Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What Sound Does a Goat Make?

Thank you all for sharing your inspiring thoughts and prayers.  It is really wonderful to hear from you.

It has been a while since you have heard from us because internet access is not that easy to find in rural northern Mongolia (nice to know there are places on Earth where this is still the case).

We bought a camera, and we have been able to take a few pictures, so hopefully there will be at least a few images to see, but our time without the camera had us thinking about other ways to share this experience:

The soundscape of Mongolia-

Animal Sounds-
          An important category since humans are outnumbered by horses 13-1.

"pbpb."- Goats often suppress their sneezes with tightly pursed lips creating an always amusing fart noise.

The murmur rising from the sod as a hundreds of little goat and sheep hooves shimmer and scamper out of our path.

The thunder of herds of horse hooves approaching our very small tent in the middle of the steppe in the middle of the night waking us to vivid imaginings of trampled tourists- and the subsequent roar from the tourists to alert the herd to the presence of the small tent and its alive and hoping to stay that way occupants.

"Hey, hey, hey!"
"Hey, hey!"  -The Far Side translation of every dog bark.  We hear this sound as we ride past some gers, but more often if we are in town, and particularly if we sleep in town, as some dogs have the amazing ability to shout out this sentiment all night long.

The familiar bellow of cattle is sometimes accompanied by the more pleasing deep grumbles of yaks.  The sound from the hairier beasts is less plaintive and more accepting of whatever their current conditions may be.

Birds.  It is amazing how often the air displaced by feathers can be heard overhead.  It is especially nice to hear this sound through the roof of a ger.

A few sounds noticeable by their absence; oink, meow.  Apparently, not that easy to herd pigs, and cats are not that helpful in rounding up other critters.

Cyclist Sounds-
     We hear them often.

Rattle, shake, bump, bump, rattle, thump-  Six wheels supporting two riders, their gear, their flags, their found eagle, hawk and owl feathers, and their four license plates can produce a surprising symphony of sounds as they roll over different surfaces.

"Hummmmmmmm buzzzzzzzzz"   By far the most preferred sound rising from below the riders is the hum of tires rolling over smoothly packed earth with no sand or washboard in sight, and the pleasing song of a quickly coasting rear wheel.

"Shcrih, shcrih, shcrich,  uf... son of a .." Sand.  We pedal, sometimes valiantly diagonally as our bicycles decide not to travel in the direction of the road, and the direction in which they are being steered, but instead to veer at very sharp angles and head for the deeper sand on the side of the main track.  This makes it very difficult to pedal, and sometimes difficult to sing happy songs.  And sometimes easier to walk and sometimes easier to curse.

"thunkathunkathunkathhunkathunkathunkathunkaaaaathunkathunkathunka"  Washboard.  Not that awesome, but preferable to sand because we can mostly keep pedaling.  There is usually some part of the eight tracks heading in the same direction that is a little smoother than the others, and the hunt for the elusive ribbon of smooth can keep one's mind quite occupied as it requires a surprising amount of concentration.  When the road is like this, it also makes stopping for a snack and a moment of stillness quite refreshing.

"Rattle clacka clunk tink bunk clanka kagagkaagaka..."  When the way is rocky, and their is no smooth way through you have to proceed as gingerly as possible with 4 months of gear. and 6 days of food and 2 days of water.  Go straightish and think light thoughts.

"Flapwhapwhapflapwhap..."  Uninterrupted by any natural obstacle like a tree, or a shrub or a rock, the wind which is sometimes blowing over nothing but grass is happy to meet our collection of flags and feathers and faces and introduce itself.  More often, it has met our backs, and left our flags listless as our parade and the wind continue eastward at roughly the same speed.

Human Sounds
     Although there are relatively few, and they are not that densely packed, we see at least a few others every day.

"Sain bainooo."  Hello.  Mongolian is not a language easily transliterated into English, because there are a number of sounds not normally made by English speakers, and vowel harmony is a difficult thing to write.  It is also challenging to speak.

"crickle"  The first draw of smoke into the mouth of the shepherd who has shown up to spend some time staring at us next to our tent, glows and burns the tip of the newspaper in which the tobacco has been rolled.  The cigarette continues to burn, and we continue to hear it, as the space (sometimes very short) between our new Mongolian friend and ourselves is not filled with idle chatter...or meaningful chatter...or much of anything but being there.  It is an initially disturbing trait of many people we have met here to be very comfortable with silence.  Now, we find it a nice reminder that actually there is nothing more important than simply to be.

"fwip.      fwip.            fwip.     fwip...."   Our Mongolian phrasebook is kind of handy since we were not able to find a good English/Mongolian dictionary.  We are able to look up things like;  "How much is a berth in the sleeping car" and slightly more useful things such as the standard greeting, "I hope your animals are fattening up nicely."  The problem is that the other half of the conversation is very difficult to translate as there is no Mongolia/ English portion of the book.  This is a problem for us, but rarely a problem for the people with whom we are speaking.  Minutes pass as they patiently search through the book which is not organized alphabetically for them until they find one word and point to it.  More minutes pass as the search for the next word takes place.

"Stockton passes the ball to Malone..."  It is often the unexpected things that make traveling so fun.  It was after a very annoying string of flat tires that we found ourselves in a fenced-in yard in a small village getting some "help" from the brother-in-law of the man who brought us to the yard.  He was attempting to fix the hole in one of our tires by attaching a giant slab of rubber to the inside.  After trying to explain that this is unlikely to work because the tube will chafe on the rough edges, minutes passed, while we waited for something.  When the something turned out to be a power drill with a sanding bit, we decided to abort the brother-in-laws project and patch the tire with a good patch made for tubes.  We then retired from the sunny yard into the comfortable living room of the house.  This is where we sat to eat some meat and rice and watch an NBA playoff game between the Seattle Sonics and the Utah Jazz from 1993.

"Crunchsquish" Gristle, amazing how it squeaks as it crunches!  And the flavor lasts and lasts.

"mmmmMMMMmmmgunggungmmmMMMM..."  150 or 200 cc motorcycles laden with two, three or four people and a sheep, or water, or a big-screen tv, or car parts, whine and moan their way up and down mountains around and through mud puddles and all over the countryside.


The sounds so far described are different than perhaps you are imagining.  The sounds that one can hear here are louder than their decibels because there is so much background noise and din of modern western culture that is wonderfully absent.  Upon entering a shop in a small village, there is no hum of drink coolers, and there are not hot-dogs sweaty with effort rolling endlessly on squeaky un-oiled heaters.  There may be a few flies circling the paper meant to entrap them, and there may be a person passing a needle through a needlework project, but the buzz of living in the hive of electronica is absent.

There is quiet.

There is the land.

There is the sky.

There is the person staring at the stars in the middle of the night.

It is then, under the white ribbon of milky way, and the cool sparkling sky that one can even hear the subtle heartbeat of stars.

Hoping you all can find a moment to enjoy some quiet.
And looking forward to making some noise with you when we return.

Take care and have fun-
                  Tyler and Adrianne.


  1. Tyler and Adrienne - we are very much enjoying your blog and thanks for posting and sharing. Alyssa and I have been reading them at night for bedtime. Alyssa very much enjoyed my goat sound while reading the story above. We are looking forward to hearing your stories in person and meeting Adrienne. Take care and may you have have much more "hummmmm buzzzzz" than "thunkathunkathunka" in you remaining travels. -Devin

  2. I really enjoyed this post. Here's to "hummmmm buzzzzz"!