No Gerbils Yet

Mongolia is fantastic!

It’s been about nineteen days now since I’ve been in Mongolia, and I have to say it is quite different from the United States! Gers are sprinkled everywhere, yaks roam the cities and towns, and Mongolian babies (possibly some of the cutest babies on earth!) are abundant.

The countryside of Mongolia astounded me with its beauty. Everywhere mountains grow from the earth and yaks dot the grasslands. The most amazing thing about Mongolia is that the grasslands and mountains never seem to end. Towns are sparse, and because so the scenery seems untouched by humans. When traveling through Mongolia, you aren’t running into town after town like in America, but rather you may only catch a glimpse of civilization indicated by a herd of yaks or a single ger.

Roads are nothing like American roads. The road that we took to get to Dalbay Valley is considered a main road to Russia, and yet it is basically a roller coaster ride, especially in what are dubbed as the “Russian Vans”. These can fit over ten people if you cram in close enough and are capable of plowing through streams and extremely rocky roads!

When I first arrived at the Dalbay ger camp, it reminded me of a small village with its seven gers and couple of horses tied up on poles. The slope turned out to be MUCH bigger than I had expected! Lets just say that my leg muscles get a pretty good workout every time Laura or Pierre has us walk up to Plot 9!

Our cook, Khashaa, is not only the manliest man you’ve ever met (he is able to pretty much take any American at camp down in wrestling, and the other day while on a swimming trip, he ran from one side of the bridge, jumped over the railing, and dived head first into the stream!), but he is a magician when it comes to cooking. Even though the same ingredients are used for basically every meal, you always think you are eating something new and different. Hmmmm.

I have become accustomed to cold river baths, and now find them normal despite their freezing cold temperature. The hardest part though is dunking one’s body in once he or she has reached about mid-thigh. I have always really hated cold water, and not been very good about just jumping into it. I trick myself into doing it by telling myself I’m doing a cool hip hop dance move or something of the like. This usually works, and on a good day, I can even get up to 5 or 6 dunks in. The best part about these baths though is getting OUT of the water!

But what am I actually here for? The science of course! I feel like I’ve learned so much ecology since I’ve arrived! The first day at camp Laura and Pierre gave the undergrads a crash course in scientific plant names and what all the experiments were about. The course was a brain overload after being out of class for seven weeks! The best was yet to come though, because a few days after that, the undergrads got to choose their independent projects. :D At first, most of the undergrads said they weren’t going to do a project, but then after Pierre had us go out into the wilderness and think about questions we’d like to answer, everyone came back with an idea what they wanted to do for an independent project.

I am doing a project on the effects of different experimental manipulations on seed production. Basically, how grazing, warming, and watering affect the number of seeds produced by plants. In the end, this research can tell us how different treatments affect the reproduction and population of plants (assuming that more seeds will result in more plants). I’m not sure if I’m going to try and tackle every treatment performed on the plots here, but I will at least compare the control to either grazing, warming, or watering treatment. What this project consists of doing is counting flowers and collecting seeds from the plants and later counting the seeds. It’s a lot of work, but I’m hoping to see some interesting patterns from the data that I collect.

-Alysen Vilhena, rising junior, University of Pennsylvania, Dalbay Valley

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One response to “No Gerbils Yet

  1. Excellent and enjoyable post, Alyson. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm. Dana

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