A few things I forgot…

Inside Ger with Maaike & Engthbierok, so, the pass we had to wait for? Never needed it. The outpost that we went thru to get to the very eastern part of the country reminded me of the toll booth they erected in “Blazing Saddles”. Miles and miles of savannah in every direction and the road takes you right up to this little gate. Had to laugh.

The horse race I talked about in last post? 400 riders & horses. Most horses came back with riders. some didn’t.

Ger tent was infested with little black beetles. Passed the time capturing them in a water bottle. Too much fun!

It will be a few days before we have another chance at the internet. Til then, cheers!

When last we saw our heroes…

…we were in Choybalsan wondering if we could weasel our way into getting a pass to the town farthest east in Mongolia. Long story short, we did and off went, but not before having lunch with the kind bureaucrat that helped us with our quest. After handing out a few bottles of vodka we were on the road. Khialkhiin Gol is a small depressing little place, but was the site of a battle in 1939 between the Mongolians, Russians and the Japanese that is central to Maaike’s book. There is a run down museum that has a few hotel rooms so we stayed there.  The museum director was a VERY enthusiastic fellow who gave us a guided, detailed tour through the museum and the a tour of the war memorials out in the middle of nowhere in the countryside.

Jockeys and horsesLeft Khalkhiin Gol none too soon. More about that place later. We spent two days on aReally? A Yankee's fan?!?!? road that was nothing more than a long series of mud puddles and slick clay. Made it to Baruun Urt, state capital of sorts. We got here just in time for their Nadaam or state fair. We had absolutely no hope of finding a hotel room until we heard that the local kindergarden had set up a ger camp on the edge of own. $20 a night for a ger with 4 beds. Quite nice since it’s been pouring rain since we got here. The prospect of camping in this was not pleasant. Went to the horse race this afternoon. A very longEnjoying the races affair. The horses and riders (all between 7 and 12 years old) start out in one direction, round a pole and sprint back to the finish.  56km total, round trip. An eight year old girl won handily. Many horses came back riderless and one horse collapsed and dies a few meters from the finish line. Will spend one more day here and try to catch more of the pageantry associated with the fair.

I’m in a small internet center with a line of people waiting for a computer and the lady in charge is pointing at  her watch. Will check in the next time I have a chance.

Cheers!

Notes From The Road 7/24

A REALLY big staute of Chinggis KhaanSpent an extra day in Choybolson (kind of the state capital here). When we got here we found out that we needed to get a permit in UB for our next destination. It is very close to the Chinese border and they are real sensitive about those things here. Went to regional military HQ here and were told the person we need to talk to will be back in 20 minutes. We waited 45. We’re then told that we need copies of IDs, passports and car registration. So we popped off to the nearest Kinkos, ok, well, maybe not. Spent the next hour looking for a place to make copies. Found a little hole-in-the-wall business that does just that. Copies in hand we hand we go back to military HQ only to be told that we could go to our next destination, just not the war memorial we were hoping to see. During lunch, Shombodon runs into an old friend who just happens to be the former governor of this Aimag (state). Shombodon is the former deputy governor of the Aimag that includes the national capital. Ok, so, it’s not what you know, but who you know. The former governor promises to introduce us to the current governor and, hopefully, problem solved. We’ll see.

While touring the city to find a copy center we came across an Ovo on a hiltop above the city. These are monuments to spirits that inhabit the land. This one is quite old and large. You can see the crutches on top where people had asked the spirits to take away their maladies.

On the way back to town we came across a few kids playing basketball. It’s quite popular here and many times you will see a basketball hoop out in the middle of nowhere. They agreed to allow me to take some action shots of them. They convinced Shombodon and Engthbier to play along. Shombodon was reluctant (he’s 73 years young). The kids had a great time and laughed hysterically when Shombodon made a miracle shot from 30 feet.

A few random thoughts:

Weather here is cool. High 40s for low at night. Maybe low 70s for high.

Tiger Beer is really good.

Watching Scooby Doo dubbed into Mongolian is a real mind bender. Ruh-roh translates the same in any language.

The Mongolian people are some of the friendliest and most laid back people I’ve ever encountered.

Had Hoshoor for lunch yesterday. Mutton in a taco shaped pocket of dough and deep-fried. Yummy.

People have asked about the ger we visited with the old woman. Here’s a couple more photos. The stuff drying on the rack will end up as mutton jerky. Notice the solar panel and the antenna. This is old school, most gers have satellite dishes nowadays.

You had me at sine-beh-noh

WildflowersWell, four days on the road and it’s been an adventure. The scenery here is beyond words. We headed east from Ulaan Bataar towards the birthplace of Chinggis Khaan. Stopped at a coal mine along the way so Maaike could interview the HR director about the transition from communism to democracy. Stopped at a truck stop for lunch and had a traditional Kazakh meal. It could well have been Sunday dinner at any American household. Roast beef, roasted potatoes and carrots and one of the biggest noodles I’ve ever seen. Stayed in some primitive cabins the first night and had mutton noodle soup for dinner. There was a monument to Chinggis Khaan where he was selectedBlack Heart Mountain Cabins as supreme Khaan. Maaike interviewed the old gate keeper to the cabins. He was a journalist in the 1950s and ’60s. After that we drove northeast from there towards Dadal Sum. Sums are what we consider counties or provinces. Stopped at an ancient monastery on the way. It is truly Monasteryone of the most serene places I’ve ever been. The Lamas were gracious and allowed us to take photos and answered many questions for Maaike.

Our “roads” are nothing more that two tire tracks through vast meadows of grass and rolling hills. We spent most of the third day lost which  you would think would be rather difficult with a GPS. It’s easy enough to program in where you want to go, but none of the trails are marked and, sometimes, when you can’t find the road it’s almost impossible to make progress.  Sometimes you can see the road on a distant hillside, but you have to figure out how to get to it. Stopped several times to ask directions. Once, at the ger (pronounced like dare with a “g”) of an older woman. she invited us in and offered us milk tea and dried yogurt. She was a delight and Maaike got some great stories from her. Gers are the traditional tent structures used by the herders. Crossed many streams and rivers along the way. Some of them quite deep. Helped a few people get unstuck from the mud and witnessed a family who had drowned their subcompact car in a river. I got that on video so you’ll have to wait to see that. Once in Dadal Sum we stopped for lunch at a tiny restaurant and had Buuz which is mutton wrapped in a flour noodle and steamed. (you might begin to recognized a pattern here.) Had to get vehicle fixed while we were eating. While crossing a mud bog we managed to break both rear shocks. With full bellies and a fixed vehicle we visited a monument to Chinggis Khaan. At the viewing platform you could look across the border into Russia. Russian Border

We’ve made it to the Aimag center for the evening. An Aimag is similar to what we in the U.S. would call a state. Nice to have hot water and a shower.

The internet center is closing in a few minutes so that will be it for a while.
Cheers!

Into the Great Wide Open

Me, in the morning!Ok, so, it’s 5:00AM and there’s a rip-roaring party going on next door at the Eros Hotel (yes, they rent rooms by the hour). For some reason I just couldn’t sleep with the barking dogs, the band playing Mongolian rap music and the lovers quarrel going on outside. Oh well, had to get up and pack the laundry we did yesterday afternoon. We had hung everything out to dry and luckily we accomplished that goal.

A Mongolian, a Dutch woman and an American walk into a grocery store… There’s no punchline for this, but there should be. I wish I had a video of the three of us shopping for our trip. Shombodon is typical Mongolian, all he wants is meat. Maaike is a vegetarian and I just want anything that’s easy. I did manage to find some noodle cup and the makings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (for those times when we are nowhere near a restaurant). Along with all of our supplies, Shombodon and Maaike buy  2.5 kilos of candy for the children we’ll encounter and 2 cases of vodka to give to the village folks in return for their stories. The cashier looked at us like we were out of our minds. The good thing is, if we get stuck out in the middle of nowhere we’ll have a great time waiting for assistance.

Didn’t get a chance to eat at either the beer garden or American Burgers and Fries. We had an appointment back at Shombodon’s office for me to interview a couple of college kids for the video piece I’m doing and we ran out of time with all that shopping. Aaargh. We ordered in pizza for lunch from Mr. Pizza. The interviews were interesting. The girl, a 20-year-old college student was very politically aware, had voted in the last election and was only mildly satisfied with the government. The pitiful state of their infrastructure is a real concern for her. She doesn’t understand why there are so many luxury cars in UB now driving on roads that are in horrible condition. She is hopeful that, after this election things will improve. She is of the opinion that they should not be doing any mining because of her environmental concerns. The guy, 19 years old, had very few opinions about anything. I’ll give him a pass since he attends university in Moscow and is, well, a guy.

I love this photo. They built this wall in line with the main corridor of the temple because evil spirits can only travel inSpirit Barrier a straight line and keeps them from entering.  There are massive statues of angry-looking beings just inside the first door in case an evil spirit tries to do an end run around the wall. I think we should start incorporating that into the designs of our homes. Couldn’t hurt. It would, at the very least, keep politicians and solicitors away.

Went to a new restaurant right around the corner from us. If you didn’t look out the windows of the Rosewood you’d never know you weren’t in a very nice restaurant in any major city in the U.S. Great Mediterranean fare and a really cool decor. The American owner has done a great job with the place. There was a group of about 20 or so 20 somethings having a going away party for one of their friends. A wonderfully eclectic mix of people from all over the world either working or volunteering in Mongolia. They were having a great time, but I interrupted them anyways. They were a bright, friendly group and very enthusiastic about living and working here.

I should probably go pack. We’ll be leaving in a couple of hours so I’d, literally, better get my stuff together. I believe we’ll be in an Aimag center (kinda of a county seat) tonight, but nobody’s sure if well have internet access. I’ll report in the next chance I get.

Cheers!

Wednesday, 7/18

Maaike and Shombodon

Planning route and logistics

Last night we ate at The Shangri-La Indian restaurant on the Top floor of the self proclaimed 5-star Hotel Mongolia. Very good food and the Chinggis Beer hit the spot. When asked “how hot?” for my Chicken Tikki Masala I said “very hot”. Turned out to be rather wimpy. “Hot” is a relative term I guess. I wanted pain! Ate with Maaike and Neil, a long time friend of Maaike. Neil is from New York and has no plans for leaving here any time soon. She works as a consultant for one of the bigger banks here in UB. She is very politically savvy and it was great to get her perspective on the economy and politics of Mongolia.

I have two interviews to conduct for the video project. The interviewees are college students who, apparently, speak English very well. That will certainly make things a lot easier! The video production company wants the opinions of younger Mongolians about such things as their government, the international mining companies, elections, and the changes going on in their country. They want to hear mostly about the simmering nationalist movement and how the younger generation feels about it. I have good connections here and should be able to contact some of the “leaders” of this faction.

Also, we will spend the day making preparations for the first road trip. Shopping, laundry, packing, etc. Shombodon’s son (and our driver), Engthbier, spent yesterday getting the vehicle ready for the trek. Maaike and Shombodon spent part of the day planning our route and discussing all the things we need to see and where we will stop for the night. They are a little nervous about the route since there has been so much rain during the last two weeks. A lot of the roads that we will be taking are nothing more than tire tracks thru vast swaths of steppes and meadows. The problem with these roads is that you might not see another car for days if not weeks. Cell coverage is spotty at best so if you break down you had better be prepared to stay there for a while.

Not sure what time we are leaving tomorrow but once we do the updates will become much more infrequent and, hopefully, a lot more interesting. We will be well off the beaten path and everybody I’ve talked to says the photo opportunities are phenomenal.

It’s going to be a toss up between The Bavarian Beer Garten and American Burgers and Fries for the last lunch in the big city. The Mongolians don’t have any coins for currency so I guess I’ll have to find something else to flip for it.

Cheers!

Captain’s Log, Supplemental

UB is an interesting mash-up of cultures and styles. The mode of dress can range from traditional robes to very modern/hip/chic. Casual dress is a weird mix of Japanese and western fashion. Teenagers look like teenagers the world over. Both men’s and women’s professional dress is your standard biz suit. Ads are definitely influenced by Japanese style and I’m not sure where they get the stuff they put on TV. Architecture is a mix of old and new, but the building that were built just 10 years ago look like they’ve been here since the fifties. This is the apartment building we are staying in for the next couple of nights. It’s only 10 years old. The building on the right are luxury condos, the buildings on the left are Soviet era apartments.

Went thru the liquor aisle of the grocery store yesterday looking for a small bottle of Jack Daniels. No small bottles, but they did have a 3 liter bottle of the stuff. I didn’t even look at the price. Never seen a 3 liter bottle of Jack.

Walking down the street today some kids saw that I was listening to an MP3 player. They pointed at it and then pointed to their ears. I served them up a dose of Green Day and then some Foo FIghters. I thought they were going to jump out of their skin. They didn’t speak a word of English, but music is universal, especially for teenagers and rock and roll.

Had Huevos Rancheros for breakfast this AM. We’re leaving Thursday AM for the first road trip. I guess we’ll start on the Mongolian food then. Oh, and by the way, all those Mongolian BBQs you see all over the place? That ain’t how they do things here.