Moon Over Mongolia

Sep 18, 2013 by








The only sound I could hear was the grumble of the single tiny generator, providing power to the 5 gers in our camp for a couple of short hours in the evening as we got ready for bed. We lazily left our door open and in no time, moths and other flying critters were erratically circling the lightbulb hanging from the ceiling.

A small wash basin stood beside the ger next to mine. Water could be placed in the container on top, and in pushing the stopper below, water would come out. Thus, face washing and teeth brushing was possible. This particular basin, however, was empty.

The moon climbed steadily over the hills that hugged the valley. Its ascent was so rapid that I could feel my eyes follow the moon as it left a trail of moonbeams and magic in the night sky behind it.

I quietly sipped the beer from my king can. I hadn’t had a single bad beer during my entire trip through Russia and Siberia, and now Mongolia. The food, on the other hand, had been a different story. I found the mutton which is far too commonly served in Mongolia repulsive, being mostly blobs of fat or small scraps of meat, which almost weren’t worth talking about. I was glad that the entire animal was being used, but I just couldn’t stomach the dishes that the families we stayed with were preparing for us. I wondered if in fact they were serving us their scraps, but a Mongolian told me that they love the fat, that this is the best part. I can only imagine their shock and confusion when the plate was returned to them, fat blobs untouched. My travel companion literally couldn’t stomach the dishes, and she became violently ill, taking several days to reach full recovery. We told the family we were staying with that night that we were vegetarians, and we were much happier eating the hearty onion, carrot and cabbage soup they served in our ger.

The food hadn’t been good, but a beer (not even always cold) had always been a treat at the end of a long day, a good way to unwind and enjoy sitting in the silence and serenity of a Mongolian landscape.

Earlier, two small children played a game of galloping horses in the sand before our gers. One used a stick, the other an old metal pipe. They hopped on their stick or pipe horses and galloped and pretended their horses weren’t cooperating. They leapt, they made sharp turns, they tumbled. I watched contentedly, I sipped my beer. The generator rumbled on. Several yaks grazed nearby. All around me, people were getting ready for bed. All around, the night was blossoming.

I sat on an old plastic children’s chair, and in between sips of beer I propped my can up among the small tufts of green grass in the sand. In between sips, I observed the moon rising, and the family going about their business, putting children to bed, tidying, becoming quieter.

I too became quieter.

The volume of beer in my king can decreased, and the volume of beer inside me increased. I looked off to the outhouse, considering my options. It was but a small hut with no door. A piece of wood was propped up for a semblance of modesty, but once someone was squatting over the hole in the ground that was the toilet, he would disappear behind the wood, and the outhouse would look empty. This lack of privacy and the relentless flies that bounced off my face anytime I went near the outhouse deterred me from using the facility. Instead, I opted for the outdoors.

Finishing my beer, I stood and scampered off into the darkness. It wasn’t difficult to find somewhere to go in the middle of the night in Mongolia. I found a little dip in the ground, and it was there that I went.

As I returned, I noticed that the generator had stopped running. The lights would be off by the time I got back to my ger, and that was okay. It meant less moths and other flying bugs, and it also meant I wouldn’t have to see the beetles that I knew were in my bed.

I walked back to the ger, this time to the silence of Mongolia, to the silence of my mind, and the moon in the sky.


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  1. Wow, now this was a make you think post, Colleen! I’ve read about how little Mongolians live on to survive and yet they do it well. A beer would seem like an incredible delicacy. I’m sorry your friend got sick. That aside, what a wonderful experience you got to have a great moment of reflection. I really liked your taking me away in thought for a bit here 🙂

    • Colleen

      Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comment, Mike. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about my experience in Mongolia. 🙂

  2. Mongolia looks incredible – I’ve got to get there one of these days.

  3. cubiclethrowdown

    Lovely description of your evening!! I always wondered about the food in Mongolia. I would have gone the vegetarian route too 🙂

  4. Zhu

    Man, is there a place on earth you haven’t explored yet?! Mongolia is a country I’d love to go to, as well as inner Mongolia in China.

    • Colleen

      Haha, there are lots of places I haven’t been… and the more I travel the longer my list of places to go gets. I’d love to see more of Asia!

  5. Mongolia has been always on my bucket list. We wanted to go there last year after visiting Tibet but we didn’t manage. It’s such a beautiful place, love its scenery and kids look adorable!

  6. Nice writing Colleen! I could almost see myself there, drinking a beer and doing some freestyle peeing.

    • Colleen

      Haha thanks! I love the idea of freestyle peeing. Great way to describe what I did.

  7. Isa

    WHAT ARE THOSE GIANT FUZZY THINGS they are so cool! I never really think of that area as having great beer… but just another reason to visit I guess!

    • Colleen

      They are yaks – truly a bizarre animal to see in real life! They look like long haired cows and are more skittish… so they jump and run when you come close!

  8. It’s funny how much getting out there and traveling changes us—if you had told me a year ago that I would have been interested in visiting Mongolia one day, I would have thought you had lost your mind. But seeing your photos and reading your heartfelt impressions of your time there, I think it looks pretty fabulous. Another destination added to the list!

    • Colleen

      Aw, that’s so great Steph! Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. I’m quite certain you would love Mongolia. It’s such a neat place!

  9. Good post, Colleen. I’ve slept under open sky in Thar desert in India. It was an incredible experience. Your post inspires me to go to Mongolia. Hopefully, soon.

  10. This post make me want to go to Mongolia. We planned to go at the beginning of our trip with the Trans Mongolian train that goes through Russia and ends up in China, but we couldn’t get the Russia visa so we changed our plans completely. One day I’ll get there!

    • Colleen

      That is almost exactly what I did this summer! I went by train through Russia but had a slightly different border crossing story than by train… let’s just say hungover hitchhiking. Made it to Mongolia and loved it. I bet you would too!

  11. It’s funny how comforting a beer can be so far away from home! Beautiful job describing what living in Mongolia is like.

    • Colleen

      It’s true. Those beers: super comforting.
      Thank you for your kind words!


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