The Gobi desert was pretty awesome. The terrain changes – from flat rocky expanses that have quite a lot of vegetation (although no trees), to bear landscape and rugged outcrops of hills. It’s not that sandy other than one amazing range of dunes, sometimes called the singing sand dune for the strange,deep. echoy noise the sand makes when you dig it. We hiked up the range to see the sunset which I’m proud to say we all made. It’s very high and so steep you literally have to crawl some sections on hand and knee. The sun going down was spectacular but as the wind picked up and started giving us an all-over exfoliation, we decided to run down. It took us almost an hour of climbing to get up there and about 7 minutes to run down!
Here some other random scenery shots.
We took an hour long camel ride near the dunes which was surprisingly pleasant as these guys didn’t have the usual overbearing camel smell. They eat this bush – look closely – it has thorn and is mostly stick – delicious! One of our camels ripped a small plant clean out of the ground – I wondered if it was more tender – but then noticed the camel got a mouth full of dirt to go with it – and actually dropped it out of its mouth. Yuk!
Stopping at a small village, I was keen to try some local specialties – fermented mares milk and dried curds. The milk is a summer time special, made like yoghurt (using the culture from one batch to the next) and loved by locals. Some drink as much as 10 litres a day. It is alcoholic but a bit like kombucha , very low. I’d read even locals can get an upset stomach the first time they drink it so we all opted for a tiny sip and bequeathed the rest to our guide. (Even though so low in alcohol, our driver refused any while he was on duty). It kind of tastes like off yoghurt with vinegar – slightly fizzy, pungent and very sharp.
With the help of our guide, I also bought some dried goat’s curd from the current summer season and some older (aged?) camel curd from the year prior. Once dried, curd can last years and is ideal for winter when many Mongolains survive on meat and dairy products – that’s it. Curd was also favoured by travellers of the Silk Road as well as Mongolian warriors due to its nutritional value and logevity. The goat’s one tasted a bit like really strong goat’s cheese but harder and almost chalky in texture. The camel tasted like parmesan cheese but with a really strong after taste of ‘camel’ (like how they smell…) and is quite oily. They also mix some curds with sugar and press in through a mincer to get ‘worms’. They’re not very sweet, they still have a very strong dairy taste.
On our home visit (not a home stay) we rocked up to a random ger and piled in. Apparently it’s rude to refuse visitors – even strangers. They offer us goat’s milk yoghurt in a bowl, which we all took a sip of and also some curd. They were lovely people and some of their neighbours popped over to join the party. There were a few kids there – some visiting relatives from the city during the school holidays so as planned, we gave them a bunch of scented highlighters and other pens and pencils Sass was happy to hand over.
Further to my last post, where I mentioned the loose definitions of ‘beef’ and ‘mutton’, I noticed in restaurants that they just use the term ‘meat’. I checked with our guide and yep, meat covers it all – except chicken. He said Mongolian’s don’t care what type of meat it is or what the cut is. At the meat section in a small village market, the price difference for ‘beef’ was defined by ‘with bones’ or ‘without bones’ – not eye fillet or porterhouse. We also saw a couple of random goats’ heads that reminded me of the Rolling Stones Album – Goats’ Head Soup.