Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Gobi Desert - Day 4, Sept 14 - Horse Riding, Mare Milking and Yogurt Vodka

I think I have more than a sinus infection because I slept over 12 hours again last night and feel crummy again. I think it's time to see a doctor and there is a clinic in UB staffed with western doctors, so I will go there when I return tomorrow. Thank goodness for health insurance and travel insurance because the book says office visits START at $195!

I didn't wake up until 10:30, but wonderful Tol still made me breakfast. She made a pancake, but to be honest, I prefer the Mongolian yogurt and granola with the yummy jam, and the dark Mongolian bread also with the jam.

I decided that even though I feel crummy I would still go for a horse ride because I leave tomorrow before lunch and won't have another opportunity. The Mongolian horse lives completely in the wild. There are no barns or stables. They sleep in huddled circles with the outermost ones protecting the inner circle from wolves by kicking. They take turns throughout the night shifting from the outer circle to the inner circle.

Badrakh said I would ride to a family's ger and he and two Norwegian tourists who had arrived at lunch would meet us there by car. He said we would be making vodka from yogurt!

They gave me chaps and a helmet and I got on with no trouble. As the Mongolian horse is much shorter than our domestic horse, I didn't need a boost or step. The horses walked pretty slowly across the desert and I wanted to ask if we could go faster but i thought I would wait until the ride back, after I had gotten a feel for the horse's temperament.

We crossed desert with lots of little hills, akin to ski moguls. Every once in awhile the horses would sink into a hole and stumble a bit. The guide indicated that these mounds and holes are made by a desert mouse (which I've seen hundreds of here!) that burrow tunnels and weaken the sand. I think they are more like gophers or prairie dogs, but as small as mice. They burrow and can stand up on their hind legs, and look more like gophers than mice.

We arrived at the family's ger and Badrakh and Tol began making the vodka. They take yogurt that is 3 weeks old and put it in a pan over a fire. Then they put a huge metal container over it and suspend a bucket in it. Then they cover this with another pan and gradually add cold water. As the steam rises through the cooking yogurt and hits the cold water in the metal pan, it produces condensation that drips (or distills) into the suspended bucket and that is the vodka. I'm still not sure how you get alcohol from yogurt, but maybe because it's been fermenting for 3 weeks...? He made the fire the traditional Mongolian way - with dung instead of wood. It said it didn't smell at all (he said the dung they burn is 1-2 years old!) and asked why we didn't use it in camp? Badrakh said tourists don't like it. Although i didn't say it, I think he should use dung and tell the tourists it's both traditional and eco-friendly!

While the vodka was distilling we got an opportunity to witness 'milking of the mares'. This is when they milk the mother horses - and they do it every hour and a half!! They gather all the foals and tie them up and then bring one over to the mare and let it suckle for a couple of minutes to get the mother's milk flowing. Then they take the foal away and milk the mare. (Before I left home I had been talking about milking camels, but evidently I was mistaken since I never saw them milk camels, just the mares.)

I asked if I might try and after a bit they called me over and said I could! I asked the Norwegian guy if he would take a video for me and I have the most awesome video of me milking a mare!! I've already watched it 3 times! Lol

We had goats growing up and I used to milk them, so I kind of knew the process, but mare teats are much smaller than goat's and it's really hard to control where the milk goes. I got it all over my hands and sprayed my jacket a couple of times too. When I was finished I thanked them and then tasted the milk that had run down my hands. It was surprisingly sweet! And as it dried it was very sticky. I have to say that milking a mare has probably been the highlight of my trip so far!

We had the vodka and then started back to camp. After a bit I indicated that I would like to go a little faster and the guide said to get the horses to go you say 'tshu' (pronounced like 'shoe' but starting with your tongue pressed to your two front teeth.) They began to move a little faster. I know Amos will kill me if I get it wrong but I think it was a trot. ;) After a bit more time I was comfortable with this pace and wanted to go faster. I could also see the camp in the distance and knew we were getting close. The guide told me to stand up when the horse galloped and off we went. I have to say that standing up in the saddle was much easier at a faster pace! I didn't bounce around and it was much easier to keep my balance.

We only got to gallop for a short time before the guide indicated we needed to stop because we were close to camp. I still wanted to ride fast so I asked if we could go for awhile more. We turned around and rode at a good galloping pace for maybe another 15 min and then he indicated we should go back because the horses were working up a sweat. We slowed them to a walk for the last few min back to camp. I asked Badrakh if I could give them a sugar cube and he said he didn't think they would take it, but I could try. I took 4 sugar cubes (2 for each horse) and offered one to the horse I had ridden. He kept turning his head away but I opened his mouth and placed the sugar cube in thinking as soon as he tasted it he'd understand. But Badrakh was right, the horse just spit it out. Lol

I gave wash to Tol and then took a shower. Since I was leaving the next day and knew I wouldn't have an opportunity to properly wash again until I got home, I gave her just about everything, including all my warm clothes except my wind breaker and nylon pants. After dinner I asked if the clothes were dry but she said 'tomorrow'. I explained that I needed the warm clothes to sleep in so she at least went and got those, but there was no way the cotton tights were going to dry in time. So, Badrakh had them bring me another set of blankets and I was very warm!


JoeSchmoe said...

awesome blog, amie. thanks for taking the time. very cool stuff!

JoeSchmoe said...

aha... this is Rob, by the way :-)