Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 3 in Eastern Mongolia: Best Day Yet

First on our itinerary today was the Chinngis Khaan memorial. The world's tallest horseman statue, it's made of stainless steel and was completed in 2010. It overlooks his hometown. The only thing that stands out in miles of open steppe, it seems quite daunting, as I'm sure the national hero was in his day.

Next was a stop at the Gokturk Memorial - a set of carved stones placed strategically in the middle of fricking nowhere. These seventh century stones were the first written record of the term "Turk." Exciting...

Our last stop for the day was at another Kazakh family's ger camp on the Mongolian steppe. The emptiness of the landscape was both incredibly peaceful and longingly lonely. Lunch included delicious bread and tsuivan. I lost a hand game and had to clean the dishes.

Since there isn't much to do here, I spent my time playing with the dogs, petting my new friend: a baby goat named "Matt," listening to the entire 'Born This Way' album and my collection of Adele, and napping. While I lay awake listening to music, a cow poked his head in the doorway of our ger, sniffed around, and then stared at me. I waved. She stared. It wasn't until one of our hosts yelled at her did the cow remove its head from our ger and bolt.

Karen and I went with the kids into the hills at one point - we took pictures, they took pictures, we played and messed around. The landscape ran for what seemed like an eternity, and every inch was magnificent. Each blade of grass a noticeably different color. I felt so utterly unimportant and insignificant.

Dinner was a simple melange of rice with carrots, peppers, onions, and beef, but the simplicity translated to excellency (again, some of the best things in life are simple!) We were offered homemade "red cheese," which was vile in both taste and texture. It tasted like a dirty sponge that had been soaked in spoiled milk... I do not suggest it. Despite the random nasty milk products, the food here continues to impress me.

The sun was setting on the Mongolian steppe as we prepared to play football (soccer) with the young Kazakhs, but our game was interrupted by familial festivities. Our hosts' son just bought a new motorcycle - a snazzy new Kenbo. We were called into a crowded ger for beef soup with homemade noodles and Chinngis Gold vodka. "Tuktoy" is Mongolian for "cheers." Four shots later, I realized that despite the immense loneliness of their surroundings, here was a happy, thriving family, full of life and love. They weren't lonely. They just were... and I'll always remember that.

After a final visit to the three walled outhouse with no door, I headed back to the ger. The steppe became chilly, but the ger was toasty - heated by wood and dried cow dung.

Just as we were about to go to sleep, the matriarch of the family came in to boil milk. She was followed by her eldest son and a few family members. Her son brought in a traditional Kazakh instrument called a Dombor. He serenaded us - the perfect way to end a perfect day.

The Mongolian Steppe


Our ger camp on the steppe 

Our host, lighting up a homemade cigarette 

Our driver, Ongo 

Tommi, our travel companion 

Our guide 

Our hostess

PS - Are you happy?

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