July 17-18, 2017
Last night we camped on a high moraine. At one time the entire area had been a massive glacier. Now we were coming out of the desert and racing over the steppes to get to the ger where we planned to spend the next two days. The landscape was varied with a rim of mountains, depressions, and a few distant lakes. It was summer and very hot, and the mosquitoes were out in full force. The towns were almost all abandoned — the nomads had taken their gers and gone to higher pastures.
Click on the photos for slide show…
Just as we thought it was clear sailing, Algaa took what looked like the only available route up a rocky hill. Halfway up we discovered that our fully loaded van could not make it to the top. Guess what? We all piled out and Tamara and I trudged up the road while Bogie and Tulle helped push the van. Shame on us!
Now what to do? We reached the top, checked the roads ahead, and scrambled back down the shale and scree-laden embankment to where we had begun.
We ended up not staying at this ger, but continued on. It was 8:30 in the evening by the time we had crossed into Bayan-Olgii province and arrived at the ger that was our destination. After being ushered into the main room, we were served the usual milk tea (boiling in a mammoth pan on the wood stove in the center), followed by a delicious meal, heavy on yogurt. It felt as if we were coming home to our Mongolian family. Tamara was overjoyed and decided to stay inside with the family and sleep on the floor. I elected to sleep in my tent.
It was a cold night, but I cuddled up in my sleeping bag and didn’t awaken until I heard a lamb baa-ing outside my tent at 8 AM.
We spent the next day with the family, enjoying the children, plus a few who wandered in from neighboring gers. Bogie set up the extra tent for the children to use. They had a great time playing in and out of it!
The day was a busy one. We gave baseball hats to everyone, as well as plastic bats, balls, and a frisbee. What fun we all had, especially Tulle and Tamara who got right into the games while I attempted to video them.
There was lots to do with the animals and everyone got into the act, herding the sheep and horses and helping with the milking of the cows. I learned more than I wanted to know about animal husbandry and the way the herds were separated and moved around to insure genetic diversity.
I have lots of trouble getting used to the herding, castrating, and separating of the lambs from their mothers to send them over the mountain to prevent inbreeding and keep the flocks diverse…as well as fatten up the mothers. You can see the lambs lying quietly on the grass, immobilized.
When I returned to the ger I watched as our hostess went about one task after another—sweeping, stirring the yoghurt or vodka made from the yoghurt, washing, preparing for the evening meal. She was indefatigable. But she always had time for the children. I loved the way the family dressed and how loving they were to one another and the four grandchildren. I became especially fond of Angie, 14, who wore glasses and loved to curl up with a book, when he wasn’t corralling animals or riding the calves. He hurt his leg, but soldiered on all afternoon. Several neighbors, two of them teachers, joined the group as they were tending the animals.
It was late when we sat down for dinner. A hard-earned meal, indeed. I found it interesting to watch the children sitting quietly, waiting to be given a morsel of meat. No plates, except bowls for us, for our yoghurt. I couldn’t eat the meat, but enjoyed the family and also spent about an hour watching final milking for the day, and the baby cows nursing.
Just before bed, as I was lying awake in the dark, I could hear the sad cries of the sheep. What was happening is that a different group of lambs had arrived, and, of course, were rejected by the mothers, who wanted their own lambs. This, I was told, was part of the weaning process. Each group was “crying” for the other. And the next day there would be another group of lambs vaccinated and readied to be taken to the other side of the mountain and herded by another family. All part of genetic diversity. Necessary, but so heart-rending. I spent a very cold, restless night.