Mongolia: More Random Thoughts and Absurdities

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October 22nd 2017
Published: October 25th 2017
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There was so much packed into this short two-week adventure, it has been hard to cohesively capture it for the sake of blogs. I have relied on the photos to tell much of the story, but the energy, constant laughter and group dynamics are hard to express in words or photographs alone.


Even though this trip sprung up on the horizon without much notice, I was determined to do a little research on Mongolia and the Mongolian culture. Like I was cramming for an exam, I devoured two books on Mongolia and was pleasantly surprised how much historical and cultural information I was able to retain.

What I quickly learned is I read the wrong the books.

In order to properly prepare for this excursion, I should have read a book on how to understand Australians! Intertwined with camel lessons and camel information were in-depth and useful language lessons so that I could fully understand my traveling companions. Once my ear was trained to understand what words they were saying, I had to learn what those words meant. Many laughs were spilled as the Aussies tried to teach me the proper use of their
language and as I tried to make sense of what was being said.

With a little practice, I will be able to effortlessly explain the many varied uses of the word "piss" and the many deviations of that word. It is not necessarily used the same way we might use in the United States, except the very obvious translation. My new life goal is to become bi-lingual with Australian being my second language.

Just as I found great humor in the slang from Down Under, the Aussies took note of some of our American vernacular as well. The teasing started with my use of the words "bathroom" and "restroom." Apparently, us Yanks are too precious or polite when we use these words and there is concern that we need to go to these rooms to rest. In order to bridge the cultural gap and spread some international goodwill, I started announcing that I needed to "take a piss in the toilet." They heartily approved.

When the mocking subsided, the Aussies found a few of our phrases clever enough to be taken home as souvenirs. The American phrase that seemed to gain the most traction was
"stay in your lane" or "I'm staying in my lane." It seemed like people searched for reasons to use it in many instances. When we accompanied it with "eating popcorn" to suggest we were just watching the show and not getting involved in any drama or whatnot, it was like we were speaking our own universal language.

The other word, that I have discovered I inadvertently use a lot, that was popular on this trip was "lightweight." I suppose the comparison came up as we were talking about surviving the rugged nature of Mongolia, having the best knives and being able to tame these camels. For the record, there were not any lightweights on our trip, but we sure liked to suggest it whenever we could.

For the first time in my life--abroad or Stateside--I was accused of having an accent. The way I spoke was well-received, but I was constantly being asked to say something with my "accent." I tried to explain that Midwesterners are literally described as being void of any accent and that is one of the ways to identify a Midwesterner at home, but none of these Aussies were buying what I
was selling.

When I asked a question or made a comment, I got used to hearing someone repeat what I said as if they were trying to learn our "accent." I even went so far as to say some people's names with a Aussie accent because if I said their name without it, they did not answer me!


When Dad, Kyle and I travel we have two rules that relate to Australians: 1. When the Aussies empty their embassy in any country, it is time to leave that country pronto; and 2. If there is a group of ex-pats anywhere in the world, gravitate to the Aussies of the group because they are the ones that know how to have a good time. These are hard and fast rules and they have never failed us. This trip was no different.

I had no idea what to expect from this group when we were not soundly focused on camel training and cameleering. I thought they might be a serious crew, an all-work-and-no-play sort or an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type of folk. Boy was I off base and I should have known if I
had remembered the Aussie rule. These cameleers soaked up every minute of every day and filled it with fun times, light-heartedness and karaoke.

Yes, karaoke. No, I did not make that part up. It wasn't formal karaoke as some nights we were sitting in the ger at Camel Camp relying on candle light and liquid courage as our entertainment.

This group of Aussies liked to sing. While that fact alone was a little surprising, what they chose to sing was very surprising to me. It was kind of surreal to be sitting in the middle of Mongolia hearing people absolutely butcher songs by The Supremes, The Righteous Brothers, Phil Collins, Don McLean and even Merle Haggard. Actually, it was fantastic.

Living With Camels

I got very excited about learning more about camels and I am pretty sure my excitement turned me into a bit of a chatterbox. I apologized to my travel mates multiple times, but I am quite sure I was the annoying kid in class. You know the one... My only excuse is that I really like talking about camels. I am assuming that is not a surprise to anyone.

when I am home, I found myself asking all kinds of questions, engaging in discussions and answering when asked to speak. I loved learning, making comparisons between Aussie camels and American camels, and kind of just rambling about the wonders of camels. Just thinking about it now makes me think I should send an apology gift to the professors and all the other cameleers...

There was one moment, however, I chose to keep my mouth shut. I was walking with Russell, our camel professor, to go shepherd the camels to the watering trough. Some of the camels were hobbled and some were walking freely. Shamrock had been hobbled, but stopped and literally asked to be led.

As we were walking and leading Shamrock, I asked with genuine interest, why we herded them instead of walking to the watering hole and calling them. Russell looked at me with a bit of disgust and said "because they are not dogs!" I acted like it made complete sense and chose not to tell him the many ways I call my really big dogs out of the pasture!

Currency Exchange

Calculating the currency exchange was tricky as $1.00 was equal to about 2,460 MNT. This meant, 1 MNT was equal to $0.0004. So, yes the dollar was strong in Mongolia. Beer was about $1.00 for a large bottle. Coffee house cappuccinos were about $2.00.

Randomness and Absurdities

On the last night we bought some bottles of camel milk at the grocery to give it a go, but were sorely disappointed. Because I could not read the labels, I was not completely sure what we were sampling, but it was quite clear it was not the camel milk we get here in the States. We assumed it was either not entirely camel milk (maybe mixed with another type of milk) or it was camel milk kefir. Whatever it was, I will not be partaking again. Yikes!

Ulaanbaatar was surprisingly clean compared to many Asian countries and homelessness did not seem evident on the streets.

As expected, the measurements and temperatures were not the same as we use here at home. Everyday we would ask what the weather would be the next day and the answer was always given in Celsius. I was the only one
in the room that had no idea what that meant (and was too lazy to learn the conversion). Someone asked me about wind chill when we were in the snowstorm, I ultimately learned it was 10 degrees C. That converts to "cold."

Salespeople in Ulaanbaatar were never pushy and never tried to upsell anything, in fact I might go as far as to say sometimes it was difficult to get assistance in shops. In one of the coffee shops I went to a couple of times, instead of having the waitress or barista walk around to check on patrons, each table was fashioned with a button. When you wanted service, you pushed the button. Otherwise, you were left to your own accord.

Little signs of home were evident in Ulaanbaatar and they came in the form of Pizza Hut, Burger King and KFC. I did not eat at any of them, so I can't even compare the menus or prices.

We kind of got used to being at Camel Camp and having a local ride up on horseback to see what these Westerners were doing with these camels. We
also got used to these horsemen smelling like a distillery.

One of my new Aussie friends asked me if having straight and perfectly white teeth was an "American thing." I really wasn't sure how to properly answer her, but thought it was interesting that she noticed that about Americans.

Speaking of being noticed...apparently the dry shampoo craze has not made it down under or across the pond. There was some playful heckling when I used my dry shampoo in the ger our first morning. Shocked that no one had even heard of it, let alone used it, I felt obliged to give a brief tutorial on the many benefits and uses of dry shampoo.

I was a little shocked at the teasing, as being stuck in a tent without a shower seems like the entire reason dry shampoo would ever have been created! My tutorial must not have fallen on deaf ears as one tent mate asked to try it for herself. I left my dry shampoo for the expedition team and I have a sinking suspicion they will be asking me to send them more before they even make it out of

Dry shampoo was not the only thing my bunkmates noticed. I was so proud of myself for remembering to bring my pocket knife on the trip because you never know when you will need to cut the twine on a hay bale or open a sack of grain for the camels. But when I pulled it out of my pocket the first time, it was met with heckles and an exasperated "that's not a knife!"

While it might not be sufficient for surviving the Outback of Australia, no one complained when they needed their bottles of beer opened and I was the only one with a bottle-opener in their knife!

Photo credit disclaimer: We were all given the greatest gift of having a skilled photographer on our trip with us. I would call her a professional photographer, but I know she would argue with me. However, no one can argue that her photos look like works of art. Not only did she capture wonderful moments and views, she willingly shared all of her photos with us. Her generosity was coupled with other travel companions also sharing their photos. Thank you
all! I have been trying to give accurate photo credits with each blog, but I am getting lazy. So the rule of thumb is if the photo looks stunning and like a true photographer took it, give credit to Gillian Barber. If the photo looks like a 3rd grader took it with a point and shoot, yours truly gets the credit!

Additional photos below
Photos: 35, Displayed: 29


25th October 2017

Valeri, you have earned an "A+" in writing and for traveling off the grid. Yes, Aussies are great traveling company - I enjoyed them while staying at various youth hostels on my around the world trip in 1995.
25th October 2017

I am 100% sure..
That very soon you will be doing two things: 1) Visiting Australia and 2) Doing more camel training. It sounds like you have fully embraced a second career!
25th October 2017

I could have given you a tutorial prior to your departure! I can't really speak the language, but I learned to understand most of it. I miss it. Quite a culture. They can be tough on each other--and their American counterparts, but usually done with humor. I had NO IDEA such a thing as dry shampoo existed. Still don't. This has been fun, Valeri. Keep asking those questions . . . and talk all you want about camels.
25th October 2017

These last two blogs are very interesting. Love the knife story!!
22nd November 2018

Lost in his thoughts
How I am feeling having discovered your blogs...Love this pic. We love remote and the music. Your love of camels is compelling. You need to meet the TBer known as the Travel Camel. Your blogs are helping me dream again. Brilliant.
5th December 2018

I love hearing from you. Makes my day!!
22nd November 2018


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