A week in Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar Travel Blog› entry 12 of 37 › view all entries
I've stayed in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, for a week now. I have been waiting for my friends, who are biking from the Russian border. I found a guesthouse on the outskirts of the town centre which has a large garage to accommodate my bike. It's located in what I would typically call a slum. The houses and gers (Mongolian traditional dwellings, sometimes called yurts) are all crammed together on a dirty hillside and the infrastructure is limited. I'm staying in a dormitory ger which is assembled on the roof of a house. The toilets and shower are all outside, which wasn't a problem until it snowed! Imagine my surprise when I found the water in the toilet frozen solid! You also have to be careful because one of the toilets has no door handle on the inside.
While here, I've been practicing my French quite a bit. I'm sharing my ger with a Frenchman, David, and he speaks no English. Normally I need someone to translate for me, but this week I have been the translator. He has a keen eye for bargains in the stores and in return he has shown me where all the best deals are. If I want to save one cent on the price of juice, he will know a tiny store across town that has a lower price. Things are very cheap here, even in tourist restaurants. When I first arrived, I paid about $5 for the most delicious pizza I've had in a long time.
I've walked around the town a dozen times already. There is a large Buddhist temple near my guesthouse that I've visited a couple times. We woke early one day and went to watch the prayers. A monk named Dorje gave me his mobile number, but I'm not really sure why. There is a huge open square with statues of Mongolian heroes. In the centre is Sukhbataar, who brought Communism to Mongolia (Mongolia was the second Communist state in the world). Presiding over the square, accompanied by his honour guard is Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan), who seems to be a great hero, despite the image we may have of him.
I was getting a bit bored by the end of my week here and fortunately my friends all arrived by bike on Friday night. We all met together on Saturday for a pizza feast, and followed that up with a Chinese dinner tonight. I told them that unfortunately I had decided not to risk crossing the Gobi with them, as it is too cold this time of year and the desert is too isolated.
Today I was at the post office and I met a Mongolian woman with a German boyfriend. The German works here for an NGO that offers sustainable, fair tourism opportunities. I told him I was interested in taking a tour because I am tired of the polluted city and I have heard that the "real" Mongolia is in the countryside. Before I knew it, we were whisked off to a Christian church to attend mass with them! The service was in English and I translated for my French colleague. The music was energetic, and they even gave us little gifts at the end. Afterwards I met some of the other churchgoers, mostly Germans who work here. One woman runs a company which makes the juice I like to buy here. I definitely did think I would end up in a church when I woke up this morning.
Tomorrow I will go visit with the German's company and investigate the options for a tour in the countryside.