Yaks carry an unexplained mystic for us. We come upon a herd of yaks while driving through north/central Mongolia. MacGyver the driver stops long enough for Mare to take photos of the herd. Some of them resemble our past dogs. I can even see Jack, the yak.
The rest of our caravan arrives at the ger camp before us, on account of our stop, and take the last remaining gers for the night. What a break for us! We pitch a tent next to a river, rather than sleep in a ger with a tourist family. Thanks yaks!
Three drivers sleep in their vehicles about 100 feet from us. They want to protect us in case some Mongolians get wild from drinking vodka. We sip cool beers by the river, and pee under a dark sky glowing with the Milky Way. These are the most stars we have ever seen.
After visiting Orkhon waterfalls, where we could not slip under, we hang with another herd of yaks. Then we enter a family’s ger. Mother fires up her wood burning stove with yak dung, and serves us hot yak milk, which is thicker and creamier than that made from other livestock. Soon, we eat fried bread doused with yak butter and cream, along with bits of dried yak cheese.
Head onward to the Tsenkher Hot Springs, for a soak and a real shower! I stand naked in the men’s locker room when two female guides bring an entire family through on a tour. I shrug my shoulders, and they pretend to not look at me. At least the water is hot, and I do not have to deal with shrinkage issues.
The next day, we drive through MacGyver the driver’s hometown province, where the terrain turns mountainous and pine covered. He stops along the road and purchases a plastic jug of fermented Mare’s milk.
We down several glasses of the mixture…and then he purchases a jug of yak vodka (Mongolian moonshine) which is milky clear and much stronger. Yak vodka can lead to belly rubbing and wrestling.
We eventually set up a tent outside one of MacGyver’s friend’s ger…here comes another bottle of yak vodka, yogurt, dried cheese and then some snuff.
Back at the yak herd, a cow gives milk to orphaned baby yaks. Mare, who grew up on a dairy farm, tries to milk the cow. The cow kicks the milk bucket, drenching one of the family members, who did not look happy. Mare does better with a yak. Go figure.
Back to the tent. No beer tonight as our stomachs are ready to erupt from all the milk products. Here comes Erka with a bowl of homemade Mongolian noodles, mixed with yak meat…and yet another jug of yak vodka. With no outhouse here, we sleep with the tent unzipped and skip the second course of vodka.
In the morning, we go inside the ger to say thanks and goodbye. Here comes hot yak milk, butter, and a yak cheese that is as hard as Formica. Oh no, shots of store-bought vodka all around. They don’t want us to leave…they get bored out here and rarely have visitors. Hey, any excuse for a party. We pull ourselves away, and head north to Terkh Lake. Whew! Thanks, yaks. Ron Mitchell