Our Mongolian friend, Byamba, who is currently studying in Vienna, recently wrote us to say she visits our image gallery often, especially when she misses her friends and family in Ulaanbaatar. “They really make me feel better. Never knew I was such a homesick person!”
For many of us, the bulk of our photographs are condemned to sit on a hard drive, slowly succumbing to bit rot. So it’s satisfying to know at least a few of our images are warming a homesick heart.[svgallery name="mongolia07"]Filed under photography, travels | Comment (0)
We won’t see pavement again until we reach the edge of Kharkhorin later tonight. A huge effort is underway to rebuild the existing highway, as evidenced from the multitude of trucks and other heavy duty equipment we pass en route. This construction forces us off the paved road and onto a dirt one, which then unbraids into half a dozen roadlets that thread across the steppes. Mongolians don’t particularly care to keep to one official detour. Our driver too decides at times it is better to scour a new path across the grass than to follow the existing rutty drags.
This is a rough, beautiful country, a lost one, with a broken history and stoic people. The landscape is endless and ragged, a thin skin of grass stretched over lumps of bones. In the tucks of mountains and hills, people have set their gers, which are bright dots against the dark and enveloping grass.
At Lun, about four hours from UB and far along enough to get a pompeiian dose of dust and heat, we had decided there was no way that we could make it to Tsetserleg in one day as the other team had done. The roads won’t improve and the travel was taking a toll on both N and A. I should say, however, that I have been amazed at how well our little one is managing so far. His sleeping and eating schedule is totally whack, but he seems as wide-eyed and hilarious as usual, easily endearing himself to the Mongolians. N deserves all the credit for this, for making sure he gets full and undisturbed sleep when he needs it. That she’s still breastfeeding has also made it easier for Augú to be fed and to be comforted.Filed under travels | Comments (2)
I embarked on a photo hunt this afternoon, as I usually like to do in new places. Too embarrassed to take shots of people, I stick with abstracts: sunlight on buildings, shadows, broken pavement, water, etc. I had just shot a string of photos of an ornate fence surrounding a bright yellow building when an armed guard approaches and asks me to follow him back to the security booth. He is smiling a little too much, trying to be overly polite and comforting, which makes me ill at ease. The metal of his gun has worn to a dull patina. He makes a phone call, his voice deep and his sentences curt. Pretending to fumble with my camera, I start to delete any photos that can be interpreted as “spyish”. I then try to show the guard the remaining images, but he brushes the camera aside and makes a sign that either means “wait” or “shove something in my face again and I’ll make knots in your fingers.” About a minute later a disheveled aparachik comes out of the building.”Why are you taking photos of this building?” he asks.
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For all our preparation and anxiety surrounding the little one, it was Nikki who got sick in the end. She woke me at 3 a.m. on the morning that we were supposed to leave for Sol Dav. Her forehead hot as an ember. Her defenses had been steadily deteriorating since we arrived in UB. We couldn’t mitigate the utter exhaustion we felt coming off the 27 hour flight (1 hour to D.C., 3-hour wait, 13 hours to Beijing 7-hour wait, 3 hours to UB) because AugÃº couldn’t fall asleep for hours after we arrived at the hotel. The little sleep she did get was light and not very rejuvinating.On top of this, United lost her only check-in luggage, which contained all her clothes and most of A’s. All the prep she did ahead of time, getting him good gear and clothes, gone. You were spared, dear reader, a post of invective hurled at the dinosaur airline because of a power outage in our hotel. On the eve of our trip out of the city, the airline calls to tell us they have no idea where the bag could be. So at the last minute, we had to scramble to get the child some new clothes and shoes for camping, underwear and shirts for her, etc.Of course, no sooner did we return from our shopping spree at the Sky deptartment store, the airline calls again to say it found the luggage and that we’d have it later that night. I think this is the point that N’s fever started. Continue reading »Filed under travels | Comment (0)
Bayaamba booked a lovely hotel for us down the street from the National University of Mongolia. The Michelle Hotel comes with a free breakfast (eggs, cereal, fruit, etc) and an internet/conference room, with connection speeds faster than any I’ve been able to find at the internet cafes here. The hotel is across from the gated Chinese Embassy and is only a ten-minute walk to the huge Sky Department Store, which stocks a host of Western goods like package fruits, diapers, canned goods. Not something I’d generally give a hoot about, but as we’re traveling with a toddler, it’s reassuring to know we have access to items not normally found in Mongolia. For quick shopping, there’s a 24hr mart next door to the hotel, as well as an “aptek”, a pharmacy.Filed under travels | Comment (0)
Ulaanbaatar is a loosely packed, dry and dusty town. It keeps low to the ground, with scarcely a building taller than 15 stories. The mountains around it keep the morning light undirected and the city stays cooler longer as a result.I find the place and its people to be extremely likeable and would normally be lamenting the fact we have to leave in a day, were it not for the awful air quality, which, coupled with jet lag, exhausts me within an hour of starting a walk. The diesel fumes are most concentrated at dusk. But by the early hours of morning, the streets are emptied of traffic and the fumes drift away until just the sweet smell of wood fire hangs in the air. UB is a place of contradictions. A stout monk in traditional garb walks around screaming into his cell phone. Dilapidated temples, in the shadows of new construction. Many cars have the steering wheels on the opposite side as American ones do, yet the traffic direction follows the U.S. system. Women in full length, traditional del robes wait for buses next to women with skirtsÂ so mini they look like belts.The Mongolian language can fall strong on the ears of westerners at first. But grow accustomed to it and you begin to notice that sentences start gruff then drop to an almost-whisper level, a perfect reflection of the extremes of this land and its climate. It is a low, masculine language, designed to travel across steppes and pierce frigid winds and dust storms. But the laughter is light and the songs are wondrous. If you find yourself on a crowded street corner waiting to cross, hope for a lull in the traffic: you just might hear a dozen people singing quietly to themselves.Filed under travels | Comment (0)
We arrive exhausted and wrinkled in a city made completely invisible by a shroud of haze. Smokers in the airport at every corner. Nowhere is there not a crowd. Our connecting flight to Mongolia is scheduled to leave in seven hours and we decide to head for the gate now and maybe settle in, sleep in shifts. I ask a security guard where the international transfers need to go, and she points to a giant sign in front of me that reads, “International Transfers.” Before you judge me a dumbass, dear reader: we follow the sign for about a quarter mile inside the airport, to a large counter. I ask the woman sitting behind the desk to forgive me for interrupting her personal cell phone call, and that we’d like to know which gate we need to be in for our Miat Mongolia flight to Ulaanbaatar. “This is international transfers for China Air only,” she says, and continues her phone conversation. Oh, I say, looking up at the large, authoritative sign above her head that reads “International Transfers,” giving no hint that there could possibly be another area in the airport that served the same function. I look back down to her. She says we need to backtrack almost the entire way we had come and get in line at counter #1 near the security gate. We find the area and of course, none of the counters are numbered. In the end, we manage to find the appropriate queue, called, “Transfers–Diplomatic Passengers.” We pinch ourselves for missing something so obvious. Continue reading »Filed under travels | Comment (1)
In 1998, scientists at Lamont-Doherty’s Tree Ring Laboratory and their colleagues in Mongolia found a Siberian pine tree in the Tarvagatay Mountains of Mongolia that dated back to 262 A.D. This old timer was a relict tree, dead since 496 A.D., enduring centuries of harsh weather at elevational tree line but not decomposing because it never touched the ground. It was a lucky find. They also cored living trees at the site, known as Solongotyn Davaa, or Sol Dav. The oldest of among these dated to the year 1428. In all, they harvested some 30 samples for analysis, including a good number of additional relict trees.By matching patterns in the rings, the dendrochronologists were able to connect the old timer to the other relict tree samples, and then connected those to the ones from living trees samples to ultimately get an uninterrupted temperature reconstruction from 262 to 1999.Next week, they’re going back to Sol Dav [map], to try to beat their record and to hopefully extend the chronology to 0 A.D.Filed under travels | Comment (0)