Tai, our older brother host here in Olgii, one of the first cities once you enter into Mongolia from the Russian Altai Republic, has showed us a lot in the past few days. After seeing the city, it's market and some great deals, including a far-too-elegant cashmere hat for me, we headed out of town in a borrowed SUV, to stay with his Kazakh friends in some ghers near the border, the traditionaly Mongolian hut, unknowingly entering a no-entrance zone for foreigners. Along the way we shot at marmots with a 22, hit every bump we could and stopped a number of ghers along the way for tea and some fermented mare's milk, or airag, which was even harder to stomach when ever you spotted horse hair in it.
I became a professional photographer overnight, taking pictures of every family and set of women or old men Tai knew, later to develop and have him return with, but a little to my dismay. I wonderful countryside was not as accessible as I hoped, when we were afraid of breaking some kind of tradition so we rarely ventured out and away from the ghers. Chris and I did get to ride horses for like ten minutes, but it was not as illustrious as my dreams of riding up into the mountains with Tai as our guide. We sat, watched Tai tell countless stories in his foreign tongue and absorbed our surroundings, until some border police came along and started asking what we were doing there. A bit of negotiating slash arguing later, a guy nearly walked off with our passports, not cool, and finally agreed that we could just come by the next morning. We watched as a goat was killed, its throat slit, and they prepared it on the spot, meaning the freshest meat any of us had ever eaten was prepared an hour an a half later. We munched on the freshly stewed meat, trying to avoid bits of liver, and stay awake, now midnight in our gher village. The Kazakh population here is very large, being the Western part of Mongolia, and Olgii is said to be 80% Kazakh. The next morning, we drove all over the place, stopped near the border, and worried as the rest of the crew, including Tai's friend Jurman, my least favorite person on this entire trip, took our passport and walked off into some building for almost an hour. Supposedly all was sorted out, Tai took the blame and paid some $20 to get off the hook and we were off again, back towards town, one adventure and some exotic food under our belts. I stiffled the unhappiness of my tummy for an hour or two, took a few more pictures, and am now back to that semi-normal state I always seem to find myself in when travelling Asia.
So, why the kind hostliness here? Probably has something to do with the fact that we in fact caved and are selling our poor Leo off to this Kazakh businessman, Tai, who is in the process of building a three-story autoparts store here in Olgii. We ruined the suspension and don't want to fix the car, nor do we want to get super lost for three weeks trying to drive ourselves to Ulan Bataar. So rather than trash the thing, which is an option, we are in fact doing something illegitimate and giving this 'broken down' car to Tai in exchange for some money that will help us get to Ulan Bataar. We see this as more of a recycling effort than anything else, since Leo really should be put on the fritz just due to his poor suspension, which gets him around this city fine. So we should roll out this evening, after buying some souvie gifts and a bag to haul our crap to Ulan Bataar, touting the haircuts of imbeciles, that story to come, and a head full of stories. We saw two Mongol Rally drivers on our way back to Olgii, around the time of that solar eclipse, indescribeable, but pictures to come, and hope to find more in the Mongolian capital. More stories and some photos soon, if I ever remember my memory card reader.