Some of you may not know, but the whole point of coming to Asia was to see first Vietnam, and then, Mongolia. I enjoyed very much all the rest, but it was just that, in all honesty - the rest. Since my childhood, I have been curious about these two countries, and now, finally, I have satisfied that curiosity. I left Beijing by train, crossing the mountains, leaving the Great Wall behind me, going into what the Chinese call "Inner Mongolia". On a final note about the Great Wall: I cannot imagine what the Chinese must have done to the Nomad Peoples of the north to piss them off so much that they'd choose to cross endless steppes, deserts and those mountains, and on top of that, a huge wall. That's so much trouble that I cannot help but think that somehow, the Chinese 'had it coming'. No way the nomads decided that it was a 'good idea' to invade China, just because they were 'savages', or because they needed something. 

After a while, Inner Mongolia was also behind me, and the great Govi Desert graced me with its beautiful sunrise. From the train, I had enough windows and time to enjoy it thoroughly. A train which I heartily recommend - it was more comfortable than most night trains I took in Europe (and I travelled on quite some back there). The experience of having the train lifted for the change of bogies due to the different gauges between China and Mongolia was also an interesting one.

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As I arrived at the train station in Ulaanbaatar, the feeling of excitement grew and I was really eager to start living the Mongolian part of the trip. I went to the parking lot after I exchanged my Chinese money for Mongolian Tugruks. A taxi driver approached me, we haggled a bit and I accepted his offer to take me to the Guesthouse where I was meeting a friend of mine, with whom I was going to share a two week trip through the steppes. When he started the car, his speakers blasted the loudest music I ever heard in a taxi; it was so loud it was impossible to recognize what it was. He apologized while bringing the volume down. It was Deep Purple's Highway Star. I told him to bring it up again, and we rocked away through a whole Purple compilation, including some of my favorite tunes. "This trip started well", I thought, while we went across town with the speakers really loud - even bus drivers banged their heads to our sound as we passed them. Heavy Metal country, exactly like I had predicted!

--Unfortunately, that was the last time I ever heard decent music in Mongolia. People here have a horrible taste, and the best western music our guide and driver had for the whole two week trip was Avril Lavigne. Good thing they had some Mongolian music (which was also of dubious quality, but new and different to our ears, so it didn't matter that much).--

That same day, we went to the "Black Market" (every town has one - a market where merchants don't pay taxes, and everything is way cheaper than anywhere else) and bought what was necessary to face the cold - after months in South East Asia, I was finally entering colder lands, and was very happy about it. I was very disappointed to see Ulaanbaatar, though - after being positively surprised by how modern and civilized the main cities in South-East Asia were, specially in Vietnam, the sheer chaos, dust, big piles of thrash and lack of infra-structure in the capital city of the once-greatest empire of mankind were a big let down. The traffic jams are only comparable to those I have seen in São Paulo, though it surprises me that they manage to do that with only 1.5 million inhabitants, 12 times less people than my hometown. One positive thing I discovered about it, though, was the "hitch-hike/taxi" thing going on. Wherever you are, you can just raise your arm and people will stop to give you a ride. Short rides can be free, but mostly people will charge you around 50 euro cents per kilometer (taxis are rarely seen - usually, it's just regular people trying to make a few extra bucks).

The next day we set off for the trip across the steppes to reach temples, lakes and mountains. I was extremely excited about the whole thing, and didn't really mind the bad music and the many hours we had to spend sitting in the (comfortable) jeep. The vast steppes were a delight to see, though I can imagine that if you are the unlucky bearer of ADD, you'll get bored really quickly, as there isn't much change in scenery. It's also important to notice that there are very few roads in Mongolia, and only one that is partly asphalted, covering the main destinations around the country (when I asked our driver what was his favorite part of Mongolia, he promptly replied - the asphalt -). Mostly, it's just a track left by cars that went by before, and you just drive in the middle of splendid nature. Which, unfortunately, in many places is spoiled by the loads of garbage that people throw around. Another very interesting thing was the amount of carcasses we found while strolling around the steppes.

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Before sunset, we arrived at the first Ger of our trip, where a nomadic family greeted us with the tradition of sharing Ayrag and Khoorog. Ayrag is fermented horse's milk and Khoorog is a bottle containing something you are supposed to sniff, which really felt like someone was sticking a needle up my brain. The Ayrag was fine, though my travel companion did not enjoy it any better than the snuff thing. I must confess that the food was not so interesting: it reminded me of the Netherlands, in the sense that people view food as fuel, not as pleasure. Potatoes, noodles, vegetables and meat all mashed up together, in a generally tasteless mess. Nevertheless, sleeping in a nomad's Ger for the first time was an unforgettable experience.

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On the second day, we reached the hot springs, of which we unfortunately didn't take any pictures. My travel companion decided to play at the extra-hot pool, with the cold winds punishing him while he was out of the water. After that we ate dinner in a hurry and climbed the neighbouring hills, which were cold, windy and home to wolves, according to the locals. While he seemed pretty happy doing all that, the evening that ensued was not pleasant at all and he fell quite ill. I was happy that I had avoided the hottest pool at the springs, as this seemed to be the deciding factor in his sudden illness.

On the following day we drove on to the Tsagaan Nuur, the White Lake in the south, which was a beautiful sight. On the way there we stopped to view a beautiful canyon, which if I remember well, is the Orkhon. We spent two whole days at the White Lake, but I will talk about it next week, as this post is already long enough!

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  1. The taxi trip on Deep Purple really got me. Nice post and congrats!

  2. Como de praxe, post muito bom. Espero que tudo esteja legal aí, maninho!
    Helena manda um beijo!

  3. Discovered you blog through the Alpha.mn interview. Enjoyed it very much. Glad you had a great trip in Mongolia!

  4. I'm really enjoying your blog. Looking forward for more. It's nice to know that Mongolian food is worse than dutch food. Next time you're in Holland I'll cook you a nice dutch meal.
    Goeie reis verder.
    Take care!