Day 41 – A Day off in Ulaanbaatar (#MongolRally)
ULAANBAATAR BABY! – Gab’s house /Granville Pub / Trivia (from here, only the camera knows), Ulaanbaatar
It had been a long time since any of us slept on a bed, it had been a long time since any of us had had a shower, it had been a while since we ate anything other than instant noodles and I had lost count of the number of days since I last changed my jocks (it may have been Russia, I can’t be sure).
Safe to say, when we arrived in Ulaanbaatar last night, we probably looked (and smelled) like a long lost part of Ghengis Khan’s army that had been holed up in Europe for the past few years waiting for the orders to invade Hungary – and being generally pissed off that noone gave them the heads up that plans had changed
After a tub and some breakfast, Ed spoke to his mate Gabby – who just happened to be in Mongolia at the time for work (result?). She offered to let us crash at her place for a few days and help us acclimatise to Ulaanbaatar now that we had arrived at our final destination, what a legend.
UB traffic – what a bastard!
Ben and Gab drove the Hyundai, Ed and I headed to the main drag to flag down a taxi for our trip to Gab’s place. Mongolia is like Turkmenistan in that just about every car is a potential taxi -the idea is that you just stick your hand out and (if they like the cut of your jib) a friendly Mongolian will pull over and offer you a lift to wherever you are going for next to nothing.
20 minutes later, Ed and I were still in the same spot. Just as we were starting to think there might be something wrong with the cut of our jibs, a friendly Mongolian pulled over and offered to take us to Gab’s place for a staggering $2.80.Success!
It took us a while to get there, UB is famous for having some of the worst traffic on the planet. From what we saw, it seems to be the traffic equivalent of Tehran (i.e. Two lanes = 4 cars, empty pavement = extra lane, pedestrian crossing = fancy street graffiti, pedestrians = that annoying thing you need to hose off your car after you return from a trip to the shops. . . ).
Traffic in Ulaanbaatar is an interesting conundrum. The problem you have is that out of the 2.9 million or so people living in Mongolia, a little under half (1.4 million) live in the capital – the urban part of which you could just about fit into Tweed Heads / Coolangatta. This wouldn’t be a drama, except that just about every one of them has a car, loves to drive and couldn’t give two shits about road rules.
We dropped our gear at Gabs and headed out for some lunch. It mightn’t seem like much, but after what we had just come through over the past few weeks, sitting in a restaurant ordering a steakburger and chips from an English speaking waiter felt like we were in the bloody twilight zone.
On one hand it was magic, on the other it was a sign that a chapter of our Mongol Rally journey had come to a close. From here on in we wouldn’t be packing up and moving every day, we had no more border crossings to make, we wouldn’t see and experience changing faces / languages / cultures every few days – it was almost like life was returning to a state of normalcy* (I’ll put something up about ‘UB normalcy’, given that it seems to be so far removed from any other place I’ve ever been to).
Later that night we caught up with a few of Gab’s mates and went to Trivia at a local Irish pub. At this stage, we were reunited with Sebastien and Aruna – our Canadian mates from Canuck the Dots! We hadn’t seen them since I successfully managed to lose them in the desert somewhere near Bayankhongor, it was so good to catch up and share war stories that we forgot about trivia and ended up dead last. (Given my track record with trivia, I don’t think it was the war stories that did the damage. . . ).
Even a bonus round beer skulling domination from Ed couldn’t pull us off the bottom of the ladder. It was at this point I met a 7 year old Mongolian fortune teller. I know he was a fortune teller because just before the skulling comp started he put his hands over my ear and whispered – ‘the fat guys always win. . . . ‘
Enter Chinggis – conqueror of nations, destroyer of livers. . .
Throughout our dismal trivia performance, Gab had introduced us to (and was helping us to get gradually pole-axed on) a particular brand of Mongolian vodka called Chinggis. The best way to describe Mongolian Chinggis vodka can be found on their website:
‘Chinggis Gold is manufactured from high-quality, ecologically sound home-grown young wheat, and the purest Mongolian mountain spring water. Touting an extremely fine taste hinting of wild honey, it infatuates with a silky smooth palate, owing to a minimum of 8 distillations through quarz-sand and silver birch activated-carbon filtrations.’
I’m not sure if was that sneaky 8th distillation or the quarz-sand filtration that did the damage, but somewhere along the way things got unusually out of hand!
At 1am we found ourselves at an after hours karaoke bar with about 15 other mates who we met on the Rally. From what I can put together after viewing the various video clips taken throughout the night, the singing was atrocious (except for Seb who managed the best rendition of ‘More than a Feeling’ I have ever heard – hate that guy), dance moves even worse (a good solid table in the middle of a karaoke room is crying for attention isn’t it?) and to cap it all off – Ben was defending himself from the sexual advances of a random Mongolian bloke who had somehow managed to smuggle himself into our karaoke den.
We’re not sure how, but we arrived home at stupid o’clock, stupidly blind after what was an awesome night out.
Not sure what the word is to describe it, but amid all it’s craziness, UB was proving itself to be ‘an unexpectedly great place to be’. Suggestions welcome.