat went under the van for protection from the sun and wind. Mishka attempted to pull him by his horns for approximately 10 minutes. The goat appeared to linger around the van and Mishka threw cow dung at him!
We arrived at the family's ger at 5 pm and met the family by having traditional "salty tea" and biscuits. Migaa explained that the man of the house is usually shy, but very humble. This was very apparent as we had tea with him. After tea, we walked to the massive rock formations. We climbed to the top of one of the formations and looked over at the different shades of brown. For dinner we had delicious noodle soup with mutton. That night I had difficulties sleeping in my new habitat. My bed, as well as the others, had wooden planks underneath the thin mattress. Mongolians believe that you must sleep on a hard bed for a strong spine. This was the beginning of restless nights!

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