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T13: The Camel Family

Toward the end of the trip we visited a family that raises camels in the Gobi Desert.

1. The family has around fifty camels. The grazing near the dunes isn’t very good, so they keep the camels in a different area and bring them in only as needed to give rides to tourists.

2. He looked a lot bigger on the camel than off. This boy held the rope for my camel. Only one person in our group held her own rope, and that only for part of the way. Normally I’d be offended, but I didn’t have much confidence as I’d only ever been on a camel once before, and then the camel didn’t move at all. The rope is attached to a stick which is driven into the camel’s nose when it comes of age.

3. To get the camels down, they tugged on the ropes. There was a lot of hemming and hawing on the parts of the camels. The one I rode sighed discontentedly the whole time, but didn’t spit or anything. The family tried to tell is that this kind of camel is sweet tempered.

4. The family told us to lean back when the camels first get up because they get up back first. But when I was taking pictures, at lest two of them got up front first. The kids didn’t bother making the camels get down for them. They just scrambled up and down by the neck.

5. Once they got all the camels down, they had to saddle them all up. This took a while. For at least part of the time we all went into the central ger to talk. All the camels pictured here are male. They don’t ride the females because they have a long gestation period.

6. We were served the usual fair: fry bread, cheese curd, and fresh made cheese along with milk tea. The cheese was made from camel milk. They make the cheese with boiled adik (fermented milk). It had a sweet, mellow flavor. What doesn’t become cheese is drunk as is – camel vodka.

7. Then they demonstrated the making of felt. It involves a lot of pressing and some water. She said that black wool is better as it is easier to work with and makes a superior felt. Soap is used to hold the wool together as well as to clean it. Traditionally the finish touch is to roll it up like a rug with a rope running through the inside and drag it behind a camel. This compresses and smooths it more.

8. After the demonstration, the ladies all brought out their wares. It had been a while since we’d had a chance to go shopping, so there was an immediate buyer’s feeding frenzy. The felt chess sets went first. I bought a purse off their wall. They brought out more and more stuff, but it was quickly picked over and our translator wandered off. I’m still kicking myself for not getting the arrow heads.

9. The Gobi only gets about 8 inches of precipitation per year. We arrived in the rainy season for Mongolia, yet it was still considered unusually green for this time of year. There are actually very few dunes in the Gobi Desert. Most of the desert is a sandy loam with plants related to the chive and basil families and juniper. It’s very flat and remarkably smooth.

10. We never actually rode the camels over the dunes themselves. We followed the flats around a couple of them, lined up in front of one, had our pictures taken, and rode back. It took about twenty minutes. We did first one group of us, then another as they didn’t have as many camels as tourists present.

11. The children actively helped out, mostly with walking in front holding the ropes. They actually spend most of the year at a boarding school. The schooling is free, but the family pays a nominal charge for boarding and sends food.

12. There was a competing family who ran a tour group through while we were there. They were set up a quarter of a mile further from the dunes. The tourists with that group rode around the nearest dune. Did the group photo thing, then got in their cars and left.

13. Fifty camels. Preferred mode of transportation into town:

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