There were a few nights during our Ger to Ger journey where Christian, J and I shared a room or ger. These evenings were much-needed opportunities to chat in the privacy of our own space and reflect on our impressions to date. One of the things that we all agreed on was that this trip was one probably best experienced in retrospect- one that gained value as more days passed and we had the benefit of reflection and hindsight.
On a daily basis, the experience was often awkward and confusing, and sometimes physically uncomfortable. The interactions with the families grew redundant and disheartening and the days felt long despite the fact that we slept for 10-12 hours of each one. We departed each home with questions left unanswered and the sense that it was another missed opportunity to learn and grow from this meeting of two worlds.
Regardless, in assembling the photos for this post, it amazed me how much we did experience despite the many moments where we felt that we weren’t absorbing and accomplishing as much as we wanted. And I expect that as time passes, these highlights will come to define the trip even though they aren’t necessarily representative of our day-to-day experience throughout the journey.
And so, here they are- the bells and the whistles, the lessons from our two weeks living with nomads in the Gobi:
We learned that the Gobi is more than just an expanse of flat, dry, brown land (although, it is certainly a lot of flat, dry, brown land):
Ikh Gazriin Chuluu, once home to mighty T-Rexs
Rock climbing around Ikh Gazriin Chuluu
Uush Sand Dunes, believed to have healing properties
Uush Sand Dunes
Tsagaan Suvraga cliffs
We learned what it takes to create and assemble a home that’s transportable, yet robust:
A demonstration of how to set up a ger utilizing a miniature version that this family made themselves (complete with a working miniature stove powered by dung!)
It was uncanny how much the interior and exterior model resembled the family’s home
A demonstration of how felt is made for ger walls
We learned that children are lifesavers in awkward situations:
They’re captivated even when they have no idea what you’re saying
I think it’s important to emphasize that we are not responsible for the item she’s holding in her hands
Watching J put in his contact lens
Teaching me how to fold up the tent
J showing the local kids how it’s done
We learned that nomadic games are designed to humble us:
Christian and J working on a Mongolian puzzle that the family shared with us while the family worked on a puzzle that Christian brought from his home
The objective is to maneuver the two bone pieces so that they’re next to one another. I was finally able to do it after the family showed me about ten times.
One of several versions of Shagai, which is played with sheep ankle bones
A popular game called Dembe which involves singing a song in two parts while doing math on one hand and keeping score on the other. And if you lose, you have to drink airag (fermented horse milk).
We learned how to herd:
Goats and sheep (cute until they all turn toward you at once and then they’re terrifying)
Camel herding by motorbike
We learned that while there may not be much life in the Gobi, there’s certainly a lot of spirit:
A prayer pole and a monument in the distance dedicated to one of Mongolia’s famous long song singers
Ban cliffs, where ten minutes pressed awkwardly against a boulder ensures renewed energy
J circling an ovoo three times and making a wish
Turning prayer wheels at a village monastery
We learned how to milk…everything:
Camels (In case you wondered: In order to milk the camels, the family initially herded the baby camels together. When it was time to milk the camels, we untied each baby camel in turn and their mother would automatically come over and begin nursing it. We then shoved the baby camel aside and took the milk for ourselves.)
We learned that the Gobi is home to some great talents:
Learning the art of wood carving from an expert
Horse fiddle player recognized by the Mongolian government for his extraordinary talents and contributions
We learned to prepare food, the Mongolian way:
Cooking on the stove in the middle of the ger
Forming aarul patties
Cutting aarul with thread
Our driver, sitting in his jeep, pickling Gobi onion that he found in the desert during our drives
We learned patience, persistence, and that you can communicate goodness and sincerity even without words. Many thanks to these families (our favorites of the trip) who invited us into their homes and didn’t give up on our relationship and interactions despite the fact that we couldn’t understand the language, laughed at inappropriate times, and generally seemed confused and slow:
Gundsambuu, Naigal and their sons who were immensely talented in singing, wood carving and embroidery
Uigarmaa and Naranjiv who cooked spectacular meals and spent an evening playing cards and drinking games with us (shown here holding a book that he wrote and gifted to us)
Tsembeldorj and his wife, Tumenbayar who showed us incredible kindness and hospitality, took us on long walks and taught us how to boulder
Jinkhuu and Uranchimeg, the Gobi’s seemingly most popular family, who taught us how to sing Mongolian songs, drink the local vodka and party hard
Above all, the slow-paced, practical and sustenance-focused lifestyle in the Gobi taught us a deeper appreciation for food, shelter and clothing and all those things that comprise our basic needs that we never think to question. It certainly refocused our attention and energies on the simpler moments that make up the bulk of life; however, it’s interesting to see how this collection of smaller things, when taken as a whole, amounts to one great adventure.