The past week has been many things for me. Through an organization called Ger to Ger – an eco-travel agency based out of Ulaanbaatar that focuses on interacting and living with local nomads – I booked a 7 day, 6 night tour through the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. During the course of the week I was so cold my limbs were numb and so hot I could barely breathe. I defecated in countless toilets which were merely two wooden boards over a pit and went the entire week without bathing. I ate with my hands, drank gallons of tea, and got used to having animal hair in my food. I chopped wood for the fire, collected frozen cow dung for when the wood ran out, broke ice out of the river to drink, and fed and herded cattle. I also met some amazing and/or interesting people. From giggling and too-cute-for-words kids to cackling, dirty old men; Terelj Park has ’em all. All in all it was an exciting, exhausting, challenging, heckuva week.
Rather than give you a day by day account, I’m just going to lump everything together in categories.
First, just to get them out of the way, the downsides.
Ger to Ger promises several key experiences during the course of each tour. For the tour I signed up for, the 7 day 6 night winter trip with nomads in Terelj, these experiences were: visit a nomadic family, wear traditional costumes and learn to glue the pattern for them, collect fallen wood for the fire, experience Shamanism, trek around the local area, and clean the winter shelter for livestock. Some of these things I experienced. Some, however, seemed little more than tourist stunts to get me to buy more things. That was slightly disappointing, but at the same time I can understand the families wanting to make a little extra money. Wearing traditional costumes consisted of me putting on two different shirts and then being asked if I would like to buy one. Experience Shamanism consisted of being shown a display of ritualistic items on the wall, a very brief explanation of how the shaman became a shaman, and silently observing a pre-meal offering. If I had expected the tour to unfold exactly as it was described in the brochure, I would’ve been very disappointed.