We had a pleasant, safe (read “reasonable speed”) trip to Ongudai. We were a bit stressed out, b/c we were trying to meet up with the film crew and they kept changing their schedule such that they were ahead of us. At this point, we could catch up with them IF they didn’t set out on a two-day camping hike before we got there. Conveniently, their 9am departure time was a victim of “Altai time”, and when we arrived at 1230, the shaman-equivalent was just finishing the blessing ceremony. It seems that their Altaian guide, Danil, was heading on a spiritual quest and taking the film crew along as a favor. No biggie, but we had planned to send A along, and it turns out they didn’t want us to go. All that rushing to get there for nothing! It was going to be a really strenuous trip AND it turns out that it’s been raining more often than not ever since, so I’m glad we didn’t go.

Instead, we are staying in a very comfortable yurt. It sleeps four on cots and has room to spare for a table and moving about in the middle. The support posts and wooden door are beautifully painted in orange and other bright colors. The frame is covered in inch-thick woolen felt and lined in and out with thin muslin.

Despite a solid 18 hours of mostly rain, we’ve been dry and warm. The felt must be made in such a way that it wicks the water down to the bottom edge, where it drains off harmlessly. It is completely dry on the inside.

We went off for a walk toward the edge of the valley yesterday afternoon, walking carefully though cow herds grazing freely around us. We had to find creative ways to cross a multitude of spring creeks and walk around huge puddles, and by the time we reached the sizeable creek/small river that bordered the valley at the foot of the mountain, it started to rain. Hard. Sigh, by the time we got back we were pretty wet, but happy.

We cooked ourselves canned borshch on the hotplate and had bread and cheese for dinner, and then we waited for our turn at the banya. A big group of hikers had arrived before us and had stoked the thing up so hot, that even the changing room was unbearably steamy. We aired it out for a moment, sharing it with two Russian girls, and then plunged in to the washing room. The Russian girls sat for a few minutes in the sauna itself, but we all agreed it was too hot and just hung out in the washing room, scrubbing and washing and enjoying the hot, clean warmth.

After sleep punctuated by extensive and loud partying on the part of other visitors, I finally woke up for good at 9am. It gets dark here about 10pm and is pretty darn light outside by 430 am, so it is nice to sleep in a windowless yurt, even if I was awake for a few hours in the middle.

During the day, we spent a fair amount of time waiting for it to stop raining. Most of that time was enjoyed under the covers in bed. Bulat, the camp caretaker, is fascinated by people in general and us in particular. He keeps finding reasons to come over and pepper us with questions. He seems to lack good company and of the female variety in particular.

The two big events of the day were grocery shopping (2 hr round trip hike, thankfully rain-free) and a visiting delegation of dignitaries. They were not exciting in and of themselves, but the preparation for their arrival was.

Out of the blue, around noon, 3 cars pulled up. Next thing we knew, someone pulled a sheep out of the back of a jeep, quietly slit its throat and proceeded to painstakingly butcher it. They used almost every part, making blood sausages using the intestines and cooking other organs and the head as delicacies. And roasting the meat. Bulat shared a bit of crispy fire-cooked liver with us – not gamey or sheep-y at all. Maybe b/c it was so fresh. Anyway. They were completely done with food prep in under two hours, kill to table. Very impressive, even if I couldn’t watch a good part of it.

After we got back from grocery shopping, a carload of Russians (3 + 1 kid) pulled up to camp. They invited us to dinner and we readily accepted. Two lawyers and a businesswoman – they were clearly living a very comfortable lifestyle compared to local residents out here. The grocery “stores” we went to had ZERO fresh vegetables or meat. A few pieces of expensive fruit, some stores had no cheese even, although all had lots of bread and pantry stuff. No sour cream yesterday, but today one of the stores had a delivery.

Anyway, washed my hair in the banya tonight, which always feels nice, and now it’s bedtime.