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June 23, 2011

Volunteer ger-dwellers live with a Mongolian family. When I say “with,” I mean in the same enclosure. I’ve got my own ger, but my neighbors are all within the same fence. The result is a pretty close relationship to my haasha (fence) family; we often share meals, chores, and conversation. Almost all of them are teachers at school, so during the lighter load of the summer I was invited to share an excursion as well—a camping trip to Yoliam.

As I understand it, Yoliam means something like “The valley of the birds,” named for the large raptors that nest in the rocks. It’s a site popular to tourists and locals alike, and we certainly weren’t the only ones camping among the rocks, roasting up goat and vegetables—the real version of Mongolian barbecue.

The narrow valley prevents ice and snow from melting during the summer months, so essentially you’ve got a small glacier snaking it’s way through the valley-floor. The ice that does melt makes a small creek over, under, and through the ice, which creates the spectacular shapes you can see in the pictures I’ve included. At some spots, you can hop down and walk around inside the glacier.

Mongolians are old pros when it comes to the art of the picnic. There’s always more than everyone can ever eat or drink, and the pace is relaxed, to say the least. Letting go of an agenda is something I am still trying to master; the “American” in me still craves just the barest and most skeletal schedule, even when I’m on vacation. Mongolians are right though, when you’re at the mercy of weather, dirt roads, and Russian-made automobiles, it’s best to avoid expectations about time and punctuality. “Dinner” the first night was at two-thirty in the morning, and my eventual arrival back home the next day was at a quarter to four, if I’d stayed up another forty-five minutes, I could’ve watched the sun rise; though, the desert at night does beg one to stay awake to appreciate it.

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