Last weekend, a whole bunch of people trooped in from other aimags for Bayan Ulgii’s Eagle Festival. I stayed at the Quiet Apartment with my aimag-mates, while one of the other Bayan-Ulgii people hosted the partiers.
Our apartment was asleep by midnight on Friday, but we had chocolate chip pancakes in the morning. I think we win.
Morning: wakeup, and breakfast, and morning drinks (for certain of the visiting contigent), and finding an ATM that actually worked in the city center — around eleven, we finally piled into a mikr [offroading minivan] and headed out to the festival, which was maybe 8km from Ulgii aimag center. We got there just in time for the lunch break.
The eagle hunters stuck around for most of the break, though, and so we got to see that the eagles are, in fact, gigantic. For reference:
[a picture will go here once I nab it from the person who took it.]
We hung out for a while, watched the hunters practice with their eagles, and browsed the souvenirs on sale. We also discovered it was much colder out in the mountains without five-story apartment complexes to shield us. People had set up gers selling xуушуур, and a group of us piled into one just to escape the wind. Then we booked it to the mikr, where we hung out debating whether we wanted to stay.
But then, just when we thought it was time to leave, there was an exhibition!
The eagle’s owner would turn his or her bird over to another hunter, then head down the mountainside to the exhibition ring. S/he was then supposed to call the eagle to land. Inevitably, every time I tried to take a video, the eagle decided not to grace its owner’s arm.
After that we left.
My school decided to celebrate Teacher’s Day on Saturday, for some reason, so I missed most of the festivities. I did, however, split my evening between our teacher banquet and hanging out with the visitors. I did not make it to bed before midnight that night, on account of there being only one set of keys to the apartment, but I still got close to eight hours of sleep.
On Sunday, we did not have pancakes. But we got to the festival just in time for lunch break.
I bought a wolf’s tooth. I absolutely did not need a wolf’s tooth, but I like buying trinkety souvenirs.
After lunch, male and female horse riders paired off to play a game in which, apparently, the woman has to hit the man with a leather strap or else the man gets to kiss her. I’m…not entirely sure I appreciate the gender politics of this game, but it was fun to watch.
Sunday wasn’t as cold as Saturday, but in-aimag travelers had to be back in Ulgii to catch a public mikr, and out-aimag travelers wanted to get back to their homes at a reasonable hour. We left around 3:00.
All in all? Rather less eventful than I expected, but still loads of fun. I got to eat pancakes, held an eagle, asked a kid (in Kazakh!!) if the falcon he was holding belonged to him, and had the privilege of watching one of the guys in our group walk around wearing a hat made of fox faces. A weekend full of the sort of details that make this experience unbelievable in every sense of the word.
 Those of you who know me know my extreme fondness for ridiculously early bedtimes. Those who do not…poor souls, you will learn.