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Mongolia. Seriously. Freddy v. Jason.


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To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

As our horses came to the end of the rocky outcropping Eagle Hunter spied a fox moving across the snow-covered peak opposite us. He motioned to us for silence, and set the eagle to flight. The eagle immediately oriented towards its quarry, soared high, chose an angle of attack, and went into a steep and rapid dive. The fox detected the eagle's approach, brought itself up short, turned to face the eagle, and bared its fangs. The eagle returned to altitude and circled around as the fox attempted to retreat to below the snow-line. The eagle made another run at the fox but the fox stood its ground. Then, coming around in a slow westward arc, the eagle got the fox on the run with its back turned. With a mighty ear-piercing scream it descended upon the fox at dizzying speed, braking with its wings in the last few feet of the dive, and digging its razor claws into the fox's vulnerable hindquarter. It picked the struggling fox ten, twenty, thirty feet off the ground and dove again, smashing the fox against a boulder . . .

I awoke from my dreams of eagle-hunting like a kid on Christmas morning. Today, I thought, today is the day I'll get to see Eagle Hunter's eagle in action.

We had another leisurely breakfast (it was bulgur day) and at the conclusion of the meal I prepared myself for the big event. At that time I was informed that Eagle Hunter still needed to go get his eagle (from where, I had no idea) so I could see them hunt and train together. In the meantime, I was scheduled to watch the women of the ger engage in the manufacture of different kinds of milk products. I quickly demoted him back to Eagle Hunter Without Eagle for the time being.

As far as I could tell -- and I tried as hard to get this information as I would have tried to get the codes to cancel the self-destruct sequence on a nuclear submarine -- there were five different kinds of "milk products," but even this limited quantity of information was much harder to ascertain than I ever imagined so I'm still not certain.

- First, there's the skin from the top of the milk that is skimmed as the milk is being cooked for use in other milk products;

- Second, there's the white milk product that is cut into small blocks and squares and aged in the sun;

- Third, yogurt;

- Fourth, the red cheese that is hard, dried, and stored in small pieces and;

- Fifth, a yogurt/milk cheese product (which was my favorite of the cheese products)

All of these milk products are made with a mix of the milk from all of the animals in the herd. They don't drink airag in the west so the mare's milk is mixed in along with the sheep and goat's milk.

I was able to observe the making of the white cheese, also called yogurt-milk cheese. I realize that this sounds redundant with "white milk product" number two, and I'm not authoritatively saying they're not the same thing -- it was extremely difficult to get a straight answer on the specifics of the different kinds of cheeses. Every time I tried to nail anyone down -- "Now wait; this is the same as white cheese?" -- I would get a moving-target answer. "No," they'd tell me, "that cheese we were making before" (the one my translator/guide told me was white cheese) "was the hard white milk product in its early stages before it's been dried in the sun." I'd go back to my notes and have my translator/guide sit with me and try to clear it up but everyone changed her mind every time we did this (my notebook looks like something out of A Beautiful Mind) so we'll all have to be satisfied with the whole truth resting only with the eagle that I had yet to meet.

The yogurt-milk cheese recipe follows:

- Bring milk to boil

- Add yogurt to turn the milk, and stir

- As yogurt milk mixture cooks and boils, yellow liquid appears

- Pour entire mixture into a sack (an old 50-pound flour sack will do)

- Place large bowl beneath the sack

- Catch yellow water as it drains from mixture

- Squeeze on sack at top of mixture

- Tie sack

- Find two large flat stones

- Place mixture in bag on bottom stone

- Place stone on top and add extra stone as needed for weight

- Leave outside for approximately two hours or until remaining liquid drains from cooked yogurt-milk mixture

- Remove from sack

- Cut

- Eat

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Pressing the cheese drains the remaining liquid and helps the cheese to keep longer. Milk products are stored and used throughout the very long and harsh winter when the herd is producing minimal milk. Different types of cheese last different lengths of time and are treated accordingly to make them last. One trick is to leave the cheese in the sun on top of the ger (so no animal can get it -- well, except perhaps the eagle, but by now I was beginning to doubt its existence anyway) to dry it further so that it keeps for many months, without refrigeration. Don't forget, all of the milk products -- whether yogurt, yogurt/milk skin, hard cheese or soft -- everything is stored without refrigeration of any kind. Of course, in winter, everything -- including the people -- gets refrigerated but during the summer it does get quite hot.

The red cheese was the next milk product on the agenda. I can't give a complete recipe on the red cheese because I didn't observe the process from start to finish, but as far as I can tell the red cheese had a similar process to the yogurt-milk cheese with the addition of one critical ingredient: the yellow liquid from the yogurt-milk cheese. Thus:

- Pour yellow liquid into pot on stove and boil

- Add milk and stir

- Add yogurt to turn

- Stir

- Allow mixture to cook down

- Pour (or scoop by hand) remaining contents into flour sack

- Hang sack and allow liquid to drain

- Catch runoff in bowl

- Leave sack hanging

- When further drained, cheese is on ger in sun (I did not observe this step with the red cheese that I saw being made but I did see cheese at other gers drying in the sun on the roof)

- Runoff liquid is added to food for herd -- nothing is wasted

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As the dairy production wound down, Eagle Hunter Without Eagle returned and announced that his eagle had been retrieved and was waiting for us (actually it was more like, "Come on let's go."). Could it be? We set out from the ger to meet the eagle.

But first we had to cross the river. There weren't many rocks to hop on so Eagle Hunter Prospectively With Eagle vaulted across the raging river and proceeded to lift, like Hercules (or maybe it was more like Chinggis Khaan -- that's the currently preferred spelling), several large boulders, which he threw into the river so that we could hop across more easily. The translator/guide, however, was wearing sandals and decided that, even with the newly-placed boulders, this crossing was too much for her so she motioned for me to join her down river at what she thought would be an easier crossing. It wasn't.

She crossed there (she ended up taking her shoes off and wading across) and I walked back up to Eagle Hunter Prospectively With Eagle's manufactured crossing. But by this time, Eagle Hunter Prospectively With Eagle had returned to his ger. He had feared that I wouldn't be able to cross at all (he misunderstood the scenario and interpreted it as me, rather than the translator/guide, being reluctant to cross) so he had returned home to fetch a horse for me to ride across the river. I tried to explain that I could cross the river just fine, but, well, you try explaining that in Kazakh -- the more frantically you try to explain that you're entirely willing to cross, the more it seems as though you're saying "I don't want to cross!" So, I got back on that damned horse and Eagle Hunter Prospectively With Eagle's youngest (and most adorable ever) daughter was lifted on to ride across we me. We rode over to where the eagle was supposed to be waiting. We dismounted. We waited.

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At this gathering were Aiyka, the translator/guide, Eagle Hunter Prospectively With Eagle's wife, his youngest daughter, our driver, and a few "neighborhood" boys (pretty much anytime you're in a social setting in Mongolia, even inside a ger, there are extras milling about as on a movie set -- when you get home and look at your photos you're constantly saying, "Who the hell is that guy?").

Eagle Hunter Prospectively With Eagle was crouching down on the far side of a low stone wall a couple of hundred feet away. I fixed my gaze upon him and cocked my ears, watching and listening intently for any signs or indicia of the presence of an eagle: flapping, eagle cries, anything. He then stepped towards us over the stone wall. The group collectively leaned forward, bursting with anticipation: does he have the eagle with him? Surely now, following behind him, will be the eagle? He definitely has the eagle, right? He then turned his back to us, bent over the wall, and reached forward with a long, gloved arm.

When the arm came up, there was an eagle on it.

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As he approached, the eagle came into focus. It was big. Really big. It looked just like and eagle is supposed to look. Its claws appeared to be four, maybe six inches long and were obviously razor-sharp. Eagle Hunter (he was legitimate now, in my opinion) had to wear a massive leather glove all the way up to his elbow. This was not for fear of an attack by the eagle, but rather because just in the normal course of standing politely on your arm an eagle will cut your arm off with its claws unless you augment yourself with something thicker and tougher than Eagle Hunter's red-white-and-blue Adidas track suit.

As the eagle bounced along on Eagle Hunter's arm, its wings would occasionally spread out a bit and it was clear their span was equivalent to the height of a human being. And the closer it came, the better I could make out the spectacular pattern of its feathers. The eagle was actually a she, as are, it turns out, all eagles used for eagle hunting in Mongolia. Specifically, this was a female golden eagle (the females are larger and more aggressive hunters than the males), approximately 30 inches tall, weighing about 15 pounds, and with roughly a 7-foot wingspan (these are general statistics; I have no reason to believe they don't apply to Eagle Hunter's eagle who, regardless of actual numbers, seemed pretty damn big). A young eagle is trapped in a baited trap. Weights are tied to its feet and after two days of attempting to fly away, it becomes exhausted and terrified enough to respond to training (very nice). It then works for 10 years before being released into the wilderness.

As it would turn out, eagle hunters don't hunt with their eagles in the summer (I can't answer that), so I would not have the opportunity to accompany the eagle hunter and his eagle on horseback to watch them hunt per se. Instead, I would get to observe Eagle Hunter in action training and practicing with the eagle. Although I initially felt this might be a step down from actually seeing Eagle Hunter hunt with his eagle, I was quickly persuaded that the training is the more amazing (and less likely to be seen on the Discovery Channel) element of the partnership. It is, after all, the training and interaction with the human that distinguish any old eagle from Eagle Hunter's eagle. Hunting is instinctive to an eagle anyway. You come across any eagle anywhere, it will eventually hunt for something. Big deal. I was to see a training demonstration -- far more impressive.

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And what an elaborate demonstration they had arranged for me. Eagle Hunter, with the eagle still resting on his gloved arm, swung himself astride his horse. He then engaged in a rather dramatic struggle with the eagle as he placed a small black leather hood over the eagle's head. (The eagle was not especially happy about this state of affairs.) Together, Eagle Hunter and his eagle rode to the far side of the field, where the land suddenly changed from flat to a steep incline. One of the young boys followed after them on foot and climbed the hill to join Eagle Hunter and his eagle. Eagle Hunter handed off his hooded eagle to the boy, turned his horse, and rode towards a point across the field. The boy stayed at the appointed place with the hooded eagle and waited for Eagle Hunter's instructions.

When Eagle Hunter reached the end of the field, he enlisted the help of our driver. Our driver's assignment was to run as fast as possible, dragging behind him, at the end of a long piece of white string, the whole pelt, head and all, of a fox (which, I surmised, Eagle Hunter and his eagle had caught on a previous hunting expedition). The driver began running and the fox pelt bumped up and down on the ground. Eagle Hunter then took out of his bag a pair of sheep's lungs, dripping with blood, and held them at his side.

Eagle Hunter gave a loud call in the boy's direction. The boy, with a flick of his wrist, removed the hood from the eagle's head. Eagle Hunter, poised on his horse with his gloved arm extended and the pair of bloody sheep's lungs dangling from the other, called to the eagle. I trained my 300mm zoom lens on the eagle. Eagle Hunter spurred his horse into action and they galloped across the field.

The eagle proceeded to do nothing.

Eagle Hunter motioned the driver to continue running. He then slowed his horse and called out to the eagle again. The eagle remained where it was, standing on a small boulder and glancing aimlessly about, without so much as ruffling its feathers. Eagle Hunter shook the sheep lungs and still, the eagle would not fly. Eagle Hunter rode on his horse, closer to the eagle, shook the sheep's lungs vigorously, called to the eagle, and extended his arm again. Our driver continued to charge back and forth, dragging the fox pelt on the ground behind him. We watched, we waited.

So did the eagle.

By now, Eagle Hunter had stopped riding and was sitting on his horse approximately 100 yards from where the eagle sat. Our fearless driver, now terribly out of breath, struggled to continue running with the fox pelt but was obviously losing steam. There were at this point, and I'm not proud of it, more than a few poorly suppressed giggles circulating among the onlookers.

Eagle Hunter settled on a different approach: he dismounted the horse and dismissed it. He would stand in one place. He would hold his gloved arm out to the eagle and he would dangle those sheep's lungs in his other hand. Meanwhile, our driver would continue to trot back and forth with the fox pelt bumping along on the ground. Eagle Hunter let out a fearsome cry in order to summon his eagle.

The bird didn't budge.

Again and again Eagle Hunter called, again and again, the driver stumbled back and forth. And the eagle wouldn't fly. At this point everybody was on the verge of hysteria, except of course for Eagle Hunter (and maybe Mrs. Eagle Hunter).

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Eagle Hunter nodded at our driver, who stopped running and promptly collapsed on the ground, wheezing (he then lit a cigarette, apparently to help him catch his breath). Eagle Hunter took the fox pelt, moved closer, and shook the pelt in one hand and the sheep's lungs in the other. The bird remained in position.

Eagle Hunter ditched the fox pelt. He called out and hollered to the eagle while swinging the sheep's lungs around in the air above his head. No movement by the bird.

Eagle Hunter moved forward a bit farther -- and still farther. He plunked down on the ground, no longer extending his gloved arm. He twirled the sheep's lungs around in a circle in front of him and called to the eagle again and again. The eagle may have glanced in Eagle Hunter's direction.

Eagle Hunter moved forward yet again, this time crawling towards the eagle. He called wildly and swung the appetizing sheep's lungs around and around. The eagle remained motionless.

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By the end, Eagle Hunter was practically within arm's length of the eagle. Still, no activity.

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Eagle Hunter admitted defeat. He walked the remaining inches to the eagle perched on the rock and lifted it onto his gloved arm. He fed the eagle some of the prized sheep's lungs. The eagle was happy.

Eagle Hunter brought the eagle over to us so we could all admire it and watch the eagle, in swift movements, tear the sheep's lungs apart with its beak and talons before devouring them.

During the post-game analysis that followed, I was informed that, "Eagles don't fly in summer because they're too fat." Um, okay. So, there was to be no hunting by Eagle Hunter and eagle, there was also to be no training (no successful training, at least) of eagle with Eagle Hunter; and, it seemed, there would be no flying of the eagle with or without Eagle Hunter. Good thing they don't actually depend on this eagle-hunting process for sustenance -- it's for sport only, so you don't actually starve to death when your eagle won't hunt. I took a bunch of pictures, and that was that. Eagle Hunter returned to the remote field where he keeps his eagle tethered to a rock.

To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

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To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Some of this cheese is still sitting on our kitchen counter. I guess I should taste it, huh?

If you all don't hear back from me for 24 hours, call for help.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Yes!

"Houston, the Eagle has appeared."

That eagle is no dummy. He got Eagle Hunter to bring the food right to him. Who's training who? :wink:

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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I'm going back and forth between admiring that GORGEOUS bird and laughing my ass off at the mental picture of trying to get the damned eagle to do its thing.

These are phenomenal posts. Thank you.

K

Basil endive parmesan shrimp live

Lobster hamster worchester muenster

Caviar radicchio snow pea scampi

Roquefort meat squirt blue beef red alert

Pork hocs side flank cantaloupe sheep shanks

Provolone flatbread goat's head soup

Gruyere cheese angelhair please

And a vichyssoise and a cabbage and a crawfish claws.

--"Johnny Saucep'n," by Moxy Früvous

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That eagle is no dummy.  He got Eagle Hunter to bring the food right to him.  Who's training who? :wink:

Maybe the eagle has been getting lessons from our bulldog.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Poor Eagle Hunter, humiliated. :shock:

BTW, how were you feeling at this point? Any lingering signs of sickness or had the "horse blood" tea worked miracles?

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Some of this cheese is still sitting on our kitchen counter. I guess I should taste it, huh?

If you all don't hear back from me for 24 hours, call for help.

Better yet... bring some of it to the BBQ so the rest of us can watch you taste it.

--

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I hope there's a happy ending to all of this (besides your triumphant return home, that is.)

It would seem that getting out of Mongolia alive is by definition a happy ending.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Ellen is out of pocket for the moment, so let me try to give the basic answers here:

> What religion are the Mongolians?

They're overwhelmingly (96%) Tibetan Buddhist. The Kazakhs that Ellen is talking about in the past couple of travelog entires, however, are mostly Islamic. But you're talking about a country that was under harsh communist rule for quite some time, and where the religious leaders and intellectual class (and in fact anybody with even a high school education) was exterminated. So when one says the Mongolians are Buddhist and the Mongolian Kazakhs are Islamic, I think one refers to very mild, mostly cultural forms of those religions.

> Are there rooms inside a ger?

It's one big room inside as far as I know. Ellen can perhaps provide details later regarding how the space is actually allocated and how privacy, if any, is achieved.

> When is part six?

Most likely tomorrow.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In between fits of laughing and rolling on the floor, I was struck by profound sadness that the hunter couldn't get his eagle to go. That was a very odd experience.

There is one of the pictures that, if taken out of sequence, I would swear that Eagle Hunter was strangling Eagle.

Damn fine writing.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I hope there's a happy ending to all of this (besides your triumphant return home, that is.)

It would seem that getting out of Mongolia alive is by definition a happy ending.

Steven, where were you ? :raz: UES ?

This is a really fascinating travellogue.....

anil

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Amazing.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Well, I have spent all day reading this fascinating saga. I sure hope those folks eventually receive the photos. Do they have maling addresses? I suppose you could mail stuff to Aiyka in Olgii, and then the next time she or her husband are out that way, they could bring the photos. Could take months. What a completely different way of life, almost inconceivable to me.

What do the teenagers do for fun? Do they dream of leaving a life they might find dreary, but is probably much better than life in Ulan Batuur?

Do they listen to rock and roll? I guess they don't have radios.

Did you hear any Mongolian music? How about throat-singing?

I sure hope you brought back some of those gorgeous textiles.

How in the world did you get the cheese through customs?

Really fascinating. Too bad your friend missed the good part. The landscape in the west is spectacular. I want to go.

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Too bad your friend missed the good part.

You consider this the good part? Were I the friend, I'd be thanking the good lord every moment of every day that I missed the "good" part. With good parts like this, who needs bad parts? :laugh:

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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"Goddamnit, how come every time us Chinese put up a wall, stupid Mongolians have to come and knock it down?"

- South Park, episode 611

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Too bad your friend missed the good part.

Which "good part" exactly were you referring to? The fur in the food? Maybe you were thinking of the anticipation of seeing the Eagle Hunter hunt with his eagle, I mean train with his eagle, I mean call to his eagle, wait--what I really mean is that maybe you meant the good part was when the Eagle Hunter picked up his eagle and fed it the sheep's lungs. That must have been it because I don't think it could have been the part when I was crippled from horseback riding or when I saw the black spots in front of my eyes or when we went to see Bayan Nuur the ghost town or the Turkic stone. Hum, maybe you were referring to the Turkic stone. Okay, well, maybe you're right, maybe she did miss the good part. :laugh:

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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