Mongolia

Published on October 20th, 2012

18

A Month in Mongolia – Chapter 2: Milking Yaks in the Wild

A Month in Mongolia Chapter 2 - Baby Camel A Month in Mongolia Chapter 2 - Prayer Flags
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Gonna find me a yak – and MILK it!

As I’m soon to take off on yet another new adventure ( in Oz) I’m anxious to wrap up the tale of the remainder of my month-long adventure in Mongolia.

But goodness – I recently waded through my 600+ pics (now honed down to < 200 but still…) of the two weeks I spent trekking on foot and by horseback in the Altai mountains in western Mongolia, and… Suffice I’m convinced that my many adventures there will take at least several more separate posts.

Nonetheless, I shall begin to make a dent in sharing the tale of:

  • sleeping on the frigid floors of unheated gers (that is, when we weren’t otherwise camped out under the stars – likewise freezing our patooties off.),
  • riding for a solid week (or til my bum was so sore I could barely walk, whichever came first – and trust that the latter most painfully proved to come first – after but the first HOUR on my steed.),
  • stumbling in the dark amid fields of yak dung to demurely squat…,
  • slurping BOATLOADS of steaming “milk tea” (I swear, if I NEVER see another bowl of milk tea, it will be too soon),
  • witnessing the vividly colorful butcher of a goat for our dinner (we were “guests” and thus it was a “special occasion” after all…),
  • playing scrabble by candlelight, huddled around the dung-fueled stove,
  • climbing up a sheer cliff to peek over the edge at an eagle’s nest.
  • holding a live EAGLE on my arm(!),
  • blowing up balloons and handing out stickers to squealing Mongolian kids (even the 17 yrs. olds were fighting for a sticker!),
  • helping a Khasak lass make fried bread and churn yak milk into butter,
  • desperately searching for – even ONE, single ripe TOMATO after two solid weeks of absolutely NO VEGETABLES whatsoever!,
  • tossing down shots of vodka at a community potluck – on the MENS side of the ger,
  • gaping nervously as our camel (loaded with all our precious water, propane, food and camp gear) suddenly went NUTS, shaking off pots, pans, etc.,

And yes, even milking a yak.

But first, let me say this – alarmingly, I very nearly didn’t make my (so eagerly anticipated) Eagle Hunter tour.  Indeed, I came THIS close to bowing out – not getting on the plane to western Mongolia at all.  You see, upon arriving back in Ulaanbaatar after my week in the Gobi, I allowed but a slim 15 hours overnight before checking in for my Ezna flight to Ulgii the next morning, where my little Back-to-Bek tour group would be waiting to head out into the boonies of Nowheresville, Mongolia.

And in that slim 15 hours…  I got sick*.  Very, very, COBE (Coming Out Both…) a-traveler’s-worst-nightmare sick.  And “nightMARE” is a most apt word here, ‘cuz I’m convinced that it was that last (reluctant) sip of fermented “mare’s milk” in the Gobi that did me in.  In short, not long after I arrived back at the Lotus Guesthouse, I was headed for the (oh so sadly, shared) bathroom.  And I pretty much spent the rest of the night there, retching and so on (the “so on” is kindly used here as a genteel euphemism for all manner of grossness).  Seriously.  I was one miserable, messed-up lass.

Not as seriously messed up as when I landed in an Indonesian HOSPITAL in Sumatra (that I only briefly alluded to in THIS post), but still…  Trust that by morning, I was only the teensiest bit better (leastwise able to exit the bathroom floor, and stand on my own two feet), and thus…  You can only imagine my internal struggle – the one in my gut notwithstanding, but we’re talkin’ here about the mental struggle/anguish of facing the hard, cold fact that – I might well be NUTS to try to embark on what was sure to be a tough 2 week trek (in the BEST of health conditions) in my wobbly state that morning.
*sick – Though the above two episodes of ugh might lead you to believe that such acky travelers’ woe happens frequently in my travels, suffice that’s simply not the case at all.  Indeed, though at the imminent moment when one is retching, it might seem like you will never, EVER leave the comfy, hygienic confines of home-sweet-home, the truth is – I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been ill in 30+ years of travel.

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Yup, not too much down there…

Nonetheless, by sheer force of will (and against even MY better judgement) I simply put one shaky foot in front of the other, packed up all my stuff, headed to the airport, and – still decidedly queasy, somehow managed to get myself all the way to Ulgii (no less than 1,700 miles west).

At which point of course, there was simply no turning back.

And oh my but am I ever glad I pushed myself forward that morning.  ‘Cuz – though I remained wobbly for several more days, the two week trek proved to be among the most incredible of all my travels.

Indeed, had I given in to my more prudent (some would argue, sensible) side…

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I would have missed this…

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and this.

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Likewise I’d not have tossed down vodka shots with this lad (one of Mongolia’s most celebrated Eagle Hunters

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Nor hung out in the boonies with this motley crew

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I’d never have heard the giggles of these midget Mongolians

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Nor climbed waaay up to the lofty heights of an eagle’s nest

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Nor ridden my dear steed “Violet” for 6 solid days across the vast Mongolian steppe
(note: I named “him” based on the purple color of “his” bridle)

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I’d have missed seeing a very pissed-off camel (shortly after this pic was taken) wildly shake off our gear..

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And never known what it was like to pine for a single cherry tomato –
I mean, do YOU see any VEGETABLES on that table???

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Nor (conversely) would I have waxed orgasmic when I spied a stash of SNICKERS at a rare country store.

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And I most certainly would have avoided witnessing the butcher of this furry fellow for our dinner (suffice I have several more gruesome pics of the slaying, but in the interest of good taste – which btw, he WAS indeed tasty – but still…)

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And finally – yep, I of course would never have realized my (arguably a bit odd) dream of milking a yak!

Tune it for future installments with more details and pics of “Life on the Mongolian Trail”, “Mongolian Fishing Expedition”, “Nomadic Ger Life”, “The Mysteries of Mongolian Felt-making”, “Mongolian Kids”, and/or possibly “A Camel Comparison”.

And do tell – would YOU have wobbled your way out of that bathroom, and queasily hopped on a plane to embark on a (formidable, by any standards) 14 day trek in the wilds of Mongolia?

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!



18 Responses to A Month in Mongolia – Chapter 2: Milking Yaks in the Wild

  1. juraphotos says:

    Hiya! Thanks so much for your long and detailed response. Very helpful especially as we are in our packing planning stages now. The presents, polaroid, coffee and peanut butter tips are all very useful. Re: water I think we will probably try to bring a filter/and water purification tablets as it also doesn’t seem very ecological (or good weight wise for the pack horses) lugging around all that water. Thanks again and we are very excited.!

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yes, I HIGHLY recommend a water filter system. My fave is a “Sawyer” bottle (w/ a LIFETIME filter guarantee). Alas, I lost mine in the Gobi before my horse trek so had to use ghastly p-l-a-s-t-i-c water bottles supplied by Bek. ;(

      Do let me know how it goes.

  2. juraphotos says:

    Hi, I’ve enjoyed looking at your blog – great pictures and stories. We are off for 10-11 days of horse riding with Bek travel in the Altai Tavan Bogd. I too am worried about soreness even though we are all confident riders. How was Bek? I’m only getting nervous now as we have booked but then I was reading some things about leaking tents… Any tips on what to bring? Equipment, gifts for people, some coffee by the sounds of things…. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Many thanks, Jura (Blog: Hound in Hanoi http://juraphotos.wordpress.com/)

    • TravelnLass says:

      Not sure just when you plan to go Jura, but hopefully summer (i.e. July – September) as the Altai mountains can be quite c.o.l.d (we had snow in July!)

      And Bek’s? Honestly, I have mixed opinions about them. On one hand my 2 week trip (the highlight of which was staying with an Eagle Hunter’s family) mainly by jeep and 6 days) horseback, was among THE most AUTHENTIC of all my travels. We were MAJORLY off the beaten path, full-tilt in the middle of NOWHERE. No electricity save for a stray single light bulb juiced by a small solar panel beside the ger once in awhile, no running water, not even outhouses – just (literally) pissin’ in the wind. So, very authentic, and our 2 guides (both spoke fairly good English) were excellent. But…

      On the other hand, (and this is compared to a similar week in the Gobi), the food along the way was extremely (and imho, unnecessarily) spartan. For starters, when we started off from Olgi, they loaded the van with bottled water – a grand total of *12* liters for 7 people – FOR TWO WEEKS! Only after I waxed alarmed, did they reluctantly add another 24 small bottles. Even so, we had to ration it out in the final days of the trek.

      Also, both breakfasts and lunch were ever but milk tea, yak cheese and stale bread. I’m not the least bit fussy when it comes to eats when I travel, but even I can’t ride all day and/or trek 8 hours with but bread and milk to sustain me. Indeed, I lost at least 10-15 lbs. in two weeks. Thus I strongly suggest you bring a jar of peanut butter, and yes, some instant coffee.

      And yes, don’t count on the tents being top-notch. It didn’t matter much to me as I was willing to sleep most anywhere (which often translated to a mud hut or winter corral, whatever was handy.) But towards the end of our 2 week trek, it rained a lot and the others insisted they bring newer tents out else we all head back to Olgi for a hotel.

      Oh, and… yes, yes, do PACK WARM CLOTHES! I verily LIVED, DAY AND NIGHT for two weeks, in pretty much ALL the clothes I’d packed.

      And yes, plenty of small gifts for the wonderful Kasaks you’ll meet along the trail. Stickers for the kids proved very popular and balloons too. For the ladies, I had a few sparkly rings (see my “All That Glitters” post) and ended up giving away some of my own (beloved) travel bracelets as well. But in retrospect, I think bitty flashlights and maybe a few fishing lures might prove even more welcome.

      Oh, and one in our little group of 5 brought a Polaroid camera which proved great fun. The film is quite expensive, but everyone, EVERYONE wanted their picture taken, and it was great to be able to actually give them a pic to keep.

      And finally, oh my yes. Unless you’ve been riding regularly immediately before you go, YOU.WILL.BE.SORE. There’s just no way to get around it given that you’ll be 6-8 hrs. in the saddle most days. We tended to take short rests every hour or two, but still…

      In short, you are destined for a physically tough adventure. No doubt the toughest in all my travels. Nonetheless… WELL WORTH EVERY SORE, UNCOMFORTABLE MINUTE OF IT!

  3. Marty McL says:

    This is definitely a pinnacle of adventuring, Travelnlass. My weebly version of adventure is that I’m staying two nights in my son’s SF apartment — it does have its third world aspects. Brava to you for setting a formidable standard!

    Love,

    Marty

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yep Marty, (even) I must admit that this little foray amid the wilds of Chinggis Khaanland proved a bit of an adventure-stretch. Ah but it was sooo worth it!

      Not sure how “third world” a SF apartment might be(?), but you’ve already proven your “guts” mettle in running for (and winning!) political office. g-knows I’d NEVER in a million years be able to do that. So “brava” backactcha girlfriend! 😉

  4. Hi, Dyanne, and wow to this adventure!! I’m so happy you went on the trek. Looks amazing! I really enjoyed reading this and know what? You’ve planted a tiny seed in my brain…a possible trip to Mongolia in the future? Hmmm.

    Anyway, love your photos and your guts/determination!

    • TravelnLass says:

      Sorry Lisa, I only just now spied your note. Glad I could contribute to the corrupt…errr, inspiration of your future travels. 😉

      Furthermore, not sure guts/courage has much to do with it,, so much as… Yup, dogged determination – guilty-as-charged! Indeed, some might even argue a smidge of “foolish”, but I am nothing, if not DEEE-termined to see/experience as many wondrous corners of this amazing Planet as I can!

  5. What a trooper (trouper?) and optimist you are. Me? Hard to say from the comfort of my living room. For me, COBE has always been duration with rapid recovery77. Were I comparing health to a once in a life time opportunity, I’d like to think I’d go for it. Otherwise it comes down to health vs monetary loss + disappointment. I think age + strenuous + starting in a weakened condition would make it a difficult choice, but one I’d put off until the point of no return.

    After reading the above I thought of adding The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ to my music queue. Then realized both ‘Coming Out Both …’ and ‘Fermented mare’s milk’ have 5 syllables. Counted syllables and put it out of mind because some subjects are not appropriate for haiku.

  6. Glad you braved it. I probably would’ve gone just because I’m a cheapskate and would’ve rued losing all that money. (But I would’ve been a horrible, cry-baby of a traveling companion…). That Mongolian meal looks absolutely horrid. It looks like variations on fried tofu. Interested in knowing what it was. Glad you braved on and saw the sights. Is it me, or do Mongolian animals look extra furry and cuddly?

    • TravelnLass says:

      LOL James, well yes – the lost rubles were somewhat of an incentive. But as I wobbled to the airport that morning, the rubles were the last thing on my mind. I honestly only thought of how much I’d REGRET missing out on one of my travel dreams, so I jolly-well (well o.k. not the least bit “jolly” at the time) gritted teeth and pushed myself onto that plane.

      And nope, nothing as grand as “tofu” on that table (in my DREAMS!) – it was all (and EVER!) various and sundry forms of… YAK milk/cheese/butter!

      And yep, no doubt Mongolian animals (and likewise the locals) are necessarily extra furry/cuddly due to the H-A-R-S-H Mongolian winters there out in the middle of Nowheresville. Shoot, we were there in AUGUST, and we had SNOW!

  7. Mary Moss says:

    I love this post! And, while reading it, “The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss started playing in my head. I thank you for kicking me out of the “waiting place”.

    Oh, the places you’ll go!

    Congratulations!
    Today is your day,
    You’re off to Great Places!
    You’re off and away!

    You have brains in your head.
    You have feet in your shoes.
    You can steer yourself
    any direction you choose.
    You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
    And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

    You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
    About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’
    With your head full of brains, and your shoes full of feet,
    you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

    And when you’re in a Slump,
    you’re not in for much fun.
    Un-slumping yourself
    is not easily done.

    You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
    Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re dark.
    A place that could sprain both elbow and chin!
    Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
    How much can you lose? How much can you win?

    And IF you should go in, should you turn left or right…
    or right-and-three-quaters? Or maybe not quite?
    Or go around and back and sneak from behind?
    Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
    for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

    You can get so confused
    that you’ll start in to race
    down long and wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
    and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
    headed, I fear, toward a most usless place

    The Waiting Place…

    …for people just waiting.

    Waiting for a train to go
    or a bus to come, or a plane to go
    or the mail to come, or the rain to go
    or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
    or waiting around for a Yes or a No
    or waiting for their hair to grow.
    Everyone is just waiting.

    Waiting for the fish to bite
    or waiting for wind to fly a kite
    or waiting around for Friday night
    or waiting, perhaps, for their uncle Jake
    or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
    or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
    or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
    Everyone is just waiting.

    NO!
    That’s not for you!

    Somehow you’ll escape
    all that waiting and staying.
    You’ll find the bright places
    where boom bands are playing.

    Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
    There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
    And the magical things you can do with that ball
    will make you the winning-est winner of all.
    Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,
    with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

    Except when they don’t.
    Because, sometimes, they won’t.

    I’m afraid that some times
    you’ll play lonely games too.
    Games you can’t win
    ’cause you’ll play against you.

    All Alone!
    Whether you like it or not.
    Alone will be something
    you’ll be quite a lot.

    And when you’re alone, theres a very good chance
    you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
    There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
    that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

    But on you will go
    though the whether be foul.
    On you will go
    though your enemies prowl.
    On you will go
    though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
    Onward up many
    a frightening creek,
    though you arms may get sore
    and your sneakers may leak.

    On and on you will hike.
    And I know you’ll hike far
    and face up to your problems
    whatever they are.

    You’ll get mixed up of course,
    as you already know.
    You’ll get mixed up
    with many stray birds as you go.
    So be sure when you step.
    Step with care and great tact
    and remember that Life’s
    a Great Balancing Act.
    Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
    And never mix up your right foot with you left.

    And will you succeed?
    Yes! You will indeed!
    (98 and 3/4 percent garanteed!)

    KID YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

    So…
    be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
    or Mordecai Ali Van Alenn O’Shea
    you’re off to Great Places!
    Today is your day!
    Your mountain is waiting.
    So… get on your way!

    BY: DR.Seuss
    Adens Kamwi

    • TravelnLass says:

      Oh Mary, I LOVE it! So much so… that I do believe I shall publish it in a full TL post “(Dr. Seuss Knows) The Story of My Life…” (stay tuned).

      Indeed, the lad was a GENIUS! (though… I’m not sure why you added the “Adens Kamwi”, I Googled it and I think he’s another poet from Nambia???)

      In any case, the “Dr.”‘s words are oh so true. Glad I could help nudge you a bit out of that ughy (and totally wasteful of the blessed life you’ve been given) “waiting” place. I’ll see you soon, here in Vietnam!

    • Mary Moss says:

      I was cutting/pasting in a hurry and accidentally added irrelevant info.

      Yes, I’ll be seeing you soon!

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