Day 30 was another driving day through the Gobi Desert. We had approximately 350 Kms. to drive before setting up another camp site. James was driving and the trails are challenging because of the rocks, ruts and rolling terrain. He commented that in Mongolia it is us against the roads whereas in China it was us versus the traffic. And he was right! You really had to pay attention while driving or you would bottom out or hit a rock or get lost. A herd of horses ran past us at top speed and we wondered what happened to make them run away so fast. They ran towards a Ger and then right past it. Then we noticed a dog circle around the herd to turn them back to the Ger. This dog was all by himself and he brought in the horses. It was amazing.
All the herds of horses, camels, cows, goats and sheep we saw had little babies. The average nomad that live in Gers have 400 to 500 animals. They use the animals for food, clothing, shelter and to barter with. If they need to buy something they sell a goat or two. We saw another group of horses running down a hill and decided to see where they were going. We just drove to the top of the hill to look down and saw hundreds of animals all in groups. They were all waiting their turn to get water at the watering hole. That is the spot where the horses ran and they were now waiting their turn. A man and woman were pulling up a rubber bucket attached to a long pole and a rope tied to the end of the pole. The man would drop the bucket down into a well quite a way down the hole, past the pole and he hung on to the rope. He would pull up the rope, then grab the pole and dump the water into a trough for the animals to drink. At this particular moment he was watering sheep and goats. There was probably a hundred of them and they kept pushing each other out of the way so they could drink the water. The goats would jump on top of a sheep and stick their head down into the water. Some of the animals would try to get the bucket as the man pulled out the water and he would grab them by the back of their necks and rear-end and throw them away right on top of the other sheep and goats. It was quite the circus. After this group was watered the wife would move the group away and bring in another group that was waiting.
It was very hot out, in the high 30″s and this man had his shirt off to work. The work is very hard pulling up the water by rope and surrounded by 100’s of thirsty animals. He was so muscular across his back from pulling out the water that he was permanently stoop over. These people work very hard and live a hard life but yet they are friendly to us and seem very happy. We gave the husband and wife each a hat. The horses owned by this family had long manes and tails whereas the previous horses had clipped manes. I prefer the long manes and tails.
Because it had rained during the storm last night we noticed more flowers growing in the desert. White and yellow flowers just seemed to pop up overnight, growing sporadically among the sage brush. Also thistles with bright pink flowers. It made the drive very pleasant. We stopped at a Ger for a visit. They were very hospitable. They welcomed us into their home and allowed us to take photos of them and their Ger. The family consisted of a father, mother, two children and the father’s brothers. The girl’s name was Venice and the boy’s name was Mongol for Friday. The Gers are built as temporary dwellings because they move 4 to 6 times per year looking for greener pastures for their animals. Or shelter from the cold winters (-40 degrees C). The inside walls of a Ger are wooden lattice strips (made from pine, birch or willow), they are secured with leather knots at each crossing. The lattice is shaped into a circle by using 4 to 5 sections of latttice. The sections are tied together with ropes made of horse hair. The ceiling has a hole to allow ventilation and provides light. From the center circle are two posts which support the ceiling. All around the circle are long wooden spokes which connect the center circle to the lattice walls, again tied with horse hair braided ropes. Outside the wooden frame is a canvas covering then camel felt an inch or two thick, then another cover of canvas. So the outside of the Ger looks like a round white tent with a wooden door. The door has a wooden frame and is usually painted orange. The wooden spokes are also painted orange but the lattice walls are not painted. The door is short, you have to duck to enter and everyone has bumped their head a couple times until we learn to duck when entering or leaving the Ger. The Mongolians call their homes Gers not Yurts. They do not like the term Yurt as it is a Turkish word. All the orange poles and doors are decorated with designs painted in blue, white, yellow and green. The floors can be wooden or lino.
Inside the Ger the men sit on one side and the women on the other. They have two rules, never walk through the two wooden poles supporting the center circle of the Ger and remove your hat when entering. Shoes can stay on. Gers contain wooden framed beds (single size) which are used as couches during the day. The men’s side had the couch/bed and the woman’s side had a wooden table to hold the cooking utensils. A wood burning stove in the center beside the supporting poles and one dresser opposite the door (also orange and decorated in blue and white). This Ger had an old TV powered by a battery which was charged by a solar panel. They burn camel dung as fuel and eat lard (animal fat) mixed with dried shredded meat. Also there was camel or horses milk heating on the stove. There was a bag of rice and a bag of beans hanging from the ceiling poles as well as some dried meat. They rarely eat vegetables or fruit.
The Mongolians have a tradition of allowing strangers to sleep in their Ger if they are not home. They always leave rice or beans to eat. The strangers are allowed to stay one night and help themselves to the food. It is expected that the strangers will leave some food in return. They do this because they believe in karma and if you help others then if you ever need help you will receive the help you need. That is an excellent tradition but I do not think I will be doing that at home. I am not very trusting of strangers in my home town. Too bad we have to lock our doors and have security. The Mongolians have a hard life because of Mother Nature but they live relatively stress free. No food here just pick up and move.
While we were visiting another Mongolian family dropped in with two men, a wife and daughter. I took some polaroids for them also. The men brought out snuff bottles and passed it around. Reminded me of the peace pipe that is passed around by the Native Indians. You pull out the plug which has snuff on it and wipe it on the back of your hand and sniff it up your nose. I tried a little and it smelled good like a spice. It is considered rude not to take a turn. So we all gave it a try. It is not a drug just smells nice. Maybe this is done because I do not know when they ever bath. There is little water in the desert and pulling water up from a well when all the animals are jumping over each other to drink, doesn’t allow much bath time.
Sylvia in the Gobi Desert there are no outhouses, you just find a spot which hopefully hides you from anyone else. First lesson, keep butt on the high side or you pee in your shoe! Also the lower the better. Every once in awhile we would pass a pile of stones in the middle of our path. I at first thought they were graves. But our guide told us these are “Ovoo’s” and if you pass by you add a stone to the pile and walk around clockwise three times this will give you good luck in your travels. So we all did this. So far so good.
We got to our camp site early and planned how we were going to set up the tents in case of wind during the night. We made a semi-circle with the cars to act as wind protectors then put up our tents along side the cars. Again we had a very nice meal and went to bed a little earlier. It was cooler than the previous night but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I went to bed with earplugs and a sleeping pill. We had an uneventful night only a little bit of rain (in the Gobi Desert). The rain was lucky as it cut down the dust from the trails we followed and brought out more flowers.