Monday, 28 February 2011

the home stretch

Well, it's almost ten months since I started to think about a wee trip for a couple of weeks to Outer Mongolia. I am still living in the cradle of Ulaanbaatar but my time here is almost done. To mark the start of my last week the weather has very kindly dipped dramatically. I'm not sure when I'll next take a walk along a deeply frozen river in -38C.

I visited the infamous Black Market today. The place was made famous by Ewen McGregor during his 'Long Way Round' adventure (he bought a motorbike there). It is a quite astonishing spectacle. So very unlike any Western shopping experience and even the Arab souks feel somewhat sophisticated against the backdrop of grimy stalls selling everything from tractor wheels to plastic tiaras. Given the size of Ulaanbaatar, some 1 million people, the Black Market is quite especially large. This is one of many markets, albeit the one selling the widest variety of goods, so it's multi hectare span took me aback.

Set into different zones a myriad of wares are touted. From silk to sausages, leather to latex, dishwashers to diamantes - there is something for everyone. If you can put up with the icy wind, hocking vendors and absolute disorganisation then the Black Market offers a retail memory that will last forever. I didn't see any sign of Ewen McGregor, I guess that's a great advertisement for the the Black Market - his motorbike obviously worked. Shame though, I've always wanted to meet Obi-Wan Kenobi...

Mongolian of the day:- shop :: delguur

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

the minging food people eat

I like to consider myself a relatively adventurous chap when it comes to eating. You don't get to be my size if you turn your nose up at food too often. I've eaten almost every mammal in Europe; I've tried as many fish as I've had chance and I've even had a kebab on Caroline Street in Cardiff and lived to tell the tale.
However, my tastebuds were completely sickened the other day as I walked down a side street in Beijing. A myriad of startlingly interesting products were being offered up on sticks.
First up there were mice and rat parts; nothing too scary there, dormouse is not bad eaten with the right sauce. Further along came bats and marmotte. I was beginning to lose my appetite here. Venturing further into the masticating throng I saw a host of horrendous appetisers, including: starfish, sauteed dog, giant spiders, spiced cats chunks and to top it all 'live' scorpion kebabs.
If you don't believe the scorpions were alive click on the link here - truly minging.
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Mongolian of the day:- food :: khool

Monday, 21 February 2011

you know you've been in Mongolia too long when...

This morning I woke up, clicked on my iPhone weather app and revelled in the fact that it was an exciting -18C outside. After the crazy cold of recent weeks this felt pretty balmy and I looked forward to a nice long walk outside. It took a few moments before my brain engaged and I realised that -18C is still pretty bloody cold. Time to return to Europe.

Walking back from Ulaanbaatar to my house outside town I hiked along the river which retains a good metre of ice on its surface. The whole river and its banks are frozen; it is incredibly flat (and slippy). By mid afternoon the temperature had risen to -9C; the warmest it's been since mid October. I was far from alone as families took to the ice enjoying the moderate heat that was pouring across the Steppe for the first time this year. None of us wore jackets and some had short sleeved shirts on. As I contemplated taking off my jumper I remembered that it was still -9C. If it was the UK the newspapers would be warning people to stay indoors for fear of death. Perspective is a wonderful thing. Then again, so is good weather. Time to return to Europe.

Mongolian of the day:- Spring :: khavar

Friday, 18 February 2011

preparing to leave Chinggis behind

After two weeks in Beijing I have returned to Ulaanbaatar for the final time. At the end of the month I am heading back to the warmer (though less sunny) climes of St Jean de Luz deep within the Basque Country. The last nine months has been an awfully big adventure. That leaves me fourteen days to surmise what it was that made Chinggis Khaan so darned angry: stomach ulcer? migraine? parents? overworked? insecure? I will fathom an appropriate answer.It also only leaves me a fortnight to bid farewell to my Mongolian haunts and friends. I long to go horse riding across the Steppe once more but it's impossible sub -20C. Perhaps I could stop off here when I take a train from the Atlantic to Pacific later this year...
Meanwhile, back in the Basque Country the spring tides are raging and the massive wave known as Belharra is generating enormous surf. Watching this wee clip made me feel homesick for St Jean de Luz. La Rhune is resplendant in the background as always.
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Mongolian of the day:- good health! :: eruul mendiin toloo!