While traveling through the Mongolian countryside, our driver plowed off-road towards a nomad camp. I realize that this is an investment website, but sometimes I see something so unique that I feel emboldened to mention it. Like everything in Mongolia, this was a delightful experience. Though separated by customs, I have to say that I felt a certain camaraderie with the family in the Ger.
A nomad is constantly uprooting and searching for the best opportunities. The family we met with will stay put a few weeks, then pack up their gear, round up their livestock and move on to new and greener pastures—literally. They have to keep moving in order to ensure that they do not overgraze the land. Good forage means healthy animals.
I’ve always joked that I am a nomadic hedgie. I am constantly seeking out the greenest pastures for my investment dollars. I’m always packing up my gear in one hotel room and moving on to the next opportunity. I realize that the analogy is a bit forced, but stay with it a bit. I’ve been on the road for three weeks and the impossible now seems eminently plausible.
I’d trade my view of Miami’s harbor for their view any day.
Entering the ger.
I was amazed how spacious it was once inside.
Everything is about practicality. There is ventilation and lighting from above. Sturdy construction unlike the typical tent–yet it can be broken down almost as fast as a large tent. There’s beds, a stove, tables and extra insulation. Notice the artwork on all the wood surfaces.
I was stunned by everyone’s hospitality. Though they didn’t have much, they were very willing to share with us. I learned later that this is just the Mongolian way. Here’s the Hobson’s choice: fermented mare’s milk or unpasteurized cheese curds. Both had been sitting out for a few weeks ripening. When in Rome….right? The mare’s milk (from a horse in case it wasn’t clear), tasted like spoiled milk, with a hint of vodka. Who would have thought that the sugars in milk will eventually turn into alcohol. The cheese curds were sort of tasteless. Just in case unpasteurized product didn’t agree with us, we thoroughly washed it down with moonshine vodka made by distilling the fermented mare’s milk.
After a few bowls of vodka, they were curious if Praetorian Capital analyst Aaron Bubley could stay on the horse–so far so good…
That’s where the vodka comes from…. I didn’t believe it until I saw it.
After an hour, we headed back to the car to go see yet another former Soviet facility. The family immediately got back to chores. Living on the steppe involves constant work.
So what are the economics of being a nomad? The returns on capital are surprisingly good. Self sufficiency is always good. Unlike most American families, my nomad hosts have positive equity in their ger. For income, they sell milk, chese and meat. They use an old car battery to charge up a cell phone that they use to tell traders where they are. It’s an amazingly efficient system. For this system to work, you need excellent cell phone service. Why do I get all 5 bars anywhere in Mongolia yet am lucky to get one bar when in Manhattan? Charming people living in a charming valley. I wish I could have stayed longer, but my nomadic life leads towards a cashmere plant.