Mongolia is such an amazing place, our first impression as the train rolled through the Gobi desert was dry, desolate countryside not too dissimilar to the Nullabor in Australia except a bit more hills.
Then getting to Ulaanbaatar (with its colourful roofs) was a breath of fresh air after leaving bustling Beijing – literally.
We all seemed to instantly feel calmer and different and weren’t sure if it was the excitement of a new country that none of us had been to – though we realised that we hadn’t seen a blue sky since we left Yunnan province since both Xian and seining were so smoggy. In contrast Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia was so much smaller but still quite hip and very well set out.
Also a great place to see the sunny blue sky as there are 267 sunny blue sky days every year – according to our Facts about Mongolia app! It has an amazing square in front of the parliament with lots of families out and about and funny enough – lots of groovy rollerbladers – oh actually the day we got there many restraunts etc were closed because it was the presidential elections – which ironically was when our prime minister -Julia Gillard was deposed!
It even has a monument to celebrate the Beatles – very groovy. Oh and the best part about it is there are absolutely no McDonalds, KFCs or Starbucks which are on every second corner almost in China. It has many groovy cafes and many multicultural eating places – mainly Korean, Japanese, German and Turkish restraunts and few French patisseries – the difference being these places aren’t big American chains but rather run by either expats or mostly by Mongolians who have lived and studied in those countries. I still haven’t quite worked it the strong Turkish connection though – there’s even a Turkish International school. Around the corner from the guesthouse we stayed in was even a vegan restaurant – which we didn’t have time to go to but I’m salivating about right now.
As I write this – its about 10pm and we are on a 7 day homestay program with a nomadic ger family in Bulgan province. Basically it feels like we are in the middle of nowhere…….and it gets dark so late and light so early which is strange cause we aren’t really that far north!
It has just gone on dark – we have to pull over the top of the ger – which is open in the daytime and when the fire is on as the chimney goes through it also – just so that our kids can try and get to sleep by 9ish which is late for them anyway and they want to get up early to milk the goats.
I won’t go much into ger life as the kids have done that but I must say that I am so glad I wasn’t born Mongolian – I find the whole meat culture just so challenging. That is why I’m salivating about the Vegan restraunt! Well you literally can’t be a vegetarian in the slightest as a nomad – meat is there life. In the winter they have a solid meat diet and even warm up and drink meat fat to stay warm, and then in the summer they supplement with dairy products to cleanse their palate. Well let me tell you that my palate has become a whole lot smaller. I know I sound like a sook but I just can’t do meat at all – even the thought of it makes me feel sick. We are very lucky cause ‘Ger to Ger’ homestay agency obviously told them we were vegetarian and advised us to come stocked with ‘soy meat’ so the lovely grandma makes us veggie food but it all just tastes of mutton or goat fat – as everything is cooked in the one wok over a small fireplace and I guess it has cooked fatty meat every since it came into existence. Even the water we drink is boiled in that big wok so I feel like I’m drinking goat water – not so thirst quenching for this vegetarian! You can see the pearls of fat swimming through it.
So I’ve been trying to get away with small bowls of food (mostly from the kids as I need to set an example if they have to eat what is served up). Also vegetables is a fairly new addition to the Mongolian diet and for most nomads they have to be bought as the land wouldn’t support veggie patches and there is only one well within ‘cooee’ of here that is shared amongst many families. So the veggies on offer are cabbage, potato and carrot – all of our meals are basically a variation of those. Today Grandma made some dumplings that were steamed in the wok and I think cause they weren’t really touching the animal fat covered wok they actually tasted really good – we all loved them. The whole Mongolian palate is so bland in comparison to spicy China. Salt is the spice of choice for this nomadic family and that’s as far as spices go.
Despite the food it is so interesting and eye opening to see what nomadic life is like. These people move around constantly each season and leave only their footprints – surprisingly I haven’t seen much of a rubbish problem near here at all.
Nothing gets wasted – if food not finished then its eaten at the next meal, there is no running water – just a big tub that gets filled from the well periodically – and the dishes get a tad of water on them and then just wiped with a cloth. There is no soap or dishwashing liquid. Hygiene could be the topic or a whole blog – basically there isn’t much sense of it – grandma goes milking the goats to cooking our dinner to getting on a horse without thought to wash hands or anything like that. Surprisingly though we have all stayed healthy – (apart from me on the second day though I think that was mainly a tummy ache from being grossed out about meat smell – even in the air we breathe in this ger it reaks of meat) – thanks to a bit f an immune boosting regime before leaving home & homeopathics.
The kids have expected to be able to do more with horses though most of their horses are wild. They have had a few rides. They are however getting into rounding up the goats and milking them. Becoming quite the avid goat herders – my Greek ancestors would be proud!