I had heard of reindeer-herders before I even arrived in Mongolia and I couldn't wait to get there.
Living isolated lives in the Taïga region in the north of Mongolia, these people are difficult to contact and to meet. You'll be totally immersed in another world, another universe and a whole knew way of living if you make the effort to go to meet them!
I met up with a friend in Ulaan Bator, a keen and experienced couchsurfer.
What luck, since the man we stayed with has family all over Mongolia, knows the country very well and suggested that he organise everything for us, for a very small fee compared to those of the tour companies.
So off we set on a two day car journey, then 9 hours on horsebackto go to meet the Tsaatan, in the north of Mongolia.
Exhausted at the end of the third day, at last we arrive at the edge of the forest. Our guide seems to become watchful. Suddenly, out of the trees, appears a man dressed in a heavy coat, astride a reindeer! He leads us to their temporary resting place, "the spring house".
The Tsaatan, depending on their needs and the time of year, move on up to twice a day! In general however, they have four areas where they set up home, one for each season.
They are generous, kind and welcoming people. After a meal of reindeer meat and home-made pasta, eaten in the family teepee, we go to explore the surrounding area.
In a clearing in the middle of the forest, the camp is made up of two teepees, including ours, a fenced-off area for the reindeer, a place for cutting wood and a cleared space where the reindeer are tethered when they are not in the enclosure. And that's all. What a setting!
In winter, they melt snow for drinking water. During the summer, there's a river. The father of the family, Marxwell, hunts deer. We eat reindeer, sometimes beef, always with pasta or rice. They also make home-made bread, wonderful for us Europeans! As for "vegetables", it's just onions and potatoes.
The children, of which our host family had four, go to school. Education is compulsory up to the age of 13, at which point the children can choose to continue their studies or take up the nomadic lifestyle of their parents. The second son of our host family had chosen the nomadic life. The first had continued to study and the last two, who are only 7 and 12, still go to school.
There are only 63 Tsaatan families left in Taïga. They explain that in winter each family lives in "its own area" but in the summer they all manage to get together. They all have dogs of course, to keep away wolves, which are common in this area.
I loved this life, isolated from the rest of the world, and meeting these people who were happy simply to see us and to be able to share their lives with us. Our attempts at communication, even though they speak some English, made us laugh madly as we mimed whatever we were trying to explain!
I also really enjoyed riding a reindeer on a trip up into the mountains, where there was a fantastic view. It's remarkably comfortable, riding a reindeer! And they make funny little noises!