You may already know that some of our favorite experiences on this trip have been when we’ve been able to do some sort of art or craft with the local people. I’ve woven a copper basket in Ecuador, carved an ebony figure with the Makonde tribe and crafted a recycled metal ladle in the Tanzanian mountains. Out in the back-country of Mongolia, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that my lesson involved yak since they seem to show up in most every Mongolian experience.
Before the trek ever started I asked our wonderful leader, Jen, if there would be a chance to learn a local craft, like stirrup making or leather braiding. After a while I figured she’d forgotten, but not so! Two-thirds of the way through the trip, on a day that was not going well for me – Triple was taking off in a painful trot every chance he got (painful for me, not Triple) – it happened! We were resting a bit after the day’s riding when Jen hurried over to tell me they had a special activity planned for me. My luck was about to turn!
Hobbling over, I found Amungul sitting down with a bucket of water and a blanket full of yak hair. She invited me down and soon I was learning the process of braiding a rope from the hair of a yak! There’s a first time for everything, I tell ya! Our group being out-going and gregarious as they were, everyone joined in as soon as they saw me starting my lesson. Even Smokey Joe got in on the action…and I’m pretty sure he already knew how to braid, but it was fun having everyone taking part!
Whenever you are running short, you simply add in more yak hair at the bottom, add a little water to matte it together a bit and then keep rolling it into the strands and braids. That way you can make a rope as long or as short as you want. Well, as long as you have enough yak hair! Notice that my rope has both white and black in it? That’s because we ran out of black yak hair and just added white as we kept going. Worked for me!
Anner put together a GREAT video showing the overall process. Plus you’ll get to hear the Mongolian winds blowing across the steppes – that’d be worth it right there!
After I created a long braid, we doubled it over giving me two already-braided strands in my hand. Amangul showed me how to now braid THOSE two pieces together to make the finished, four-strand braided rope!
We saw the rope used with the horses and, ironically, for hobbling the yaks. Ohhh, the ignominy!
Amangul couldn’t resist – she took my finished rope and tied the ends together to make it into a headband. Do I look Mongolian now? Hmm…I think not.
And there you have it – my quick lesson in braiding yak hair. Not sure when I’ll have the chance to put my new skill to work, but if you have any excess yak hair lying around, just let me know!
If you missed them, here are our previous blogs on our Mongolia experience:
Part 3 – The Nicest Badasses You’ll Ever Meet