After arriving early on Saturday in Ulaanbaatar, we went to our airbnb and wandered around the city running various errands. On Sunday morning, our tour guide for our 3 days of living with a nomadic family picked us up. While we were waiting outside the step of our airbnb, a very kind, yet drunk, Mongolian grandpa came up to us and started shaking my hand. He kept mutter the words “ok” and “I tell you” without ever being able to tell us anything. For about three minutes this went on, all the while he gently shook my hand. Thankfully our tour guide showed up and the old man just kept wandering down the street.
Before vising the nomadic family, we first headed to a national park a few hours outside of Ulaanbaatar.
Around sunset we arrived at the ger where are homestay family lived. The location was about an hour’s drive from the main roads.
We got settled into the ger. It was a little awkward because they gave us an entire ger to ourselves, while the family of four, our guide, and the guide’s father slept in the other slightly larger ger. We met many different Mongolians, so it took us a few days to figure out who owned what ger. The smaller ger we slept in was owned by the family of four and the larger ger was owned by the wife’s younger brother. The larger ger was the wife and brother’s parent’s ger and so the son inheritted it when they passed away (we assume). The son was unmarried, so he slept in it, through it seemed like the property was fairly communal. I think he was out partying the night we arrived, so he slept somewhere else that night.
Tasha and I slept in for Mongolians. They were up around day break, and we slept until around 7 am.
I wandered about for a little while as the family was off moving the herd. On that day, there were going to move to a new location. They move around with their herd. Mongolians herd sheep, goats, cows, and horses. They survive mostly off of the milk and meat of the herd, though now-a-days they can buy soda and other foods on trips into the regional towns.
The new site was about 3 km to the west of where they were living, so it was a short drive. They will move once more to settle into their winter home. It only took about 30-45 minutes to take apart and load everything up.
Tasha and I were able to set our phone on the hood of the car to take a timelapse of us reassembling it! Putting it back together took maybe 1.5 hours.
After moving this one, we hung out for a little bit while the family took off. It was unclear what we were supposed to do, so we decided to take a walk to the grove of trees nearby.
After the walk, we inquired about the whereabouts of the family. We were told they were moving the second ger, and so we asked if we could help them move again. There was substantially more stuff in the second ger. They were about 75% done packing the ger up when we arrived. It still took us 3 hours to finish loading it and put it back together again.
The design of the ger is pretty elegant. There is a central support beam in the middle of the ger and the roof posts extend from fittings in the central support beam to the tops of the woven walls you see in the photo below. Then thick sheets of wool are wrapped around the walls and roof. A canvas layer is layed over top of everything and it is sinched together with the bands around the outside.
During our final morning with the family, we went with them to another family’s ger where they were sorting sheep.
I wanted to jump in the ring and help them sort, but could never pick up on the system they were using to sort the sheep. It had something to do with the ear notches, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
They then let us ride horses a little bit and pretend to herd some goats. :)
After the horse ride, we decided to take another walk.
Before we left to go to back to Ulaanbaatar, the guide and his dad asked to take back some meat, so the husband of the family took one of the sheep and butchered it inside the ger. I have helped and seeing deer butchered before, but what this guy did was masterful. He did it all inside the ger without getting any blood anywhere. I’ll save you the details, but it was fun to watch. :)
After he finished, he offered me some fresh liver wrapped in fat and lightly cooked over the fire. I begruginly accepted figuring I would have to suffer through this to be polite (and also secretly delighting in getting to eat something weird). I had disliked the liver I had eaten in the past, but man this was good. Maybe it was because I was really not expecting it. I would eat some more right now if I could!
Much of our time during the past three days with the family consisted of listening to them talk in Mongolian with a few exchanges in english translated through our guide. Even though we couldn’t direclty communicate, there was some commradery built while we helped them move their ger’s the day before. They also let me chops some wood before bed the night before, which I liked. Before we packed everything up to go back to Ulaanbaater, our guide told me that he thought I could live as a Mongolian herder. It was probably the nicest compliment I have recieved on the fellowship thus far. :)
After our guide wrapped up the meat the family gave him, we said our farewells and started on our way back to the city.
Visiting the nomadic family will probably one of the coolest things Tasha and I will do on the Watson. I’m really happy Tasha looked into it and set it up.
After a reasonably uneventful evening in Ulaanbaatat, we woke up early to catch our flight to Phnom Penh. We had a long layover in Seuol airport…
And after a long day of travel, we arrived around 10 pm in Phnom Penh. Conveniently, we had done all of our time changes somewhat gradually on our eastern trip across Russian. Ulaanbaatar is almost directly north of Phnom Penh, so we didn’t have to suffer jet lag.
Still, we were still pretty tired after the day of travel, so our first day in Phnom Penh was rather low-key.
During this coming week both Tasha and I will meet with the organizations we will be working with during our 3 months in Cambodia. I will be working with an NGO called iDE doing a feasibility study of a solar-powered water pump and Tasha will be designing sales support training material for a company called NRG solutions which is deploying small solar home systems in unelectrified villages.
It has been fun to see Russian and Mongolia over the past few weeks, but it feels really good to be stationary and have a more permanent home. Let’s see what adventures come our in during our next part of the journey!