Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Camping under the Mongolian sky.


N
o ger for us to sleep in tonight. Instead, the plan was to find ourselves a Mongolian family that we could dine and *bunk* in with....our opportunity to *bond* with a local family. Actually, the plan was to share a meal with them and while they snoozed in the comfort of their gers, we would be camping it....tents and sleeping bags would be our rooms and beds for the night!

At lunch time, Adam collected a few tugrik from each of us which Puji used to buy some food supplies for dinner that night. The idea would be to give the supplies to the family and convince them to cook a meal for us. I don't know why anybody would want to cook for 20 strangers but maybe this is Mongolian hospitality. I'm game for anything.



We spent the afternoon bouncing around in our SUVs over the Mongolian steppe. I was quickly getting used to our travel routine.










Anyway, by late afternoon, we had to start looking for a family to spend our night with. We arrived into what looked like a riverside camp. First, we had to cross a fairly rickety looking wooden bridge though as we would find out later on, this was a very stable bridge by Mongolian standards! This one looked like it was floating on a series of ferry bottoms, if that makes sense. Anyway, the SUVs managed to cross the bridge without any difficulty.




There were a couple of gers in the camp and it definitely looked like there were people there. Puji approached the family and after a few minutes, she came back and told us that they had graciously declined our offer to be our hosts for the night. See? I was right. No one, with any degree of sanity, would want to play host to 20 strangers.




But the area around the camp was so pretty that we decided we would try to set up camp nearby.

Puji and the drivers found us the perfect spot and our first task of the day was to pitch our tents. I left Violeta have the honor of setting up ours :-) It had been many years since she had put up a tent but how hard could it be? After all, we deal with difficult technical IT issues everyday and she is an engineer by training :-)

I went to gather our tent from the SUV and handed it over to Violeta. She dumped all the parts out on the ground.



Everything spilled out onto the ground. The look on her face was priceless. Where to begin?? Luckily, before she had a chance to struggle (and she would have), our driver came over to help out.

Of course, since I was holding the camera to record the moments, I couldn't help out so Violeta did all the work :-)























Here's a slideshow of Violeta and our driver pitching up our tent. The background music is traditional Mongolia khoomi.

 
With our driver helping out, Violeta got our tent set up in no time. After the tent was erected, she then had to lay out the sleeping bags and inflate the pillows that came with each sleeping bag. Once it was all set up, we realized we had a really teeny, weeny pup tent. Our first challenge was to figure out how to get ourselves and all our gear inside. Surprisingly, we were able to fit everything in and still have room for us to sleep. Tight quarters but cozy. Of course, no one else was as lucky as we were to have help so it took longer for the others to get their tents propped up. Eventually, everyone, except for poor Adam whose tent kit was missing one of the supports, did manage to get their tents pitched and sleeping bags laid out. Adam caved in and decided to sleep under the stars....brave man as who knows what kind of creatures wander about the grounds in the dark.  While we were doing our chore, Puji was cooking up dinner. Nothing fancy....we were camping. Soon after we finished eating and cleaning up, the sun was starting to set. Violeta came up with brillant idea to start a bonfire. So, she found a nice spot, which happened to be near where Evan and Maree had set up their tent.....we tried to convince them to join us but they preferred to do whatever. Anyway, we gathered the wood....the drivers helped out. The wood was so dry and one match was all it took to get the fire going.  Folks started to gather around and drivers broke out a bottle of vodka. They and Puji entertained us with some Mongolian songs. Then, someone came up with the idea that everyone should take turns singing a song of their choice. I chose not to torture anyone with my singing...and they should have been grateful because I am sure, it would have attracted some wild creature. To fuel the zaniness, a glass of vodka was being passed around. Apparently, it's rude to not drink/take a sip so I did the latter since I don't drink alcohol. As soon as the glass was empty, one of the drivers would fill it back up. Song + laughter + endless shots of vodka made for an extremely entertaining time....especially if you're sober like me! And, we also found out that night that Eric can actually carry a tune though for an 18 year old, he sang some tunes that sounded like they were written even before I was born!! When the booze had run out and flames had died down, everyone called it a night. A couple of folks (who shall remain nameless because this is a public blog) had a wee bit too much to drink and needed help back to their tents. Violeta and I obliged. Earlier in the day, Violeta was not certain that she was going to be comfortable sleeping in the tent. I don't know if it was because we were tired but I could have sworn, we both fell asleep as soon as we switched off the flashlight and our heads hit our inflated pillows. Next morning, I awoke to chatter outside my window. It was early morning. I let Violeta sleep for a bit and then I rustled her awake. Once everyone had come to life, we all walked back to the family ger camp and had breakfast. The family had already slaughtered a goat earlier in the morning and was in middle of dressing it when we arrived. Adam had handed each of us a food item and as we walked out to our hostess, we gave her the item with Puji translating our words of appreciation. Her ever so cute young son burst into joy when Alex handed him the bag of candy! We had bread, jam and tea....all stuff that Puji had bought the day before. While we ate, Puji finished cooking and packing our lunch for the day.....more mutton and rice. It's only day 3 on the road and I'm already tired of eating mutton rice, rice and mutton, mutton and rice.....*sigh*




After breakfast, we packed up our gear, the food and ourselves back into the SUVs. Back on the road.....next destination.....somewhere on the Mongolian steppe!