Thursday, 20 July. Busy day. Very early departure tomorrow (4 AM). No time to post.
Wednesday, 19 July. A little rain. The Chinngas Khaan Statue is as large as it seems. Stairs take you to the top of the horse’s head. Build about 9 years ago. Nice museum in the base. It’s intended to be the centerpiece of an amusement park, but 2008’s economic slump put a hold on it.
Horse breeding farm is primarily about producing fermented mare’s milk. It tasted okay. The process is simplicity itself, though the milking can be tedious. A mare won’t give milk unless her foal is nearby. The farm is just a family affair. When the kids are at school (boarding house), the husband/wife have to do it all.
Because of the rain we didn’t get to erect a ger. Instead we watched an award winning documentary movie “The Eagle Huntress”. Fascinating.
Tuesday, 18 July. Sunny sky. Not too hot.
Passed “Turtle Rock”, which sort of looked like a turtle. The little souvenir stand did good business.
Climbed to newish monastery (post Soviet influence), which was sensibly situated near the bottom of a tall cliff, so the climb wasn’t too hard. Nice view.
Lunch was chicken again. Bata confirmed that chicken is not a normal staple of Mongolian life. But we’ve had eggs for breakfasts and mostly chicken for lunch every day.
Visited a women who makes milk products in her ger. I liked the hot milk, though it was a little weak. She also lets a large kettle of milk sit so a film of milk coalesces, then skims the skin, to be used as a topping on bread. Mainly she makes cheese. Mongolia only makes one kind of cheese. It was ready in no time. Not my favorite. She also had us taste hard cheese and have a sip of milk vodka. Weak.
Dinner was salmon. No idea where it came from.
Monday, 17 July. Visited a kindergarten for children of the homeless, run privately by a kind family. They received no government assistance. Oversea Adventure Travel donates and collects donations from it’s travelers. I probably will.
I brought shaping balloons. Big hit. I had to keep warning the teachers to make sure no one eats the balloons after they. Inevitably pop.
Took a bus ride, I guess to illustrate common UB life. The bus driver was a maniac. I think that’s what Bata wanted.
Visited the ger of a Khazack family. Incredibly beautiful cloths, pillows, blankets and what-not. A variety of foods. Interesting stories. Children danced. Our two young companions were dressed up in a wedding gown and other fancy dress. Beautiful.
Got to hold an eagle. Light!
The ger camp is just one of many. Bata complained that tourism was damaging the pristine environment. He didn’t seem to get the irony.
Sunday, 16 July. Today was dominated by a fairly strong smell of fire. Bata, our guide, said there were five fires in the area. City citizens were volunteering to help put out them out. By the end of the day the smell had lessened substantially. (Regarding smoking of the normal kind, it’s much, much less than I anticipated. Almost non-existent.)
Breakfast was European style, i.e., lots of variety. Ate too much.
The touring was supposed to begin at a viewing point to see the city, but the smoke canceled that idea. All together we visited one large monastery and two Museums, one having explanations written in English. Unsurprisingly, Mongolia has a very rich history that we don’t learn in school. The history of their clothing is awesome. Their more recent history is pretty confusing. Manchuria, China, and the Soviet Union all had a hand in it. A lot of the USSR’s spartan architecture is still around, which contrasts sharply with their attempts to build a more modern looking city. Economic realities have also played a role. Beauty sits next to Ruin, with Ugly in between.
Lunch was chicken (again). Apparently they’re sliding us slowly into their dietary customs. Dinner was our first real intro, with a large chunk of beef attached to bone. Tough. Bata explained that Mongolians prefer tough. Soft leaves them dissatisfied with their meal. It was an experience. The taste was fine, but there was a lot of chewing going on.
Tomorrow we head into the countryside. Everyone is eager to go.
Saturday, 15 July. The city will henceforth be called UB. There’s a lot of a’s (sometimes). I’ve given up trying to get it right.
Flight on Air China was surprisingly good. Surprisingly because it’s ranked 97 in the world. Beijing Airport is all a status seeking country could hope for. Big. Not crowded. Customs is no different than anywhere else. On the big board describing what’s not allowed in carry-on baggage is a snowbulb. People laughed, but I think I’ve seen the ban somewhere else.
UB is hot today. It’ll be cooler tomorrow. It’s a third world city with third world challenges. It’s what I expected. Lots of nice statues among lots of permanently under-construction apartments. I walked to the below statue near the hotel. The hotel is top notch. An island in the rubble. Driving is on the right, though there are many cars with the steering wheel on the right. Mongolia is a bridge between past Soviet and new Chinese influence.
The tour proper starts tomorrow. Our first meal was extremely nice and proper. Our escort/guide speaks better English than I do (faint praise). We have a 40-passenger bus for all 10 of us. Who needs lodging?
Wednesday, 12 July. This is another adventure springing up from my sister Natalie’s imagination and research. I’ve alway wanted to visit the country, but didn’t know how. Natalie pointed me to Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which specializes in small group tours. She was interested in going but she was looking for someone to share the adventure with. I eagerly volunteered. OAT allows singles without a surcharge so we get separate rooms, much to Natalie’s benefit. There are only 10 of us on the trip!
For those who wonder why we’re traveling to Mongolia, I’ll repeat something my Dad would say: “You go places to find out what’s there. If you know what’s there, why go?” A lot of China’s traditions and habits actually originated from the Mongol invasion. Indeed, Beijing’s Forbidden City was built by Kubalai Khan. Next year I’m visiting China. Call this a prelim to that adventure.
We’re visiting four locations, three of which have lodgings of very fancy tents (gers, or the more common term yurts). The Gobi Desert is one such stop. Weather is warm to hot in July. We’ll ride horses and camels, take a boat ride, milk yaks, learn how to make yak cheese, drink fermented mare’s milk, and by all reports enjoy the food very much.
Departure is at 1:40 in the AM on Friday. Air China, which is ranked 97th among airlines. Oh boy.
Sunday, 26 Feb. I didn’t do much today and tomorrow I fly out, so I’ll sum up here.
Fiji was like every other island community I’ve been to. I can’t recommend it as demonstrably better than any other. I cannot recommend their island beer. The Gold is too bitter and the Bitter is way too bitter. Everyone asks how my holiday is going. I’m not sure that’s a good strategy. If the answer isn’t self-evident, there’s a problem.
Other than an hour in Auckland, I’ve been visiting lands where clocks hold little awe. (My flight from Fiji to NZ didn’t depart on time: it left early.) To be fair, when the entire world is hours behind you, why hurry? Fiji has emblazoned their view on t-shirts: “Fiji Time”. (I almost bought one for a friend. You know who you are.) To be on time is rude. I set myself a tight schedule to see as much of NZ as I could, so I can’t admit that I’ve adopted their passivity with deadlines, but it’s been fun watching the world move in slow motion.
- Best place: Milford Sound
- Best animal: Sheep, of course.
- Best small town: Glenorchy
- Best city: Tie between Christchurch and Wellington.
- Hardest thing to get accustomed to when driving on the left: Reaching for the seat belt.
- Strangest normal: One lane bridges. Very common.
- Best coast: The south coast. (It’s true; there’s a section called the Northern Southland.)
- Best drink: Monteith Apple Cider. With ice.
Next Stop: Possibly a motorcycle trip in April, but definitely Mongolia in July. Fermented Mare’s Milk. Yum. Or should I say Yak?
Saturday, 25 Feb. Did a boat tour to the island known as “Cast Away”, though its true name is Monuriki. It’s where the movie “Cast Away” was filmed. There’s another island resort long known as Castaway, so it can be confusing locally. It’s indeed an unoccupied island, though it’s well within sight of an island resort. Tom Hanks would have been sipping island rum before nightfall.
I signed up with the only native family-owned tour boat. The crew were all brothers, cousins or brothers-in-law. Small group. Had lunch on the island. Beer/wine included. After the cruise I needed a can of coke to clear out the taste of salt water, cheap beer and cheaper wine. But it was fun. Passengers included Americans, Australians, British and Germans. I was vastly the best swimmer, which speaks more ill of the other passengers than good of me. Got to use the GoPro.
In the evening I had beef rib (from New Zealand). One rib, but massive. Fall off the bone meat. Very good, though not as good as last night’s snapper. I ate at the same place. Cardo’s. Why experiment when I’ve found a winner? I might have the snapper tonight. I doubt I’ll find better in California.
Friday, 24 Friday. I was early to everything today, which is how I like it. Said goodbye to my rental. 3,128 kilometers. Flew to Auckland, took a bus into the city, went up the Sky Tower. Had a toasted ham, cheese, and pineapple sandwich. I liked it. Auckland is the opposite of everything I experienced further south. I’m glad I didn’t start there. Hustle and bustle. Felt like New York City. Not impressed.
Several people on first flight had had Kimchi. The oder got on my cloths, so whenever I think of Auckland, I’ll think kimchi. It won’t be a good memory.
Crowded flight to Fiji. Everyone’s nice on the island. “Bula” means welcome and it’s an overused word. After an hour I was mumbling “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” I’m in a great hotel that’s so new the taxi driver said he’d never been there. Neither of us could find the reception entrance at first. It’s right across the street from the marina, which is why I booked it (other than the price). Had a lightly fried snapper dinner with a lemon/butter sauce on the side. The fish was fantastic without the sauce, but adding the sauce made me think I’d died and gone to Fiji. Fiji rum is an acquired taste, but I’ve got three days to acquire it. Right now I’m drinking NZ wine that’s costing half what it did in NZ.
Fifi is east of NZ, but their clocks are an hour different in the other direction. No idea why. The sun sets nearly two hours earlier. Actually, Fiji is one of the few countries that crosses the 180 degree longitude line. But like Alaska’s Aleutians, they “bend” the line to stay in the same time zone and the same day!
Tomorrow I go on a boat cruise to snorkel. I’ll try out my GoPro.