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Entries about orkhon

A Farm in Orkhon

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Who you spend your time with greatly changes your experiences. I find that to be so true for myself. I have always been a bit of an empath, a mirror, mimic maybe, but I tend to greatly vary my personality based on who is around me at any give time. It’s not always something I control, it’s just something I do. It’s part of what makes it easy for me to learn languages and kung fu. If I can see it or hear it, I can copy it. It takes time, but it never seems like learning these things is out of reach.

When I arrived on the farm in Orkhon, there was one group of people. A variety of countries, accents, and personalities were represented, but mostly outgoing, high energy, and one guy who could easily have been my brother. I got along with them well enough, we talked and laughed a lot, but when the one I really connected with was gone, I felt the difference.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t connect with the others, but the cultural connection wasn’t there. Having someone around who I didn’t have to explain the random quotes and stupid voices to is something I have missed for a long time, but I didn’t really know it. Most of the people in Peace Corps were a generation behind me and from cultures spread across the world, and there is a big difference between my generation, no great wars, no great depression, and those who came after 9/11.

It’s not just that day, but all that came after that changed who we were. Not just the problems, but the culture, the humor, technology, and everything else. There was a ten-year void for my generation where the problems were mostly solved before they began and the fears of the Cold War were becoming myth. I didn’t really know there was that much of a difference until I met someone so much like myself, laughing at movies and shows that would never survive today.

Connection. That is the problem. I can talk to almost anyone, and there is usually some common ground, something to connect over, but finding that again makes me miss home more than I knew I could. And not just the place, but the time. So much has changed since I lived in San Diego, and the same goes for every place that I have lived. The world moves on when we leave, and that more than anything makes it hard to go back. That no one is important enough to stop the world from turning.

When I left the farm, it was an entirely different group. Mostly French and Germans. A woman from the Czech Republic with a smile that lit up like a pinball machine came and went while I was there. They were still younger than me, but somehow different, more relaxed, more easy going. There was talk of travel, food, philosophy, and there was laughter. There were comments I had to keep to myself, simply because I didn’t want to try and explain the cultural references for them, but it was a good time.

The work was background for me. I helped take out a bathroom, replumb it, then build an office with a bed in it. I replaced the water heater for the shower after failing to fix the one that would only heat to warm. I shoveled horse shit to be dried and burned over the long winter coming up and I helped build haystacks to feed the cows. I cooked well enough, and shared some of the wonderful things you can make in a rice cooker like slow cooked beef and soup. I spent more time than I would like looking for tools and materials to do the work, and I really missed my DeWalt power tools and having a Home Depot down the street.

One day I walked off into the steppe and headed for a mountain nearby. It took me longer than I would like to climb it, but I camped on top and saw the sunrise and sunset. The moon went down and I could see the Milky Way and stars stretching to the horizons. At times I thought it would never end, and at times I felt it went by far too fast. It’s one more place that I could live forever, but there is still so much to see in the world.

Even now, the pain fades and only the joy of the memories remains. Beautiful people, laughter, amazing food that tasted better for the hunger after a long day working. I’m glad I was able to build something there, something that will last and help them in the winter to come. I’m glad I met Gary, the old cow who loved scratches. But in a few days I will be off to the Reindeer Tribe, six days heading north past Khuvsgul Lake to see something I can’t really imagine yet. And then I will remember without pain.

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Posted by Porticaeli 03:43 Archived in Mongolia Tagged travel english photography mongolia american orkhon Comments (0)

Beauty in Change

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View A long way home on Porticaeli's travel map.

Leaving anyplace I have called home is hard, but not for the reasons I expected. My time was up, and there are people I miss every day, but it’s more that I wish they were here then I was there. I had forgotten how beautiful everything is when I find myself deep in a new country, but Mongolia was breathtaking from the start.

Ulaanbaatar is a small city by the standards I grown used to over the past couple years. Most of the buildings are low and the sky stretches overhead. Most of the buildings seem to be in the style of the Soviet Union or China, but there are a few amazing exceptions. The capital building is columns and glass with the khans of old sitting on bronze thrones or riding bronze horses. On the other end is the yurts, which they always call gers. I like the word yurt better. It’s just fun to say. Yurt. Even if it is wrong.

The other thing I noticed is the people. So many of the women here are beautiful, and each in their own way. I think that is a lot of it for me, that they are comfortable with their rich dark skin, or pale skin, or all the shades in between. Many of them have curves, and they don’t seem to worry or feel bad about their weight. Just the variety between different women is beautiful to me. Maybe I was just too long in a place where there seems to be only one standard of beauty, and so much true beauty is hidden beneath the need to be pale and skinny.

The men seem to have something about them that makes me think of the warriors their people once were, a confidence to their stride and their backs straight. Or maybe I am just seeing what I want to see, the ancient horsemen that lived free beneath the eternal blue sky.

Mongolia was my first choice for Peace Corps, or at least I remember it that way now. I have read a few stories about the place, heard rumors, but I don’t really know what Mongolia is in the 21st century. It’s supposed to be the most sparsely populated country in the world, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is true. The cities still have the feel of ancient towns I come across in other countries, with open air markets scattered throughout and many of surface streets still unpaved. I have had more than one person tell me about how they traveled the country and just set up their tent wherever they stopped, no campground needed.

I am tempted to do that, to just go and see what I can find out there. Hitchhike, or rent something and drive. As long as I have my phone I can find my way back from anywhere I wind up. But I already have plans, for now. I am on a farm for the next week and a half, currently finishing ripping out an unused bathroom and replacing it with a small office and a bed. Sometimes I help shovel out the horse stalls, gathering manure to be dried and burned throughout winter.

Most days I help with the cows, either in the morning or at night. They have to be herded so they can be milked, but there are 44 cows and no fences so it can take time to find them. The woman I am staying with has about a hundred horses also, but they just run free this time of year. Soon we will have to bring down the cows for the winter and gather the grass they will be eating once the plants go into hibernation. The scenery is amazing, the sunsets extraordinary, and the stars fill the sky.

There are a lot of other volunteers here, too. Most younger than I am, traveling alone or with a partner, from Europe, Singapore, New Zealand, and surprisingly Los Angeles. I got along best with that guy before he headed out. We hazed each other, talked about everything from philosophy to Monty Python, quoting and laughing, not even needing to finish our sentences to know the references. It was like having a brother around again.

But we all move on sooner or later. Visas end, work calls, or simply more adventure in other countries. Soon enough, I will be gone too, to Murun, somewhere halfway across the country. I will be teaching again, for a couple weeks anyway, and there is the Golden Eagle Festival in the beginning of October I am trying to get to. Two months here really isn’t enough, but the days are already getting cold and I can feel the winds blowing me onward. The hardest thing sometimes is trying to enjoy where I am before I look ahead to where I might be.

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Posted by Porticaeli 04:45 Archived in Mongolia Tagged travel english photography mongolia american orkhon Comments (0)

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