Awkward or amazing?
Getting there We were travelling from Beijing to St Petersburg along the Trans-Mongolian railway route. In Ulaanbataar, we arranged for a tour guide to accompany us to a family in the Mongolian countryside who agreed to let us stay in their ger for a few nights. On our way, we drove past a guy standing by the side of the road next to a bad-ass looking eagle perching on a pole. Our driver, a fascinating art history teacher and linguist with a passion for driving tourists around in 4×4 vehicles, pulled over. Did we want to touch the eagle? Of course we did.
Getting up close and personal with the eagle The eagle was tethered to a pole. I expect that it’s pretty difficult to get an eagle to come back once you’ve launched it into flight, so a leash seems like as sensible idea if you wanted more than one customer per day. I’m not an expert in eagle psychology, but it seemed kind of chilled out about its situation. The eagle’s owner handed me a gigantic glove to keep the my arm from being impaled by its very impressive talons. He managed to convince the eagle that my forearm would be a more comfortable perching option than the pole; which lead to my first observation:
Eagles are heavy.
In fact, golden eagles weigh between 4.5-6 kg. That may not sound like much, but consider that one does not usually balance small lapdogs or bags of cement on one’s forearm..
The eagle man, with the help of our guide’s interpretation skills, explained that, for the eagle to take flight, I had to move my arm to get the it off-balance. I slightly misunderstood the task. Instead of rolling my wrists to induce a the sensation of a boat rocking on open waters, I went for an up-down motion. Which lead to my second observation:
Eagles like see-saws.
This is where it got awkward. Everyone was watching expectantly, cameras at the ready…but nothing happened. The eagle just sat lazily on the see-saw that was my forearm. I tried a more vigorous shaking action, but it just dug its talons a little deeper into the glove and rolled with it. I started to get nervous. As much as I liked Mongolia, I did not want to be a full-time eagle see-saw. After a few more awkward seconds, the eagle either got bored, or responded to my incessant arm flapping. Its body sort of contracted for a split second before it pushed itself off into majestic flight…nearly slapping me in the face with its enormous wings.
Life List Entry: Launch a golden eagle into flight – check.
You can also add this amazing experience onto your Life List: The Trans-Mongolian railway route is one of the greatest rail journeys in the world. It was an epic experience filled with many amazing stories that I will relate on Awkward and Amazing in due time. Here are some awesome resources to help you plan your own Trans-Mongolian adventure.
- For a goldmine of information on train travel: www.seat61.com
- For train tickets and Mongolian visas: Real Russia travel agency
- For Mongolian tour guides and ger stays: Tseren Tours
You can contribute to Awkward and amazing by challenging me to go out and do specific amazing things.