Stepping off the plane in Ecuador we had a rough idea of the things we would do and see in each of the countries on our list. The one exception to the list was Mongolia. We had no idea what there was to do and see in Mongolia. So it was a fortunate twist of fate that on our second day in Ecuador we ran into the best couple ever—Jeroen and Madeleine, fellow travelers from the Netherlands.

However, they had an unfortunate bit of luck on their travels. Instead of starting off in South America, they planned to take the trans-Mongolian train from Moscow to Beijing with a stop off in Mongolia for a nice tour. But due to a flight cancellation, all of their careful planning was utterly ruined—causing them to miss the train. Scrapping their original plans they set off to South America where they ran into us. Their misfortune turned out to be a god send for us. They found an awesome tour company in Mongolia, Ger to Ger—a non-profit tour company that offers numerous traditional tours. All tours involve staying with local families so that you get the most authentic experience possible. Once again our good karma kicked in and it just so happened that we would be in Mongolia when the nomads planned their spring migration.

 
 
 
 
 
 

The Mongolian nomads have two pastures, one for the winter and one for summer. They pack up their gers twice a year and move. This type of experience is just what we were looking for—the chance to stay with a local family for a few days and help pack up their ger and move. With an hour of orientation that involved the explanation of various local customs like the correct way to accept vodka shots and the art of snorting snuff we were all set to meet our local family. After an hour drive, we met our host family in the middle of Terelj National Park. Throwing our bags on the back of their ox cart, we set off to their winter pasture.

In many ways their home was exactly as we expected, a large pasture filled with cows, goats, and sheep. All the animals wandered off during the day and then magically re-appeared at dusk. The ger that Jodi and I stayed in, and would be moving, was small but very cozy. Two twin beds, a chest, table, cabinets, and a stove all neatly had a place.

We got to know the family well, playing a type of dice game using ankle bones from sheep. We carried on conversations as best we could, asking about their lives and family. It turns out that the young couple was newly married and this will be their first move on their own. We could see the excitement in their eyes and Jodi and I feel blessed to be able to take part in this experience with them.

We signed up with Ger to Ger because we wanted the true experience of living the nomadic life and that is what we got. We herded cattle and goats, gathered fresh water from the nearby stream, and just helped out with their daily lives.

We ate at least three meals a day; breakfast usually consisted of a hard pastry that reminded me of a stale donut and milk tea. Milk tea is boiled milk with tea and salt added for flavor. Since our family had a bunch of milk cows we pretty much had milk tea constantly. While not the most tastiest of drinks I was able to get by. Jodi had a little bit more trouble with the concoction; the milk was a bit of overload for her already lactose intolerant stomach. Lunches and dinners were pretty much the same types of simple dishes. We usually ate a rice dish (or noodles) with large chunks of cow fat boiled in and mixed with a type of meat (cow, goat, or sheep). While the meals sustained us, they were a bit bland compared to Western food. But, the food was definitely suited for their lifestyle. The high fat content helps to sustain them during their long working days.

The morning of the move finally arrived. Jodi and I got up early expecting to get started right away. But the family seemed to be on Mongolian time, very relaxed and not in a hurry at all. A leisurely breakfast was followed by an hour of relaxing and talking with other family members that came to help pack. Finally, Hashhuu attached a couple of bulls and an ox to three carts and the tear down of the ger began. I thought that we would remove the furniture from the ger first but the exact opposite happened. We actually took down the ger leaving the beds and the rest of the furniture inside, which was great since we didn’t need to squeeze the beds and stove out of the small door. In about an hour we packed up all of their belongings. With their entire lives on three carts, we set off for the new pasture. Jodi and I helped herd the cows for awhile until we started crossing rivers then it was all about riding on the carts. Their summer pasture was only about 15km (9mi) away so the journey was not too long but long enough for us to enjoy the experience. Upon reaching the summer spot we immediately started to rebuild. A few random neighbors just showed up and helped which made the task much easier.

We started out by setting up the door and the lattice wall that would form the base of the ger.

 

Next we installed the roof support sticks and main center beams.

 

After we secured the beams, we covered the ger in a felt layer that keeps out the Mongolian wind and weather.

 

And finally, we tied on layer of plastic and white fabric to help shield the ger from rain and other outside elements.

 

All in all, it only took a few hours to put the ger back up. The ger was ready for visitors after only another hour of putting the furniture back and installing a colorful sheet that covered up the lattice and felt walls.

2 Responses to “Mongolian nomadic migration”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    How cool! What a great experience. It reminds me a little of staying with a Bedouin family in Jordan. I hope you guys have a chance to do a final blog post on how the adjustment back has been. I’m interested in your experience on that front.

  2. Nomada23 says:

    How awesome! I would love to have an experience like that!