Today I woke up feeling the effects of last night’s debauchery, but I wasn’t going to let a minor hangover stand in my way of exploring the surrounding area. I got out of bed and ate breakfast (slight variation of yesterday’s: eggs, sausage, bread, jam, and cheese); the French couple woke up and came in to the dining room shortly after me; we discussed last night’s excess and our plans for today over our meal and coffee. The French couple were heading out on a four-day trek into the mountains on horseback (decided last night based on the weather forecast) and the Turk and I were traveling via van up the west side of the lake to hopefully see the reindeer herdsmen.
Our driver arrived on time today with the same troublesome minivan from yesterday and we left shortly after. We drove through town and into the woods to circumnavigate the hilly terrain before the road returned to the lake and ran parallel to it’s western shore. Along the road, to the left and right, were many tourist camps, most of which were just setting up for the primary tourist season; some of them were still constructing the gers that would soon be inhabited by hoards of tourists. Our driver then stopped the van to pick up a young boy who smelled of spoiled milk – he would assist our journey as a guide, though he spoke no English and didn’t really do anything.
Shortly after an hour of driving, we reached our destination. There was a lone teepee beside a creek with about seven reindeer feeding in the gulch. Each reindeer had a rope tied to one of their hind legs and their head to keep them from running off and to make it easier for the herdsmen to manage them. The young boy with us went inside the teepee and came back out with salt crystals for us to feed to the reindeer; the reindeer we fed lapped up all the salt and licked our hands clean.
We were then invited inside the teepee for süütei tea made from reindeer milk, as well as bread and butter (also made from reindeer milk). Inside the teepee was a stove and little else – truly a nomadic people. The camp was run by an elderly couple who not only spoke Mongolian, but an archaic form of Turkish, which my traveling companion could understand, allowing him to communicate directly with the old woman (the man didn’t say anything). We found out that she had traveled to Paris and Italy to exhibit her people’s way of life. She then broke out a tea brick and broke away pieces of it with a rock, which she then threw into the bowl of boiling süütei tea on the stove. The Turk and the old woman conversed some more before we said our “thank yous”, gave her a tip of 10,000 ₮, and exited the teepee. Outside the reindeer were resting on the ground; we took some more photos, got back into the minivan, and headed further north.
Our next stop was a Shaman ritual site. It was an enclosed area with a fence and many conical structures built from logs. There were colorful ribbons hanging from the logs. The boy removed one of the logs at the entrance, allowing us to go inside and explore. We peaked behind curtains of ribbons to see inside each conical structure; most of them housed the instruments, masks, and costumes used for the shamanic ceremonies. There were also benches for the spectators and poles inside the enclosed area. After exploring the ritual site, we then left in the van and headed back south,
Our next stop was another shamanic structure located next to the lake. It had many poles protruding from the ground with rocks set up in a diamond pattern, connecting each pole. On top of each pole was animal hair and a spike. We then got back into the van and drove south; our next stop was to drop the boy off and shortly after we stopped again to stroll by the lake where there was some ice on the shore. Upon closer inspection of the ice, I could see many mosquitoes just standing on top as if they were still hibernating from the winter; thankfully they were not actively trying to suck our blood.
We then moved on and soon we were back at the guesthouse. I then trekked to the north side of town to draw some cash from the local bank so I could go back to living like a dethroned king. Shortly after I had made it back to the guesthouse, storms began to move in. We soon had rain, lightning, and hail. The ger the Turk and I were staying in had a hole in the center and the rain was spilling in, hitting the stove, and then steaming back up. An old man who helps run the guesthouse kept coming into our ger to check the fire in the stove and to add more logs. Our ger became so hot it was like a sauna in there and I was sweating out all the toxins I had gained the night before. The storms came in a succession of three before finally finishing in the early evening, although ominous clouds still surrounded us. I was now curious to how the French couple was faring in the mountain wilderness.
I used most of the time I was confined in the ger (to escape the foul weather) to catch up on past journal entries. Later, I had dinner at the guesthouse, which was a pasta, mutton, and salsa dish, that unfortunately was rather cold. The Turk and I then finalized arrangements to travel back to Murun tomorrow with the guesthouse owner’s brother. Then, after a goodnight beer, I went to sleep.