Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
Hello, my family and friends,
OK, I realize it’s been a while since my last update. I spent six glorious weeks trekking in the Himalayas of Zanskar and Ladakh in Northern India. Then I spent about two weeks visiting four old friends in four different cities in China. And then I have been in Mongolia for the past three weeks or so. Lots of moving around, and many nights sleeping in a tent under the stars, far away from crazy cities and any Internet connection.
I will not be typing a bunch of crap in this update. I will just include a boat-load of pictures and then type a bunch of crap about each picture. So put a pot of coffee on, pop some popcorn, cancel your plans for the next few hours, and curl up next to a warm fire, because here we go…
(Click on any of the pictures below to see a slideshow and larger version of each.)
The Oriental Pearl Tower and other massive buildings in Shanghai. I stayed with my dear friend Dena, who has been an International Teacher there for several years. When I arrived at her apartment she cooked me a fantastic dinner and then showed me her great city. This amazing view of the Oriental Pearl Tower is from across the Huangpu River at the VUE Bar on the 33rd floor of the Hyatt on the Bund Hotel. I have seen the Pearl Tower in many pictures and have always dreamed of seeing it in person. Thanks, Dena for a great visit!
Getting ready to board the Bullet Train from Shanghai to Beijing. It was an expensive ticket (about US$100 one way), but it was cheaper than a plane ticket and much more interesting. This bullet train was amazing. So clean and efficient.
Breakfast of Champions. Cranking out some emails on my trusty iPad. My first can of Budweiser Beer since I left home 8 months ago. Some Ramen noodles. And some rice and vegetables from the cafeteria. This is what Lance Armstrong eats when he is preparing for a big bike race.
It’s 12:00 Noon. We are going 307 KM per hour (191 Miles per hour.) The digital display in the background showed our speed and how long until the next station. Giddy Up! Getting stuff done! Click on this picture to see a bigger version if you don’t believe me. 😉
My Old Buddy Gilly. Here I am at Gilly’s apartment in Beijing. I met Gilly down in Dali (China) in 2001, where he was running the Stella Pizzeria and taking westerners (like me) on crazy adventures to Tiger Leaping Gorge and all around the Yunnan Province. It was almost 10 years to the day that I had last seen Gilly. He made me a fantastic Italian dinner and treated me like royalty. Thanks, Gilly! See you again soon I hope.
Here is a picture with Gili back in August 2001 in Dali, China (Yunnan Province.) I am standing next to Jeff Metz, who I met while he was checking into my hotel in Kunming. He was from Louisville, Kentucky, of all places. I have not seen Jeff since… Where are you, Jeff?? Also pictured are Mantu (Finland), Art (Israel), Laura (Australia) and Gilly.
Beijing Woman and Me at Chinese Temple. Some random cute woman came up to me while I was wandering around the Yonghe Gong (Lama Temple) in Beijing. She wanted to take a picture with me. Then she disappeared. The story of my life. (A tear.)
A close-up of a prayer wheel in the Lama Temple. When I spin a prayer wheel I usually send energy and love to my family and 8 sweet nieces and nephews. I miss them sooooo much!
This is the Bird’s Nest (National Olympic Stadium) in Beijing, site of the 2008 Olympic Games. That’s me in the foreground. There were easily 10,000 people walking around the huge Olympic facility that evening. Flying kites. Enjoying the weekend. Being proud of their country. Not pictured, Jamaican world-class sprinter Hussein Bolt.
Close-Up of the Beijing Olympic Aquatics Center. This is where Michael Phelps (half man, half dolphin, half shark) broke an Olympic Record by winning 8 Gold Medals in swimming. Not pictured, me and Michael Phelps.
OK, that’s enough of my brief journey through China. In 12 days I visited and was hosted by Laura in Guangzhou (from Louisville, KY), Hebe in Shenzhen (who I met in the Philippines in 2007), Dena in Shanghai (from Arizona), and Gilly in Beijing. So I saw 4 great and gracious friends in the 4 largest cities in China in 12 days. Thanks again Laura, Hebe, Dena, and Gilly. I hope to see you all again soon.
Now let’s move on to Mongolia…
Uncle Lex Still Got Mad Hops. Here I am showing people that I can still jump up and touch stuff.
This make-shift basketball hoop was sitting in the middle of nowhere, near Hatgal, Mongolia. This was the day before Segev and I took off on our 12-day horse trek. I told Segev that I could touch the rim. He said, “no way.” I said, “step back and watch the magic! And snap a picture while I’m up there.” He did a good job. Perfect timing, Segev!
The rim was slightly bent, but it was still quite high. Segev was impressed that I did it. It says NBA on the backboard, but I highly doubt it was an officially licensed product of the NBA. Not bad for a 43-year-old goofy white guy.
You gotta dig the clear blue sky, bright white clouds, and the blue lake in the background. Not pictured, NBA Commissioner David Stern, Steve Nash, or (absent) women who were impressed with my mad jumping skills.
A quick bit of history. I met Segev when he and I and a few others did a 4-day trek near Muong Long, Laos back in February (2011.) After our trek, Segev and I talked about meeting back up in Mongolia to ride horses. Well, on August 15th, I met Segev in Ulaan Baatar, and a few days later, we were riding horses up near the Russian Border. Here is a picture of the Laos Trekking Family from early February 2011. From L to R – Back Row – Pablo (Argentina/Spain), Me, Our Guide, Segev (Israel), Hing (AKA ‘Fang’ – London), Niall (Ireland) and Noor (Holland). Front Row – Arantxa (Spain) and our other Guide.
Segev and I took a terrible 18-hour public “sleeper” bus from Ulaan Baatar (‘UB’) to Moron. It’s called a “sleeper” bus, but here in Mongolia, on the terrible roads, you get very little sleeping done on the overnight buses. The only real “sleeper” on the bus was the driver. But that was OK, because he was exhausted from drinking vodka all day.Then another 3-hour mini-bus from Moron to Hatgal. Mongolia has VERY few paved roads, so most transport is done in mini-buses, public buses and jeeps/SUV’s. In any event, transport in Mongolia is not an easy affair.
We stayed in Hatgal for 2 nights at the MS Guesthouse, where Gambaa, the very talented manager/owner, arranged a horseman and four horses. We spent the second day buying fishing poles and food and supplies.
Sunset views of the amazing Khovsgol Nuur Lake on the 1st day of our trek. Segev and I were fishing (unsuccessfully.) There was a storm-a-brewin’ over the lake. It rained a few hours that night.
Time to Eat. Segev and our (lunatic) guide Bata. Segev and I are cooking up the first of 12 camping meals along the journey. Not pictured, Bata’s food (because he didn’t bring any!)
Our Ger (yurt) at sunset on night 2. Segev and I just wanted to camp in quiet, natural places. Our (lunatic) guide Bata liked to stay with local families. Mainly because he could sleep in their Ger (home) and drink their Vodka. We were not allowed to pitch a tent or build a fire here on the family’s land, so we had to sleep in the Ger. You can see the smoke from our wood-burning stove inside. Cozy, but not what we wanted.
Cow and Lex. Many cows and sheep were curious after our arrival. This cow was very friendly. I did not eat it.
Question: If God did not want us to eat cows, then why did he make them out of meat?
Armed Locals – Russian Bandits. Our guide Bata told us on Day 2 that Day 3 was going to be difficult. We had many miles to cover, and there was little water or grass for the horses between the high passes. Oh, and there are ARMED Russian Bandits along the way. He told us that these Russian Bandits would ride up on their horses, hold the tourists and their guides at gunpoint, and then take all their crap. They would steal their horses, their guide’s horses, all their equipment and food, and valuables and money.
Then the tourists and the guide would have to walk many hours to the next village to get help. More on these Bandits later. This (somewhat blurry) picture shows several of the locals who accompanied us on Day 3. Of the 3 men who rode with us, 2 had shotguns and kept looking around for Bandits.
Chico Marx and his Rodent. I nicknamed this guy ‘Chico Marx’ from the Marx Brothers. Our guide Bata’s dog Falcon was a terrific hunter. He caught 5 rodents in the first 3 days as we were riding, including this huge dude that Chico is proudly holding. In the background are 3 of the locals, including ‘The Wolverine’ (Red Beret) and ‘Mad Dog’. Then Bata and his awesome dog Falcon. We were having a lunch break in the drizzling rain. I did not eat any rodent, just FYI.
Q. If God did not want us to eat rodents, then why did he make them out of meat???
He kinda looks like Chico Marx, huh?
Beautiful Flowers and Trees at Lunch
Morning Coffee and Getting Funky. I bought these Bose noise-canceling headphones in New Delhi back in 2006 for US$250. It’s one of my favorite purchases of all time. The sound quality is stunning. Here I am jamming to ‘Lazy Eye’ by the Silversun Pickups while downing another cup of coffee as we began Day 4 of our horse trek. As I mentioned in my recent Burmese Smoking Dragon Dance update, it ain’t too hard for me to jam!
The Long And Winding Road. A beautiful stretch of forest on Day 4.
Night 4 – Eagle Flying at Sunset. There are many HUGE eagles all over Mongolia. This was at sunset on Night 4 as we were setting up camp. Mountains in the background. Lots of flat land around us. Sweet!
Sunset on night 4, just south of Renchinlhumbe Village.
This is where the wheels started to come off. Segev and I used my mobile phone to call Gambaa back in Hatgal (our trek manager) to ask him to talk to our guide Bata. Bata spoke very little English. Bata thought this 12-day trek was his trek. He thought what he wanted to do and where he wanted to sleep were more important than our interests. He had his own agenda. He did not bring any food (he was supposed to according to our trekking agreement.) He made us sleep with families 2 nights out of the first 4, which, while interesting, was not what we asked for or wanted.
We wanted to be able to pitch our tent, make a fire, cook our food, and sleep in beautiful places. Simple enough. So we asked Gambaa nicely to talk to him. Game over! From that point on Bata was a real jerk to us. I guess he was embarrassed by being corrected by his ‘boss’. We were already afraid about the Russian Bandits. Now our horseman was being a jerk. More details on Bata’s blow-up below.
Mutton Sausage Lady. The nice lady who ran the Ger where we camped was making sausage from sheep or goat meat. I did not see her wash her hands.
Sausage and Mutton Parts. Here you can see some of the finished sausage pieces, as well as quite a few organs and inside goodies. Can you identify the huge thing at the bottom of the box??? Hint: I think it was a boy goat.
Well, this was the last nice evening with our original horseman/guide Bata. After the phone call with Gambaa, Bata went further to the dark side. The next day as we passed through Renchinlhumbe Village, we had the chance to re-stock our supplies. Bata said he was (finally) going to buy some food for himself. And he also bought a big bottle of Vodka. For those of you playing along at home, Mongolia has a HUGE alcoholism problem. I have seen more terribly drunk (and often violent) people in the past 3 weeks here than I have seen since I went to a Lynrd Skynrd concert back in college. I’m just saying.
Well, night five we slept at Bata’s sister’s house, about 2 hours outside of Renchinlhumbe Village. We were heading up north even closer to the Russian Border to see the reindeer people of Tsaatan. This turned out to be the end of the road for us and Bata. It got really ugly.
But first, here are some more cool pix.
Segev checking out the goats, sheep, cows, and horses in the distance at sunset on night 5.
Animals drinking at sunset – Reflections on a small pond. The deep blue skies and VERY long sunsets in Mongolia are spectacular. The colors are off the charts.
Our tents at Sunset – Night 5.
Morning Visitors – Day 6.
On night 5, Segev and I had cooked dinner on our fire and were just relaxing next to the campfire. Bata came out of his sister’s Ger and was trashed. His whole bottle of vodka was gone. He was mumbling something about “Tourist Vodka.” We did not know if he wanted us (the 2 tourists) to come in and drink vodka, or if he wanted some of our vodka. In any event, we did not want to go inside and drink with him and his buddies and sister. And we definitely did not want to give him any more vodka. He was trashed.
So he said, “Sergei (that’s what he called Segev) and Alexei (that’s what he called me), you bad tourists. You call Gambaa. You say Bata bad guide. Tomorrow I go back to Hatgal. You go alone.”
We were on night 5 of an 18-day adventure with Bata and his horses, so this was not good. We did not fully understand what he was talking about, but he was so drunk, we doubted he even knew what he was talking about.
And then it got VERY weird and scary. Bata said to me as he was struggling to keep his balance, “Alexei, no good,” as he moved his finger slowly across his throat while staring at me. Meaning: “Alexei, I cut your throat.” Alternate Meaning: “Alexei, I kill you.” Any way you slice it (no pun intended), it was not a very positive encounter in the dark.
Then he stumbled back to his sister’s Ger and probably passed out. Segev and I were scared. We were in the middle of nowhere, on his home turf, and he was threatening to slice my throat. We put out the fire and figured out a survival plan. All we had to protect ourselves was some firewood and a small cooking knife. Luckily nothing happened that night. But the next morning was equally bizarre.
To Be Continued… But the rest of this story will have to wait until my next update. It’s late here in Ulaan Baatar, and I have to catch a flight tomorrow to my 50th Country. Wahoooooo!
So hang in there for the conclusion.
Thank you all for your emails, comments and support as I move along this dusty trail. I am deeply grateful and appreciative.
See y’all down the road again real soon, I hope. Now please leave some comments below (preferably funny ones.) You can use an alias if you don’t want your real name to be published. Come on. Join in the fun. 🙂
Peace out from Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
Inventor of the Pinecone
Recipient of many Cereal Box Prizes
Last In First Out (LIFO)
First In Last Out (FILO)
Right Foot In. Right Foot Out (RFIRFO)
That’s What It’s All About (WTF?)
Ambassador to Douchebagistan
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