Desert, Desert and More Desert…

Mother MountainOkay, so, we hit the road early in the morning after spending the night in the desert. The desert seems endless in the direction we are going. There are high mountain ranges on either side of us off in the distance. We pass some rock formations and then another mountain range appears ahead of us. Beyond that is the “Mother Mountain”, the most holy of places in Mongolian folklore. We stop and do a little hiking, grab a bite to eat and hit the road again. We head off in a northerly direction and up a long slope to a mountain pass. This pass was carved out by an ancient glacier. It was not an easy road. Very rocky and ever since the “Big Bang” we’ve had problems with the Isuzu overheating when going up hill for an extended period of time. We had to stop and let it cool off three times on the way up this pass. We finally make it to the top and coast our way down into another wind-swept desert town. This one held a surprise though. A few of Shombodon’s relatives live here and they met us on the outskirts of town. They lead us toMaking Buuz a one room apartment and that’s when the merriment began. A bottle of vodka appears out of nowhere and the women of the house start preparing buuz, chopped mutton wrapped in a flour noodle and steamed.  One of the ladies notices that I am taking photos of the process. Every time she starts to do something new, she pauses, looks at me as a signal to take another photo. Once, she pause and looked at me while wielding a meet cleaver. I wasn’t sure how to interpret this, but I took a few photos anyways in hopes that it wasn’t a threat to  my well being.This a raucous crowd and the eating a drinking lasts until late in the evening. After we are done there they take Maaike and me to the Buuzone hotel in town. It consists of one room with four, rock hard single beds. We sleep there for the night and Shombodon and Engthbier sleep with their relatives. In the morning Maaike and Shombodon interview the chairman of the elders council. This guy was a true grumpy old man. He was not happy that they had transitioned from socialism to democracy. He was not happy with the younger generation and a whole host of other things. He’s convinced that people had all the freedom they needed under socialist rule and that the transition has ruined the country. He also doesn’t think that the young people of today respect their elders. Hmmm, I think they respect most of their elders, just not this one. After Maaike and Shombodon finish the interview we pack up and get ready to go. Was relieved that the relatives had shown up for the good-bye without a vodka bottle. Turns out that they are going to lead us out of town and show us some rock drawings on the way. We start out through a very rugged canyon and stop a few times along the way to take some photos.Desert Canyon I find a canyon that rivals anything I’ve ever seen around Arches National Park or Canyonlands. We finally get to the petroglyphs and then they show us a steep rock wall that we need to climb to see some natural pools that the lamas used for Buddhist ceremonies. About halfway up the rock face I remember a very important fact. Once I get to the top of this I will eventually have to come back down. I can go up Natural Stone Poolswith no problems. My knees really hate coming back down. Oh well, there’s a guy in our group doing this in flip-flops, how hard can it be? So, we get to the top, ooh and ahh at the natural pools and then start back down. Let’s just say it wasn’t my most favorite thing we did that day. Back on terra-firma we pile into our respective cars and the relatives lead us out of the canyon. We stop for our good-byes and, you guessed it, out comes the vodka bottle. Not the polite half liter size either. It’s another big gulp vodka bottle, but at least there are more of us to help kill it. One of my favorite images of the whole trip will be of Engthbier getting directions from one of Shombodon’s cousins out in the middle of the Gobi Desert. We drive for the rest of the day and reach our next destination my early evening. We arrive Getting Directionsat just another windswept town up in the foothills and set off in search of the Lama who used to be the head of the monastery here. Maaike wants very much to interview him about the Lamas and life under socialist rule and the purge in the late 1930s. It was a comedy of errors trying to find him in a tiny little town. Everybody knew who we were talking about, but nobody could give us accurate directions to his ger. We’d show up at the wrong ger and get another set of instructions to another ger. This happened 4 times until we finally found him. I was beginning to think that we’d just end up checking every ger in the town. It might have been faster. Maaike and Shombodon interview this guy for an eternity. It was already dark by the time they were finished. It was going to be very hard to find a good camping spot, but the Lama offered his front yard as a campground. Score! Shombodon, Engthbier and Maaike had their tents set up in record time and I had crawled into my sleeping bag in the truck and we were asleepPetroglyph in no time. The next morning I wake up and notice frost on the windshield. The Lama insists that he show us the petroglyphs in the hills surrounding the town. He also shows us the rocks etched with codes that the Lamas used during the religious purges of the late 1930s to tell future Lamas where they hid the sacred texts. The Lama has been able to find a number of the buried treasures, but needs assistance in finding the rest. When I get back to the States I’ll see what kind of social media campaign I can start to help support him in his efforts.

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Into the Great Wide Open

Me, in the morning!Ok, so, it’s 5:00AM and there’s a rip-roaring party going on next door at the Eros Hotel (yes, they rent rooms by the hour). For some reason I just couldn’t sleep with the barking dogs, the band playing Mongolian rap music and the lovers quarrel going on outside. Oh well, had to get up and pack the laundry we did yesterday afternoon. We had hung everything out to dry and luckily we accomplished that goal.

A Mongolian, a Dutch woman and an American walk into a grocery store… There’s no punchline for this, but there should be. I wish I had a video of the three of us shopping for our trip. Shombodon is typical Mongolian, all he wants is meat. Maaike is a vegetarian and I just want anything that’s easy. I did manage to find some noodle cup and the makings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (for those times when we are nowhere near a restaurant). Along with all of our supplies, Shombodon and Maaike buy  2.5 kilos of candy for the children we’ll encounter and 2 cases of vodka to give to the village folks in return for their stories. The cashier looked at us like we were out of our minds. The good thing is, if we get stuck out in the middle of nowhere we’ll have a great time waiting for assistance.

Didn’t get a chance to eat at either the beer garden or American Burgers and Fries. We had an appointment back at Shombodon’s office for me to interview a couple of college kids for the video piece I’m doing and we ran out of time with all that shopping. Aaargh. We ordered in pizza for lunch from Mr. Pizza. The interviews were interesting. The girl, a 20-year-old college student was very politically aware, had voted in the last election and was only mildly satisfied with the government. The pitiful state of their infrastructure is a real concern for her. She doesn’t understand why there are so many luxury cars in UB now driving on roads that are in horrible condition. She is hopeful that, after this election things will improve. She is of the opinion that they should not be doing any mining because of her environmental concerns. The guy, 19 years old, had very few opinions about anything. I’ll give him a pass since he attends university in Moscow and is, well, a guy.

I love this photo. They built this wall in line with the main corridor of the temple because evil spirits can only travel inSpirit Barrier a straight line and keeps them from entering.  There are massive statues of angry-looking beings just inside the first door in case an evil spirit tries to do an end run around the wall. I think we should start incorporating that into the designs of our homes. Couldn’t hurt. It would, at the very least, keep politicians and solicitors away.

Went to a new restaurant right around the corner from us. If you didn’t look out the windows of the Rosewood you’d never know you weren’t in a very nice restaurant in any major city in the U.S. Great Mediterranean fare and a really cool decor. The American owner has done a great job with the place. There was a group of about 20 or so 20 somethings having a going away party for one of their friends. A wonderfully eclectic mix of people from all over the world either working or volunteering in Mongolia. They were having a great time, but I interrupted them anyways. They were a bright, friendly group and very enthusiastic about living and working here.

I should probably go pack. We’ll be leaving in a couple of hours so I’d, literally, better get my stuff together. I believe we’ll be in an Aimag center (kinda of a county seat) tonight, but nobody’s sure if well have internet access. I’ll report in the next chance I get.

Cheers!