Last post from the field…

Well, probably the last. Where to start?

First things first, I got back on Tuesday from the Eagle Festival in BayanUlgii, which was just incredible. That region is so different from the rest of Mongolia, because it is near the border with Kazakhstan, so the area is mostly Kazakh. The buildings are different (lots of low, flat roofed houses), the gers are different (higher ceilings and more decorated), the people mostly speak Kazakh, not Mongolian and they’re Muslim. The landscape is beautiful, with some of the highest mountains in Mongolia, snow capped now that it’s getting into winter.

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The journey started in an interesting manner, with our plane being diverted due to bad weather. Instead of landing in Khovd, where we were meeting people to get a ride to Ulgii, we landed in Ulaangom, the capital of Uvs aimag. Due to timing and logistics, we ended up getting a car straight from Ulaangom to Ulgii and arriving at midnight, with a random herder we’d picked up to help us get there.

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At this point it might be timely to mention the we in this affair (no pun intended). Sunaree and I happened to be on the same flight as Jake, another Peace Corps volunteer who was heading to the festival, his father, Kevin and his step mother Lisa. They were great people to be with, having two people seeing the country with fresh eyes and us vets seeing a new part of the country.

When we got to Ulgii, we met a whole bunch of other Peace Corps volunteers, most of whom live in Khovd, about 6 hours away from Ulgii by car. One of their students, Berrickbold (I hope that’s vaguely correct spelling) is Kazakh an has family in Ulgii, so they kindly took all 11 or so of us in for a few nights.

The festival itself started the following morning with a parade in the town square, which was actually preceded by mingling and photos in the square. All the eagle hunters were out in full garb on horseback with their eagles. The parade began in proper order with some kids from the local schools and kindergartens on floats in cute costumes, then the eagle hunters rode through on horseback.

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The actual festival is held a short way out of town on a plain just in front of some mountains. The early events seemed to consist of the Eagle hunters down on the ground getting their eagles to fly down from the top of the mountain to land on their arms, with some meaty incentive. Apparently at least one eagle a year instead does the bolt for freedom and it looked like one headed that way, around the mountain and off into the distance.

There were some arts and craft stalls around, with lovely intricate Kazakh wall hangings and rugs spread over the ground. Everyone bought lots of stuff, including me.

That night, we stayed with a different Kazakh family and bought some kaz at the market, a traditional Kazakh horse meat sausage thing, which they cooked up for us for dinner. It’s basically a lot of seasoned (ie. salted) horse meat, skewered on rib bones and stuffed in intestine, then boiled for a long time, cut off the bone and eaten. That might not make it sound great, but it was. As were the horse buuz (dumplings) available in one of the food gers out at the festival.

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The next day’s events were a bit more exciting, particularly the horse-back pelt tug of war competition. This is where there are two guys on horses, one picks up a big animal (I think fox) fur from the ground, then they play tug of war with it, on horses. Sometimes they’d slap their horse or the other guy’s to get it moving and catch the other guy off guard. Often, they’d crash through the crowd, who would also slap the horses to make for a more entertaining spectacle. Once, a guy watching on his own horse in the crowd, managed to get caught up with the two contestants and rode along with them at full pace, slapping their horses for more speed.

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There was the obligatory horse race (on both days actually) and some awards, then the final event. The main event is when they let loose a wolf, then a fox for the eagles to hunt down and kill, which I wasn’t highly anticipating it must be said. The wolf was already injured, it’s front legs and jaws bound, so it was a pretty cruel show. Luckily the eagles dived in quickly, then the crowd rushed in and it was over. Similar fate for the fox. Not pretty, but we all knew it was coming.


The following day, we check out the Ulgii market, then headed to Khovd, where we got ourselves sorted, ate, then went drinking and dancing. Good times. Doug put Sunaree, Jake and I up in his lovely ger, providing us with eggs and great coffee in the morning. Stellar work.

Now, back in UB, I’m running around trying to finish everything off and get things organised. We had a great last bash for our intake (17), who are all leaving on Friday (tomorrow) except me, on Sunday and Bek, several weeks from now. Really great times and thanks to everyone who made it out and gave their kind words, company and great dance moves.

Last night, Dave and I said goodbye to our work, ESPF, who have provided great support and friendship for the year.

Feels so crazy to all be coming to an end.

With lows getting well into the negatives (almost -20), winter is definitely on it’s way now. Of course, the more telling sign is that I saw my first frozen vomit of the season today, heralding the icy months to come. Huzzah!

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Now back to an Aussie summer. I’ll keep posting stuff here as long I have stuff to say, so don’t forget me. Cheers!

All the rest of the Eagle fest pics on my flickr in this set: 

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