Monday, July 20, 2009

Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur. This one didn't get away.


K
nown as the "Great White Lake" in English, Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur is a large, freshwater lake located within Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park.

According to legend, the lake was formed when an elderly couple forgot to cap a well after fetching water. Scientifically speaking, the lake was formed by lava flows from a volcanic eruption many millennia ago.

The lake area is popular for camping and fishing. Yes,....fishing :-)




We arrived in to our ger camp, Camp Badmaarag, late yesterday morning. The camp was nestled in a small valley that had a small stream running through it. It was an idyllic spot for us to spend the next day and a half.









By the time we got to the camp, the only optional activity that we had open to us was to go for a horseback ride to go see a *real* nomadic family. I went along for the ride. It was interesting meeting the family.










Watching them sheer sheep,















Seeing their homemade cheese laid to dry in the sun. It was another dreary, overcast day so not much drying will happen today. By the way, the cheese looks pretty but is hard as a rock and sorry, but it was not tasty....too gamey for my liking.

























And enjoying their hospitality. We did get to go inside their ger and see how a real family, not tourists, actually use the ger as living quarters.

After the ride, there wasn't much time to do anything else other than to get settled in, do some laundry and have a quick stroll before dinner.

At this camp, there were both 2 man and 3 man gers. This time around, I shared a ger with Cathleen and Rachel. It didn't take us long to fill up the tiny ger with all our stuff strewn all over the place. Like everyone else, Rachel had figured out that the wooden supports make for good rods to hang your laundry up to dry on :-)

We woke up next morning to a picture perfect day in Mongolia. Bright blue skies filled with fluffy white clouds. Perfect temperature with little humidity in the air.

Of course, Adrian and I had fishing on our brains and this time around, we didn't have to do any arm twisting to get Erka to go along. Alexandra also joined us. She's not in to fishing....she just wanted to enjoy the day by being outdoors.

We headed out shortly after breakfast. Erka knew exactly where to go. Technically speaking, we needed licenses but I don't know how strictly that's enforced as Erka did not even mention it.

At our first stop, Erka pulled both is rods and got the lines ready. He took one and Adrian the other. Alexandra and I watched the guys cast out and reel in. It was such a beautiful day and I was enjoying the scenery around me so much I didn't even mind not having a rod in my hands.


I even enjoyed trying to sneak up on a small group of dzos grazing nearby.



















Both guys started fishing standing on shore.























It didn't take but a few minutes for both of them to take their shoes off and wade into the frigid cold waters. Adrian said the water wasn't that cold. Sure, you macho man, you. :-)























The fishing spot was not a lucky one so after a short while, we moved on to another section of the lake.























This time I decided to give it shot, sharing the rod with Adrian.
































Neither Adrian nor I had any nibbles but Erka hit the jackpot! As he fought the fish trying to reel it in, Adrian went over to the water's edge to help out.























As I walked over to where the guys were standing, I saw Adrian holding this huge fish in his hands. Initially, I had no idea what it was.
































Ta-da!!! Adrian and Erka posing with the bounty! A pike!























We decided we were not going to throw the fish back.....this one we would eat. So, after the photo op, Adrian put the fish on the ground while Erka went over to find a rock. The quickest and most humane way to kill the fish was to essentially deliver a few swift blows to the head.






























Adrian then washed the dirt off the fish.
































The pike is an aggressive fish species.....it's got very sharp teeth as well spines lining its gills.






















The catch!



















The guys continued to fish. Then, a car pulled up and a family piled out. They came over to admire Erka's catch. Oddly enough, they even posed with it....looking as if they had caught the fish. So strange.























Soon, the family got up and left. We followed shortly after because for some unknown reason, a bazillion flies emerged, seemingly out of nowhere. At first, they were annoying but bearable.....just had to keep swatting around my face. But then, it just became really annoying and so we called it quits.

Though we (okay, Erka) had only caught one fish, we all had a lot of fun.











































Flash forward a few hours later. Time to clean the fish and prepare it for cooking. No one wanted to do the *dirty* work, so I volunteered.

We weren't able to use the camp's kitchen because they were busy preparing dinner so we took the fish down to the stream to clean it. I did the *honors* but Adrian, Alexandra, Forrest and Erka all came with me to help out.

I was able to borrow a chef's knife from the kitchen but it was just about the dullest blade I had used in a long time. I was getting ready to sharpen it on a rock when ever-so-resourceful Forrest pulled a sharpening stone out of his pocket. Who carries a sharpening stone with them? :-)





Starting to cut into the stomach.




 Removing the guts.





Removing the head.





Scaling. Forrest documented every step of the process which he said he was going to share with his students. I wish I had had a science teacher like Forrest when I was growing up.




Then, the fish needed to be washed clean. Adrian volunteered to take on that task. He took off his socks and shoes and waded in. The water was cold. I know it cause my hands were in it. No problem for Adrian.




Clean fish!




Back in the container, ready for cooking!





Since we weren't allowed to use the kitchen, the staff managed to find a small burner, skillet and cooking utensils for us to us. We set up a temporary kitchen in the camp's gazebo. We decided to simply cut the fish into steak style fillets, leaving the skin on.




With Adrian helping out, it didn't take long for us to fillet and cut up the fish. Didn't even need a cutting board......we just cut up the fish directly on the wooden picnic tables.




 Sharon took on the task of doing the cooking. Luckily for us, she and Adrian had bought a pack of lemon salt when they were in Ulaan Baatar. Perfect for flavoring the fish.



As she started to cook the fish, Sharon realized that the skin was really tough so she removed it as she cooked. She then sprinkled the lemon salt on the fish. Without the skin to block penetration, the lemon salt permeated the meat. I couldn't wait to taste the fish so as soon as a piece was ready, I grabbed it. Oh, it was sooooo good. Moist, sweet, firm meat. After more than a we week of eating mutton, mutton, and mutton, nibbling on a piece of simply cooked but as-fresh-as-it-gets fish was divine. I was in heaven in Mongolia :-)