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AFC Flag Expedition #9:
The Argali Mountain Sheep of Mongolia: An Artist’s Study of the Animal and the Desert-Steppe
Expedition Artist: Susan Fox
Purpose: To travel to the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in Mongolia in July of 2009 to study, sketch and photograph endangered Argali, the world's largest mountain sheep.
Location: Mongolia
Scheduled For: July, 2009
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Wildflowers, Part 3- Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve
Thursday, October 22, 2009

  • Persicaria species
  • Pink, Dianthus versicolor
  • Ptilotrichum, Ptilotrichum canescens
  • Sawwort, Saussurea amara
  • Snow-in-summer, Cerastium arvense
  • Thistle species
  • Unknown
  • Valerian, Valerian officinalis
  • Wallflower, Erysimum flavum
  • Unknown white flower
  • Unknown white flower
  • Unknown yellow flower
  • Unknown yellow flower
Wildflowers Part 2 - Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, except where noted
Monday, October 12, 2009
Continuing on from last week:

  • Cinquefoil, Potentilla serica
  • Clover, Trifolium lupinaster
  • Elecampane, Inola britanica
  • Eyebright, Euphrasia tatarica
  • Goniolimon, Goniolimon speciosum?
  • Globe Thistle, Echinoops latifolius
  • Haplophyllum, Haplophyllum dauricum
  • Hyssop, Lophanthus chinensis
  • Milk vetch, Astralagus galactites
  • Onion, allium odorum
  • Orostachys species
Wildflowers Part 1- Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve
Monday, October 5, 2009
On my previous trips to Mongolia it was either spring or fall, too early or too late to really see much in the way of wildflowers. There were some at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu last year, but I had no way to identify them. Then I found the field guide “Flowers of Hustai National Park” back in Ulaanbaatar, which appears to include most of the common flowers one is likely to encounter.

For the next three weeks I’ll post my flower images with my best guess at what they are since I’m not a botanist. I do garden, however, and many of them look suspiciously familiar.

I would love to have assistance in confirming or correcting my identifications.

The following images are all from Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, which is about two hours southeast of Ulaanbaatar. Some are from the rocky hillsides of Mt. Baits and some from the wetland on the north side of the mountain.
  • Wormwood, Artemesia sp.
  • Aster, Heteropappus biennis
  • Bedstraw, Galium verum
  • Unknown
  • Bluebeard, Caryopteris mongolica
  • Bluebeard, detail
  • Bluebeard plant near rock
  • Unknown
  • Buttercup sp. ?
  • Caraway, Carum carvi
  • Catchfly, Silene jenisseensis
Update on Women's Crafts Association, "Ikh Nart Is Our Future"
Monday, August 31, 2009
Yesterday I had an eagerly anticipated phone conversation with Gana Wingard, the Mongolian scientist (she’s married to an American attorney who specializes in natural resource law) who was my translator and liaison for my meetings with the herder women who live in and around the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I came home on the 30th and she stayed to run the Earthwatch team, so I was out of touch for almost a month with anyone who could tell me what happened next.

The women went home the same day we left for Ulaanbaatar, but most of them plus more local men and women, came back on August 5 to clean out the spring that serves both the herders and the research camp. They also created some spots for the argali to drink.

Two physicians came and provided information and advice on infectious diseases like swine flu.

The Bag Governor and his wife (a “bag” is the smallest administrative unit in Mongolia) were there, too. Amgalaanbaatar, or Amgaa, who leads the argali research from the Mongolian side, gave them and the other local people who had not been at original meetings a briefing about the new association “Ikh Nart Is Our Future”. He also brought, by request, 3 meters of good thin felt from Ulaanbaatar that the ladies, according to Gana, very carefully divided up square foot by square foot.

The director of the association, Boloroo, was very happy to receive a laptop computer, which she badly needed for the association’s recordkeeping. The computer was given to her by the research project on the condition that I find a replacement, which is something I’ll be working on. If anyone reading this can donate or knows where I could buy reasonably, a good quality fairly new laptop, please let me know.

There has been no time for Amgaa to research prices for the felt press, so that has had to be put off until October.

Ikh Nart formalized a sister park relationship with Anza-Borrego State Park last fall. I haven’t really met any of the park people yet, but they have donated a fair amount of equipment and help with things like signs. Amgaa visited them in California in January, his first trip to the USA. Six people from the park were at Ikh Nart while Gana was there with the Earthwatch team. Boloroo came to the camp on a motorbike with a selection of craft items. The Anza-Borrego people bought over 100,000 tugrik (about $900) worth for themselves and as gifts. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to hear about this. Two of the American Earthwatch staff members also purchased over $150 of crafts. This means that at least a small income is already flowing to the women who showed up and worked so hard while I was there.

There are two more Earthwatch teams this year and Boloroo plans to visit each one. She has also contacted my guide who was interested in commissioning traditional felt rugs and it looks like something will happen there, too. All in all, a terrific beginning. It was hard not to have been there for what came next, but I’m looking forward to seeing everyone next year!
Only Known Photos of an Argali Sheep Crossing a River
Monday, August 10, 2009
I have just received confirmation that I have taken the only known photographs of a Mongolian argali sheep crossing a river. This occurred at the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve during my Flag Expedition on the very first morning of observations. In fact, he (Dr. Reading believes it was a yearling ram) was one of four of the first argali I saw on the trip.

Dr. Reading also noted in his reply to my query that "Well, I don't think anyone ever doubted that argali cross these relatively shallow, relatively slow rivers (at least I never did). All ungulates (and most mammals) swim pretty well and you need something a
LOT more substantial that the Kherlen River to stop them."

The main reason, I believe, that no one has gotten photographs is that the only place where argali have been studied with any depth is at the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, which has a few small streams, but no rivers. Research has begun at Gun-Galuut and, in fact, an Earthwatch team is scheduled to be there for part of their time in September, but the emphasis has been on capturing and putting radio collars on the argali, not behavioral observations.

The four sheep that I watched were on the opposite side of the river from their home range, Mt. Baits. Their behavior appeared anxious and finally one bolted back across the river. He climbed up on a high point and looked back. The young ram finally turned and ran back up onto the mountain. The other three argali seemed indecisive and ultimately did not cross, but moved up onto a smaller mountain where I finally lost sight of them.
  • Argali sighted near river
  • Argali jumps into Kherlen River
  • The splash
  • Swimming across
  • Where's everyone else!
  • Detail: jumping into the river
  • Detail: the splash
  • Detail: swimming across
Mongolia- The Land
Friday, August 7, 2009
Here's a selection of my favorite images from the trip. An understanding of Mongolia really starts with the land.

  • Traveling across the steppe on the earth roads
  • Tahilgat Hairhan
  • Kherlen Gul valley, Gun-Galuut
  • Kherlen Gul and east side of Baits Uul
  • Rainbow over ger, Baga Gazriin Chuluu
  • Kherlen Gul, summer day, Gun-Galuut
  • Horse and rider, Baga Gazriin Chuluu
  • Aspens among the rocks, Baga Gazriin Chuluu
  • Lightning, Arburd Sands ger camp
  • Oncoming storm, Red Rocks ger camp, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu
  • Interesting rock, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu
  • Moonrise, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu
But Wait! There'll be More....
Sunday, August 2, 2009
It wasn't practical to do any image processing on the Expedition. All the photos here are as taken. No Photoshopping, cropping or other adjustments. Which means it's kind of hard to see the argali when I was photographing them from up to 1000 meters away and they're designed to blend into the rocky hillsides where they prefer to live.

I'll be doing some additional image posts here of some of the beautiful wildflowers I saw, mostly at Gun-Galuut and a landscape post to share the great natural beauty of Mongolia, the Land of Blue Skies.

For now,

Susan Fox
Back home in California
Friday, July 31, 2009
Had an uneventful trip home from Mongolia. Glad to be home, even if it's from the Land of Blue Skies to summer fog in north coastal California.

I was able to get to the Hi Fi music shop in UB and buy a few CDs of contemporary Mongol pop music, so I'll have fun painting to those from all my great new reference!

Yesterday afternoon, I had a final get-together with Gana Wingard and Sukhin Amgalanbaatar. We brought Amgaa up to speed on what had happened at Ikh Nart and talked about what the next steps should be. I'm also in touch as of today with Dr. Reading.

I showed Amgaa a variety of pictures I took of argali. It looks like I may have the first and only documented evidence of an argali swimming across a river, which I saw on the first morning out at Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve. Up until last year, the only argali research in the world was being done at Ikh Nart, which has no rivers, streams, lakes. Just some small creeks that are easily walked across. I'll be working to confirm the significance of what I saw and what it means in terms of what is known about argali. I'm waiting to hear Dr. Reading's reaction

  • Sunset at Arburd Sands
Back from Ikh Nartiin Chuluu
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
My trip to Ikh Nart was amazingly successful. It seemed like all the stars aligned for my three days of meetings with the women who want to start a crafts cooperative.

It's going to take a bit to sort it all out and write it down coherently, but the punchline is that they got the word out, fourteen women took a five day felt workshop a month or so ago, and, when they showed up at the research camp (a half hour early), their new Director, Boloroo, handed me a fourteen page proposal and the ladies spread almost two dozen felt craft items out on the tables we'd set up.

To say that we were off and running would be a major understatement.

I had purchased four meters of felt in UB to give them and, in three days, all of that was turned into slippers, purses, a large rug and a variety of other things.

I also bought fabric for them to make del for my husband and I. They finished both of them, fully lined and all the fastenings made by hand, sewn on manual sewing machines and ironed with old irons heated on a propane stove, in three days.

The next step will be to work out the details of the $800 loan that they have requested to buy a felt press, since their intention is to make the felt themselves, not buy factory-made.

Gana Wingard, the biologist who made the trip with me as translator and liaison, was as blown away as I was at how much effort they had put into this. We were going to go out early and late to look for argali and ibex, but never had the opportunity. The schedule and pace was set by the women and it was non-stop. I did see and photograph some argali and ibex on the way into the reserve and on the way out. And we were able spend time talking about the on-going research during meals and very limited, as it turned out, spare time.

Jeff and everyone at AFC- I can absolutely guarantee you that you have gotten your money's worth and then some for awarding me this grant. There are single mothers and poor families who will be benefiting for years to come because you made it possible for me to go to Ikh Nart.

  • Argali ewe on rock
  • The women arrive at the research camp
  • Laying out the design on a felt rug
  • Working on felt projects
  • Me with new friend
  • Sewing my del
  • Felt purse, a gift to me from the women
  • Ready for customers
  • Me with AFC flag in new del by a
  • Group shot, including Aussie tourists who came to visit
  • Four argali we saw on way out of reserve
Onward to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu
Saturday, July 25, 2009
But first, when we got back to UB, I needed to go by the Nomadic Journeys office and pay for the trip. Jan Wigsten, who I worked with to plan my itinerary, was in and he spent about a half hour with Hatnaa and I chatting and kind of de-briefing us about how the trip had gone. It was pretty windy when we went back to the car and by the time we were halfway down Peace Ave. on the way to the hotel, it had started to rain. By the time we pulled into the Narantuul’s parking lot it was……hailing. Hard. The water level in the parking lot was already rising, so, once again, Hatnaa positioned the car so that the back end faced the storm and we sat for about 20 minutes right by the entrance ramp to the hotel door, waiting for it to stop or at least just go back to rain.

We finally got me and my stuff inside and I got my long hot shower. I called one of the Mongolian scientists that I’m working with, Amgaa, and he was free for dinner. He came over to the hotel and we walked a short way down the street to a restaurant that serves Mongolian food. At that point, neither of us knew whether or not Gana Wingard was going to make it in.

But she called the next morning and said the flight from Seoul went with no problems. The storm had cleared out. She came over to the hotel with her nephew, who is in his third year of studying biology at the University. We all went to lunch and then braved the notorious Black Market, now called the Narantuul Market. Nothing illegal goes on there except pick-pocketing. The drill is to take nothing in with you except your money, which you hold in your hand. The market was busy, but not crowded and we had no problem at all. The best way to see it is to go in with no money and just walk around. Needless to say, I don’t have any photos.

It’s a huge covered area with stalls selling everything. Our mission was to buy three or four meters of felt for the herder women to experiment with since we think that they can do well making traditional Mongolian felt carpets to sell. I also bought all the fabric needed for them to make del for myself and my husband.


The driver picks me up at 9am this morning. We then pick up Gana and head south to Ikh Nart. I will be back in UB sometime in the afternoon of the 28th. Gana has been told that it is very, very hot at the reserve. We will do our argali watching in the early morning and in the evening and have our meetings with the herder women during the day. Fortunately, I have found that the same felt covering that keeps a ger warm in cold weather, also keeps them reasonably cool when it’s hot. And the nights can be quite cool. I might even need my down sleeping bag.

I hope to post again at least once before I come home on the 30th.
The trip back to UB
Friday, July 24, 2009
In the evening after the mountain ceremony, we went for one last drive and ended up poking around the ruins of an old monastery that is tucked up into a narrow canyon. The entry point and the site itself has many aspen trees growing in and around it, some with blue scarves (khadak) tied around them. It was a very peaceful place. After all the normal, but sometimes noisy activity that had been going on around the ger camp, we chose to just sit up on some flat rocks in the quiet, watching the sun go down. It was a very nice way to end my stay at Baga Gazriin Chuluu, knowing that the next day was a long road trip ending up back in very noisy UB.

Among the many things I learned from Khatnaa about Mongol culture is that, out of respect for the spirits who dwell there and the fact that the top of a mountain is the closest one can get to Tenger, the sky, you never say the name of a mountain while you are within sight of it. One refers to it as “Hairhan”, which is a term of formal respect. So I asked him what the guides say to the tourists who inevitably ask what the name of this or that is. They parse the issue by saying that the mountain’s name is Hairhan. Which is absolutely true, in a sense, but allows them to honor an important custom. Near the mountain there were a couple of people herding their animals.

Finally, we came in sight of Bogd Khan, the sacred mountain which lies to the north of Ulaanbaatar and is also the world’s first nature reserve, having been set aside in 1778. Still on my list of places to visit. On the other side was the end of this wonderful road trip and a long, hot shower.


I'll be leaving for Ikh Nartiin Chuluu in about two hours and back to UB on the afternoon of the 28th. One day for loose ends and then home on the 30th. I really am having the time of my life and am learning more every day.

One of the real pleasures of the trip is that my system not only tolerates traditional Mongol countryside foods like aruul and airag, but seems to do well.

Anyone who has been here can tell you that that if often not the case at all, shall we say. I still pay attention to what I'm being served, but I've been able to take full advantage of what Mongolians call "white foods", all the milk-based things they make in the summertime.

Over the next four days, i'll be with a Mongolian scientist who lives in the US and speaks excellent English. I'll have lots of time to learn about argali from her since we'll be sharing a ger at the Nomadic Journeys eco-ger camp and we'll be out with radio telemetry equipment every day.

  • Tahilgat Hairhan
  • Traditional herding of goats
  • A more contemporary herding of camels
  • Bogd Khan Mountain; UB is on the other side
Back from the Mongolian Countryside!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I got back to UB a few hours ago. It was the road trip of a lifetime, wildlife wise. At both Gun-Galuut and Baga Gazriin Chuluu, I saw and photographed argali almost every time we went out on a "game drive".

Some sightings yielded over 100 images in 20 or so minutes. I got argali in morning light, argali in evening light, argali at dusk, argali in shadow but doing interesting things.

There were large groups of rams, small groups of rams, nursery groups of ewes and lambs and mixed groups of both sexes.

I photographed one group of rams at Baga Gazriin Chuluu that was out in the open at the base of a rocky hill about 800 meters from the road. They were a little nervous, but didn't run away. In fact, they ended up being so tolerant of our presence that we were able to get out of the car and take turns taking pictures of each other with them in the background.

A lion's share of the credit for this has to go to one of the Best Guides Ever, Hatnaa, who seemed to have an uncanny feel for where the animals might be, even though he hasn't really done this kind of thing before. He runs his own tour company, but took me on via Nomadic Journeys. His English is very good, so I learned a lot about Mongol history and culture and he helped me on my pronunciation.

Besides argali, I've photographed ibex, cinereous vultures, golden eagles, upland buzzards, black kites, demoiselle cranes, endangered Siberian white-napped cranes and even a lady bug.
Plus Mongol horses and bactrian camels.

I've also been able to visit gers, eat Mongolian summer "white food" like aruul, cheese, yogurt, cream and airag and yesterday went to a local "mountain washing" ceremony, complete with chanting Buddhist monks, tons of mutton and gallons of airag, plus a 7km horse race, anklebone shooting contest and a wrestling competition.

I'm in UB tomorrow and then off to Ikh Nart.

The scientist who I am to travel to Ikh Nart with is due in at 10:40 tonight. Whether the flight will come in is anybody's guess with this weather. Stay tuned.
  • Bogd Khan Mountain; UB is on the other side
  • Back to UB across the open steppe on the earth roads
Photos from Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

  • Baga Gazriin Chuluu in distance
  • Baga Gazriin Chuluu scene
  • View from my ger
  • Looking out to right of my ger
  • One of the interesting rock formations
  • Rocks in late afternoon light
  • First view of six argali rams; from the road
  • Six argali rams
  • Argali rams going up and over the rocks
  • Onroo and Khatnaa; argali in background
  • Me with argali rams on right in line with my cap
  • Two ibex billies
  • Cinerious vulture
  • Hill pigeons
  • From my visit to Yanjmaa's ger; she's making noodles
  • Mountain ceremony: horse race finish
  • Horse race finish
  • Almost across the finish line
  • Horse race spectators
  • Mountain ceremony attendees
  • Men in dels, looking good
  • Start of the wrestling competition
  • The Falcon of the Aimak dancing
  • Wrestling bout
  • Wrestling bout
  • The end. The Falcon wins the competition.
  • Last chat at the end of the event
  • Monastery ruins; left side of canyon entrance
  • Right side of canyon entrance
  • Aspens within monastery ruins
  • Bogd Khan Mountain; UB is on the other side
Photos from Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

  • My ger at Steppe Nomads Ger Camp, Gun-Galuut (with the Flag)
  • View out the door of my ger
  • Valley of the Kherlen Gul
  • Endangered Siberian White-napped cranes
  • Siberian white-napped crane and domestic yaks
  • Domestic bactrian camels
  • Posing on a ridgetop with the AFC flag
  • Argali, group of 14 rams
From Ulaanbaatar to Gun-Galuut, Arburd Sands and Baga Gazriin Chuluu
Monday, July 20, 2009
My guide/driver, Khatnaa, picked me up at the hotel at 9am and off to the countryside we went. I’m just going to hit the highlights here due to time constraints. I’ll cover each location more in separate posts after I get home.

We were about 40 minutes out of UB when we came upon a Kazakh man on a bicycle with his two year old golden eagle perched on the top of stack of parcels. What a way to start the trip!

We arrived at the Gun-Galuut (pronounced “goon-galote”) after a pleasant two-hour drive. Lovely tourist ger camp overlooking the valley of the Kherlen River.

We got settled in. I walked down to the river and sat by it for awhile, caught up on the Journal and got organized for the upcoming fieldwork.

The next four days took on a basic pattern of getting up at 6am, out the door by 6:30, game drive until about 9, back for breakfast, do what needed doing, back out after early dinner by 6:30, drive until light gone between 8:30 and 9. Fall over. Repeat.

The first morning, while Khatnaa was scanning the hills, I took a look along the river and, halfway through the first sweep from left to right spotted four young argali rams on the other side of the river. We were off to a good start.

After four fabulous days at Gun-Galuut, we drove back through UB, where I picked up a copy of a bird guide and we ran a couple of other errands. Then it was south to Baga Gazriin Chuluu, with a one night stay at Arburd Sands. It was windy and there were dark clouds around. We stopped for lunch and could hear thunder in the distance. Then it got interesting.

We found ourselves out in the open on the steppe in a violent rain and then hail storm. It was so bad that Khatnaa turned the car so that the back was to the wind to protect the windshield. The sound of the hail hitting the top of the car was really loud and left dents. All we could do was sit tight and wait it out.

All the dirt track, or as Khatnaa called them, earth roads had become rushing rivers of water. Amazingly, he was able to pick our way across this safely and without getting stuck in his Mitsubishi Pajaro diesel SUV.

Finally, the hail stopped and we were able to go on. Khatnaa had only been to Arburd Sands once a number of years ago and when he became unsure of the route, he stopped a couple of times and asked for directions. These kids put on a wrestling demo for me while I waited in the car. They were really showing off their moves.

We started to see raptors by the side of the road once we got out past the storm front.

We also passed a number of ovoo. If it was a major one, we stopped, got out and circled it, adding a stone or small tugrik bills. Khatnaa honked at smaller ones as we went by them.

We arrived at Arburd Sands and found out that the storm we had sat through had hit UB, causing the worst flooding in many years. At least 21 people died. If we had not gotten out of UB when we did, we might not have made it out of town at all.

Arburd Sands ger camp is a seasonable sustainable operation which is planned so that it leaves as little a mark on the land as possible. They use solar and wind for power.

There was an amazing display of thunder and lightning that evening, stretching from east to west. But it only rained during the night. No hail. The next morning we continued on to Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve. But, as I am coming to realize is routine when one travels in Mongolia, there were interesting things along the way. Like when Khatnaa stopped at this well and, following the ancient Mongol tradition, drew a couple of buckets of cool water for the animals.

Meanwhile, the goats were seizing another, albeit temporary, opportunity to take advantage of the shade under the car.

We traveled across the rolling steppe, passing an enormous and impressive mountain, a small lake and many country people and their flocks of animals. Finally, in the distance, we could see our destination, Baga Gazriin Chuluu.

Khatnaa, as the guides usually do, started to chat up the camp staff. He found that one man, Onroo, had lived full-time at the reserve for three years and had a pretty good idea of where the animals were to be found. He went with us both mornings and proved to be indispensable.

I ended up having a couple of wonderful cultural experiences also, which included a ger visit where I got to watch soup made with boortz, dried meat, and where we were served that and cream, aruul, yogurt and milk tea and also getting to attend a “mountain washing” ceremony that included chanting Buddhist monks, a horse race, wrestling and anklebone shooting.

  • Kazakh with young golden eagle; east of Ulaanbaatar
  • Hail- Arburd Sands to Baga Gazriin Chuluu
  • Hailstone Khatnaa picked up
  • After the storm; the
  • Mongol boys wrestling in the rain
  • Golden eagle by roadside
  • Upland buzzard by roadside
  • Large ovoo on pass
  • Sustainable energy at Arburd Sands ger camp
  • Khatnaa drawing water from the well
  • Sheep drinking the cool water
  • Goats head for the (temporary) shade of the car
Naadam, Day 2
Sunday, July 12, 2009
The day was cloudy and cool, really rather nice. It could have been 90F in the shade. We left for the horse race site and spent two hours in traffic that was almost indescribable. A cross between Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, bumper cars without anyone actually making contact and a free-for-all race to get to the valley. Over here we would describe it as “a solid line of cars”, but the word “line” doesn’t remotely apply. The road had been blocked so that both lanes ran in one direction, but people were on the shoulder and off on parallel dirt tracks, all weaving in and out to gain advantage. It was kind of like….a wacked-out horse race.

Our guide, Osoo, estimated that around one third of the population (2.7 million) of the country was present at the race. There were literally thousands of cars on a two lane road all trying to get to the same place.

We arrived and some of us took up station on the top of the hill. Others braved the packed flat area adjacent to the track. With the long lens, I got some pretty good pictures. It was a festive day and the vibe was great. It was like a convival country fair with about 900,000 fairgoers spread out over a large valley.

This was the second to the last race. It was for five year stallions, 25 km. The jockeys ranged in age from 5-12. The horses had already trotted or cantered the 25km to the starting line before the race and then they galloped the whole 25km back to the finish line. There were a lot of support vehicles, including an ambulance. There were also vets ready if needed.

We had picnic lunch in the van and then went back to the stadium. Unfortunately, the archery and ankebone competitions were over. But a couple of the archers were still at the archery field, including the winner.

Another archer was giving a demonstration and, for 1000 tugrik, about 80 cents, you could shoot an arrow. Couldn’t resist the chance to try that, of course.

We returned to the wrestling in the national stadium. It was packed and then it started to rain. Hard. For over an hour. So there were rain delays and still eight wrestlers competing when we had to go.

It was back to the hotel to rest for an hour or so, then dinner at …..BD’s Mongolian BBQ, which suited me just fine. Then off to the Naadam concert, performed by the Mongolian State Grand National Orchestra. And grand it was. They are definitely ready for their first world tour. There are 65 members, playing mostly Mongolian instruments like the morin khur, or horse-headed fiddle, but also some western instruments like trumpets. Almost all the music was by Mongolian composers, but they also did an enthusiastic version of “The Barber of Seville” and, for the encore…..”We Are The Champions” by Queen!

Off to Gun Galuut Nature Reserve. Need to pack and get breakfast. Next post will be the 21st or 22nd. Bayartai!
  • Crazy traffic on the way to the horse race
  • The horse race crowd
  • First horses almost in view
  • Approaching the finish line
  • The final stretch
  • Lead change! The crowd roars
  • The next finishers
  • Crowd scene
  • Ovoo at highest point of hill
  • Sheep and dust on the way back to Ulaanbaatar
  • The winner of the archery competition poses with a fan
  • Mongol archer
  • I got to shoot the bow and arrow
  • The wrestling competition
  • Wrestling competition
  • Wrestling competition
  • They really do start them young in Mongolia
Naadam, Day 1
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Breakfast at 7:30am. Everyone met in the lobby at 8:30 and then it was off to Sukhbaatar Square for the beginning of the day’s Naadam activities.

Costumed horsemen escorted the horse tail banners around the Parliament building and then on to the National Stadium, as did we.

Got there early enough to pick and choose our seats.

Opening ceremonies got underway at 11am. The whole stadium was a riot of color, both because of the costumes of the participants and also the umbrellas of the spectators since it decided to rain for a short while.

The horsemen came in with the horse tail banners and placed them in a stand. The President of Mongolia gave a short address. Then there were displays of horsemanship, children doing a ribbon dance and wonderful music by the orchestra.

When it was over we piled back into our bright yellow Nomadic Journeys van and drove about 90 minutes east to experience a local Naadam in the town of Erdene. It was raining pretty good when we got there, but stopped just as the horses came into view. We had gotten there in time to see the end of the horse race. Had some airag and watched the wrestling finals. Took many photos of horses and their riders. The jockeys are boys and girls under ten. The horses in this race were two year olds. Prizes go the the first five to finish and the last.

We went to a ger in the village and were treated to airag, vodka, aruul, cheese and khuusuur, fried mutton turnovers.

Stopped at the new giant statue of Chinggis Khan on the way back.

Got back to the hotel at ten till eight. A long, but interesting and worthwhile day.

  • Horse tail standards coming out of Parliament Building
  • Horse tail standards proceeding around Sukhbaatar Square
  • Two ladies in del (Mongolian garments)
  • Naadam Stadium
  • The horse tail standards come into the stadium
  • Gorgeous historic Mongol costumes
  • Naadam officials
  • The orchestra
  • The President of Mongolia (in the cream suit)
  • Listening to the President
  • Ribbon dance
  • Horsemanship demonstration
  • Procession of the national flags
  • Displaying the national flags
  • Naadam memories
  • Balloons
  • Mongol man kneeling outside Naadam Stadium
  • Erdene; local Naadam horse race
  • Erdene; local Naadam horse race
  • Erdene; local Naadam horse race
  • Erdene; local Naadam horse race
  • Erdene; local Naadam horse race
  • Local Naadam stadium and wrestling competition
  • Mongol wrestling
  • Mongol wrestling; eagle dance
  • Local herders with horses
  • Local family
  • Local herder
  • Waiting for horse race results
  • One of the winners
  • The winner
  • One rider won a rug for his mother
  • The horses getting a ride home
  • One of the winners
  • Another of the winners
  • Time for Mongol snacks
  • Mongol Snacks
  • Statue of Chinggis Khan
  • Chinggis Khan stature detail
  • Chinggis' view
Odds and Ends
Friday, July 10, 2009
Kind of a quiet day today before the next phase of the trip starts. Spent the morning getting the last post with all the images up and then bringing The Journal up to date.

Spent part of the afternoon getting rained on while I hunted down an art gallery I wanted to visit.

Ulaanbaatar doesn’t use western style street numbers and addresses, so finding a place can be challenging. For instance, the directions in the What’s Up guide for the Xanadu Art Gallery are “on Juulchin Street, north of the State Department Store, beside the TEDY center.”

I knew the first two parts and had a vague recollection of the third part, but still wandered around some. In the end, I spotted the gallery’s sign around the corner off Juulchin Street proper. Not a lot of work on the walls, but most of it quite good. The space doubles as a coffee lounge with free wireless, which is worth remembering. They used to be in the same building as Millie’s, but that space has been taken over by the Valiant Art Gallery, owned by the wife of the president of Khan Bank, I believe. She buys the work outright from the artists and then re-sells it. I checked it out yesterday after lunch. Lots of good to excellent work. No wildlife art at either place, though.

Of course it had pretty much stopped raining by the time I got back to the hotel. I kicked back with a book until it was time to go to dinner, which was back to BD’s Mongolian BBQ. Went to a grocery store and finally scored a bag of Coffee King, which are three in one coffee packets. Peet’s it’s not, but I’ve acquired a taste for it, at least when I’m in Mongolia because it was all that was available for coffee when I was on the Earthwatch project in spring of 2005.

Most of the stores only have what is clearly the big, dominant brand, which is called MaxCoffee, which might be as good as or better, but I’ve developed a perverse loyalty to Coffee King, partly because it seems so much harder to find.
A Quiet Day
Friday, July 10, 2009
Yesterday I woke up at 3:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Last effect of the minimal jet lag, I guess. Had breakfast, packed, surfed internet, iChatted with David. Jan finally called. Driver and guide picked me up around 12:30 and dropped me off at Bishrelt Plaza Hotel, where we stayed last year.

Needed lunch and dining room was closed because they were catering a large wedding. Went out and found an internet cafe with outdoor seating and menu in Mongolian only. I saw one item I recognized for sure, buuz. 300 tugrigs, about 25 cents each. Managed to order two and a beer in Mongolian. Was quite pleased with myself and the waitress got a kick out of it. The buuz and the beer hit the spot. Another place to add to the list. When she brought my check, the waitress, who was not Mongolian, spoke English and did very well. A successful cross-cultural exchange.

Back to room and resting. Hoping to get an internet connection. So close, yet so far. AirPort sees the hotel network, but says I need a password. Time to go to dinner now.

Update: met the rest of the Naadam tour group in the lobby at 6:45. Three Brits, three Swedes and one American besides me. All seem nice. Sat with the Brits at dinner, which was carrot salad, soup and very good mutton. Washed down with Chinggis beer.

Asked desk clerk about internet while getting my room key and Sean, the American says “I believe I can help you with that.” And he did. Told me which of the two networks worked best and, for some reason that I’m sure the universe finds extremely amusing, this time if fired right up, so I’m on until I leave for Gun Galuut on Monday.

Sean also is using Skype on his iPhone, so he doesn’t need a sim card. Went to download it myself, though, and got a AT&T message about how much it will cost per minute for data ($19.97!). Obviously needed to do it before I left home.

So here I am in Mongolia futzing with technology so I can email and blog. It really is a global village.
Out and Around in UB; A Visit to the Mongolian Modern Art Gallery
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Went to BD’s Mongolian BBQ for dinner last night. It’s quite popular with the Mongols even though there’s nothing authentically Mongolian about it. Apparently it’s a Chinese invention. BD’s does the same kind of stir fry on a big hot surface that you see in the USA. Mongols don’t do stir fry.

Real Mongolian BBQ involves killing a goat, slitting the body cavity open, cleaning it out, stuffing it full of hot rocks, putting the whole thing in a metal container and setting that on hot coals to cook. When it’s done, the meat is pulled out, along with the rocks, which are then passed around, hand to hand, for good health. And yes, I’ve had it, hot rocks and all, and it was good.

I don’t envision a real Mongolian BBQ place coming to your neighborhood anytime soon.

I’ll probably go back there tonight since for 6900 tugrigs I can get a heaping bowl of veggies, noodles and meat with Mongolian ginger sauce. A small Chinggis Khan beer is 2100 tugrigs. 9000 tugrigs at the moment is less than $8.

Plus the cooks show off by doing things like lining up four or five pieces of broccoli on the long sword-like turner and then flipping them all up into the air and catching them all on the plate. So it’s dinner and a show.


This morning I had breakfast in the hotel, which is included in the price of the room. They’ve gone from a menu to a breakfast buffet with an egg cook, like you see at many hotels now in the states. It’s really sped up getting breakfast and one can skip the slices of mystery meat that I think they put out for the Germans.

The weather was nice and cool when I left the hotel around 9 am. I walked about twenty minutes to the Mongolian Modern Art Gallery, which is actually a museum since nothing there is for sale. There was a show that I had read about on one of the Mongolian news sites and today was the last day.

With all the Prop. 8 stuff in California and the civil rights issues concerning GLBT citizens that remain to be addressed, I wanted very much to see “Beyond the Blue Sky”, a “multi-media art exhibit for, and in collaboration with, Mongolia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.

The people in the photographs have their faces covered by khadags, blue scarves, which are given as gifts, but are also used to cover the faces of the dead. It symbolizes the position GLBT people find themselves in in Mongolia since currently they cannot live their lives fully, but must conceal their gender identity or otherwise be vulnerable to prejudice, discrimination and violence.

It was a very powerful show.

I then went upstairs to see the main galleries, which house original Mongolian paintings, sculpture and fine craft dating from the early/mid-20th century. As a socialist state with close ties to the Soviet Union, aspiring Mongol artists often studied art in Moscow. This gave them a grounding in classical realism that allowed them to create paintings of great quality. And they’ve built on it ever since, adding their own unique interpretations of the world they live in.

There are images from both shows over at my regular blog (where I have permission to post them).

I had lunch at Millie’s, which serves good solid American food like burgers and sandwiches and is popular with the expat community of consultants and aid workers, along with visitors like me.

The next stop was the Hi Fi store, to see if I could get some of the music CDs for groups I’ve found on YouTube and Imeem. And I had some success. By the time I left, it was getting seriously hot, so I hiked it back, about 30 minutes, to the hotel to hide out until it cools down.


An addendum to my comments about all the livestock I saw when I was coming into town. Looks like it’s not as charming and picturesque to the authorities as it was to me. This is from a Mongol news website,

"Herders asked to move livestock away from Ulaanbaatar
Tue, 7 Jul 2009 17:07:49

The Metropolitan Professional Monitoring Agency has reminded herders that there is a ban on livestock entering Ulaanbaatar green areas, and another on trading of any form in certain areas. With demand for sheep rising in Ulaanbaatar just before and during Naadam, some herders come to the city with their livestock at this time and the reminders are aimed at stopping the move.

Some 200 herder families have brought 30,000 animals into prohibited areas. The law calls for confiscation of all income earned from trading in such restricted areas. Further violation of the law can lead to imprisonment."


How To Run A Hotel, Cont. - And I'm In Ulaanbaatar
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I came downstairs to check out after the previous post. I walk up to the counter. The nice woman says that she is to call the manager, who wishes to speak with me. In the meantime, I finish settling my bill. He comes out and asks if breakfast was ok. I say fine and then tell him that everyone makes mistakes, but it’s how they respond that counts and that he and the hotel had out-done themselves and I was very pleased. He smiled and made a little bow. I then asked where to go to wait for the shuttle bus. And he says……we have a special shuttle for you, a car. And darned if there wasn’t a spiffy black sedan waiting at the curb for me. Can you believe that?

I walk out to the car and get in while they load my luggage. Just before we pull away, I look to my right and there is the manager and one other man, in attendance is the only way to put it. I smiled and waved and they smiled and bowed. And then the fairy princess was wisked away to her MIAT flight to Ulaanbaatar, where she is now ensconced in a tenth floor room with a view of Peace Ave. at the Narantuul Hotel and happily connected to the internet, a great relief.


On the way in from the airport, besides the gers and gas stations, buildings and billboards, there were sheep. And goats. And cattle. Lots of them. And Mongol guys riding around on horseback. I must have seen 20 small to largish herds of animals. Their owners were hanging out in whatever shade they could find. The billboards seemed particularly handy. One family group had set up a low table with a white cloth on it and appeared to be about to have tea.

I’ve never seen this between the airport and town before, but then I realized – Nadaam. The herders have come in from all over and they can’t leave their animals, so everybody is here. I also think I saw some townspeople “shopping” for that perfect main course for their holiday dinner. On the hoof at the moment.

I had no idea and the cameras were buried in the suitcase, so no photos at the moment. But it was a great sight. And is exactly the kind of thing I love about Mongolia.


If Chinggis Khan had had a car it probably would have been a huge black Hummer trimmed out in lots of chrome, like the one I saw coming into town. Over here those stupid things almost make sense.

How To Run A Hotel And A Cautionary Tale From My Trip Last Year
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Just back from breakfast. I had asked for an 8am wake-up call when I checked in last night, just in case I had a rough time getting to sleep. I didn’t.

This morning, 8am came and went and no call. Inexcusable in a high-end business hotel adjacent to a major international airport. Especially for what they charge for a room, which was still cheaper than the expense and hassle of going through Beijing.

So I stopped by the check-in counter and told the woman what had happened because I thought they needed to know that the young lady who checked me in last night was apparently more focused on running through her spiel about how, for only $40 more, I could have a room on the Concierge Level with a beautiful view and complementary wine and beer. I passed since the last thing I cared about at that point was a convivial drink and a view.

The staff woman apologized, I went to breakfast and figured that was the end of it. But no…..

I was walking back to my table with my guava juice when two, not one, but two managers came up to me. They apologized a couple more times, explained that the call request had not been written down wherever it was supposed to have been noted and informed me that the hotel was comping my breakfast, a rather lavish buffet with items from at least three or four countries. Eggs any style, including custom omelets, all the usual side dishes, Korean dumplings, German bircher muesli, five kinds of juice, a huge spread of breads, four kinds of yogurt…….


If you’re interested, here’s the Hyatt Regency Incheon’s website. We ended up staying here last year when our flight through to UB was re-scheduled to late the following afternoon due to weather. Wind was what we were told. Why I’m flying with MIAT this time instead of AirChina. Hope it works.

At that point we had, or I had, an “adventure”. We looked over the hotel options and picked the Hyatt because we’ve stayed at them before and liked them and we could get points for future stays. There was also the advantage of the presumably familiar which is comforting when things are a little stressed.

The incredibly helpful Korean United Airlines staff (who the UA people in Chicago could learn a few things from), extracted our luggage out of the hold area, so we could have clean clothes, in about 20 minutes. Off we went to the shuttle, which is a big bus. At this point, we had just come off an 11 hour flight from San Francisco and were not tracking too well.

Our luggage joined a huge pile on the sidewalk. The driver gestured to us to get into the bus while he loaded as much luggage as there was room for. So we did and I sat there in air-conditioned comfort as he then drove away, leaving my roll-on with $3000 worth of camera equipment sitting on the curb with no one watching over it or any of the other bags. The driver spoke no English, so had no idea why this crazy American woman insisted on riding back to the airport with him. Longest four minutes of my life, I’ll tell you.

We get there and I spot the bag and make sure it gets loaded. Then I start to breath again.

We arrive back to the hotel and as my bag is unloaded. I make eye contact with the driver and gesture like I’m taking a picture. I see the light come on and he grins in understanding. We shake hands. All’s well that end’s well.

So yesterday it’s same song, second verse. Same bag with same camera stuff, same bus, same driver, same gesture to get on, but this time I watch the bag go onto the bus. Whew.

The Current Itinerary
Monday, July 6, 2009
Having used the “Jet Lag Program” to re-set myself to destination time, it’s about 6 am and I’m feeling pretty good. Got a decent night’s sleep, which makes things ever so much more enjoyable.

Getting ready for the trip got a little crazy because I got sick a couple of weeks before and lost that time. I had to put my effort into prep and packing and didn’t get to write about it as much as I had intended. Fortunately I have a well-tuned packing list.

I don’t have to be back to the airport until 11 am, so I can catch up in this lovely, quiet room that isn’t moving 560 mph at 38,000 feet. Plus……coffee.

Here is my current itinerary for the trip, subject to the vagaries of traveling in Mongolia.

Arrive and stay at Narantuul Hotel tonight and following two nights.

Then I will move to a different hotel to join the small group for Nomadic Journeys’ Nadaam tour. It will be kind of relaxing to just show up when and where told to for a few days and take in one of the major cultural events in the country, which is also the biggest national holiday. There will be competitions in the “Three Manly Sports” – wrestling, archery and horse racing.

On the 13th, I’ll be picked up by my car and driver and travel a couple of hours over paved road to the Gun Galuut Nature Reserve. It looks to have a classic Mongol holiday ger camp, complete with lodge (where I should be able to re-charge what needs re-charging. Otherwise, I have a converter that fits in a car cigarette lighter.). Besides argali, about 90 or so, there are wetlands known for their birds, especially cranes. I’ll be there three full days.

On the 17th, we’ll proceed to Arburd Sands, where I’ll stay one night. The "sands" are a 20km long dune system that marks the farthest northern reach of the Gobi. My husband and I stayed there last year for a couple of nights and got to ride the Mongol horses and bactrian camels. It's a great area for day hikes, too.

Then it will be on to Baga Gazriin Chuluu and the ger camp there. While in the area, I’ll get to view petroglyphs and an old monastery tucked up into a mountain.

Back to UB on the 21st. As per previous post, meet up with Gana Wingard and get prepared for our meetings with the herder women at Ikh Nart.
Drive to Ikh Nart on the 23rd. Out looking for argali in the morning and evening, meetings during the heat of the day.

Back to UB on the morning of the 29th. Afternoon and next day free for loose ends, then fly home on the 30th.

I'm in Korea (for the night)
Monday, July 6, 2009
I departed on the 9th Flag Expedition at about 10:15am, July 5, from my home near McKinleyville, California. We live less than ten minutes from the airport, which is handy.

Flew to San Francisco, got checked in to the next flight, which was to Korea. My flight schedule required at overnight stay, so I'm writing this at the Hyatt Regency Incheon, which is about four minutes from the airport. It's now 7pm, the evening of July 6.

The flight went fine. Read and listened to music.

When I came out of the plane there was a row of tables with people wearing surgical masks standing behind them. We had been given a "health certificate" to fill out on the plane. So we all had to walk up to the table, hand them the piece of paper and stand while they held a thermometer up to our necks, which only took a moment. I was amused to notice that the guy who did me didn't even look at it. Such is travel.

I go back to the airport tomorrow morning for my flight to Ulaanbaatar. I like the hotel I'll be staying in, but the internet connection was difficult when we were there last year. If it's a problem, my fallback will be to post from one of the cafes that have wireless internet.

Final note for now: I use an "anti-jet lag" program from a book I found many years ago called "Overcoming Jet Lag". The idea is to use a combination of things to push the body clock to the new time zone. It works pretty well as far as minimizing the effects of, in this case, a nine time zone shift. I'm very tired, but more or less functional.

Plans are Coming Together Now
Monday, June 29, 2009
I spent three hours on the phone last night with Gana Wingard, the scientist with whom I am working on the women’s craft cooperative. She sent me a great email this morning entitled “The Grand Plan” and then noted that, of course, it’s all subject to change. But we now have hashed out a way forward and know what we need to do, who we need to talk to over there and when and in what order it will probably happen.

It turns out that Gana will be bringing radio telemetry equipment because she needs to find all the radio-collared argali or as many as possible before the next Earthwatch team arrives on August 2. There are plans to try a new population survey method since, at this point, it’s not really known how many animals are in the reserve. This is great news for me, since I will now be able to go out looking for sheep with someone who knows the reserve really well and is as motivated as I am to spot the animals.

The research project now has some GPS collars, which send in the data via satellite, but those are relatively expensive, so there are still animals that need to be tracked the old fashioned way.

Our plan is to “game drive” in the mornings and evenings, when it’s relatively cooler (Gana said that temperatures went over 100F last July. Okaaay.). During the day we will have our meetings with the women, for which the groundwork is being laid by another of the scientists, Amgalanbaatar (which means “peace hero” in Mongolian), who we all call “Amgaa”. He is now at the reserve and is passing the word about the meeting and the hoped-for dates. Everything is tentative because summer is when the women have the most work do to, milking animals, making aruul and airag and also felt. We don’t know how many will come, but we know that they are interested. They will need to arrange to have someone watch the children and will want to be home in time to make dinner. Gana expects that they will arrive both on horses and motorbikes.

There are about 100 families living in and around the reserve, depending on their livestock for their living. The women all know how to sew and, in fact, the country women are the repository of the skills needed to make garments like del (the long robes). The younger women who have been brought up in town don’t learn to sew anymore. The material to make a del, outer fabric, liner fabric and trim costs about $30. Some of the women also do embroidery and since that’s something I’ve done on and off for many years, I’m really looking forward to seeing their work.

After talking with Gana, we’ve scheduled a third day for me to get together with any of the kids who are interested in art. I’m taking some sketchpads, pens and pencils. Should be a fun way to pass a hot afternoon.

We plan to go to Ikh Nart on the 23rd and return to UB on the morning of the 28th. That will give me a day and a half to tie up loose ends. Five days and counting………..
First Entry - Gearing Up!
Friday, June 26, 2009
I'm less than a week from my departure for Mongolia on Flag Expedition #9, Argali Mountain Sheep of Mongolia: An Artistʼs Study of the Animal and the Desert-Steppe I've been blogging about my preparations for the trip since it was announced on May 1 over at my regular blog, Youʼre welcome to come check it out.

The way I like to get ready for a trip like this is to get the luggage and everything else out a ahead of time and then pare it down as much as possible. I have a packing list that has been refined over the years which I print out and have available to jot notes and additions on.

I'm expecting the weather to be a bit challenging, for me anyway, since I live in coastal northern California, which has a marine influence. Mongolia, being land-locked, has none. It's been in the 80-90sF during the day there, sometimes only dropping into the 50s at night.It's also the rainy season, so I'll have a poncho, just in case. It could also get very cold out in the countryside at night, so I'll have my down sleeping bag, which makes a great comforter, being rectangular, thermals and a pair of heavy wool socks. Otherwise, I think it's going to be shorts, t-shirts and tevas a lot of the time. I'll also be taking two pairs of rip-stop cotton pants, one turtleneck, a couple of tank tops, hats and a jacket. Plus I'll have some nice clothes for town (i.e. Ulaanbaatar). The Mongols really dress up to go out and I'd like to at least blend in and not look like I just came in from a month in the Gobi. I'm experimenting this trip on how to manage one of my most desirable creature comforts- a hot cup of coffee in the morning, whether or not there is electricity, hot water or a stove. More on that over at my personal blog.

After kicking it around, I purchased a Flip UltraHD camcorder. I've never shot video before but decided that since I plan to attend the national Nadaam events, which consist of the “Three Manly Sports” - wrestling, archery and horse racing - it would be fun to have video. Iʼm not sure how it will work for argali, since it doesnʼt have much of a zoom and argali tend to be a long way off, but who knows? I should be able to get good footage of the domestic horses and camels and perhaps the Przewalski's horses (takhi), if I'm able to get to Hustai National Park.

For serious gathering of painting reference, I rely on my two Nikon D80 camera bodies. One has a Promaster 28-300mm lens and the other a Nikon Nikkor AF 80-400mm vibration reduction lens, which, on the digital body, is effectively 600mm. I have Sandisk Extreme III 4GB and 2GB memory cards for them. My images will be downloaded to my MacBookPro and backed up to a Wolverine external hard drive that reads memory cards. I'll be traveling overland in vehicles with professional drivers. There are around 49,000 miles of roads in Mongolia. About 1900 of it is paved, sometimes only sort of. Otherwise, it's dirt tracks and only very, very rarely directional signs or signs of any kind. This is wonderful as far as uncluttered scenery, but it means that you must be with someone who knows their way around.

I spent three hours on the phone last night talking to the scientist with whom I'm working on setting up the womenʼs craft cooperative. Gana Wingard, who, for her Masters degree, did a study which showed that the grazing overlap between wildlife like Argali and Ibex and domestic livestock like cashmere goats, is about 95%, will be flying over on July 21 and we will be heading off to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu on the 23rd. Our current plan is to go to the big Narantuul Market in Ulaanbaatar (UB) to buy scissors, thread and other sewing supplies to take with us as a gift to the women. Since the available sewing needles are not of very good quality, I'll be buying a bunch of heavy duty needles here and taking them with me.

  • Argali rams, April 2005

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