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Check back here for news and updates from The The Mongolian Project.

On the road: Richmond, New York, Alexandria

Our new felt collection in Richmond, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

We're taking the Mongolia project on the road

Catch up with Lisa and me at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond on Nov. 29. Lisa is having a one-day trunk show and we will be available to discuss the Mongolia project and show pictures of the trip. The show is from noon to 8 p.m. and the address is 200 N. Boulevard, Richmond, Va.

New York City show follows the next three days

Come and see us at Crafts at the Cathedral at St. John the Divine in New York Nov. 30-Dec. 2. We'll have our photo display of the Mongolia trip with us and Lisa's latest fashion designs. The show is at St. John the Divine, Synod Hall, Amsterdam Ave. and 110th St. Hours are Friday 5-8 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Forward to the Empowered Women in Alexandria Holiday Marketplace

The following weekend Lisa will be at the Women Entrepreneur Graduation and Artisans' Holiday Marketplace at 1605 Cameron St., Alexandria, Va. Empowered Women International is sponsoring the event and Lisa's felt art will be on display. The marketplace is from 3-6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8.

Always, gratitude

Thanks again for your support. We hope to be able to meet you in person at at least one of these venues in the next two weeks, to thank you personally, to tell you more about our trip to Mongolia, and show you Lisa's felt art.

It's the art that is at the heart of the Mongolia project. Our felt making friends in Mongolia were most interested in Lisa's techniques. Come see for yourself what they were raving about.

Thank you again for helping us make that connection. We believe the world can be a better place if we work together. You have proved it by helping us in this international exchange of information and the book that will soon follow.


In search of felt-making roots: our journey to Mongolia

By James Jacenich

ULAANBAATAR - The sheep and goats stirred from their slumber in the middle of a snow-covered pasture. The sky to the east turned deep blue as the star-speckled night faded into sunrise. Deep in the Khangai Mountains of Mongolia, Lisa and I awoke to the sound of a goat nibbling on our temporary residence, a newly constructed woolen house.

Between us and the paved runway of Ghengis Khan Airport near the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, were three days and three hundred mile of rough roads and breathtaking vistas. Paved roads quickly gave way to potholes, gravel and endless parallel ribbons of wheel ruts in the sandy soil of the high desert plains. We left behind plumbing and potable water, fast food restaurants and billboards. We found a family who welcomed us with open arms, gave us food to eat and milk to drink, and a place to sleep.

Lisa and I were honored guests who had arrived in camp the night before a wedding. We slept in the soon-to-be newlyweds’ ger (Khalka for woolen tent dwelling), feasted on fresh goat cheese and fermented mare’s milk, and devoured Mongolian barbecue (more goat, this time steamed). The next day we would leave camp, after many fond farewells and gift exchanges, and the sprinkling of mare’s milk vodka in the air behind us for good luck, to maneuver eight hours through a maze of rocky mountain valleys and across rain-swollen rivers to our destination, the provincial capital, Buyant.

Mongolia is a nation on the move. It is one of the last nomadic countries in the world. It is also a nation of rapid economic growth and the changes that brings. In the three weeks we spent in Mongolia, half of our time was in the countryside, and half in Ulaanbaatar where 1.2 million of the nation of three million live. We saw extremes of wealth and poverty, hope and despair, unyielding tradition and unstoppable change.

We arrived in Mongolia on Thursday, Aug. 17, after 24 hours of flying and a brief layover and change of airlines in Beijing. We went to Mongolia to help rural women set up small felt-making businesses. During this trip we would assess the need for products and services. Initially, our plan was to set up at least five felt studios employing up to 25 people. Those plans changed when the Mongolian government decided not to finance the acquisition of American-made felt-making equipment.

Our Mongolian National Business Incubator Federation contact and travel companion in Mongolia, MNBIF vice president Tsend Enkhtuya, had proposed the purchase of studio-sized felt carding and rolling machinery, plus money to have us conduct training on the new equipment. Lisa had been working with her on the project for at least a year before we made the trip. We had hoped to at least get travel money for Lisa to lay the groundwork to set up the studio businesses. Enkhtuya helped us with some lodging, food and travel arrangements in Mongolia, but the rest was left to us to figure out. We had raised enough money on our own through private donations, Kickstarter.com, and our own savings to go to Mongolia for three weeks.

We arrived at midnight, noon Eastern Daylight Savings Time, at Genghis Khan International Airport. Enkhtuya met us and dropped us off at a hostel. We stayed two nights at the Lotus Guesthouse, an apartment in a 1950s Soviet-era housing complex. The walls were thin as paper and the bed stiff as a board. We shared a single shower and two toilets with a dozen mostly 20-somethings from Israel and Europe. Outside, the rain gently drizzled. Coincidentally, we chose to visit normally dry Mongolia during its rainy season.

With very little sleep and much anticipation, our first visit in Ulaanbaatar was at noon with the chairman of the Mongolian Sheep and Wool Association, Ganbat Berenbaral. We met him in his office above the felt-making factory he managed. The machinery was silent this time of year, but our host had pictures and brochures of the products he manufactured, from ger covers and insulation to thin mattresses, and showed us around the production site. He told us felt handicraft was a small part of his business.

Saturday morning we packed our bags and loaded up a Toyota Land Rover owned by Enkhtuya’s son for the drive to Arkhangai aimag (province). In addition to us were Enkhtuya and her 22-year-old nephew and recent veterinary school graduate, and her 10-year-old niece. Her nephew drove. At the beginning of our journey, the road was wide, well-maintained and crowded. About an hour outside of the city we encountered massive potholes the size of a truck. The road narrowed from four lanes to two. Vehicles dodged potholes, livestock and each other along the busy highway.

Eventually, the road became totally impassible and we navigated one of the many dirt trails on our westward journey to Arkhangai. We stopped once for gas and once to eat at a roadside restaurant. We also stopped at an unusual sand dune formation, unusual because it was miles from the Gobi desert, and Lisa hopped a camel for a ride around the parking lot. We didn’t need a translator to understand that the young boys managing the camels wanted us to pick theirs over their companions’ camels, and that they expected a certain reasonable payment for the joy ride.

Enkhtuya dropped us off that night at a small hotel (ten rooms above a restaurant) in Buyant. At least the room we rented had a Western-style toilet and sink. We slept fitfully through the night to the sound of falling rain and the incessant barking of neighborhood dogs.

On Sunday our driver took us another eight hours across rocks, pastureland and rain-swollen rivers to visit a herding family in a remote valley of the Khangai mountains. It was August 19 and it was snowing.

We came to a small encampment of four gers.

Gers are small, round, tent-like structures with up to five beds, a stove, a small table and one or two small storage cabinets. One of the cabinets is for dishes, pots, pans, and other cooking and eating utensils. Food was stored in one of the other gers a few feet away. The herders had roughly 100 sheep, goats, horses, and yaks. We tasted mare’s milk tea that night, which is made of a lot of milk with a little tea and salt, and sampled some of the mild alcoholic beverage, mare’s milk vodka, or airag. We ate homemade cheese and later took part in the Mongolian barbecue of steamed goat. Ceremonially, several men offered us snuff from their prized stone snuff canisters, their right hand extended with the jar, their left hand supporting the right elbow.

Our hostess, Dulmaa, was a felt maker and had made the wool coverings for her son’s ger. We learned that not everyone makes their own felt. Ger coverings are manufactured in the town or city. While Mongolia was communist (from 1923-1992), wool was sent to factories for processing, thus ending most of the family production of this housing material. Though communist rule ended 20 years ago, modern industrial-style processing of wool remains. With democracy and a free-market economy, many people are looking for ways to make money. Some want to revive Mongolia’s ancient felt arts, but they face many challenges.

During our weeklong visit to Arkhangai aimag, we visited a small felt-making business that needs a carding machine to replace one that was no longer serviceable, but lacks the money to buy one. Without it, their business has ground to a halt. A provincial felt maker needs a hand operated drum carder to make processing the wool for felting more efficient and easier.

We slept on the ground that night of the snow in the new ger. At 4 a.m. Lisa awoke to a single light bulb burning in the ger and saw the mother of the groom helping her son get dressed in his finest dheel, or traditional all-purpose robe. He would travel many hours that day to pick up his bride from a distant ger camp. The light was provided by a battery charged by the ger family’s solar panel. Solar panels were a promise fulfilled and supported by the government, in exchange for support during an election.

That morning Lisa watched as two of the men of the family butchered a goat for the wedding feast. The herders make use of almost every part of their animals. The women took over the task of preparing the goat to eat. Dulmaa deftly tied up an intestine she couldn’t process that day to be sent to a neighboring ger camp for that family to process as sausage. The rest ended up in her cooking pot.

The herder family used firewood for their cooking and heat, though the guidebooks spoke of herders using dried dung. During winter, the family would switch to coal.

The family had moved five times so far this year and had one more move, a trip further up the valley to winter camp. We learned that herders typically migrate within a forty-mile radius, pulling up stakes when grass became scarce or the weather became intolerable.

Mongolia is known as “Blue Sky Country.” There is very little rain and few cloudy days, making solar power a practical solution for the nomadic herder. Our family had a solar panel charging a 12-volt battery. It provided enough power to run a light bulb. In another camp, we would see a small battery-powered freezer, and in a third camp a television set.

Cell-phones are everywhere, even in the ger camps. Cell-phones didn’t work at Dulmaa’s remote location far up a mountain valley, but a few days later we would be on top of an extinct volcano in a national park amidst happy tourists talking on their cell phones. Enkhtuya explained that the Japanese brought cell-phone towers to Mongolia and placed them all over the country.

We left Dulmaa’s ger camp before the wedding party returned. We had lost a day on our schedule because the camp was much further away from the main settlement than we expected. By the time we left, the fresh snow that covered the ground was melting and the clouds began to clear. But a strong wind took its place.

The days ahead would be nothing like that magical night spent with our herder family in the remote mountain valley. “I could have stayed there the rest of my life,” Lisa says.

We went back to the Buyant and Lisa participated in a training exercise with a class of 20 local business entrepreneurs at the local government headquarter, one of several demonstrations she would give during our stay in Mongolia. She showed them her handmade felted clothing and accessories. The Mongolians praised her work for its varied colors and the thinness of the material. Mongolian felt is typically a half-inch thick or more and has a natural wool color. The Mongolians seemed eager to learn new techniques and methods of felt-production, but we would learn that finding a suitable market for handmade felted items would be difficult. There was a small tourist trade employing perhaps 200 people nationally, we were told. Finding a way to increase the value of their products and finding markets outside the country were high on the list of things the Mongolians wanted to do. But so was building roads and sewers, and providing basic health care for the country’s citizens, and getting a fair share of the riches being mined in the Gobi desert by foreign investors and speculators.

We saw simple wood and brick buildings in various stages of disrepair. Crews were painting tin roofs red or blue. Wherever we went, people were busy, working on vehicles, tending livestock, cooking, painting, building, selling and buying. Every town had a number of small stores selling a few essentials, such as toiletries, water, canned goods, and ice cream and candy. Candy is a luxury offered to guests upon arrival at a rural home, in addition to cheese and hot mare’s milk tea.

We spent two nights at a national park in Arkhangai province. The park had several small tourist ger camps consisting of 10-20 gers lined up side by side. We stayed at one close to Tsagaan Nuur, or White Lake. There was no running water at the camp, however, and electricity came from a camp generator operated for a few hours every night.

We met a small felt-producer just before she packed up her ger felt shop for the winter and bought a few of her handmade items.

In our travels in central Mongolia, we noticed piles of rocks covered in strips of blue cloth. Our driver reverentially honked his horn three times as we passed the rock piles, called ovoos in Mongolian. We were told these were sacred places. People often stop at the ovoos to pray, and leave an offering of money or alcohol, throwing a stone on the pile as they walk three times around it.

Few people spoke English, fewer still spoke it well. We spoke no Mongolian. Enkhtuya tried to fill us in on what was happening, but most of the time we were on our own.

We spent the next Saturday night at a hot spring and took in the waters in a small cement pool. The tourist ger camp we stayed at also had showers, hot water and modern toilets and plumbing, though they were not in the ger, but centrally located in a modern bath house.

We met a felt artist at the hot springs selling her wares from her ger. She was part of a cooperative established in the last twenty years by Norwegian Lutheran missionaries to provide employment and income to rural women.

On our way back to Ulaanbaatar, we stopped in Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia. The capital was destroyed centuries ago and a Buddhist monastery built in its place. We took a tour of the temple and the historical treasures they held. We also learned that during the political and social purges of the 1930s, many Buddhist monks were killed or imprisoned.

During our last week in Ulaanbaatar, we visited felt stores and the executive director of the Wool Craft Support Center, Tsend-Ayush Tseleejav. In the city, most of the felted items were of a tourist nature, small felted camels, sheep and goats, a miniature felted ger, felted hats and house slippers. Felted clothing was in very few stores. One store, however, stood out for its inventory and quality of felted clothing., Tsagaan Alt, or White Gold, sold dresses, vests, scarves and even had a dheel made of felt. The store, affiliated with the Wool Craft Support Center, was started by a Norwegian Lutheran group of missionaries in 2004.

We visited Mary and Martha’s hand crafted gifts in Ulaanbaatar, a Fair Trade store specializing in handmade felted items from the westernmost Khazakh region of Mongolia. There were slippers and cell-phone holders and purses and tapestries.

Ulaanbaatar, or UB as the locals sometimes call it, is a city of many contrasts. In the center of town are modern government buildings, hotels, and high rises. We went to several department stores, chief among them the State Department Store, which had multiple levels and a huge variety of consumer goods.

Cashmere sweaters cost from $100-$200 each. A cashmere blanket sold for $300. We were told many herders have increased their goat herds to take advantage of the premium placed on cashmere.

Near the end of our stay in Mongolia, we noticed a sudden rush to buy flowers at local florists. We asked and were told that the first of September is a day Mongolians celebrate school teachers. Parents buy flowers for their children to give to their teachers. On Sept. 1, the children dress in their finest outfits and go to school. It’s not the first day of class, but a day of teacher appreciation.

On our last night in UB, we dined with L. Batchuluun, a retired art historian, professor and author of “Felt Art of the Mongols.” He closely examined Lisa’s felted jackets and scarves, praising the blend of colors, the skill of workmanship, and the modern design of the clothing and accessories. He asked her to “come back and teach us how to do this.”

The MNBIF also asked Lisa to come back to teach Western-style felt making to business entrepreneurs in the provinces. Enkhtuya is planning next year’s project. Ayush of the Wool Craft Support Center also asked Lisa to come back to teach. An Australian youth ambassador and videographer working with the National Museum of Mongolia also wants to set up a teaching program at the museum with Lisa focusing on felt making.

Our few weeks in Mongolia taught us that while traditions are honored, innovation is essential to remain competitive in a global marketplace. The Mongolians we met want to be a part of this modern, global marketplace. Money is not always available for the arts, and many of the people we met don’t have the means to buy equipment or start a new business. There’s a need for assistance, financially and technically, for rural Mongolian women in particular, for they are the most disadvantaged when it comes to access to money, education, and opportunity. Our basic mission to Mongolia remains unchanged. We want to help rural women establish profitable felt-making businesses.

We are holding an open house at our home on Clover Lane in The Meadows of Monterey on Wednesday, Oct. 24 from 4-7 p.m. We will show pictures of our trip to Mongolia and display felted items we purchased there. The event will be catered by Deborah Lambert. We are still seeking donations to help offset the cost of our venture to Mongolia, though the event is free and open to the public and no donation is required.


We're Back

One journey ends another begins

We are home safe. We weren't able to update you as often as we would have liked while in Mongolia, but now that we are home and using our familiar Internet connection, we'll fill in over several updates from where we left off.

Lady of the Lake

We would have missed Inke, the felt-making lady with the ger by Tsagaan Nuur (White Lake). We were visiting a national park in Arkhangai Province, known for its volcanic rock, caves and lake, when we happened upon her felt store on the shores of the lake. We were staying in a ger camp next to the small business, but only found out about her through word of mouth, since she had no signs up advertising her business.

Many ger camps were packing up and moving to winter camp. We had already seen snow by August 19 and could only imagine what lie ahead. Inke, too, was also packing up as tourist season neared its end.

She opened her shop especially for us and showed us the many felted slippers and hats she had made, in addition to many cotton and silk deels (traditional outer garments) she had. She had already sold most of her stock to tourists over the summer.

Lisa showed her some samples of her work and received many compliments, comments and questions. Two things that stood out about Lisa's work is that each item contains multiple colored fleeces and it is thin. The Mongolian felt makers we met generally stayed with natural color wool or a one-dye fabric, and their wool was much thicker. Part of the reason for the thickness could be the absence of an efficient way to card the wool. Carding wool, separating and aligning the fibers, makes arrangement of multiple colors easier. The felt maker by the lake didn't have a mechanical carding machine, but used two flat carding pads when she was able to card at all. When asked, she said she could use a hand-cranked carding machine, but they were expensive and she didn't have the money to purchase one.

Inke is a small felt producer trying to make a little extra money for her family. She has the skills and talent to do great work. Her products are well-made. She lives in the country and sells her goods at a tourist camp. It's seasonal at best, but presumably provides enough income for her to continue doing it. A small hand-cranked carding machine would speed up her production and would give her a finer, more finished product to sell. With more and better product, she might be able to expand her market opportunities.

In the photo below, taken by Tsend Enkhtuya, are (l-r) Inke, felt-maker of Tsagaan Nuur; Lisa Jacenich, wearing one of Inke's handmade felted hats and vest; Jim Jacenich, wearing another of Inke's hats and a vest; Amina, wearing a handmade deel; and Sukhe, wearing a handmade jacket.


Vast beyond compare: Khangai region

Click, click, click. We weren't sure what we were hearing. Lisa discovered it was mating dragonflies. The clicking filled the air, like the sound of tapping typewriter keys fill an office. At a small roadside restaurant we had stopped for lunch. The clicking was our first introduction to the sounds of the wildlife we would hear in rural Mongolia.

Lisa and I had left Ulaanbaatar at approximately 11 a.m. that rainy Saturday morning in a Toyota Landcruiser, owned by the brother of our travel companion and hostess, Enkhtuya Tsend, vice president of the Mongolian National Business Incubator Federation. Traveling with us were her nephew, 22-year-old Munksutai Suukbaatar and her niece, 10-year-old Amina. Munksutai, or Sutai for short, is a recent veterinarian school graduate. He will start work in the fall, but he would be our driver for the week in the country. Amina is a precocious, sociable young lady with an interest in almost everything and a limitless supply of patience.

We were on our way to Arkhangai aimag (province), 500 kilometers (300 miles) from Ulaanbaatar. While listening to American Pop music, from Hip-hop to '80s classic rock and roll, we traveled through the magical vastness of the Mongolian steppes. This is a ruggedly beautiful land of rolling hills, semi-arid grasslands, snow-covered mountain peaks with soft-needle pine trees strewn about higher-elevation slopes. At best we would have maybe 200 kilometers of unevenly paved road, at worst 300 kilometers of muddy or dusty dirt trails through rocky terrain.

To reach the town of Iktamir, government center of Arkhangai province, would take us at least six grueling hours of dodging potholes, yaks, cows, horses, sheep and goats, not to mention avoiding head-on collisions with oncoming traffic. We bounced our way across the countryside, but had no fear. Sutai was a capable driver and we were pacified by the endless green hills, the light-blue skies and the fresh, crisp mountain air.

In Iktamir, we stayed in a small motel. It had indoor plumbing, which we would soon discover was a rare luxury in rural Mongolia.

Sunday we traveled 75 kilometers deeper into the narrow river valleys of the Khangai mountains. We crossed the river at least 20 times with water up to the chassis. Several times our guides got out of the vehicle, rolled up their pants legs and entered the water not only to assess the depth, but to move rocks to make passage possible. Late in the afternoon, with the temperature dropping and snow falling, we arrived at our destination: a herder family's three ger (round, felt tent) camp. Our hostess at the camp, Dulmaa, had nine children, one of whom was getting married the next day. She and her husband had earlier that day put up a new ger for their son and new daughter-in-law to be. It was a time of celebration, but also a time of hard work. They had many guests arriving the next day and had a lot of food to prepare. Sheep, goats and horses provide most of the food, from milk to meat, and sheep wool is used to cover the gers. The herders laughingly call their diet naturally organic and attribute to it many health benefits. Chewing the meat off bones strengthens teeth, we were told. Bone marrow has many vitamins and minerals. Drinking fermented mare's milk aided digestion and helped one sleep and is good for lung ailments. A little oily butter in the morning provided enough energy to work all day.

Dulmaa is a rural feltmaker. She makes the covers for her gers the traditional way from the wool of her own sheep, laid out on the mother felt from an old ger, and rolled up and dragged behind a horse for many hours.

The life of a nomadic herder is simple and natural, and they have little room for luxuries. Dulmaa has moved five times so far this year in search of fresh pastures for her family's livestock, and would move one more time further up the valley to winter camp. Besides a motorcycle or two, and the occasional car or truck, herders also have portable solar panels to provide enough electricity to light their homes. In several locations, ger families had televisions, and at one relatively well-to-do horse trainer's camp, there was even a battery-powered freezer.
In winter the herders heat their gers with coal, but in summer they burn wood. They use chain saws to cut their wood, a time-saving convenience made possible through the little money they earn selling wool or meat, and the availability of relatively inexpensive fuel (a gallon of regular fuel costs roughly four dollars).

That night, after feasting on authentic Mongolian barbecue, goat steamed outside in a pan of hot rocks and river water, seasoned with green onions, and the unusual treat of vegetables only because they were having a wedding the next day, we were the first to sleep in the newlywed's ger, We would be safe and warm, surrounded outside by livestock, and watched over by Mongolian dogs, ever alert to the threat of wolves.

At 4 a.m. Lisa peaked through the covers to see the groom's mother helping him dress in his finest peacock blue and silver deel (Mongolian national multi-purpose head-to-foot foot outer garment). He and his wedding party would travel at least three hours each way that day to fetch his bride from a neighboring valley.

Monday morning we awoke to a blanket of snow covering the ground.

The night spent with rural herders was the highlight of the trip, a life-changing experience we will always cherish. The remainder of our week in Arkhangai province would be beautiful and productive, but different. We would stay at tourist ger camps closer to town, still a rugged outdoor experience, but one lacking the intimacy of being part of a herder family. We stayed two nights in a national park, climbed an extinct volcano, explored a couple of caves, and swam in a frigid mountain lake (Tsagaan Nuur, or white lake). At the park we met a local felt-producer in a ger and happily purchased some of her expertly handmade artisan felt work. She said she needs a drum-carder to comb the fibers of wool for the felting process.

Lisa also spoke to two groups of men and women entrepreneurs, and showed samples of her handmade felt during our 10 days in the countryside. She was very flattered by the excitement and interest the business people and felters showed in her work and the techniques she used.
size: 10pt;"Enkhtuya introduced us to local government leaders who were very interested in what Lisa made and were grateful we were there to share our experiences running a small business. One town council president said how pleased he was with our visit and asked us to come back to train his people. Enkhtuya commented on how helpful our visit has been, showed us an office we can use, and asked us to come back next year to do more training.

In Tusgalt soum (town, also means temple or church), we met a family operating a small felt-making business. They make felt ger coverings to sell to local herders, but their wool-carding machinery was very old, had broken down and could not be repaired. That effectively put them out of business (felt making provides seasonal work for three people). They need a new large carding machine. They showed us the table where they lay out the wool, similar in size to our own tables in our 1,200 sq. ft. Artful Gifts studio in Monterey, and the large wooden drum roller in which they roll the six ft. wide, three-inch thick wet felt, which accomplishes the same purpose as the rolling machine that first brought Lisa to the attention of the Mongolians. (The wool shrinks roughly 40 percent when it is rolled.) They work from May through September, taking days off only if it rains. They get 30,000 Turik (a little more than  $20) per panel and make 10 panels a day. They are paid a fixed rate per panel of 1,600 Turik. That's $10 a day per person. They will lose at least 37 days of income this year because of the broken machinery, with no solution for replacement in sight.

On the way to an overnight stay at a hot spring we stopped in Tsenker soum where Lisa gave her second group presentation. In this group, we met two felters,12 and 13 years old, who were studiously attentive in the business workshop. These two young women are part of a felt-making group consisting of five families. Inaddition to felters and herders, there was a baker, a hairdresser, a mini-market operator, and a vegetable grower and food-storage business owner.
>It was a real pleasure to swim in the 78 degree Fahrenheit water at the hot spring that night. The ger camp also had hot water and real toilets for us to use. At the camp, Lisa met an artisan selling her handmade felt clothing, jewelry and decorations and made some more purchases of her fine-quality felted handcrafts. She is a member of a felt cooperative.

Sunday was our last day in the rural countryside and we spent it at the 12th century capital of Mongolia, Kharokorum, which is in the adjoining province of Uverkhangai. The capital burned down centuries ago, and a Buddhist temple was built in the ruins. Today stands not only an active Buddhist monastery, but also several 17th century buildings open to the public housing ornate and enormous statues of the various manifestations of Buddha.

That night through heavy rain and lightning we made our way back to Ulaanbaatar.

We are staying at a small hostel called Gobi 2, a few blocks from Peace Avenue and the State Department Store, a huge multi-level shopping center in private hands since the 1990s.

We have another week to spend in the city before coming home and many interesting people to meet and sights to see, but nothing will ever compare with the wonders we saw and the warm and loving herders, artists and small-business operators  we got to know in Arkhangai province.


Here we go!

Day 1 of our Mongolian Adventure (14 August, 2012)

Really we have to back up 2 days.....Sunday, 12 August was packing day.  I started at 10 am and finished at 8 pm.  we have ended up with 3 check-in bags, 2 overhead bags and 2 personal bags.  I have traveled all my life, but this is the hardest trip because of all the variables.  the temperatures will range between 80 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit and the situations will vary from putting up a ger (nomadic herder's home made of felt walls) to meeting with Parliament.  Having had my baggage lost on our trip to Brazil several years ago, I'm also building in some redundancy as a safeguard.  Of course, my army training kicks in and I must be ready for injuries, illnesses and getting lost on the steppes of outer Mongolia.  all sorts of survival gear like water purification tablets, emergency blanket, flint and steel, snake bite kit, mirror and magnifying glass have all been placed strategically in our goods. We have plenty of camera gear, still and video, with back up batteries, chargers, disks, tapes, connection cords and appropriate carrying cases for each.  I also threw in some edible rations, crackers, dry soup mix, tea bags and oatmeal. Two of the bags are filled with gifts for all ages as well as over 50 hand made felted gifts.  We are hopeful these bags will be filled with Mongolian hand mades on our return flight (and I packed an extra duffle bag, just in case!!!! ). Maybe I should have called this blog, "Just in case!"
We are now making our way to stay the night at our friends house in Reston, VA...just in case the car breaks down.  Jim is driving and I'm sending out last minute emails with emergency phone numbers and back up cat sitters.  I even synced my new IPhone with my gmail contacts so we can try to communicate periodically when there is wifi available.  Technology is incredible and I am grateful to have all this......  I am also giddy at the thought of being out in the middle of nowhere, without Internet making felt and putting up gers with a people that continue a nomadic culture for some 2400 years.
the screen saver on my iPhone quotes the menu cover from Zatinya's restaurant in D.C. It reads, "Are you ready for this because I believe your life is going to change forever."


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