July 6, 2017
I skipped Pranayama this morning and opted for a walk with Galen up to the top of the hillside. The expansive landscape is deceptive. From the valley, the hill looks small, but in reality, the climb is a 1,000 foot gain in a short distance. Fortunately for me, the altitude is lower than it is in Colorado, so it wasn’t too difficult, but I certainly broke a sweat. The peak provided a sweeping view of the valley below as well as the valley across the river and distant ones.
After our hike, we crossed the saddle and joined the photography group who was practicing landscape shots with Liam. I added macro shots into the mix as there was a smattering of wildflowers which I love. We futzed around with our cameras until breakfast time which thankfully included an omelette station. Hooray…tasty protein!
We were back on the horses after breakfast exploring the rolling hills. A few of us got to do some galloping. In Mongolia, a full gallop across the steppes in known as a thunderhoof. While Page and I wanted to go faster, a mad dash wasn’t quite what we had in mind, so we asked for a “drizzlehoof”, a name Stephanie came up with for a slow gallop. It was fun! I find myself smiling and giggling while I’m on the horse even when Mojo decides he would like to lead the pack without encouragement from me! Fortunately, as soon as he gets ahead, he settles down, so I don’t have to worry he’ll run away.
Our ride, once again, lasted a few hours, so by the time we arrived back to camp, a pasta lunch, french fries, and vegetable salad was served. I can promise by the end of these two weeks, I will have eaten more carbs than I have all year, but whose counting. At least I’m getting a lot of exercise as I’m piling a bunch of starch on my plate.
Our afternoon ride included a visit to a ger to meet a nomad family. The riders that wished to go fast rode to one ger while the riders that wished to go slow rode to another. Before our journey we discussed ger etiquette.
- Step over the threshold to enter the ger
- Walk to the left and go around the posts in a clockwise direction to the back to be seated.
- Remove helmet and do not set it upside down or on the ground
- No crossed legs
These were the basics, but more customs came into play when we were served food. Because nomads have to survive harsh conditions, they accommodate anyone who visits. While a knock on the door isn’t necessary, a shout to call off the dog may be. Regardless, visitors are greeted graciously.
We visited a gentleman whose family was away at Nadaam. With his wife, kids, and grandchild away, he was left to do the cooking. He first served us bread, yak butter, cheese, and aaruul (dried curd). The dried curd is rock hard, hangs from a string around the top of the ger and to me tasted like a sour, dried yogurt stick. While the aaruul wasn’t my most favorite as I am not much of a yogurt fan, the milk tea called suutei tsai was good.
Our host heated up a quart of yak milk with a quart of water and added a tablespoon of green tea and some salt in a cauldron on the wood burning stove before serving us the suutei tsai in bowls. As custom, we accepted the milk tea with our right or both hands and sipped it before setting it on the table when we were finished.
The next serving was tos which they always make for guests. Tos is similar to a raw cake batter. It includes flour, sugar, yak milk and butter. The cowboys took turns stirring the tos which again was served to us in bowls that we accepted with our right hand. It was good too, and I understand the kids are always excited when guests come and there is tos leftover so they can eat it.
Along with the food ceremony, of course, is the vodka ceremony. How could I have almost forgotten to mention that. In fact, it was likely the first thing we were offered. The shot glass was filled, we dipped our right, ring finger in the glass, flicked the alcohol in the air, and then sipped from the glass before returning it to the host who then filled the glass and gave it to the next person to repeat the process.
The same type process was also followed with his grandfather’s snuff bottle. The snuff bottle is heavy, carved from precious stone, and is the most prized possession of a Mongolian man after his horse. Snuff bottles are a sign of well-being for the nomad. Each of us took the bottle with our right hand, unscrewed the cap, took a whiff, reinserted the cap, and returned it to our host.
With the ceremonies behind us and the help of Boynaa our translator, we exchanged questions and ultimately sang. In our exchange, we somehow started showing photos on our phones, and the cowboys were perplexed by Page’s mini horses. They kept asking about their size and finally said they could carry the horse! Haha…so true.
Soon our singing interchange began. The Mongolian cowboys sat on one side of the ger with the host, while we ladies sat on the other. It was like a seventh-grade dance with the boys and girls separated. The Mongolians love their music and can sing countless, meaningful songs by heart. We, one the other hand, had a tough time singing more than a verse. Fortunately, Emma, a young Irish lady with a love of music was with us, as she kept us going, but eventually we had to resort to childhood tunes like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Puff the Magic Dragon” just to finish a whole song! Overall, I really enjoyed the customs and this was one of the highlights of the day to me.
In line with customs, all nomads zigzag a rope back and forth inside the roof of their ger. This reminds them that there are both good and bad times, and they hope for the good. Other items that can be found in the ger are two-three cots, an alter with family pictures, and a TV. Our host had an excellent racing stallion, so all of his medals were hung up as well.
After a few hours, we said our good-byes and left the ger, which felt like a sauna after all the cooking on the wood burning stove, for a picnic beneath the cottonwood by the river. Along the way, we passed by other nomad families.
At the picnic, the Mongolians placed hot rocks from the fire into an urn with goat to cook what is called khorkhog. When eating the dish, it is customary to pass the hot, greasy rocks from hand to hand in order to bring good health! Of course, we participated in this custom too. After eating the regular pieces of goat, the scapula which is considered the best meat is presented. The oldest person at the dinner must cut the scapula into the correct number of pieces to give one to each person. The oldest person, Ingrid, couldn’t have been a better choice. After all, she butchers bears back in the states! Along with trimming the meat, she had to punch a hole in the bone to release its soul.
The night was just getting started by this point. It was Chip and Kate’s delayed honeymoon trip, so they were presented with anniversary gifts during song. Kate, always kind, and Chip, always joking, make great couple. They live in Ohio and somewhat randomly picked Mongolia for their vacation.
Soon, the focus switched to Boynaa and Emma who played the guitar and fiddle, respectively while they alternated between Mongolian and Irish music. Finally, the dancing started when Nomin translated that Ganbold, one of our cowboys and nomad neighbor wanted to dance with Ingrid. What entertainment…another highlight!
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