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The Paroissien Diaries


MONGOLIA | Wednesday, 23 May 2012 | Views [415]

We left our beds in Beijing on another stunning early-morning trot and headed for main train station to catch the K23 to Mongolia.  There is something to be said for exploring cities at 6 am when there is no traffic, people or noise. It certainly gives cities another dimension, especially the big loud, noisy ones. 

It didn't write it in the last blog but I wanted to mention how lovely it was catching up with Anna Witte, an old school friend, in Beijing. She took us out for a shed load of tasty dumplings and some lush greens. Quote of the night "That's the sichuan pepper making your mouth numb Andrew, don't worry you're not haivng an alergic reaction to the food!" 
The K-23- what a beauty of a train. Big, lush, 4-bed rooms with lovely loos and an ambience of which even Agetha Cristie would approve. We settled into our carriage and met Mark, a young Kiwi guy who loved a chat. Mark was a great guy, although he made me laugh when he pronounced Mao Zedong 'Mayo Zedong' hehehe.

Unfortunately for Mark he wasn't the main attraction on the train. The highlight of our journey was meeting the 'global mobile family' who were bunked in the carriage next to us. How's this for an adventure: Martin (German) and Julie (English) were cycling around the world. When we met them they had cycled around Canada and spent a few months cycling 2000 miles along the west coast of the states. They had cycled in NZ, the great ocean road in Australia, the desert in UAE and Oman, the crazy roads of India, parts of Thailand, Cambodia and a little bit of China. They were taking the train to Ulaan Batar to ride around Mongolia for a month. Sounds incredible right? The catch? They are doing it with 4 boys under the age of 5! What the frick!!!!!!!!!!! We met them on the station packing their gear onto the train and then settled into hours of conversation about their adventure. The boys weren't tame either, running up and down the carriage, playing monkey bars on the ladders in the room and, my personal favourite, 'stacks on the mill.' I was a little dissapointed when Beth said I wasn't allowed to play that one. Please check out their website for more info on this incredible family www.globalmobilefamily.com. A memorable moment came when the boy's destruction and noise got too much and we had to close the door to our cabin and Beth firmly said "Andrew, this is why I don't want boys! Why don't they sit quietly and draw love hearts?" 
Hanging out with the family reminded me of the family we met in Guatemala who were taking their three boys (under 5) to live in a Mexican slum for 5 years on a development project. There is always someone doing something big which is awesome, and which makes your own little overland seem so easy... haha maybe it is! But meeting these guys left a lasting impression about the (exhaustive!) possibilities of traveling with kids... 
The rest of the journey was passed with beers in the dining car, reading, writing and teaching the kids how to build card houses, not an easy feat on a rickety train.  Once in Mongolia, Mark's childlike enthusiam for every new rock, river and building created a photo frenzy in our cabin and with 3/4/5 yr olds tearing up the corridors the train was a circus. Approaching Ulaan Bataar we got a glimpse of the city and country that I knew nothing about. We saw mini towns dotted amongst a whole lot of nothingness, complete with brightly painted tin roofs, and the traditional Gers (pronounced like Gair, like the footy player Gary (ayers) with a G)  that were placed in amongst the towns Stalinist like buildings. 

What does anyone really know about Mongolia? 
Things I knew before I came. 
- Ghengis Kahn- good on a horse, warrior, leader
- Mongol people are good with horses
- That is it! 
Fast facts and interesting things about Mongolia ( Lonely Planet, Transsiberian railway ed ,2009)

- Population: 3 million
- GDP $3200 per capita
- Main exports: copper, wool, gold, cashmere and leather
- Life expectancy: 64 years
- Literacy: 98%! 
- Voter turnout: over 75%
- Horse to human ratio 13-1
- Annual economic aid: 159 million
- Percentage below the poverty line: 33%
- Head of livestock: 41 million 
Mongolia is a fascinating land locked between the two giants of Russia and China. On first impressions and on later reflection the culture seems far more European than Asian. We had organsied a pick up from Golden Gobi guesthouse and this europeaness was evident in our hosts attitude and conversation, being sarcastic, joking about and talking openly about politics and social issues. The Golen Gobi guesthouse was wicked, a whole bunch of cool travellers in a family run style of place. In fact the family reminded me of the 90's Irish band 'The Corrs' because it was run by 4 sisters and a brother hehe poor bloke. 
Highlights of Ulaan Batar 
-Organsing a tour with Alen the irishman and Niko the Fin
- The hilarious buildings, pink Opera house, huge monuments dedicated to Chengis Kahn, Stalinist like blocks, colourful greco style buildings and a futerustic wierd looking building shaped like a shark fin! 
- Hearing the thunderous sounds of 4 young boys as we realized that Martin, Julie and the kids were staying at the guest house! Good times! 
- Meeting up with Graham and his fiancee Tess, a friend I studied with at teachers university. How random to meet up with someone in Mongolia. We headed the the Chengis Kahn brewery, smashed beers, cheese, dark bread and beetroot, and had fine conversation for hours. These are a few things I learned about UB from Graham and Tess

- The world bank listed UB as the 2nd most pollued city in the world. Mostly this is during the winter when the Ger tent population outside the city burns everything from dirty coal, tires and plastic to keep from freezing.
- I was told it was the coldest capital city in the world where in winter it averages around -40 to -46! 
- Smallest stock exchange in the world
- The largest copper mine in the world being plundered by none other than Rio Tinto. 
The Great Mongolian Countryside Tour
People: Myself, beth, Niko 24 from Finland, Allen 40 from Ireland, our guide Urlaan and Chooka the driver. I didn't make up Chooka's name by the way, although i'm sure that's not how you prounounce or spell it! 
Highlights of our tour: 

Horseriding: This trip started precaurioiusly when our horse guide took one look at my board shorts and thongs and grumbled that I needed shoes and long pants. He then laughed as he watched me put on my long johns (didn' pack the jeans for this 2 day affair) and nikes. It wasn't an amazing look and very unmanely in a country where men conquor small empires from horse back whilst swigging straight vodka and making love to their mistress. It went a little more downhill when I tripped into a man hole which i thought was permanently covered but which had a cover that rotated around! The backpack fell into the hole and so there I was with half my body down a well with only my tights and nikes sticking out and yelling out a muffled 
" It's okay, I'm okay and i can reach the bag, everything will be okay, yep yep I got it, I got the bag, everyone relax." 

Niko had no experience on a horse and so unluckily he was given the biggest horse there. Beth, who had the most experience of anyone there was given the smallest horse and was pulled by our guide for the first 15 minutues while we crossed roads and made it to the country side. The irony was't lost. 
We were all loving it, although Niko and I wern't loving the pace. We wanted to go faster but Ghengis Kahn up front was having none of it! Allan looked decidedly uncomfortable on his horse. While Beth worried for the health of her horse. The highlight was running back after lunch when Ghengis let us have a bit of free reign. Well Niko and I were off, whipping our horses and laughing hysterically at how little control we had. It wasn't until wise Beth informed of us of the term 'getting the bit between the teeth and bolting' that we decided to pull it in a little. Allen unfortunaetely was still struggling with very sore buttox and an aching back, he perserveed without complaint though, bless him. 
What is a Ger? A really large rounded tent which is held up by wooden poles and has thick canvas material. The centrepiece is a large oven with a chimney going ou of the roof. In winter the floor and walls are adorned with sweet looking rugs that look persian and the place is large enough for at least 4 beds and other household paraphanalia depending on how rich the family is. According to our guide 2 people can put up a Ger in about 45 minutes which is super impressive.
-1st Ger- A nomadic Kazak Muslim family who had 3 Gers, a small house and a few cattle pens. This family- mum, dad, grandpa, grandma, brother in law and young baby were awesome. They were super friendly and on arrival served us bascuits and milky tea. Highlights within highlights include running aorund the hills breathing fresh air and being silly. Playing with and cuddling the baby goats who were freakin awesome (city kid).  Enjoying the soaring temperatures of a Ger with hot coffee, vegi stew and games of cards. Helping out the family by clearing one of their animal pens of animal dung hehe. Waking up in the early hours to a cocophony of animal sounds mixed in with Allen's hilarious snoring. Teaching Chooka to play the card game 'golf' and hearing him squeal with delight at others' misfortunes. 
- Day 2. Getting back into the Chooka mobile and visiting the biggest Chengis Kahn statue in the world. This statue, which had him sitting on a horse, was brilliant. It was notably massive and made of stainless steal which took over 500 egineers to deisgn. Ammusingly throughout the whole design process no one noticed that the walking platform 20 metres into the air entered and exited though Chengis Kahn's crotch area! Maybe this is fititing considering that apperently 1/5th of the worlds population has a gene that comes from Chengis Kahn! hahahaha that's a whole lot of world domination. 
- Mongolia is obsessed with Chengis Kahn. There is Chengis beer, vodka, furniture, statues, monuments, cars, trucks...everything. At first I was baffled with the obsession and then Beth reminded me about Australia's obsession with Ned Kelly and then asked how great that obsession would be if Ned had not only rustled a few sheep but had also taken over the whole world. 
Ger 2- This family was also lovely and hospitable. Ammusingly the weather had changed from a balmy 23 degreess overnight to a low of minus 3 as we entered the national park for our second night of the tour. Regardless of this we rugged up in light jackets and horribly wornout hoodies that smelled of goat and explored the snowy landscape. Seeing snow in Mongolia, despite the cold, was wicked. Although going to the outside toilet pit at 11.30 pm in the snow wasn't amazing. "Don't fall in now."
-Playing a game called ankle bones in the 2nd Ger. Their version of our marbles except played with the ankle bones of sheep. 

-Visiting a buddhist monastery in the snow that reminded me of the scene in Batman Begins. Awesome. 
After 3 days of touring the Mongolian countryside we said good bye to Allen and Niko who were contiuning on and headed back to UB to catch our train to Russia. Mongolia was simply awesome and our time their and this blog doesn't do justice to just how wicked it was. We are already planning a trip back there to head out in the countryside with some horses for a month. If you like the countryside and dairy products and have a bit of spare cash I would def reccomend a visit to this wicked country filled with hard working and lovely people. 

Cheers for now 
love love love 

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