Excerpt from my field journal…
“We climbed the neighboring mountain that has a distinct peak shape that usually marks our way back to camp. The walk to the valley between it and another seemed to take forever. Hiking up the draw that wasn’t as steep as others technically wasn’t too bad but there was far deeper snow so it added to the physical exertion aspect. Plus, since I’m still sick from a bout of tonsillitis, the effort on my ability to breathe was multiplied. My teammate has been incredibly patient with my slower pace, however.
For the whole climb up and across the ridge-line that was shaped more like the rough spine of some great beast, one of the camp dogs tagged along. Dogs in Mongolia are basically scavengers, living off scraps of meals, and to my recent discovery, human waste (Bleh!!) so they aren’t seen as companion animals. The locals are amused at the tone of voice I use when talking to the dogs. I miss my own so having them around lifts my spirits.
We did find some scat and tracks. The set of tracks was pretty intermingled with human and livestock, but from what we could see they belonged to a smaller snow leopard. Quite possibly a cub from last year, and the same smaller cat that’s behind our camp.
…Later that evening, our neighbor Bekh stopped by to take us to try to interview a few herders. On the way to the first family, his car kept getting stuck up a hill. After several attempts of reversing and flooring it up the snow/ice packed “road”, we made it past the trouble spot only to get stuck again further along. His tiny vehicle just couldn’t make it over some rocks and repeatedly fishtailed into the snowbanks, getting caught on buried shrubbery. We were soon forced to give up on that route altogether. The second home only had a woman there so we couldn’t interview her. We can only talk to the head man since they know more about the livestock business and snow leopard issues. When I asked Bekh and my teammate about talking to the women, they only laughed and said “they don’t know or care about those things. Women have different priorities: take care of the home and children.” (As I’m constantly asked why I’m still single and not making babies at my age, because it’s the thing women do. Oy)
Our third ger was more successful. Bekh’s car struggled a bit to get there but we managed. Two men, and two boys were home. The strong smell of cigarettes lingered in the stale air, along with the odor of burning manure from the stove. As usual, we were offered tea. The interview was relatively quick, but I waited around until the guys I was with used the herder’s phone to call some people in the city…
What was supposed to be a simple 3-ger visit, turned into a 1-ger visit that took several hours to accomplish! By then I was too tired and cold to even think about trying another interview in the middle of the night. On the plus side, we saw a few Corsac foxes run along the road in front of the car, startled by the headlights. Their fluffy tails bobbed behind them while they tried to decide where to go before disappearing off-road into the steppe. The full moon made the snow covered landscape glow and shimmer, outlining the silhouettes of the terrain and visible animals.”