Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Beginner's Guide to Ger Camp

I am attempting to be all sorts of adult tonight, and let me tell you, it is exhausting.  I swept, swiffed, mopped, washed dishes, and now it is time for me to catch up the blog, when all I want is to see what happens next in Bleach (in part so I can finally move on to Naruto).  Check out how grown up I am.

Anyways.  Last weekend was Time Lady's birthday.  After more than a year she'd still never been ger camping, so Engrish and I took it upon ourselves to rectify the situation with a trip to Terelj.

A few days before, Time Lady asked me, "What do you bring on a ger camp?" and it made me realize that although I've done a fair bit of ger camping in the last two years, I've never written the definitive guide to it.  Although it's a little late at this point, I'd like to dedicate this guide to her for her birthday (because who needs expensive geek gifts when your foul-mouthed blogging friend dedicates a post to you?!?)
What is a ger?  A ger is a felt hut (the same thing as a yurt), in which nomadic families live.  Camps of them have become a popular option for tourists both foreign and domestic in Mongolia, as they allow you to get out into the countryside and in touch with tradition.  Most gers have 3-4 beds (although there are bigger and smaller ones) and are heated by a stove that can burn wood, coal, or - if necessary - even dung.  There will also be a little table and a few other pieces of furniture.
What do you bring to a ger camp?  Time Lady asked about bedding and I told her that it wasn't necessary.  Then I realized I was thinking of sheets, blankets, and pillows, which aren't necessarily warm enough for cold Mongolian nights, so I had to chase her down and tell her that Engrish and I normally bring sleeping bags.  We always bring food - typically a sausage fest with cheese, bread, and crackers - although you can get more complex (Five made nachos once, and in Dariganga I made ger chili) and most ger camps have a restaurant, so you won't starve.  Games are a must, but my personal favorite thing to bring on a ger camp is FIRE!
This answer prompted some teasing from my students, but hell, building the fire is my favorite part of ger camping (not just because of the sound!), and I was especially proud of the new firestarters I made with cotton facial circles and wax.  I can't stress enough how important it is to bring someone who likes to play with fire.  Ger camps are supposed to send someone in the night to keep your fire going, but it never seems to work out that way, and I've developed a touch of pyromania to combat the cold of early mornings in the countryside.
What do you DO at ger camp?  I've mentioned before that Mongolia is a place to come for beautiful, rugged nature and the tradition of ger camping reflects that.  When you go, you have the chance to get OUT of the city, breathe some fresh air, marvel at the blue of the skies, and leave everything behind.  We usually bring books and some games - Guillotine being one of my favorites (you need more people for Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples).  I brought my sketchbook this time and some watercolor pencils.  We spent Saturday afternoon taking a long, Jane Austen walk along the river, and the late afternoon reading.  If you're more active you'd probably enjoy bringing a frisbee or a ball and glove, and a lot of ger camps seem to have basketball hoops.  If you can't live without your phone, ger camp might not be for you.  We went to UB2 last weekend, which had excellent reception (Engrish is a rock star and kept getting important calls while we were out walking) and electricity, not to mention the heated floors and a TV...we went really easy on Time Lady...but we've also stayed in ones where you had to walk 10 minutes up a mountain to get even the slightest service.  Besides, that's not really what it's about, is it?

Expect the Unexpected:
I think the most crucial thing you can do to enjoy a ger camp is be prepared.  The camp may not have water, so bring a few bottles or a good filtration system, as well as some wet wipes.  It may not have toilets, with or without running water so bring toilet paper and mentally prepare yourself to pop a squat.  If you know ahead of time that you are putting yourself in a situation that is supposed to be somewhat rough by nature and embrace that, you'll have a much better time.  Especially if you remind yourself that it's MUCH less rough than actual camping (or tenting, if you insist on calling it that like Engrish).

Happy Birthday, Time Lady!  Thanks for giving us an excuse to have such a great weekend!

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