|There are few sealed roads in Mongolia. Half the time we would just turn off down a track and head cross country through the valleys and across river beds. There were wild flowers blooming all over the hillsides as there had been more rain this summer than usual.
Our Intrepid Travel trip included two homestays. Because the people are nomads and you have no idea who is going to be in a certain valley at any time, the vans just turned up and Namuuna asked if we could stay the night! Apparently, Mongolian hospitality is such that they couldn't really refuse. We brought our own food which the drivers cooked for us using the herders' facilities. We also brought a group donation of rice, sugar, flour, and sweets for the kids - and a bottle of vodka for the host.
We all squeezed into the ger and sat in a semi circle where we introduced ourselves, and could ask questions. We would always be offered food - dried curd (yoghurt squeezed, flattened and sun dried) or goat/yak/cow yoghurt or cheese. Then we could wander around or go for a walk up a nearby hill or watch the women milk the cows. The calves are kept separate from the cows until morning and night they return near to the ger for milking. The calves got some milk after the herders have collected enough for their milk, yoghurt, cheese and dried curd.
In the evening after the chores were finished, out came the vodka bottle. Everyone was expected to down a shot during the first round. During the second round, you could sing a song if you didn't want to drink, or sometimes we just sang and drank also!
Each homestay we chose a place where there were 2 gers in close proximity which meant that 6 of us could sleep on inflatable mats in each ger. The family (parents and 2 children) slept in the two beds. Most gers had no toilet facilities - you just had to find a spot, which is hard in a place where there are no trees! Water was collected in containers from the nearest river.
We visited Buddhist temples and learned that many Monks had been killed during the Stalin purge era. We swam in hot mineral springs and watched mares being milked to make a fermented drink. We stayed at Lake Kvosgold near to the Russian border, a lake Mongolians call Mother Sea. Mongolians do not eat fish so as not to anger the sea gods. Traditionally they do not grow vegetables because they do not want to disturb Mother Earth.
We ate meat with every meal - mutton, beef, yak. Sven even tried horse. They eat very few vegetables except for potatoes, carrots and cabbage. Chinggis (their spelling of "Ghenghis" Khan) beer is the local brew, together with Chinggis vodka being the local vodka.
We arrived back in Ulaanbaatar in time for the Naadam festival where nomads came from afar to compete in wrestling, archery, ankle bone shooting and horse riding. No betting is allowed in the country - a decree from the government.
We went to the 2 hour opening ceremony which was colourful and spectacular. During the Naadam festival there are 3 days of national holidays so lots of people were camping on the hillsides outside the city. The horses are ridden by young boys 7 years old (6 year olds) and up. They look so tiny but we have to remember they have been riding horses since 3 or 4 (2 or 3). The races are 10 - 30 km depending on the horse's age and only male horses race. The lower aged horses 2-5 years old have their teeth inspected prior to the race to confirm their age.
It was a great way to finish our visit to Mongolia, absorbing the local people enjoying the festival, some dressed in beautiful dresses with high heels, while others were resplendent in their colourful "deels", knee high leather boots and hats.
On now to Sweden to spend some time with Chelsea and Raul.