Welcome to sunny Mongolia

Trip Start May 16, 2005
Trip End Nov 01, 2006

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Monday, July 4, 2005

Our journey from Irkutsk to Mongolia should have been straight forward. But as with all things in this part of the world, it never works out like that. Our ticket very clearly said that we would be flying on a Boeing aircraft. However, we were shown to an old wreck of a plane. I wish that I had taken a picture of this thing, it really has to be seen to be believed. Think Indiana Jones style plane, complete with the baggage net holding in the luggage in place inside the cabin. No sign of any livestock but the thing did have a familiar smell of mutton. Despite massive misgivings about the air-worthiness of this relic from the communist era, it made it into the air and even delivered us to our desired destination at the first attempt. We were duly met at the airport by Jamts, the uncle of a friend from back home and taken to our apartment in UB. Let the Mongolian adventure begin!

For the rest of the section on Mongolia (except for the entry on Ivan the Terrible), you will be reading the prose of our guest writer and great friend, Keiren Allen, to whom we are much indebted for helping us out.

James and Sonia met me at Ulaan Bataar airport on the 5th of July. They were hiding behind Jamts (who was to be our driver for the next 17 days) whom they had trained to shout "Nabs" (my nickname) at me. I duely ignored him until I saw their giggling faces emerge from behind him. Mongolians had a real issue with pronouncing "Keiran" so we quickly opted to introduce me as "Nabs" to all, which they seemed to like as it could be shortened even further to a sort of hissed, quiet shout (much like many Mongolian names, emphasising the "s" in the name). So I went from being "Keiran" to "Nabpssss!!" almost immediately upon arrival.

Having been on the move for over 18 hours (arriving via Paris and Beijing!), it was great to see Sonia and James at Ulan Bataar (UB) airport. They and Jamts quickly whisked me off to the apartment that they had borrowed for the couple of days prior to my arrival. Despite a very shabby exterior it was very nice inside, with all creature comforts, including sattelite TV! Having all the usual hassle of arriving in a strange new place removed from the holiday experience really helped, especially after the blazing heat of Beijing and the scrum that was baggage reclaim at UB airport, a hot shower was a real bonus. The apartment also quickly introduced me to one of the most common features of Mongolian life: a strong pong of mutton everywhere you go, in various stages of decay. Suffice to say, you don't go to Mongolia on a gastronomic tour and if you don't like mutton stew or rancid dairy products then you won't get along with local foods.

Despite having the National Geographic Channel and BBC World, JW and Sonia had managed to scurry about UB doing a lot of work. All the provisions for our "jeep-safari" into the bush had been bought and the route planned out - all I had to do was sit in the back of the van and shut up. UB is a dusty morass of ex-soviet architecture and blandness that has hit 20th-century tacky capitalism, and boy has it hit back! The result is a capital city that, whilst surrounded by mountains has little to recommend it other than the fact that once you're there, you know that you'll be leaving soon. An added hassle for our intrepid duo is that, despite Sonia reading Cyrillic (the state alphabet - a hangover form Soviet influence, Mongolia did/does have its own alphabet but although Mongolia was never part of the USSR, the fact that its capital city translates as "Red Hero" gives you idea of how much Soviet life filtered in), she was no whiz-kid in Mongolian, so to find a food shop or hardware store, they had to go in, nose around, realise it was a hairdressing salon and then retreat back to the car.
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