Each day of travel on this 14-day tour reveals a new universe. We sing Mongolian country songs in the car with MacGyver and Erka. Mare’s nickname is Jinjiimaa, and mine Chinggis Ron. Today, we find ourselves in volcanic country, where the Rock River runs.
Ride through some moss-covered lava beds, from eruptions millions of years ago, and then camp in a ger alongside Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (White Lake). We look forward to reuniting with Speedy, and his family of tourists. Erka promises a special surprise for dinner tomorrow, our final night.
In the morning, Mare and I hike along White Lake. Yaks ignore us now, as if we have gone native. More likely, we smell like yaks.
After another hike up a modest mountain, we spot the suspected dinner for this evening’s celebration. “MacGyver bought a goat at the market,” Erka says. “I have some fireworks for our last celebration.”
I decline the honor of slicing the throat of the goat. Instead, we take a horseback ride to Khorgo Uul, a huge volcanic crater. “Choo, choo!” We yell to keep the Mongolian horses moving during a downpour. We park them, and then climb the crater.
The natives are restless back at camp, as we drink beer and watch the family butcher a goat. They give the goat head to the respected elder, and believe that eating the eyes will improve vision for elders, but not the young.
Every piece of the goat will be eaten, or used, except for the hoofs.
MacGyver heats stones in a wood fire. After several hours, he places the stones into a milk can, with some water, and then adds goat meat. Potatoes and carrots top off the can, before a flat piece of rubber gasket seals the top. The stones will cook the goat for at least an hour. He also throws me a hot rock, which I pass from hand to hand. Erka explains that it will heal joint pain.
After another wrestling draw, we all share a feast of fresh roasted goat…one of my favorite meals of this trip, tough but tasty.
Okay, gorged on goat and bloated with beer, Mare and I pass on the fireworks and head to the ger, for some fireworks of our own.
We pile into the old Pathfinder early in the morning, for a long, final ride back to Ulaanbaatar. One final visit at a Monastery, Erdene Zuu Khild (100 treasures), which boasts being the first Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia. Before Stalin’s Communist purge killed over 1,000 monks, this place on the Silk Road was growing into a trade center, which later moved to Beijing. Currently, it houses 40 student monks.
“I have a feeling you will miss the Mongolian countryside,” Erka says. “It always makes me sad to return to the city, where most people only care about money. Country people are the real Mongolians. Hospitable and never expecting anything in return.”
Thank you Erka and Amraa, for lasting memories of a different universe.