Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ending the trek with a flourish

We certainly did enjoy the monastery I mentioned in my last real post. If Carrie says much about it, I’ll link to her blog here. As for myself, I’ll just summarize by saying that a kind monk gave us a very thorough tour and explained the religious significance of the fixtures. It was a beautiful and interesting tour, but here I want to dwell on the hospitality we have enjoyed in Mongolia.

We spent our last night on the road as guests in another ger, this time in a little settlement with ten or twelve gers and a permanent bathroom with two toilets, two showers and four sinks. When we arrived, our host family invited us into their adjacent ger to enjoy fresh Mongolian pocket breads with lamb “sweetmeats” inside. (Kidneys, I think.) Our hosts made sure we were comfortable, increasing the water pressure when they saw us in the bathroom, covering our ger for the night when it got cold, and otherwise making us feel welcome and cared for.

Meg continued in her own way to care for us; for example, with delicious and extravagant dishes at every meal. On the day we went to the temple, she even took us out to lunch and ordered a sampling of traditional dishes from a menu we couldn’t have even read.

I don’t know why we doubted, then, when Meg announced that we’d look for some nomads when the weather turned chilly as we approached our intended picnic site on the shore of Ogii Lake. I would have been happy enough eating in the van where we parked overlooking the lake, but instead we barreled down a bumpy dirt track and across unmarked steppe to find nomads who hadn’t yet moved away from the area. We lit upon a family preparing to move. They had already loaded most of their stuff onto trucks, but they still had a ger standing and Meg went to introduce herself. Carrie and I were timid about getting out of the van, not wanting to force ourselves upon unprepared or unwilling hosts.

The family, however, took us in like long-lost relatives. They sat us down in their ger and presented us with salty milk tea and a plate heaped with sweet crispy shapes made from dried cheese. I’ve never had anything like those cheese snacks, and I enjoyed snacking on them as Meg prepared lunch for everybody. The nomads dug out a huge pot from the stuff they’d packed onto their truck and Meg made a vegetable-beef stew, noodles and mashed potatoes. We took photos and pantomimed gestures of goodwill at each other. Carrie and I had a great time. I was sorry I’d already run out of Belarusian souvenirs. I had not imagined we’d experience anything like this.

I delighted in the landscape and the views during our ride back to Ulaanbaatari just as much as I’d relished them on the way out of the city. But this time, it felt different. Meg, Temuulen and Ogi had become dear to us, and we rode with family. Temuulen lay across the back seat, resting on Meg and me, trying to teach me to speak Mongolian. Ogi grinned into the mirror. Carrie chatted with Meg about Mongolia and about life.

We’re spending our last few hours in Ulaanbaatar now, updating our blogs. Carrie and I haven’t spoken much yet today, but we agree on one thing: We want to return to Mongolia.

From 2015-09 Beijing-to-Minsk

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