-40 degrees

GerDo you know what forty degrees below freezing feels like? It means your lips freeze together when you close your mouth, your eyes and nose start watering, which again means you have ice forming in your nostrils and the corners of your eyes before you know it. In other words: you don’t go outside in -40 degrees unless you really have to!

I arrived in the ger / yurt some 70 kilometers outside of Ulan Bator the day before yesterday, a little after noon. We spent some time looking for the place, but when we found a lonely rider we asked him, and he pointed the way for us. The taxi had to leave the road, and head out onto the steppe itself for the last kilometer or so. As we were driving a rather normal Hyundai, and not an all-terrain-vehicle, that meant
taking it REAL easy, but I think the driver was used to it, so it was OK.

When we entered, the taxi driver, my friend Degi and I were seated on the three only chairs in the yurt, and served hot tea with milk before anyone introduced themselves. When we finished our tea, I gave my gifts, a bottle of vodka Gerfor the man of the house, and a big bag of caramels for the women and children, and THEN we introduced ourselves. After a glass of vodka, I could also introduce myself to the lady of the house. The yurt was the home of a couple in their early sixties, with two of their sons, a ten year old nephew, their sons’ wives, and two babies. The youngest one was only a month old, and named Amgaa after my host in Ulan Bator!

The man of the house, Pimba, kept serving me vodka. A lot of vodka. My friend Degi said that refusing a drink on the first night of a friendship would be a very bad thing, but that he would make sure I was OK. I kept as low a pace as I could. The end of that night, I cannot remember. I woke up the next morning, in my sleeping bag, crammed in among all the others on the floor. There were two beds in the yurt, in which slept the young mothers with their babies.  I felt rather bad in the early hours of the morning, to my hosts’ great amusement… They were very understanding, however, and after a couple of hours on one of the beds, I was back to my old self. The temperature however, had dropped drastically during the night, unusually cold for this time of year, apparently. I didn’t see a thermometer anywhere, but they said somewhere around forty degrees below zero…

Degi was supposed to be going back in the taxi that morning, while I was staying another day, and then hitchhiking back. The taxi wouldn’t start, however, and the driver and the men of the family were trying all day to warm it up, heat the battery, recharge with the help of a solar panel, but nothing worked. It was almost getting dark again by the time the taxi finally started. I had spent the day mostly inside, because as I described earlier, forty below is just too cold… I did however ride around a bit on the family’s horse, and took some pictures. By the end of the day, I was having trouble keeping warm, though, and with the temperature that low, getting a ride to town the next day was going to be difficult. I therefore ended up saying goodbye that night, instead of waiting till the next morning. Pimba insisted that he and his wife (whose name I can’t even vaguely pronounce, much less spell) were my new Mongolian parents, and there was a farewell with lots of hugs.

I had a great time, and only regret I had to give in to the cold. My only excuse is that there is a limited amount of clothes one can bring when travelling, and one of Pimba’s coats were bigger and heavier than all of my luggage together, made of the skins of several whole sheep…

Back here in UB, I’ve stayed the night at Degi’s, and we’re going to a death metal concert tonight. Degi is a self proclaimed satanist neo-nazi pagan death metaller who speaks very poor English. We’re still trying to get along, even though he doesn’t speak enough English to understand what I’m talking about when I try to ask him how he gets those things to fit together…

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