“With Heaven’s aid I have conquered for you a huge empire. But my life was too short to achieve the conquest of the world. That task is left for you.”
—Genghis Khan, to his sons at the end of his life.
October began with our train rolling over the Russia-Mongolia border. Our train experience this time was somewhat different to the last. Peace, quiet, and Russians were replaced by excitement, noise and Europeans. Vokda, beer and whiskey flowed a little too freely but this time we left the train with some friends to complement our hangovers. One friend in particular was to shape our Mongolia experience. Erica was Mongolian but studied in the US and her family ran one of Ulaan Baatar’s (UB) most popular hostels, the Golden Gobi. Some feller called “Bolod” was meant to pick us up from the train station, but he was nowhere to be seen. It was snowing in UB and we were more than happy to slip under Erica’s wing. The Golden Gobi hostel was cozy, homely, and very normal. A stark contrast to the weird vibes and weird people of Russia. We relaxed, planned our tour, ate at a Japanese bakery, visited the winter palace, bought a fox fur hat with three fox tails dangling off (sorry mum!), had a look around the impressive “State Department Store” (almost bought a portable toilet) and had dinner at an Indian restaurant. No beers with dinner tonight however, as the first of the month, alcohol was banned throughout the country, supposedly to allow people to reflect on Mongolia’s drink problem. The next morning we headed off into central Mongolia on a five day tour with our driver ‘Budee” and our guide ‘Zulaa’ who was quickly renamed using the English translation of her name OIL-LAMP, shortened, of course, to OILY. Chelsea pretty much forced her to respond to her name Oil/Oily with a prolonged “yyheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssss”. She was a class act. The trip was a series of amazing experiences, these were the best of the best:
HELLO HORSE FILTH, HELLO DIARRHOEA
We were flagged down by a nomadic family who were milking horses. I was dragged in to help by picking a foal from the herd, walking it round the mares so it could find its mother, let it drink from its mother for a couple of seconds and then take it away. This then allowed the nomad lady to milk the horse whilst it thought the foal was drinking. I embraced my duties whole-heartedly, to the point that I was cuddling the baby horses and picking the filth out of their fur. The next thing I knew I’d be shoved on a motorbike, driven to the families Ger (nomadic tent) and given fermented horse milk to drink. So far so good. Next came the curd made from the cream of the horses milk. This was spooned into my hand. Panic set it. I look around, no alcohol gel. Just a family of nomads willing me on with their eyes to eat the curd being held in my horse filth hand. I ate it, and my stomach was never the same. Nevertheless it was a fantastic experience being involved in this whole process and a bout of diarrhoea served as the perfect souvenir. Long-drops This brings me onto my next topic.
Clearly the nomads have no proper toilets or running water, but the toilet situation actually ended up being quite pleasurable. There is some thing really natural about finding the nearest bush and dropping your trousers (insert pun). Some sites had a long-drop style toilet with a little shed, and one in particular had no door, but the most incredible view over grass plains, mountains and a river. I can’t imagine anywhere better to poo.
LESSONS IN MONGOLIAN
Oily was hellbent on teaching us Mongolian phrases and songs, and one in particular caught our attention. The Mongolian for “I love you” sounds EXACTLY, to the syllable, like “BITCH, I’M THIRSTY”. You should look forward to the video of sweet cute little Oily and the gang innocently screaming BITCH, I’M THIRSTY. On a side note, if you ever meet a Dutch girl, ask her to say “choose my side” in her language, you won’t be disappointed by the response.
We were lucky enough to stay with real nomadic families for nearly every night of our trip. The insight into their lifestyle, which has been the same for centuries, was mind-blowing. Their friendliness and hospitality is unsurpassed by anything else I have experienced. The story about the horses earlier was completely unplanned and unexpected. Simply an act of pure friendship and generosity towards a group of fascinated foreigners. Their capacity for alcohol is also unsurpassed. One old man finished the dregs of whiskey, vokda and brandy bottles at 7am before moving onto the fermented milk! The concept of living in the wilderness, and moving around with your herd to better pastures when the land requires it, is a life so far detached from most of our city bubbles. It was a first hand demonstration that we do not NEED mobile phones, internet, Sky TV, Marks and Spencers, and a nice black car. The nomads don’t have any shops nearby, and are forced to live off what they have around them. It means many are left in a bad situation after a harsh winter, but they do have some tricks up their sleeve…
EATING LIKE A NOMAD
Recipe for a nomad dinner:
- Preheat the stove in your Ger to one billion degrees Celsius
- Stroll into your herd of sheep, pick a particularly plump and juicy looking one.
- Drag it back to your Ger and slaughter it.
- Butcher the sheep. Take care to cut the ribs up nicely.
- Take burning red hot stones out of the stove, and layer the meat and the stones in the stove.
- Top off the stove with onions, carrots, and cabbage, seal and cook for 2 hours.
- Serve piping hot from the stove and hand out the burning stones to warm hands and improve health.
- Have baby wipes at hand. You’ll be in for a long night at the long drop.
Another food must be mentioned. Oily made us “Huurshuur” on the last day. These are pastries filled with meat, onion and carrot and fried. Absolutely ream! The Mongolians all said Oily’s version was particularly good, although she nearly lost it because I refused to stop calling it “Horseshit”.
DRINKING WITH NOMADS
The night we stayed at the Orkhon Waterfall we were invited into the family’s main tent, and went round the table one by one and made to drink vodka and sing a song. The Mongolians songs were amazing. All the men and women gad incredible voices and it was really special hearing them sing about the love they have for their country. At one point I had the whole tent, included all the nomads, singing “hevenu shalom Aleichem”. The evening reached fever pitch with The Lord of Luxury teaching, and then leading a hearty rendition of “OH GEMMA COLE…”
FOLLOWING IN MY MOTHER’S FOOTSTEPS
Gill would have been so proud of me. Cantering along the Mongolian grass plains, surrounded by mountains, on the back of a semi-wild horse. After getting over the initial shpilks that the horse was going to gallop off without warning, it turned out to be one of the most exhilarating experiences of the trip. The surroundings were incredible, especially riding along the Orkhon river and the Orkhon waterfall and matched the quintessential Mongolia that existed in my head.
HOT HOT HOT SPRINGS
We spent an evening at some natural hot springs where the water flowed out the ground at a toasty 86 degrees celcius. We went to see the crack in the ground where it was flowing out, but actually swam in a man made rock pool. After an initial dip, we had dinner and then got back in. Luckily there was a power cut just after we got in, so we were in the boiling hot water, freezing air outside, and drowned in darkness allowing us to see the whole sky lit up with stars. The Mongolian night sky really is awe-inspiring. With no light pollution, and clear cloudless skies, you can clearly see the Milky Way in a big band above your head, and shooting stars every night.
GETTING TANKED UP
In stark contrast to ALL of the above, we left the Mongolian wilderness and headed straight for a Mongolian military base. Driving a huge Russian tank was first on the list. Driving 60 tonnes of metal across the desert was unbelievable! The power at your finger tips is immense, as is the strength needed to shlep the bugger into third gear. Next came the arsenal. I produced a few litres of adrenaline firing a few different weapons. All was well until I fired the AK-47. For reasons I cant explain, it seemed that I had created a full on bush fire. Mongolian ladies scurried out armed with spades (try a bucket of water you demicks) to solve the problem I had caused. I helped out in the end, but not before taking plenty of footage. Videos to follow… they are brilliant! Especially the interview with our driver who blames me for nearly razing their country to the ground, but thanks me for my courageous late effort in fighting the fire. The Lord of Luxury had to outdo everybody of course. Two Rocket Propelled Grenades later, I felt sufficiently out-done. He shall be known forthwith as The Lord of War.
The Lord and I bid farewell to Chelsea at Chinggis Khan International Airport, and boarded our MIAT (‘maybe I arrive tomorrow’) flight to the Lord’s motherland… The People’s Republic of China…