SnowTallinn to UB
This is not UB. This is snow in the wilderness. Note: the lack of Soviet architecture
So, you got yourself another drink yet?
As for all you melbourne braggers about how crazy the weather is in your fine city, Ulaanbaatar (known as UB) has surpassed all your stories. Yesterday it snowed 3 times, kinda blizzard like, horizontal snow with razor sharp chilling winds at hurricane speeds. And in between each burst of snow, the sun came out, the wind stopped, and we really needed to get the shorts and sandals out and drink pina coladas in the glorious weather. But we didn't, because each time after a few hours, the sky would turn black and the snow would restart. Anyways, if you recall our blog stories, you will remember that this trip started with our plane being delayed into switzerland because of an unexpected snow storm, and we haven't seen any since. Until now. But today the sun is hot and the snow is melted, hence 'almost'. Also, we've only 'almost' finished our travels because we haven't hit Beijing yet. But getting there is another story. For now, sit back, enjoy your coffee and cake and we'll entertain you with our trans-siberian/mongolian adventures from where we left off.
Where did we leave off?
There is no way that the 'man of the millenium' was this tubby
Ah, that's right. Irkutsk. Dixon has written a lovely thesis as to why we have appeared in Chinese photographs, (read his comment, its on the last entry) and we were raving about our wonderful tour company and the brilliant Soviet architecture in Helsinki. I mean Irkutsk.
Soviet Architecture, perhaps only rivalled by Russian border crossings. Yes. 9 and a half hours to cross no-mans land between Russia and Mongolia. And you cant use a toilet during border crossings. Would've been nice of them to let us know this beforehand. This resulted in the carriage attendant unlocking the door on Sof with her pants around her knees to tell her that she had to stop peeing. Sorry, bad english. I had my pants around my knees. Not the attendant. Hilarity for all. So we spent the day on an incredibly hot train, not able to drink any water cos we didnt want to pee. We found many ways to amuse ourselves however; making jokes in no-mans land such as: Imagine the passports of the people that live here (and there were people), Nationality: Nothing, Country of Origin: Nowhere. Ah, genius. We also made up a song about the border town
A horse in UB
I hear that the reason the mongol army was so hard to beat was that the people and horses were made of stone
of Sukhbaatar. "Sukhbaatar sucks arse, Sukhbaatar sucks arse" done in a conga line fashion, with 'arse' landing on the bomba note. (Zac is a nerd.)
Hitting Mongolia, the train went faster than expected, and we woke up to find ourselves in UB, but no one had bothered to wake us up or tell us that we were there (like every other trip) as we had lost our carriage attendant (probably scared off by my WHITE bottom - yes i finally have a tan everywhere else!). Luckily having packed the night before, we could stumble off the train in time. Again, we would like to thank our WONDERFUL tour company who gave us the wrong address of the hotel we were supposed to stay in. We spent over an hour looking for a hotel. Finally called in at another, who ordered us a taxi cos we were so off track. She was as confused at the address as we were.
But after all that... we LOVE Mongolia!
UB is not a pretty city, it is perhaps the ugliest city we've ever seen, and that's a big call. (After all, we've been to Panzhihua AND Nanning). However, it has
It only takes 20 minutes to put one of these up. And they're cheap! (like the budgie) We're gonna buy one. It only costs US$500 for a house for 10 years. US$2000 if you want one for 50 years. Low maintenance. Only one lightglobe. No plumbing to have to deal with. And it can move with you.
a hidden beauty. Once you look past all the dust and Soviet buildings and honking horns and professional pick pocketers (which we personally haven't found yet... oh crap, where's my wallet? only kidding), UB is a city of the friendliest people with some great cheap food and wicked museums. And a 26m high gold buddha. And twice we've looked a little lost, and security guards, yes security guards, have come to our aid an pointed us (or even escorted us) in the right direction. Last night we stayed in a hostel which is new, so the owner doesn't live there yet, so she just gave us the keys and a free run of the building. Amazing.
But our highlight of the entire trip (another big call, after all, we have been to Listvyanka) was the joy of being free of the shackels of our tour company, and heading off randomly to a national park 80km away to discover what, if anything, was there.
We set off on a bus (that we almost missed, but again, thankyou to the helpful people of Mongolia who were waiting for other busses, we didnt) to Terelj National Park with no plans or
Inside the Ger
As opposed to outside, like that other photo
map. Yay! Freedom! The first thing we learnt about bus trips in Mongolia is that it is MOST important to get a seat. This is why we almost missed our bus, because everyone else going to Terelj sprinted (no joke, even the old mongolian nomad-ish looking people with walking sticks) to get on the bus as fast as possible. Thankfully, our packs serve as quite good seats, as it is obviously not the done thing to sit on the floor with all the dust and spit. It was great to have this experience. As with other Asian countries, there is no fear of touching other peoples things or idea of personal space. For example, it was quite acceptable for someone to hang onto the strap of zac's pack for most of the trip to steady himself. And, there were 2 young girls (about 5 and 8)who were travelling alone, and random people let them sleep or lean on them as they got tired. Initially we thought that their whole family was on the bus, but no, everyone just accepted them as their own. I must mention here, our trip back on the bus. We had done about half the journey
We didn't take a photo of us riding them, but it's a bit hard to do that while riding them
and arrived at a bus station in the middle of nowhere (as in nowhere in Mongolia) and the bus driver said something in Mongolian. Again, the ENTIRE bus sprinted off, leaving Zac and I in a daze until someone yelled out, running past, CHANGE! We had to change buses. Consequently, no seat for us. Unfortunately no pack sitting room either. But the entertainment value was worth it! Back to Zac:
I'm not sure if we've conveyed just how funny seeing these people suddenly sprint is. Remember those Asterisk comics that you read as a child? And how he gets that potion from Getafix for speed and energy? Well, some of you may remember the time that the whole village had the potion and had a race. Well, its like that.
Anyways, the trip highlight wasn't the bustrip. And I apologise that perhaps we're sounding long winded. Might have something to do with the Foucault I'm currently reading (bought in Paris, this Foucault book). We got off the bus after a couple of hours, in the middle of nowhere (and still the bus was mainly full) but the bus driver was adament, well, we think he was adament (he spoke
The horse took this photo
no english) that we get off. Trusting the mongols, we jumped off to find one man standing by the bus who offered us accommodation for the night. Not seeing any other options, and he seemed to offer a good deal, we headed with him off to his Ger Camp (Gers are felt tent things, see photos) and put down our luggage in a brand new Ger in which we were to stay the next four nights. The following days were amazing: we had by chance stumbled on a little piece of gold, as Nama (our host) had grown up in the Ger camp and worked as a herder in winter and a tour guide in summer, has a pet eagle and had a degree in mechanical engineering AND spoke english, and we stayed with his family and community. It was so awesomely genuine. There are some Ger camps which have just been set up in the last couple of years by tour operators, and are expensive, and have snazzy bars nearby, but this was a little piece of wilderness and we were miles away from civilisation, or any VISA or ATM facilities. This caused a small problem. But we got
One of our many, many delicious meals
there in the end.
On one of the days there we did horse riding, which I've been soooooooo excited about doing for a number of years. We got thrown in the deep end, doing a 7 hour ride to Turtle Rock and back. I would like to say that I felt like Chinggis Khan (not Ghengis, as is the common western misconception), but somehow I don't think that Chinggis would have been able to conquer all that land with a sore groin and thighs. Or knees like jelly. The knees thing only happened because somewhere on the way home my horse decided to pack it in for a day and lie down, with me desperately trying to get my clown feet out of the small stirrups as fast as possible to avoid being under a horse. Luckily, like the people here, the horses aren't very big. Nonetheless, we had an amazing day riding through the mongolian countryside and chatting about everything from politics to sport with Nama.
I would like to reiterate how funny it was when Zac's horse lay down. Only cos he didnt get hurt. But it was SO funny! The best thing about this whole
Sof and a river somewhere
A hill that we climbed because we had nothing else important to do that day
experience would have to be the food that we ate. A consequence of staying in a family community ger camp is that we ate like they did. 3 square meals a day were delivered to our ger, cooked beautifully by Nama's wife. We had so many variations on mutton, noodles, rice and vegetables, that all tasted delicious! We even got homemade congee and baozi! Our last night they cooked us a special traditional meal, where hot rocks were place in a huge wok with water over an open fire in our ger. The rocks instantly brought the water to the boil, and vegies and mutton pieces were added. Amazingly, it tasted like roast lamb! Even though it was boiled! We originally though it was going to be for everybody due to the amount of food going in, but it was just for us. We forced our hosts to have some though!
We spent the other days wandering and exploring, reading, playing lego chess and generally relaxing. It is such a great feeling to be able to subtlely immerse oneself in another culture. I kinda felt we were watching from afar in our own little ger. Did we mention that
Two of us on a hill
A marmot took this photo
just outside the door of our ger we had a freshwater spring? Wow. That's not something you experience everyday! If any of you are coming to Mongolia (or even china, mongolia isn't far), we have contact details of these guys, and we highly recommend them. Apart from the amazing personal experience, it's really really cheap.
My favourite moment was watching a 3-year-old playing in the dirt with a spoon. Guess where the dirt was going? Speaking of dirt. Zac and I were quite convinced that we'd got a lovely tan in Terelj. Until we had a shower back in UB. Watching the dirt stream off, and scrubbing our nails, sadly showed our gleaming pale skin underneath. Bugger.
We're not actually convinced that the locals aren't white beneath the dirt.
Back in UB, we're enjoying the last 36 hours before heading off to our destination BJ. Last night we enjoyed the cheap cocktails in a bar with the shittest music, country and western (played soooooooo badly), they did hits such as "Pretty Woman" to break up the old I V I V I V progressions. But we did have the strongest tequila sunrise ever, so we didn't really mind.
They need another word for these. Imagine all the work that went into raising all the electricity wires by half a metre
Unfortunately we can't train all the way to Beijing because we were told by the original hotel (you know, the one arranged by our favourite tour company) that trains leave every day, whereas actually its only twice a week, and in order to get there soon we are doing a bit of bus work. So thats about it, I guess. It started with snow, it has almost finished with snow, and we'll post the odd blog in beijing just to let you know our chinese adventures. We will also bore, and make you jealous, with further photos taken with our other camera when we have them developed... should be some winners!
Here endeth the honeymoon. We've had a ball!
Zac and Sof
Quote of the trip (by Nama): "I would come with you, but my eagle's come home. I'll stay here."
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