Sandy's Ramblings

Monday, October 16, 2006


Got back to Beijing this morning at 4.30am, nice and fresh after 2 full days on buses, trains and waiting at the border. A mate of mine I met in Mongolia and I pulled off our own mini Tiananmen Square at the Mongolian border by standing our ground on the sand at the side of the road to stop 2 Mongolian jeeps from driving past and cutting into the queue - so many had already done this and after so much time waiting we were tired of it and decided to put an end to it. The one Mongolian driver was saying 'They don't own that ground' according to someone with us who was translating - I wonder what owning the ground has to do with cutting into the queue? Anyways, we'd arrived at the border crossing at around 7.30am on Sunday and only got onto the Chinese side at 2pm.

Ulaan Baatar itself is a bit of a dump, but the rest of the country (the parts we saw at least) were spectacular. It's amazing how such a large percentage of the locals still live their lives in the traditional way (if you excuse the motorcycles and the satellite dishes (which are for telephones, not TV)).

I now have the dubious honour of having visited 2 of the 3 most sparsely populated countries on earth - the list goes ...

1. Western Sahara
2. Mongolia
3. Namibia

I believe that the status of Western Sahara as a country is contested so I might be even more honoured than I think.

I spent a couple days in Ulaan Baatar organising the trip, and then through the guest house we rented a van (license 5669yb - got it immediately, Richard you'll be pleased to know and probably the only one who knows what I'm talking about) and guide / mechanic / driver (how he navigates god alone knows, but he does) and set out for 14 days driving about and staying in local ger camps (see the pictures below). All in all, it was roughly US$20 a day per head which I think is pretty damn reasonable and our arses were all sore and bruised afterwards. Apart from a couple stretches near Ulaan Baatar, there are no paved roads and so the going is rough. Luckily we had dry weather (which is the usual case there) and so the roads were in "good condition".

As a result of many things including the dodgy roads, fresh produce is not common outside of the capital. They basically subsist off mutton, potatoes, carrots and pasta/rice. That's the stuff I could eat at least - they are also big on airag (fermented mare's milk, tastes like vinegar) and milk curd cookies (which are like stale biscuits made from weeks' old milk). I tried them, that's all I can say. Never again. Ah yes - and tinned sardines - they have lots of those too. Needless to say, it's pretty good to be back in China where food is fantastic.

Erik take note. After our first night in one of the ger camps, I left my hiking shoes behind (I suspect attempted theft to be honest, since we'd searched the ger thoroughly before leaving) and that left me with open sandals and my slippers. Mongolia is not hot at this time of year, and the temperature regularly slips to around about zero, so sandals were only ok sometimes during the day. I ended up spending most of the remaining 13 days in my slippers which began to stink, as they do, and I even climbed up a volcano in them (another mountain to those shoes' repertoire). I also climbed up sand dunes and ran back down in them. Good old Woolies slippers!! Only about R60 when I bought them... On the second day after driving about 8 hours away from where the shoes were left, I realised upon unpacking that they were gone and so we called back to the guesthouse to ask if another group could possibly collect them and so it worked out ok - they were waiting patiently for me back in Ulaan Baatar.

Lunch break

Deserty cliffs where dinosaur bones were found

Typical Mongolian town

Me looking ever-cool and flustered in the Gobi

Camel riding - did you know that they shit and piss themselves near constantly??

Inside a ger - the fireplace, sleeping area and car battery for the light. Some have beds.

Nomad family doing what nomads do best

Our guide, Nyama (pronounced nyeh-ma), and I overlooking modern-day Kharakorum

The ger camp where I left my shoes

All that remains of old Kharakorum - the monastery (which has been partially renovated)

Typical countryside scene - approaching a ger camp in the distance there

On a totally different note, the cat here has grown in my absence, and his eye has somewhat improved. He's still blind and occasionally walks into things, but he's otherwise pretty good and has ice-picks for teeth.



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