Not knowing anything about Mongolia we hadn't a notion what to expect, but were all hoping for a change from the Russian favourite; steamed mushroom dumplings. Unfortunately, the local specialty is mutton dumplings, burgers, steaks - all mutton. Despite the vast (and swarthy) cows roaming the plains, beef isn't that easy to come by. The lone vegetarian in our group has been living on peanut butter sandwiches for about two weeks now.
Anyway, the good news is that Mongolia is FAB! The capital city Ulaan Baatar (spelling interchangeable according to my mood) is brilliant - a bit of a Third World job (let's just say the pavements do not infer any personal injury laws whatsoever) but very up and coming and vibrant. The country only escaped Russian communist rule in 1990 so is slowly being westernised and skyscrapers are popping uphere and there - there is even a stock exchange! (for Mutton Inc?)
visited the local monastery - yeah, I was thinking *snooze* too but it's a Buddhist country so we saw all the monks, from 90 to 9, chanting and ringing their bells in the most fabulously decorated temples and we even swung hundreds of brass good luck drums along with the locals up for Sunday mass, or whatever it's called. also saw a T-rex and mammoth remains in the impressive Natural History Museum - apparently Mongolia is like Mecca for all the palaeontologists out there; we even saw lots of horse skulls and bones out in the desert/countryside.
the currency is horrendous - 1 euro=2000 togreks. we have been dropping G's here there and everywhere. had a 160z fillet steak with jumbo prawns and dessert and beer today (yup, finally found where the cows were hiding) in the Shanahan's of Ulaan Baatar. total - 24,000.yeah, that was a 12 euro feast. deadly buzz.
spent 2 days in the Ger camp in the countryside on the outskirts of the Gobi (pic above). nicely decorated cosy 'tents' which sleep four and have personal stove and candlelight. the camp we stayed in actually shove the Vodkatrain group over a bloody mountain (ok, hill) because apparently we're too 'noisy' for the posh guests. Us? never. christened my tent and everyone else's with my 2500 TG bottle of Genghis Khan vodka (yep, 1.50 euro) and we had right craic. rode the horses (my backside is still paying for it) and did a spot of archery (impressive pre-release photos to follow, actual ground covered not so awe-inspiring).
met the nomad families and despite my deep longing to steal a Mongolian baby I restrained myself and made do with some fermented mare's milk and an unspeakable substance of dubious safety on some sort of Mongolian viennese whirl. I'm telling you, no way our travellers would eat that kind of stuff. some of the ger camps have solar panels and sky dishes though so the poverty didn't make me too sad. They can watch Living Tv +2; I can't.
also spent most of the time furiously trying to get through 'Wild Swans' before we get to the Chinese border where I'm reliably informed it will be confiscated (as, possibly, I might be). The first 300 pages nicely stoked our campfire anyway.
doubtful that will be able to so much as get a sniff of RTE News when on Chinese internet so this might be the last post for a while, until Hong Kong, where I hear they are like the Chinese, only more British, and they might just possibly have an alphabet we can actually read.
au revoir xxx