Friday, June 27, 2014

The World's Most Remote Bronies

Part of what caught my imagination when it came to this trip was a project about remote tribes called "Before They Pass Away."  I'd already been to Bayan-Olgii to see the Kazakh eagle hunters and was hoping to make this trip when I stumbled on Jimmy Nelson's work.  The idea of seeing a culture that might disappear gave me extra desire to make it happen - although actually making it happen was easier said than done.

I was truly hoping to make the trip through the Tsataan Community Visitor's Center.  I wanted to do things the right way, and benefit the people as much as I can.  However, the price tags the tour companies were quoting me seemed ridiculous - one woman said the trip would cost $2500, which is more than I spent on the Tibet part of last summer's adventures.  Luckily for me Engrish has mad connections, and one of them had a Tsataan coworker with whom she'd traveled to the taiga before.  Together they managed to organize things for me.  I did contact the TCVC, both through email and phone, about helping me to organize the actual trek out to the camp, but I never heard back from them.  Maybe it's my lack of Mongolian; I don't know.  I stopped in the Visitor's Center while I was wandering in Tsaagan-Nuur, and made a donation.  Since the total cost of the entire trip (including my flights, the donation, and the non-Tsataan portion) was only a little more than a fifth of that original quote, it probably wasn't enough.  But I did try.
When I got into Tsaagan-Nuur my contact, Darima, gave me the traditional bowl of milk tea and showed me a place to rest before heading out to the camp.  I was a little startled that we'd be leaving for the camp that day.  I thought I had an eight-hour horse trip ahead of me, but in fact I stayed with a family that was a little more than an hour by jeep away from Tsaagan-Nuur.  In spite of my nap, I fell asleep on the ride there, and was only awakened just before getting there by Darima tapping me on the shoulder and directing my attention to the reindeer herd, chilling out on the ice.  Yes, there was still ice on the river at the end of June.  This is Mongolia, bitches.
After another obligatory bowl of tea (this one made with reindeer milk), I was showed to the "hotel," a spare urtz (teepee)...the very one that the reindeer is poking its head into.  I was happy enough with my new digs, but later they decided to move me in with the family, I believe because they thought I would get cold, since the stove in the urtz-buudal wasn't set up.  Or maybe it was because it also served as the garage for their motorcycle.  Whatever the case, sharing space with others isn't always my favorite thing, especially when we don't have a common language between us - it's a little awkward and I miss my privacy - but we got along okay.
My cousin asked me out of the blue this winter what Mongolia was like, and if I thought he'd like it.  It's a hard place, sometimes, but it's beautiful, and the way of life is so low-impact.  But even here on the edge of the taiga the Tsataan have some modern conveniences.  Solar panels collect power for light and even some entertainment.  The second evening I stayed here the two sons of the family powered up a very small portable tv and tuned the satellite dish to watch "My Little Ponies."  The younger boy was maybe four or five, but the other was old enough to be tooling around on the family motorcycle.  Here we were, within spitting distance of the Russian border, as "off the grid" as you can be in this day and age, and I was sacked out watching Rainbow Dash and company with the world's most remote bronies.

Add that one to the "Most Surreal Experiences" list, my friends.  It's gonna be hard to top.

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