We had another attempt at fixing the fire this morning, and had more success than the first time (although still smoking out the cabin). But the biggest adventure was the loo. Since we’re in the middle of nowhere, the toilets are literally outhouses, and other members of the tour had freaked everyone out the night before by telling us a story about a girl who’d gone to an outhouse in Africa during the night, only to have the floor cave in and get trapped neck deep in waste and insects all night. Not helped by the fact that the floors had cracks in them – one toilet with a rather thick crack was avoided by the majority because of it.
That sunrise made coming to the camp totally worth it.
Breakfast was included these 2 nights, so for the first time in weeks we had a hot meal in the morning. There was fried egg, sausage and some other kind of flat meat I didn’t recognise, along with tea, bread and rolls (getting used to drinking tea without milk now). Another Vodkatrain group had arrived that morning too, so the place had gotten a little more active. We’d also come across another dog, a male black beast we nicknamed ‘Big Daddy’.
The tour had promised Mongolian winter games, but surprise surprise, there wasn’t enough snow – so the sledges were back in storage (we’ve really had no luck with the winter part of this tour, really annoying since that was the biggest draw of this trip – and even more annoying since the other cheaper tour DID get to go dog sledding a mere DAY after we left). Instead, since we’d meant to do it yesterday but run out of time, we spent the early morning doing archery.
The Mongolian bow has less attachments than a western bow. You have to guess where the arrow goes rather than having any ledge to set the arrow. You also don’t really aim as we were trained to fire the bow up in the air rather than at any form of target. Made even harder by the fact that the sun was in our eyes due to the time of day. Afterwards, we played a form of charades where we just had to come up with a word for the other team to guess. Sadly our team lost (I just couldn’t get my team to understand ‘condo’ while the other team (the couple and the marrieds, managed to steamroll through ‘platypus’, ‘telephone pole’ and ‘ladybug’ – though did get scuppered with ‘instant mash’ and ‘elderberry’.
As the losers, we were the four in charge of cutting up the meat during our Mongolian Cooking Class where we’d be making dumplings. Worked out pretty well since the two veggies were in the team making the dough. The ingredients for making dumplings was pretty simple – dough is just flour and water, folded together and pounded into a solid, while the meat was a lot harder. You have to slice the meat into thin strips then dice it into small pieces. The guy in our group was the best by far for our team, while I just could not get a handle on it at all. The meat is too floppy and I have no wrist strength. You then chop up an onion and some garlic, and you’ve got your filling (the veggies got soy meat instead).
Once the fillings are ready, you take chunk of dough and roll it into a thin tube, then cut it into small sausage roll sized cunks. Then hold it by your left hand, roll the pin towards said hand, and swing the dough around until you’ve gone round the whole edge and left a slightly thicker piece in the middle. This is where you pile on the filling before you take one edge, and press it into the opposite side until you’ve gone round completely.
Sadly the closing part was the one aspect I could not master. I was great at rolling, and pretty good at calculating how much to put in, but closing them just did not work work out. I can just about close a gyoza, but those were the shape we were using for the veggie dumplings, so couldn’t use it for the meat.
So mine ended up looking like sacks rather than dumplings, and Vogy had a good giggle at my attempts before they were taken to be steamed for 20 minutes.
This was where my biggest peeve of the Ger Camp happened. I accepted that the lack of snow is not something we can help – its been an abnormally warm winter for the Northern Hemisphere and Vodkatrain warns you in advance the extra activities are weather permitting. However, while the Mongolian Cooking Class is included in the Ruski Huski – lunch is not. Meaning that although we prepared the dumplings, we had to pay to eat them. Wasn’t much admittedly, but it seemed rather cheap to make us pay for something we’d already pre-paid to make.
Dumplings were still very good though. And once we’d eaten, we set off to go visit the nomadic woman we’d brought chocolates for. She lived about 15 minutes away in her own Ger in the park.
Sadly I never quite caught her name, but she’s lived in this Ger for about 20 years, and used to teach Mongolian literature at college. She raised 8 children and nowadays, spends her time milking her cows, making dairy products and sewing traditional dress for herself.
Her Ger was beautiful, and much more like how I expected. All the furniture has a beautiful pattern, and there’s a tiny kitchen and a TV in the corners.
Gers are interesting things in that they are completely portable. It usually takes a day to move one – and for building it, you first put in a floor, the door, wall supports and middle posts, and the central roof circle. Then you put in the larger pieces of furniture, and then the 80 or so roof supports. Then its the fabric on the wall and roof, and the waterproofing outside. When you want to move, you have to register where you want to go at the government office, who will register the land to you. People normally have 2 places – one for the summer and one for the winter, and move between them depending on the weather and what their herd needs.
We also got to try some of the dairy products that Mongolians spend the summer making. This included a type of doughnutty bread that was pretty nice, cheese that was very bland (like solid sour cream), curds (which were very hard and very strong) and some weird fudge-like substance that tasted like cheese and cream and was avoided by most of us as a whole.
She was very interested in us as well, and asked about our families and jobs, and where we came from. I really wish I’d thought to bring something Scottish with me to give her.
On the way back to the camp, we stopped by a local landmark – the park itself is known for its rock structures that look like animals, and Turtle Rock was very famous (if only because the name ‘Turt Rock’ was constantly mistaken by tourists as ‘Turd Rock’)
Also spotted the other Vodkatrain group performing our next activity. Horse Riding.
Yes, again. Although considering these were Mongolian horses, it was pretty clear this was going to be a little bit different from the last time. For one thing they were smaller (some of the guys looked plain ridiculous on the backs until the stirrups were adjusted), and felt a lot sturdier. We also had to wear extra footwear for protection.
And we got a very firm warning as to how tempermental these horses could be when 2 minutes into our trek one bucked its local rider off and dragged him 20 foot down the road.
That said, it was a lot more fun than the previous horse riding. I felt more comfortable on the smaller horse, although I was pretty certain it was following my directions even less than the previous one had. It only ever seemed to follow through on actions if the locals were around nearby. But did get to trot for a good chunk of the time on flat ground.
I wasn’t having dinner on the grounds that I was still full from the dumplings, but afterwards Vogy showed both us and the other group a video of other places in Mongolia we hadn’t seen, including the Ghobi Desert and a lake to flows into Lake Baikal. Definitely going to have to come back here at some point to see that lake and trek the desert.
And this night our group had success with the fire, so we had a warm night for once! Although despite this, we ended up in the other groups ger for some time for a mini party. They also snuck in Big Daddy, who was clearly reluctant to go in (don’t think he’s meant to get in the gers) but also wouldn’t leave once he was in.