Nomad Hospitality

Mongolia

After leaving Russia, we contend with Mongolia’s vexing bureaucracy.

“If I never have to fill out another customs form, I’ll be a happy man,” Andrew says.

It’s late afternoon when we finally enter the country. We’re tired and thirsty, and suddenly there’s a random stranger waving us down. We stop our car; he hops on his motorbike and drives to meet us.

“Come, come,” says the young man, who has straight brown hair and a red vest. He gestures to his circular yurt. He makes a drinking motion. “Why not,” we think, following him. Inside, the yurt looks like a relic from the psychedelic ’60s: Vibrant, geometric wall hangings adorn the room. A wood-burning stove sits in the middle, a teakettle warming on top.

Our host lays out a spread of dry bread, dry cookies, sour cheese, and bowls filled with milky, salty tea. He gestures for us to dig in, and we do so, ravenously. The tea is warm and comforting, a kissing cousin of English breakfast tea. The sour cheese and dry bread leave a thick, unwelcome paste on my tongue; when you’re in the lip-chapping desert, you don’t need more bone-dry food. The cookies, though, are perfect for dunking in the tea. I feel like a kid again, submerging Oreos in cold milk.

Team Dinosaur knows few words of Mongolian, and our host knows few words of English. Hence, teatime is mostly silent. Our host shows us pictures of his family, including a brother who’s a general in the Mongolian army. Then he makes Mims try on a ceremonial green jacket and cap.

We exchange our goodbyes, piling back into the car. Then our host rushes forward. He pulls Mims’s arm. “Two dollars each,” he says, in his best English of the afternoon.

We part with a dollar apiece and a larger chunk of our goodwill.