||Hole #7 - Got Horse Milk?
Sogoo likes airag. If you've ever visited Mongolia before then you know all about airag. The fermented horse milk beverage, also known as koumiss in some parts of the world, is shared freely in the summertime when the mares are lactating. Airag is an acquired taste, and some is better than others. Imagine fizzy sour milk with a kick. I've had airag when I visited Mongolia two years ago, but I had never seen a homemade still in a ger producing airag vodka, or arkhi.
Sogoo, as you might have guessed is my new caddy for the next three holes. Sogoo also has a Russian jeep, which makes carrying enough food and water for two people along with a couple hundred golf balls much easier. I know there are lots of people out there who take some sadistic pleasure in my suffering, but getting a caddy with wheels was the most practical solution to keep this mission going. That guy who flew his hot-air balloon around the world had a support team of dozens on the ground and a luxury suite in his cabin. I'm positive he must have had a microwave and jacuzzi in there. So, for now I'm left to battle the blazing sun, fierce winds, thousands of pestering flies, and the tall weeds which have been hungrily swallowing up my golf balls lately.
Sogoo keeps an eye on me off in the distance during the day and meets me by the road in the evening to cook dinner and set up camp. But what I learned after just a few days was that Sogoo likes airag. It's airag season now and every ger has liters of it waiting to be shared with random visitors. In typical Mongolian fashion, you don't wait to be invited into a ger. Just walk on in, sit down and have a few bowls of fermented mare's milk with the residents. I've been in Mongolia long enough not to be surprised by this custom of hospitality but it still feels strange not to give anything back in return. But then again, Sogoo and the locals talk mostly about me, so how's about a drink for the crazy golfer.
Just hold it on the homemade arkhi though. I watched as it took about one hour to boil the airag in a big pot and then collect the distilled fluid in a stainless steel contraption. The process was interesting but the product was less than satisfying. It reminded me of warm sake filtered through a dirty horse-hair sock. Not that I've ever tried that before.
Instead of camping one night, we stayed in a small town at the home of Sogoo's friends. I learned a lot about my 44 year-old caddy including the fact that he was formerly the director of a school in Ulaan Baatar and taught driving/mechanics. Before that he was the secretary of Mandal-Ovoo sum, a county in southern Mongolia.
I didn't need to gain this extra respect for him to listen to his advice. You should always listen to your caddy, especially when playing on a new course. So when Sogoo suggested that I take a slice of sheep liver and use it like a piece of bread to smear the sheep brains on, of course I listened. An interesting contrast of tastes and textures but that wasn't all. We had popped into a ger just as a big pot of entrails was put onto the fire. Not only did we gorge on brains and liver but also on intestines, pancreas, duodenum, and God knows what other unidentifiable innards. I have to say I enjoyed the small intestines the best.
Like most Mongolians, Sogoo isn't afraid of a big meal or three during the day and consequently, my weight loss problem has disappeared and now I can actually turn away a few chunks of mutton fat. His love of airag, on the other hand, I'll never share as lustfully. He drinks liters of it at a time and it's tough for me to keep up, though I've acquired quite a keen taste for the stuff myself. But please, please don't offer me any more of that warm, 100-proof, horse water.
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