On Saturday afternoon, me, my host sisters Saruul and Enkhzul, their sister Tumi and her friend, all piled into Tumi’s car and drove out of Ulaanbaatar to the countryside beyond.
“What’s your favourite music, Rosie?” Tumi called back to me as we were hurtling along.
“The Beatles.” I replied. The car swerved violently to the left as Tumi delved into her CD compartment and unearthed a 28 track Beatles compilation. After the car was realigned with the oncoming traffic, I could relax to the sound of ‘All My Loving’ and ‘From Me To You’.
We arrived at the ger camp at dusk, having taken three wrong turns and driven through a massive sprawl of gers and huts.
Ger unlocked, we hauled our supplies inside, then stood around shivering uncontrollably until a little man came along with a bucket of coal and fired up the stove for us. Within minutes, Saruul had a pan of pak choi and noodles hissing away, Enkhzul was playing Teddy Pendergrass from her portable speaker, and Tumi had broken out the Mongolian beer. The party had started.
After we had eaten, we had a few rounds of cards. The girls’ Mongolian card game, however, counted 2 and 3 as ‘high cards’, and this totally messed with my head. To make matters worse for me, the punishment for losing a round was to have the others actually inflict physical pain on you, either by whacking you on the wrist, or by flicking you really hard on the forehead. As a result of this, and the aforementioned Mongolian beer, I woke up in the morning feeling quite tender.
I don’t think I could have felt any further away from home than I did when I was sat on my bed looking up at the stars through the top of the tent, whilst the girls all sat around in the dark singing Mongolian folk songs for me. Perhaps more surreal though was when Tumi, remembering my love for The Beatles, led them into a rendition of ‘Yesterday’.
Sleeping in a ger is one of the cosiest experiences you can have. Tucked up under several blankets, with the stove spilling out warmth, the dogs howling in the distance, and the tent flapping quietly in the wind, I fell asleep almost instantly.
I was woken up at 1am by the little man returning to top up our stove with another bucket of coal, and then again at 6am by my alarm – I wanted to get up and see the day break. I took my coat and camera and headed outside, where all was still and silent. It was so beautiful.
After crunching around in the snow for a while, I headed back to the ger. It was at this point that I was thankful for my Rabies jabs, because I turned around to find five or six scraggly dogs loping along behind me. Another was sat on the doorstep of our ger like he’d just knocked and was waiting to be let in for breakfast.
With cold hands and toes, I crept back under the covers and lay looking up through the top of the tent until the others stirred around me.
The little man came back in and had breakfast with us (I don’t know who invited him) and then we all headed out to play basketball and volleyball in the snow. A little while later, we filed back inside to warm our hands around mugs of milk tea. Then we packed up and set off for Terelj.