Goodbye Mongolia: Naadam in Dariganga and Yeroo
My friend Davaakhuu escorted me to the train station. Goodbye Mongolia.
Hello friends, as I write I am relaxing at TransSib Hostel in Irkusck, Russia. I got off the TransSiberian train this morning after 1.5 days of travel from Ulaanbaatar. Before I mention too much about the train, I’ll catch you up with the end of my Mongolia trip and Naadam!
The last you heard of me was about Toro Band, the infamous horse thief. Well, after my van ride around Dariganga, I spent 1 more week in town with Heath and Jeremy. We relaxed, cooked food, watched movies, and hung out. (Also, if you wanted to know, on July 4th we made bread sticks, drank a beer, and watched Independence Day. ‘Merica!)
On July 5th, Naadam started and it went till the 6th. I bought a Mongolian Dell (a traditional shirt) for the occasion! Heath’s host family drove us to the Naadam grounds where we watched wrestling and horse racing. The grounds were simple and the equipment was basic, but the people and tents were very colorful. Everyone was in their best dell or clothes. We sat with the teachers and watched wrestling for a long while. I learned that there are specific outfits for wrestling. Men wear undies that are tied with rope and are bright colors like pink, blue, or red. They also have arm sleeves (no shirt) that are tied with rope on the front. When the battle begins, they run out onto the field, they flap their arms like birds, their coach takes off their hat, they stretch, and then they start the match against their opponent. When someone loses they untie the arm sleeves and the winner slaps them on the butt. The winner then flaps his wings, grabs some Arilth (hard cheese curd), and throws it to the audience. We watched this for a couple hours. Is it weird to say that I really enjoyed watching it? Watching 2 huge men wrestle is quite the sight. Also, their undies were so cute. Heath and Jeremy did not agree with me… Alas.Men wrestling for Naadam (Photo by Andy Wong)
When wrestling wasn’t happening, we watched the horse racing. Remember how Dariganga has fast horses because of Toro Band? Well, there were a lot of horse races because so many people raise horses here. There were 6 races (1 per year for the horse) and I watched 3 of them. The first time I saw the horses reach the hillside was quite the sight. I could see a small speck, which was the horse, but I also saw a flood of vehicles following close to their respective horses. Seeing the distance fill up with horses and cars will be unforgettable.
Heath, Jeremy, and I caught a manure truck back to town and spent the rest of the day relaxing. The second day of Naadam was a similar experience, except with more trophy ceremonies. Heath’s host family won 3rd and 5th in two horse races! Very cool.
The following morning, we said goodbye to the family, cows, Heath’s ger, and Dariganga. We caught a 17 hour bus back to Ulaanbaatar. The difference between this bus and the other buses I have taken are this: people sing, people share food, and people share drinks. That morning, one of the first things offered to me was a shot of vodka. To be polite (and Mongolian), I took the shot and soon found out how to politely refuse. Which is by putting your ring finger into the cup and flicking vodka to the sky gods 3 consecutive times. 3 is a very special number. It has to be 3. I brought some food and shared it with a friendly monk sitting across from us and a grumpy looking man at the corner of the bus. We were pretty quiet in the beginning. I slept on Jeremy’s shoulder and Heath on mine; it was a good system. At about hour 8-9 we were persuaded to sing English songs. And at about hour 11-12, we were becoming very popular with the locals. People were laughing and enjoying our company. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on a bus. I liked the feeling of community (the Mongolian songs were nice too.)
We arrived in UB and quickly caught a bus to Darkhan to go to a small soum called Yeroo. In Darkhan, I stayed with some PCVs and got to play a baritone ukulele. It felt so good. We ate some Korean food too. I sadly didn’t get to know Darkhan that well, but it seemed like a nice place. Heath, Jeremy, and I found the bus station and packed into a taxi with 2 other people and drove 1.5 hours NW to Yeroo. It was one helluva ride, we all got very comfortable with each other by the end.
We made it to Yeroo and I was impressed by its charm. The nature around the town was beautiful. There is a river that flows beside the town, a marsh borders it to the SW, and a holy mountain lays to the East. The town itself is also quaint, it has lots of wood cabins, colorful buildings, a nice school, and of course the traditional gers. We were dropped off on the opposite side of town, so I got a good look while walking towards Jeremy and Heath’s host families homes. It was nice to see wooden homes of different sizes and shapes. In Dariganga, the homes were all cookie-cutter (all the same shape), while in Yeroo some had big windows, small windows, 2 stories, 1 story, etc.
We split from Jeremy and Heath showed me my new home for the next 4 days. I was going to live in a cute wooden cabin. It was very cozy. The inside was covered with rugs, there was a dry sink, a small table, a fireplace, and 2 windows. I had to crouch to walk inside, but I didn’t mind. After dropping off my stuff, Heath introduced me to my new sister. She brought us bortsig (fried dough) and fresh cream. It was delicious. She then also fed us some rice. I was very full after that. After eating, the family had to milk the cows. Heath and I helped by delivering the recently pumped cows milk to a filtering machine (Heath transported, I poured the milk into the machine, and Heath’s host brother churned the machine.) Heath’s family makes everything they drink and eat. They turn the milk into tea, or yogurt, or Arilth, or other foods. They also have sheep to make food, such as hoosher or soyven. It was very interesting to live with a self sustaining family. I learned a lot from them.
Each morning, I ate bortsig with cream (sometimes there was candy too). On the second day, it was the 1st day of Naadam. I wore my dell and went to the stadium to watch the events. There was no archery in Dariganga, so I spent a lot of time watching that. Heath’s host sister competed in the event, she got 3rd place! I was also lucky enough to follow the horse race by van. It is a totally different experience following the horses; I felt like I was really in the race. That was a great time! We returned to the stadium, ate some hoosher, and returned back to our homes. Heath’s family was kind enough to cook us sheep gedis (sheep innards; intestines, liver, stomach, blood sausage, ect.) It is a big deal for the family to kill a sheep, so I tried my best to eat as much as possible. It really didn’t taste bad, it was mostly the texture that got me. (We used the leftover gedis to make gedis hoosher. I helped make it. It was fun!). The hardest thing to eat for me was the sheep head. The next day they boiled the head in a soup of rice and fed it to us and then I was offered the face skin. I had to politely refuse, my stomach has eaten some crazy things, but I couldn’t handle the taste and texture of sheep head. Even thinking about it makes my stomach churn. Bleh.
The second day of Naadam went well. I watched Jeremy’s little brother wrestle and I even watched a second horse race. I decided halfway through the day that I wanted to go on a walk, so I put on my hiking pants and headed south, following a road. I walked towards a hill so that I could get a good view of Yeroo. In total, I think I walked for 4 hours. I helped milk cows after my walk, but mostly I herded them into their pen, and watched the sunset. (Have I mentioned how stellar the sunsets are in Mongolia? I think I have, but just so you know, they are amazing.)
On our final day, Heath, Jeremy, and I spent most of it hanging out. Their families went to the countryside, so we went to the river, cooked soyven with a fire, and celebrated our 3 weeks together traveling. I really enjoyed my time with Jeremy. He’s an adorably, awkward Wisconsinite who studied international relations in college. He’ll spend 1 more year in Mongolia teaching English and then he will attend Masters school for foreign relations (I think). We had some good times and I’ll miss his company. Thanks Jeremy for the great memories! I think swing dancing in Heath’s ger is my highlight with you.
Heath and I went on a long walk out into the countryside. I knew it would be my last time and I was happy to share the moment with him. I am so grateful to have Heath as a friend. He was my guide in Mongolia and he did a great job. I have many fond memories, like the English camp, learning Mongolian waltz, cooking Mongolian food, and our long philosophical chats. Heath, thank you for everything.
Well, the rest is history. I went back to UB with Heath, said goodbye to my friends, and caught the train north to Russia. The train ride was very pleasant. I enjoyed watching the scenery change from gers to logs cabins, and from flat valleys to forest. There were foreigners on the train, whom I chatted with, but I spent most of the time reading. I finished BossyPants by Tina Fey and then started the 5th book of Game of Thrones. (aaah!)
Well, that’s about it. I’ll catch a bus tomorrow morning to an island 7 hours SE of here that is within Lake Baikhal. I’ll make sure to write about it before I catch my train to Moscow.