Saturday 12 Aug
Terelj National Park, Mongolia
In the Land of Airag, the Biscuit is King.
It happened! We are pleased to announce that for the first time since we left home, we actually found our hostel without getting lost . This sentence kinda hides the great trek (45 minutes with our heavy backpacks) to get there, after foolishly poo pooing the taxis as bourgeois. We actually landed up staying in the new improved version of Zaya Guest House across the road which was particularly excellent when we landed pretty much our own modern apartment with cable TV and our own kitchen for $12 each. What a score!
But more about Ulaan Baator later as we had soon organised an adventure into nature with Scott and Jane...
Like so many Western travellers, we longed to 'go native' , so arranged to stay with a nomadic family for 4 days in the Terelj National Park. This meant eating what they ate - 'no problem for veggie' they said (although I packed enough noodles and biscuits to last through a minor war) - but BASIC they said. I know you are thinking - I am about to describe the horror of the extent to which basic can go, but it was actually really good once we got over the necessity to remove the smaller bits of meat from our veggie food... but the real eye opener is what one can do with mare's milk. Yes it really is possible to milk a mare (as in a female horse) - we saw it with our very own eyes. I can also see why it didn't really take off in the same way that say cow's milk has. It might be because it tastes very bad. And that is before you ferment it. Once that happens you get Airag or NightMare's milk as we called it. I have never tasted anything quite so vile although Andrew eventually got a taste for it - that could have been after he learnt that it contained 3 percent alcohol
Another foodie first was what you can do with what they innocently called 'cow's cream' cunningly disguised as scrambled eggs. The cooking process is something like heating up and letting sit for a week which in the West we would call 'making it go off - really off' and I swear that if it had chosen to, it could have got up and left the room on its own. Taste wise I can only say that Andrew almost threw up but bravely went on to accept the biscuit version in front of our hosts, almost throwing up again much to everyone's amusement. Even after these warning signals from Andrew I decided it can't be that bad. It turns out there is something else that I won't swallow.
Andrew turned 34 at Terelj and my previous safety net thoughts to myself of 'don't worry Shanna there will be a shop nearby if you forget' turned out to be - well plainly wrong. Without a shop in sight I had to get creative and quick - bunch of freshly picked wild flowers, Scott and Jane got him the good weather and then I organised a dinner at the local tourist camp with a cake in the evening. Turned out they had a cake crisis before we got there and I asked what plan B was. When told they had no plan B, I insisted a plan B needed to be hatched and very quickly and that it needed to have a candle on it! The Manager was very sweet and announced to the table that she had a plan B, but 'it wasn't very good'. So much for the surprise element! We then spent an hysterical 2 hrs waiting for the 'surprise that wasn't very good' smoothing it over with local beer. Eventually and after every member of staff had been hauled into the kitchen to help out with our surprise, the lights were turned off and in came a rasberry jam, cherry compote, mint chocolate, apple decorated birthday cake. It was still warm and delicious and walking back to our ger (traditional nomadic tent) we were treated to the kinda sky that you just don't see anymore. Happy birthday Andrew.
The rest of time we spent with excellent company on hikes including up to a remote buddist temple, milking cows, meeting some sweet Japanese tourists who took us on a tour in their jeep to see Turtle Rock and riding our hosts horses over the Mongolian plains.
To sum it up - we had the best time possible.