Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.

My Trip to Govi-Altai, Part I: A Geography Lesson

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I realize these posts are coming to you rather out of order, and for that, I apologize. I have a giant backlog of things to talk about, and I’m hoping (probably in vain) to get caught up on it soon. It’s hard to write about the arrival spring and how you wish for more winter when you haven’t really done winter justice in your writing yet. But in writing about winter, I get caught up on things like what it’s like to use an outhouse in the winter, and that should properly go in my yet-to-be-written entry on my visit to Govi-Altai. But if I’m forever trying to catch up with where I should be, I don’t bother to write down the things that are happening currently, and then I lose the better part of those details. Baugh. I suppose that’s why I have a journal and a blog. I just have to make the time to write in both. And now that I’ve done my typical pre-entry ramble, let’s get on with the topic of today’s post!

For those of you who don’t know me from real life, or who I haven’t talked to much, I flew down to the southwestern corner of Mongolia in January to visit a friend who lives in Govi-Altai. Mongolian geography 101: Mongolia is divided into 21 aimags, or provinces. I live in Orkhon, the smallest; Govi-Altai is one of the largest. It’s also one of the five aimags named after the desert that sprawls across them. (And yes, it’s called the “Govi” here, not Gobi; in Cyrillic, the /v/ sound is written is /в/, which I think is where the disparity arose.)

This aimag is so called because it contains both the Govi desert and the Altai Mountain Range. I love me some mountains, so I was very happy about getting to see those, even if it was just from the air.

None of my pictures do the sight justice. Though the way the wind flattens the snow at the top does look pretty cool.

None of my pictures do the sight justice. Though the way the wind flattens the snow at the top does look pretty cool.

My flight landed in the aimag center, Altai. An aimag center is not centrally located within an aimag; rather, it is that aimag’s largest town and the center of its administration. Aimag centers often share names with their aimags, but not always; Erdenet is the aimag center for Orkhon, for example. Eric, however, does not live in an aimag center; he lives in Delger, a soum about an hour from Altai. Soums are smaller than aimag centers; essentially, they’re small towns out in the countryside. They have schools and small shops and lots of dwellings… and not much else. For anything other than the most basic groceries, Eric has to go to Altai.

Driving is a good way to make money in Mongolia, so you can nearly always find someone who’ll take you where you need to go. Some drivers make the journey from one major city to another, or from an aimag center to nearby soums, on a daily basis. But while there would certainly be drivers going from Altai to Delger, neither Eric nor I trusted that I would be able to find one with my limited Mongolian language abilities. So he met me at the airport, and then we hung out in Altai for a few hours before heading to his soum.

We went out to lunch with the PCVs stationed in Altai (there are several) and hit the zah for groceries. We were thwarted in our attempts to find meat other than mutton, but I did get to pet the resident rabbit at the produce store. (You’d think he’d eat the merchandise…) And we had one other important errand: the acquisition of a deel. It occurs to me that I have yet to write about Mongolian traditional clothing, so I will relate the story of purchasing my own in a subsequent post.

And then, suddenly, we had to go. Delger is apparently located in a rift in the space-time continuum, in which the laws of Mongolian Time operate in reverse. Concerts take place two hours before the posted start time and are just ending when you arrive; buses that were supposed to leave at 3 depart at 2. We took our time about getting lunch and heading to the zah because our driver had said we wouldn’t be leaving until 8. Then, as we headed to lunch, he called to say we’d be leaving at 5. And when we ran into him at the zah, the departure time had been changed to 3.

So we piled into the car with four other people, a number of bags and packages, and an accordion, and started down the road to Delger.

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Author: everywherebuthome

Linguist. Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Expat in Mongolia. Writer. Scout, dancer, gymnast, equestrienne.

One thought on “My Trip to Govi-Altai, Part I: A Geography Lesson

  1. Pingback: My Trip to Govi-Altai, Part II: Buying a Deel | Everywhere But Home

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