It seems I have been away a long time. Am getting tired living out of a suitcase and dragging my camera gear, computer and accessories around. That’s the life of a wanderer. I really need to do some mopping. What is mopping? Mopping is a Blauism. What is a Blauism? A Blauism according to Olivia is something that I make up and believe. Mopping is a process that I need when I get overly tired and need to just drag around and do nothing. I yearn for one day of mopping, but that’s not in the short term. We all met at around 8 AM for breakfast. We were supposed to leave at around 10 for our next adventure, but all vehicles were not allowed on the streets and all the people were forced to walk to three shelters outside of town. This was a drill to prepare the residents for any emergency where they need to abandon town. Imagine doing this in NYC? There are people who will not evacuate no matter what is coming such as a hurricane. The “Eagles Nest”, our hotel was exempt for walking to the emergency shelters. We spent the morning in classroom. Andy had each of us put ten images on a memory card that we did not edit yet and he would put them on his computer that was hooked up to a portable projector. Each of us was then asked what we would fix, what we liked and disliked and how we would fix each image. I always get something out of these classroom sessions. Besides studying my images, I also see the other participants work and Andy is a great teacher and instructor. As a side note, Andy was one of three beta testers for lightroom when the original version came out ten years ago.
We brought along a light lunch and all of us got into three all terrain vehicles for our next adventure. We drove for close to two hours over rock roads with huge ups and downs like a roller coaster. One of the vehicles stopped in town to pick up Aisophan. Aisophan is a sixteen year old Mongolian girl who starred in the full length motion picture “The Eagle Huntress”. Aisophan was in school in town. One of her roles is to care after around 100 younger girls over the weekend who live at school. The Mongolian culture and specifically the tradition of Eagle Hunting, was always men only. Divorce is almost non existent here and couples never live together before marriage. Marriages are not arranged anymore. Aisophan was trained by her father to be a eagle hunter. Her father is a great eagle hunter, but rarely participates in festivals anymore. Aisophan then was entered in the festivals and won many competitions. A foreigner saw her at one festival and the idea for the movie was hatched. The movie received great reviews and was seen all over the world including all the major cities in the US. Here we were going to have a private photoshoot with her and her father dressed up in traditional clothing with an eagle and horse. We finally arrived at their winter home in a very isolated valley deep in Western Mongolia. It is hard for me to describe their home and the isolation around it. We were first led into their new home and met her father, mother and some of their other children. The family brought in cookies, cakes and other home made dishes to sample. They also brought in a large kettle of tea and a plastic bucket filled with airaq. Remember what airag is, the local drink that is mares milk. Everyone in the group passed on the airag and accepted tea and then my time finally came. What drink should I choose? Most of us have already guessed my choice knowing me. It was airag for me. The mother filled a large bowl of airag for me. There were chucks of fermented mares milk in the bowl. How can I describe the taste? It was sweet and sour at the same time and very smooth. We then went around the room telling the family our names and our wives names, how many years we are married, how many children we had, what were their names and grandchildren names. By this time I had finished my bowl of airag and asked for another bowl. It was that good. Aisophan commented that she was impressed that I had the airag. We then drove a few miles into a huge plateau surrounded by mountains. We then took lots of photos of Aispohan called her eagle and galloping with her eagle. Her father then took the eagle and horse and galloped towards us. He was magnificent and beautiful at the same time. A once in a lifetime treat. To view this with no one else around was spectacular. Andy and Kevin blew me away again. We then took pictures of them together with the eagle and Kevin took some of me with the father. It was now time to say our goodbyes and head back to the “Eagles Nest” in Olgii.
A long drive back over rocks and uneven terrain. The driver told me that they go through lot’s of tires and put very low tire pressure in their tires. We then stopped to take pictures of a landscape and there was also a large mound of rocks with blue cloth wrapped around the mound. Zaya told me to pick up three rocks and walk around the mound clockwise and throw one rock onto the mound each turn. She told me that this mound was originally put in place by a Shaman. Shamanism is practiced here. What is Shamanism? Shamanism is an ancient healing tradition and way of life. She told me that Shamanic teachings focus on our connection with nature and all of creation. The blue cloth represents the sky and when you put your rocks on the mound your spirit is remembered as being here and giving thanks to the sky. The mound of rocks is called “Ovoo or obo”. There were a few canes and crutches around the Ovoo. The Ovoo is found in the mountains and high places. Zaya told me that during Communism, Ovoo worship was prohibited. I am starting to feel a spiritual attachment to the Mongolian people and feel very relaxed and safe around them.
It was now time for dinner. Andy promised us a great Turkish dinner. When we finally arrived at the restaurant, it was closed. Now where is go in Olgii on a Sunday night? A little bit about Olgii. The buildings that the people live in are all box like structures and very basic and plain. Jenn told me they reminded her of Russia. Andy found a Mongolian restaurant. I am so tired that I just had a large great cup of cappuccino. Andy’s dish looked great. It was mutton and Mongolian dumplings.
Now back to the “Eagles Nest”. Andy had a surprise for us. A father and son sang and entertained us. They were dressed in traditional Kazakh clothing and playing two weird looking guitars. Each guitar had two strings and they got great sounds out of them. Their songs were sung in Kazakh, Mongolian, Russian and one song in English. They do not know how to speak English, but did pretty well.
Where are we going tomorrow? Would you believe the city of Khovd. Where is it and why go there? Khovd is around 100 miles from the Chinese border. The drive will take us about 6 to 7 hours and both Andy and Kevin promise us a great adventure. At this point, I could never doubt them.