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“It’s raining poo, hallelujah!”

Day 7: Camp Spot #3 Siberian Border to Middle of Nowhere Poo-ville

It’s a two day journey back to Ulaan Baatar which is about as interesting as the journey in besides the fact that it has started to rain. We’ve patched ourselves up with as much gauze as we can find, but the bumpy, spine-jarring roads are making travel miserable. Chinzo asks us if we want to see a monument of Ghengis’s third grandson’s second born cousin’s wife’s goat or something, but we are so sore, tired, and frankly not interested in another frigging monument that we decline. Still, he insists we stop at a spring Ghengis drank at, and gets out and starts drinking the muddy stream water. Sorry, I mean holy, spirit lifting, longevity granting tranquil nectar of the great gods.

 

One thing interesting was that we were able to stop and have tea inside a remote herdsman’s cottage today. His house was a single room and contained a stove baking bread, whitened goats’ intestines hanging from the ceiling, huge buckets of whey, and tubs of curds. We were served the fermented mare’s milk vodka again, with table snacks of dried curd. The dried curd looked delicious, like yogurt covered pretzels, but was in fact so sharp I had a tiny nibble and passed mine to Rick, who took one for the team. The fermented mare’s vodka is quite the ritual. The host pours it into a small silver bowl and hands it to the first person, who sips, then hands it back to the host, who replenishes, and hands it to the next person, who hands it back to the host, and so on. It is very offensive not to partake so Rick and I pretended to sip (pretending is socially acceptable). Chinzo on the other hand gulped down the entire bowl and asked for more. Chinzo also buys some dried curds and gets his camel back replenished, which we didn’t think much of at the time. Twopsha buys some butter for his family (unprocessed, much better than dairy products sold in the city which have flour added), and we are on our way, driving driving driving, still with dreams of perfect white toilets, so clean and shiny you could see your reflection in them.For whatever reason we meet up with Tseren-dash the horse guide at his house. He and his wife offer us warm milk and bread and the vodka ritual starts again. We are also given wild blueberries and shown photo albums – with especially interesting pictures during the Soviet era. Chinzo is drinking like there’s no tomorrow and I am starting to get a bit fearful as he was obnoxious enough sober.

 

Chinzo starts the familiar tirade of why we are so awful. He says he offered to show us two monuments today and we said no, and thus have offended him, all of Mongolia, AND all of his ancestors including the great Ghengis. Rick tries to appease him but Chinzo launches into how the Americans and Europeans have no respect because we are always stepping on people’s hats. In Mongolia it is disrespectful to step on someone’s hat, he tells us, but the Europeans, they just don’t care. I rapidly catalogue the last few days in my head. Crap, he’s right! I did step on someone’s hat today. Correction, two hats! Actually now that I think about it I’ve stepped on seventeen hats just this week, all of them Chinzo’s. My god, I should be ashamed of myself.I’m mortified as we leave Tseren-dash’s hut. Could I have been hat stepping my entire life and just not realized it? We are led into another ger, a buddy of the horse guide’s and kindly offered more milk tea, more bread, and more of the fermented mare’s milk. I take special care to avoid the multitude of hats left lying around like mines. We are shown more photo albums and we are honored to have been given another glimpse into nomadic life. Then we catch a major break. Chinzo has imbibed so much fermented mare’s milk that he is staggering drunk and can barely make it back to the van. It takes him three tries to get in and he bangs his head repeatedly against the door frame as he does so. The upside is he has nothing more to say to us. The downside is he sings and bellows in Mongolian really loudly for the next FIVE hours. He tries to engage the driver, who mostly ignores him, and when the driver pulls over to drain the lizard Chinzo continues speaking, to himself. He cracks open beer after beer, simultaneously sucking on his camel back which we realize he had had the first herdsman fill with milk vodka back when we first stopped.

 

I am a bit concerned because the itinerary described our accommodations as a ‘rustic ger “camp”‘. What exactly does rustic mean, and why is “camp” in inverted commas? Still, as long as it has a toilet I’m fine, I’ve been treasuring this moment for days. We get a bit lost, which is worrying, because the trip has been fairly well organized so far, but after asking directions a couple of times we drive further and further off the road. I’m pretty sure the trip organizers had no idea what they’d set us up for.

 

Nooooooo.

 

Noooooooo.

 

Nooooooooo.

 

There are three gers, 500 animals, and not much more. Chinzo points at the main ger, slurring “thiz iz ur home”. There are four beds and it is full of people including the family who are putting us up. Are we expected to sleep in a hut with other people? This is the most awkward situation yet. I try to keep the dread off my face, not wanting to be rude, but I don’t think it worked because we were eventually pointed to another ger. ‘Rustic’ would be generous, but it was warm, and our relief at not having to sleep with Chinzo, the driver, the cook, and a family of five was such that anything would have been appreciated.

 

Something is missing from this picture though. Ummm Chinzo…where’s the toilet? I can’t even see a long drop, let alone the vision of white I had been dreaming of for so many days now. Chinzo bumps into the hot stove in the crowded ger, knocks over a bowl of our host’s soup, and crawls out of the tent. He staggers to his feet, falls against me and sweeps his arms wildly into the air. “The world is your toilet” he slurs with grandeur.

 

Oh. My. God.

 

There is nothing but flat land for miles. No trees, bushes, dips, nothing. And every inch of that land is covered with poo. Horse poo, cow poo, and goat poo. Poo of all shapes and sizes and impossible to avoid. Of course, there is another type of mammal poo too, which I try not to think about. The only place I can see for shelter is a pen of cows, the first fenced cows I’ve seen since I’ve been here. I trudge out with my roll of toilet paper and settle down besides the cow pen. Then, one by one, the cows, which have previously been minding their own business, turn around to face me. They stare and stare and start mooing at the top of their bovine lungs, no doubt causing half of Mongolia to look in my direction. They snort and stomp and start pushing at the pen. I myself am snorting and stomping and pushing and rapidly trying to finish up, but you know what it’s like when two dozen cows are staring you down. It’s difficult to…focus. Rick comes to the rescue and mooing himself distracts the cows so they look away. Finally the ordeal is over. I’ve used up the toilet paper which is a white beacon on the landscape for all to see. No one uses TP here so, embarrassed (really, you’d think there’d be a limit to the things that could embarrass me these days) I try and cover it up with rocks. This is semi successful. Just one more rock, I think, picking up another. Aaargh!! I have picked up a poo, not a rock, with my bare hands. If there’s no toilet you can imagine the chances of finding running water to wash. I go back to the ger and cry. All I wanted was that shiny white seat.

 

Back in the ger I’m in the depths of despair, it’s raining, I’ve got a sore bum, and the ger is surrounded by a moat of every type of manure imaginable. There’s no doormat so it’s impossible to get into the ger without tracking in slushy, wet poo-steps. Despite all my protestations, I’m really not that afraid of animal waste, but I draw the line at having it knee deep in my bedroom. I leave the door open to let some light in and then the most interesting thing happens. There have been dozens of goats wandering around this whole time and for some reason they are very interested in our hut. One by one they step up to the door and poke their cute little heads in. Soon a dozen goats are peaking though the front door! Goats are the next cutest thing in the world to dogs and monkeys so I am delighted and my horrific stare down pants down with the cows is forgotten. I am so happy, more and more goats are coming over until our doorway is completely blocked. Photo Rick, photo! Then one little cutey takes a tentative step inside. This is a bit too close to home so with a heavy heart I get up and shoo them away. The goats are now offended and angry and make their feelings known by each leaving a small gift of last night’s dinner right in the door entrance. Sigh.

 

Still, trying to make the best of it, it is warm inside and there’s a big drum of coal next to the furnace. Isn’t this lovely Rick, we even have coal.

 

Ummm, darling, I don’t think that’s coal. Christ! I can’t get a break! The coal is actually dried cow dung and the furnace is stoked with poo. Poo-smoke is getting in our hair and our clothes! Poo-smoke is in my nostrils and making my eyes water poo-tears. My iPad smells of poo, my skin smells of poo, my toothpaste tastes like poo! What did I do to deserve this? And now the fire is dying down and it’s getting cold. Lovely, wonderful Rick takes another one for team New-Canada and tries to add fuel to the fire (literally) by picking pieces up with a tissue (these days a precious commodity). This is somewhat successful in that he gets half in the fire and half on the floor. The floor is a mess anyway so we step around the dried husks and fall asleep. Alas, the story does not end there, although my sanity does. I wake from a fitful night fighting poo-monsters in my dreams. It has been pouring cats and dogs and it is actually quite pleasant to lie in bed and listen to the sound of the rain beating down on the tent roof. I open my eyes to welcome the day. Noooooo! The plastic tent floor is covered in an inch of water and the dried dung Rick had spilled last night has reconstituted itself and sloppy wet pieces of cow poo are floating around the tent.

 

Mongolia, you win!

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