With an award winning sun set playing out behind us, silhouetting mountains into the sky, we began to set up camp alongside the lake. I decided it was also a sensible time to change the secondary fuel filter, and spent the next 30 minutes covered in petrol. Shortly after pulling over, two quite adorable young girls walked over to us, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, and stood watching, generally intrigued by these strangers on their territory. They then disappeared, only to reappear shortly later with their father.
Now, you might assume in these situations that a lack of common language would reduce any ability to communicate to nil, and that any attempts would therefore be futile and fruitless. It is why, for exactly that assumption, it is incredible how much can be communicated with gestures, drawings, props, and a big genuine smile. We explained that we had travelled from Europe, and were continuing through to Ulaanbaatar. One of the girls had brought a small chunk of cheese, that transpired was homemade, as a gift for us. We returned the gift with what Sam thought every Mongolia child needed to be introduced to; Nutella. This was received with a reverent awe.
We were then invited to come and see where the cheese was made, an offer we excitedly accepted. A short walk later and we were presented with this (photo taken the following day).
Fascinated, we were proudly shown through the home, occupied by the farmer and his wife, their 3 young daughters and son. Acutely aware of how annoying it was to try and make camp in the dark, we explained that we needed to get back to this task, and would like to come again the next day to see more. It was made clear that this would not do, and we would in fact be spending the night in their ger, and would have dinner with. We didn’t need asked twice, and returned with cars and sleeping bags.
The herd of goats and cattle that was kept was shared between the farmer and his brother, who had a ger a short walk away with his family. Dinner was to be held there, and a goat was specially killed and prepared in honour of the occasion. About 16 of us sat around enjoying a large dish of fresh goat and pasta, while music was played, and much confused laughter exchanged. More Nutella was dispensed, and devoured in moments. We then retired to our sleeping bags, and Alex happily snored us to sleep several hours later.
Tea was the first order of the day upon waking, and it was good to see the traditions of the homeland are still alive in far flung reaches of the world. The ger was toured in more detail, and the TV set powered by car battery proudly presented, apparently for the important games of FA league football that could not on any account be missed.
Our vehicles were then inspected, and the handprints of the children drawn on in honour of the occasion.
Then it was milking time, and we were invited to watch the herd of between 60-80 goats be rounded up with deft and well honed coordination by the children, and lined up in the stone pen. A rope was then strung across the middle of the pen and tensioned, and each goat placed with its horns on the opposite side of the rope, so it was unable to run away. The wife of each family then worked their way down each side of the line milking the goats into rough metal buckets, while the men controlled the animals. A lone dog patrolled the entrance to the pen to ensure no escapees could pass.
Milking complete, the goats were released to roam free again for the day. It was amazing to see first hand this process, and realise how much those goats contributed to the two family’s lives. The milk was not only used to drink, but also to make yoghurt and cheese, mixed and churned in a leather gourd. The goat dung was collected up, formed into bricks, and laid out in the sun to dry. Once dry it was then used as fuel for the small stoves each ger had in the centre.
Finally, the goats themselves were of course used as food. Quite impressive how vital those animals were to the survival and sustenance of the families, and they were treated as valuable, in particular by the children.
As we were a fair way through our trip, there were certain items we realised we either had a surplus of, or no longer needed, and we keenly sorted through our vehicles, endeavouring to find useful and constructive contributions to return the wonderful hospitality we had been shown. An intriguing, inspiring, and sociable day behind us, we set off once again, Eastward bound as always.