Kath Anderson once wrote a poem that begins, "Camp needs no more space than two sleeping bags and a backpack stove." I'm sorry, but I can't remember right now how the rest goes, but I do remember that the idea behind it is that camp can be simple, just a place to sleep while you are busy conducting the much more important business of traveling. And so, when we were dropped off at a resort partway up the mountain south of Ulaangom, I had to catch my breath to let my eyes catch up to my expectations. The camp on Han Hoiyin Uul was described as a place of incredible beauty. The mountain valley where the camp sits is in fact very beautiful, but the resort itself has seen better days. Approaching from below, our first glimpse was of the roof that had been peeled off of the dining hall by wind. In the rain that we had the next day it was hard to find a table that was not wet, the drips spreading out along the ceiling much farther than the actual hole in the roof.
Windows were broken by vandals, paint peeled from neglect, and whole buildings seemed abandoned. But outside teenagers played basketball and volleyball and in the room next to ours old men drank vodka and sang. On our first day, Judy and I hiked up next to the small river, through tall grass and wildflowers that included wild peonies, poppies, and columbine. Rain and mosquitoes (along with a power outage that would last our entire stay and probably well beyond) sent us to bed early, and we woke to more rain the next day—not quite fair we thought, given that half the rain we have seen in the past nine months has happened on our two camping trips. But it only started as a sprinkle, something that we didn't let get in our way. With Muugii, our translator and recent graduate from our university, we climbed the ridge that sits across the river from our camp—four hours to the top and one back down the quick way in rain that had picked up.
Along the way we saw more flowers, chickens-and-hens, and views out the fingers of land that stretch toward Ulaangom. By the time we reached camp the sun started to break through and we spread our wet clothes out to dry as we waited for our ride back to town.
As our clothes dried we listened to the men in the next room singing. I asked Muugii earlier if what they were singing was supposed to sound like that. She explained that yes, it was, but that few people hear these songs anymore, since there are few older men of the Dorvod ethnic group who can perform them. As I listened from the common entrance to our rooms, one of the men who had stepped out for a smoke took me by the arm and led me into their room. After a couple of rounds of vodka, I asked if I could record them. Discussion turned to argument between the shaman, two lamas, and someone who said he was an accountant, and I wondered if I had asked too much of them, only to discover that they were arguing about what they should sing. In the end, they decided to do a song that is sung at weddings, wishing the newlyweds long life and good luck. They were very excited about the possibility of sharing their music
on the internet because they are worried that few people know their old songs and that they will not be able to share them much longer.