I woke up at about 8am I think and by that time Gulasyl had already been out and milked the cows and saddled up the horses and Algalai had brought the eagle out and got it ready to go out on a hunt. After countless cups of milk tea I got my camera bag packed and we went outside to set off on our horses. I got up into the saddle with no problem and we trotted off across the steppe. After a few seconds it became obvious to me it was going to be near impossible to take any photographs whilst riding on horseback. The thing was bouncing all over the place and my saddle had nowhere near enough padding. Now I know it was years ago when I rode on a horse last but I didn’t recall it being this uncomfortable my arse was being severely tenderised and my bollocks were taking an absolute pasting! Meanwhile Algalai is making it look incredibly easy he looks over to me and shouts “OK” whilst holding his thumb up. I shout “OK” back and stick my thumb up! I couldn’t really tell him my arse is in agony and I have no idea how I am going to get through a day of this!
My horse was a stubborn bastard! I don’t know if it was blind in one eye or had one leg longer than the other but it always wanted to go right and i found myself constantly steering it to the left. I also had to keep telling it to ‘cho’ which I am guessing is go in Mongolian. Algalai’s horse was trotting along nicely infront and I hadn’t heard him say cho once. I couldn’t understand why my horse wouldn’t just follow Algalai’s Now I am no expert in hunting but I am pretty sure that the element of surprise and sneaking up on the prey is an essential part of hunting. So the fact that I am having to shout cho at my dumb fuck of a horse all the time is making our chances of actually catching anything pretty much futile!
We climbed high up into the mountains where the horses slowed down the pace as they were having to traverse some seriously rocky terrain and the riding became more enjoyable. My horse still needed constant encouragement to make it move anywhere and I had concluded that we were unlikely to catch anything with my constant ‘cho’ing’ but that didn’t really bother me as the horse riding in the mountains was incredible and the scenery was breathtaking. Algalai would take us up to the top of a ridge over looking the valley’s bellow and remove the hood from the eagle’s head, he would then start shouting and banging his horse whip against his foot to scare any animals out into the open where the eagle would spot the prey and go get it. We tried this countless times but failed to spot anything. We did however spot some very ancient pictures of animals carved into a rock at the top of mountain that sort of looked like the aborigine cave paintings you see in Australia.
On our way coming back down the mountain Algalai suddenly spots something and signals to get off he horses. He places the eagle on the floor and draws his rifle he points out in front of him but I cannot see anything, he fires of two shots and we make our way to an opening of a burrow that now has some fur from the bullet wound lying in front of it but no sign of the animal. Algalai grabs some rocks and seals the burrow up and we head back to the horses and carry on down the mountain and back onto the steppe. As we get closer to where Algalai lives my horse suddenly stops wanting to be the one trailing behind and keeps out in front and soon starts moving at a pace Algalai cannot keep up with whilst riding with an eagle on his arm. Before I know it my horse breaks into a full gallop and run like crazy I was fairly confident that the horse new where it was going so I stood up in the saddle bent my knees and let the beast go for it. I got back to Algalai’s house and walking like john wayne took the saddle off the horse and tied the horse to the fence. Gulasyl came out looking very confused and in the distance Algalai could be seen making his way our towards us. Gulasyl pointed to my horse and gestured the horse galloping I nodded and she slapped me on the back whilst laughing her head off and took me in the house for yes you’ve guessed it a bowl of milk tea.
When Algalai eventually made it back to the house he joined us in the tea drinking and then we headed off again on his motorbike where we ended up going to the local town to stock up on vodka and beer. It was the begging of the weekend and it looked like it was Algalai’s turn to host the party. Back at his house friends and family and all their children who go to a form of boarding school during the week started to arrive and the place soon had a festive feel about it. There must of been about fifteen people crammed into the house with all the kids doing their homework, the women making tea and out milking the cows and the men well we were drinking beer until the light was about to fade when Algalai announces he is going to kill a goat. So he and one of his friends head off on the motorbike and return with a fat white goat which they then do slaughter in halal style. I will not go into details as it was quite an experience I will let the photographs do the talking but I can tell you now goats guts stink! So that night we all dined on the freshly slaughtered goat and drank vodka and beer. Even Algalai was drinking the vodka I think this was because the women were also drinking the vodka and he didn’t want to look like a wuss.
In the morning I was surprised to find I was hangover free which was good as this was the end of my time with Algalai, Gulasyl and their friends and family. I was going to have to take a very cramped and very long shared mini van to make the journey back into olgi. It turned out a hangover was the least of my worries as you are about to find out. I was under the impression that the taxi was going to be coming passed Algalai’s house but as it turned out I was going to have to make my way to the town where Algalai bought his booze from. So I have to take all my bags and a carrier bag with three big bottles of cows milk that i didn’t really want anyway on the back of Algalai’s motorbike. Now I will have to put a picture up of my bags so you can get an idea of how much of an utter ball ache this is. Now we had to set off very early to get to the taxi so early infact that we were the first vehicle to reach the river crossing. The river had a thick layer of ice on it and I know that driving across a river on a motorbike where you cannot see the big fuck off stones in it is not a good idea especially when you have got a passenger on the back with 40 kilos of kit and very expensive camera equipment that really does not like to getting wet. Before I could say ‘I think this is a bad idea’ Algalai guns it into the river surprisingly breaking the ice until he reaches the middle where inevitably he hits a massive stone that sends me flying off the bike and crashing through the ice into the icy cold waters along with my big bag full of all my clothes and everything not camera. My big bag was totally under the water and I had taken a very quick dunking whilst wearing my camera bag that also took a very quick dunking. Fair do’s to both Lowepro and Berghaus my camera equipment and laptop got no more than a little damp and considering my Berghaus bag spent a good 2 minutes completely immersed in the river the amount of stuff that got wet was surprising low. The sheer panic that my laptop with everything I have photographed in the last 2 years and all my camera stuff could potentially be completely fucked stopped me from noticing the bone chilling cold and the fact that I had cut my hand open. It wasn’t such a big cut but it bled absolutely everywhere! Alagai on the over hand was perfectly fine and didn’t even get wet! To be fair the river wasn’t very deep and he had knee high boots on but when your weighed down with 40 kilos with gravity against you theres only one way your gonna go.
Algalai was of course very sorry and he took me to a nearby friends house where I could dry myself of a bit in front of their fire. When the mini van arrived I was still soaking wet but all I wanted to do was get back to a nice warm ger back in olgi get dry and asses the damage. I was very lucky and very unlucky at the same time but at least I am able to type this story out on my laptop that survived a dunking in a bloody river! To be fair apple do make their laptops well as I have spilt a can of cider into this one before and my previous one survived being carried around the roads of india strapped to the side of a motorbike.