In Askat, I had been reading the introduction of a travel guide which stated that "Mongolia truly is the most hospital country in the world". Anyone claiming this is a big bullshitter. Al least, that is what I have experienced in the West.
As a tourist you will pay for everything, and not according to the local economy, but about 5 times more. You are a money machine and every smile has eyes filled with dollar-signs.
A whole lot of different than what I have seen in Russia, that is for sure.
I always have a plan before arriving at my destination, but sometimes I prefer to find a better option than sticking to what I have found on a distance. Since all the hotels in Olgii were about the same price – without English speaking staff – I needed to stick with the only CouchSurfer I could find in the city.
He was a guide and therefore wanted me to pay to sleep on his couch.
The price was quite high, but food was included. Even when he knew I was vegan and thus would not eat at his place, there was no way to reduce the price.
It was already dark, so I had no choice.
He knew that pretty well.
I instantly started looking for a workaway somewhere in Mongolia, because this was going to get pretty expensive. When he heard about my quest, he proposed me to go and visit his family instead. He gave me a reasonable price for 5 days with horseback riding and eagle hunting included. Fair enough, I thought, so we jumped into a taxi to hit the country side.
Take me to the impossible.
The taxi was not at all what I had expected. Next to the fact that it was packed with people, there was also a cow joining us.
I truly adored to share a vehicle with this animal, trying to avoid knowing where he was heading to.
The car stopped abruptly and dangerously close to a motorcycle which was waiting for us. A mysterious person, fully wrapped in black, squeezed the two of us on his machine and we puffed with a lot of effort into the infinity of the Mongolian Steppe.
I felt at home right away, as if they were family and in every house we have visited on the small settlement I got stuffed with bread and hot water. In one of them lived a young couple. Since they were freshly married and this was not particularly the environment for casual encounters, I wondered where they had met.
Facebook was the answer.
After an amazingly good sleep, the father of the house woke me up and took me out for herding the animals. I needed to pay attention, because the day after I needed to do it alone… I felt incapable of doing it, but yet, they fully believed in my capacity. The feeling was magic.
I had been looking very much forward to the horse trek true this untouched landscapes, but I felt like a toddler on a pony when the man of the house pulled the horse on foot to get me to the mountain around the corner of the farm.
The guide wanted to have my camera and forced me pose next to the eagle in different angles.
Oh god, I hated it.
I felt like a stupid tourist in a trap.
After the photo shoot they let the eagle do her thing, but she missed the fox and flew away.
I enjoyed this moment so much.
All animals involved in this stupid tradition were free. Secretly I was laughing my ass off because of the irony that the eagle hunt turned out to be a hunt for the eagle.
To be honest, I did not want to see an animal getting killed, but I wanted to try to understand the local culture. They have been searching for the eagle for hours with me still being pulled around on the horse. They have never found her back.
It was only when I was collecting frozen shit in a bag that I realized what the hell was going on. I had paid a lot of money for not eating their food, a pony ride, see an eagle fly away and do their dirty work. I felt like a rich bitch who was so dumb and unworldly, that she needed to pay extremely poor people to show her the meaning of life again.
My morals are a bit higher than that.
Since my travels need to stay fun and I could not understand that the guide was exploiting his own family as zoo-animals, I did not see any advantage by staying there.
I was witnessing how they consumed a horse stomach as if it was an ice-cream: the perfect moment for some theatre!
I pretended that I felt unwell and carefully explained my fake-situation. I wanted the guide to get me out of there before putting up a scene, because as far as I could see, there was nothing but dirt and rocks.
I would have loved to be able to say that I have conquered the harsh Mongolian countryside.
I would love to have proven that, as a vegan, you can travel without limitations.
But I needed to surrender.
I could not handle the fact that they did everything with animal shit. They made fire with shit, the cows eat shit, the walls were made of shit, there was no toilet paper, so they used sand,... and after handling all this shit – without washing their hands – they prepared dinner.
During meals I stressed out trying to avoid any of all the pieces of boiled corpses to splash into my self-brought food, and then I saw them doing the dishes in meat-bouillon.
I understand it's in their culture and this is survival, I respect that; but I could see from a very close distance, that it's nothing for me at all.
I could not see the advantage of putting my health at stake and not having a good time for the sake of the ‘experience’.
The locals could not understand why I wanted to go and questioned their own hospitality. I felt bad to leave them and doubted if they actually knew that I had paid to be there.
When we got back to his parents home, the guide gave me ridiculously little money back, because 'the taxi was cheaper than he calculated'.
Well played, mister, but I could see through his act of ‘honesty’, so a big discussion followed.
It was late, so I could only awkwardly go to sleep and get up early in the morning to book a bus and get the fuck out of Bayan-Olgii.