Week Two in Ulaanbaatar
Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
195Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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Where I stayed
Green Steppe Guest House
Walmart has come to UB. Here it is called something like a 'Super Hipermarket'. It is massive like the new ones in the USA. The one in UB is almost as big but has lower inventory and less selection. For this massive store, only six cars were in the parking lot. They must be losing tons of money during this start up phase. It is in an odd location near the railroad tracks. Nomin Group is the big business in town. They own the State Department store, grocery stores, car dealerships, including the one selling a one ton Chevy Silverado for only 60 million Tugrets ($48,000), and boats. The six passenger Silverado would not work out well on most of the Mongolian (dirt) roads due to it extra long wheel base. But for the mining companies in Mongolia who take care of their own roads, it would be great.
UB FOOD SCENE
Mongolia is vegetarian hell. Any vegetables other than potatoes and carrots are extremely expensive. And once away from the big city (UB), difficult to get. Copious amounts of meat are consumed, mostly goat or lamb. Here in UB a fair amount of produce, fruits and vegetables can be purchased....at a price. I was eyeballing 3 mandarin oranges in the store and was told by the lady who weighed and labeled them for me that they would set me back $6....ouch. For some reason a few Kirkland food items (Costco warehouse brand) can be found in many markets and stores. Small selections of king size bottles of herbs and spices, shampoo, dried fruit, walnuts, almonds and peanut butter at quadruple the price of at home. But nice to know if you really needed it or wanted it, you could get some of the items from home. I even found my favorite salt licorice from Holland, my vice, and oh so bad for high blood-pressure Yes, I was bad and wiped the shelf clean. Hey I will need extra salt in the desert!
After a few days of eating the toast and jam for breakfast provided by the hostel, we asked them to quit bringing the white puff bread. We would get a whole grain loaf from Nomin market. They have a number decent bakeries in the stores around town. And we can get fresh eggs and nice imported cheeses.
OUTSIDE OF UB FOOD
We were told to forget about getting western style dishes once we leave UB. Just mutton, mutton, mutton. Lucky for us, we love lamb. Don't know if we still will love it after 3 months of nothing but lamb and goat. Once we leave Ulaan Baatar (UB for short) our food selection will drastically reduce.
Our BIG tour plan fell through. We were trying to work out a customized plan with a company recommended by a French friend. We sat down with Neomi, a French expat working for a Mongolian/French partnership. We were excited because during our interview we thought she understood the kind of things we liked and she told of us possibilities that sounded real good. She needed a few days to work out the details. To make a long story short, no plan was ever made and when we finally tracked her down, she pulled a standard tour off the shelf, in French,and said that is all they had to offer. She told us to find another agency if we wanted something different.
... Fortunately we have the time for such delays.
We stopped into the Khongor Guesthouse to look at their tour book that is chock full of short and long tours, They have a 28 day plan that was close to what we wanted. With modifications and another traveler or two to split the fixed costs, we wanted to do it. Two 'must sees' in our plan are the Kazakhs and Tsaatans. We asked the coordinator to come up with a plan to see the Reindeer people in the North and the Kazakhs in the west. Plus we wanted the flexibility to see craftspeople and dairy products being made along the way. TSAATAN (REINDEER) PEOPLE. From June 15 to August 15, Tsaatans live at a place 1 or 2 day horse ride from Tsaagan Nur Sun. KAZAKH; Hidden in valleys beyond the snow-capped western mountain ranges are Kazakh, families that still to this day carry-on the ancient socio-cultural and traditional practices of their ancestors. Kazakh men continue the training of Eagles from an early age for both sport and hunting practices, while the elderly women pass-on the ancient traditional arts & crafts, such as the age old embroidery skills to their daughters. Samarks, Toskigaz are two well know craftworks.
The Konghor trip coordinator said he could come up with a customized plan for us. As we were leaving the office, we began talking to a threesome who wanted to take an overnight to a Terelj National Park about 70 km west of UB. Matthew and Sophie are college house-mates from the UK. Alex (girl) is Matthew’s American girlfriend. They needed additional people to bring the price down on their trip so we said, sure, sounds good. It would also give us experience on a short Konghor tour before we signed up for a longer one.
In the mean time, we contacted another traveler who was on her way to Mongolia who liked the 28 day tour too and we posted a note in Amsterdam Café and on LP Thorn-tree asking for people to join us. We hope to be back on track once our short trip to Teraji NP is finished.