John and I are sitting in our Ger at Hustai National Park listening to the pitter-patter of rainfall outside and enjoying the heat from the stove fire. We have left our former camp and relocated here to the park to start our studies of the Tahki Horse or Prezwalski's Horse as it is more commonly known. For the last hour or so we have been reflecting on our time at the Pallas Cat Research Camp, sharing memories and yesterday we capped off our last day at the Pallas Cat Camp with the most exciting meal imaginable.
Ghana's (one of our Mongolian guides) family butchered a goat for his birthday. All parts of the goat (meat, bones, fat, gristle) were placed in a large metal jug with a lid (it was an old large milk jug). We built a fire with grass and dung (cow, goat, and sheep poo) and threw rocks into the fire. When the rocks were glowing hot, they were placed in the jug with the meat. Ghana topped it off with potatoes, carrots and onion, poured in some salt, and capped it off.
Note: Normally this traditional "Mongolian Barbeque" isn't cooked inside an old milk jug. Traditionally the goat is skinned and all holes are sewn closed. Then the meat, rocks and veggies and hot rocks are put inside the skin and it is sewn closed.
Just imagine. You have dirt covered meat that is butchered out under the sun sitting in a large jug with burnt dung covered rocks thrown in as a source of heat. Believe me when I say, IT WAS INCREDIBLE! The meat was tender, greasy and flavorful! On my second trip through the food line, Muntsog gave me a thigh bone with meat, tendons and cartlige still attached. I ate until the bone was bare and then scraped the bone with a knife as instructed by the Mongolian men (who promised that the bone shavings would bring me "strong childrens")
Experiences like this make one realize how skewed our sense of life is at times. We expect the most sanitary conditions imaginable for food prep. We discard the bones as garbage when many cultures regard them as a delicacy. We feel we must be proper and "refined" at the dinner table. Here, the most important thing is enjoying good food with friends and family, and making sure each person has their fill.
Look at these Mongolian people. Look at their rich and wonderful lives. Have we gone wrong somewhere? Should we take a step back and re-evaluate what is important? Should we appreciate the small things in life a little more? I say it again, "I think we have a lot to learn from these people"!
Quick recap of the day:
- Set out after breakfast to look for fox. Found a mother with 2 cubs. It was neat to watch them play in the sun.
- Crossed the Tuul River on our way to the new camp at Hustai National Park (where we are now). The Mitsubitsi got bogged down in the middle of the river. We all jumped in to push it out.
- First "Sherman" (Russian Van) runs out of gas. All 9 people are packed into two remaining vans and Jeep.
- Second "Sherman" runs out of gas. With the (working) van up ahead we are forced to grab our gear and start "The Long Walk" (as we dubbed it) to Hustai Nat. Park.
- On the 7 km walk we pass the third "Sherman" as it sits alongside the dirt road; out of gas. Passengers join the rest of the group on "The Long Walk".
- After 6 km of walking we are picked up by refueled vans and are taken the remaining 1 km to camp.
- Dinner (buffet), then lecture, and now it is present time. I sit here and write this!
In Mongolian: харанхуй
(actually means: night)