“In the morning we will leave for the mountains,” said Esse, my Mongolian guide. “I have a friend up the valley (with whom) we can stay.”
The frozen whiskers on the noses of our Mongolian horses were a clear warning that the ride was going to be a challenge.
With multiple layers of clothing, I walked around in my brown insulated leather-riding boots that climbed up to my knees. These I had purchased in a local market the day before to prepare for the ride. Additionally six layers of clothes attempted to be sufficient enough to keep me warm in the freezing temperatures. The forecast was to reach a high of 10 below.
After riding for an hour I pulled my camera out from inside my jacket to snap a photo, pushed the shutter button and nothing happened. It was frozen.
“Three years ago, two poachers shot an elk in June not far from the village where we started,” Esse said. Apparently as they were driving at night, they came over a ridge and saw two sparkling eyes. Without hesitating they shot the animal.
“When they got closer to the animal they discovered the eyes of the animal were embedded in the antlers.
Suddenly they became very afraid, because they were convinced they shot the lord of the forest.”
“What happened to the hunters?” I asked.
“They went insane. One went to a shaman to be cured, the other is still insane, convinced that he killed the lord of the forest.”
Did that slow down the poaching? I asked in a hopeful tone.
“No, now they are just more careful.”
For three and half hours we hugged the shore of Lake Khovsgol until we finally came to a couple of gers surrounded by a weathered wooden fence holding a small herd of yaks.
“This will be our home for the next two nights,” Esse said.
Outside stepped Esse’s friend Baatar with his wife and young daughter. Once inside the round felt house, we were offered warmed salty yak milk and hard biscuits, a custom practiced all across the countryside of Mongolia when guests arrive. Sitting around the wood-burning stove positioned in the center of the ger, we warmed ourselves after the long cold ride.
Without warning we plopped into the middle of the one-room home of Baatar. I am touched by the fact they are completely happy to have visitors to help break the boredom of the long winter days and instantly lose any privacy.
We pulled out gifts of food: Rice, bread and candies.
Later in the evening, everyone within walking distance of the house showed up to watch TV. A solar panel was used to charge two car batteries. This provided the power. Next they hooked up the satellite dish to watch an American movie dubbed in Mongolian. After five minutes the conclusion is reached that it is a “ sleeping pill movie,” which meant it is extremely boring. A few leave, the rest stayed to play a passionate card game. After an hour of cards, people slipped back out into the cold dark night and soon the only sounds were those of the fire in the stove.
Peace at last. Well, as much peace as you can get with five people in one small round room.
Baatar asked about life in the States and the people living there. I replied it’s like everywhere; you have many that are good, and some who are bad.
He smiled and had Esse translate; “I would rather trust a good dog than respect a dishonest person.”