Friday, August 22, 2008

Eclipse 2008 - Mongolia

The long journey.

After many many hours on an airplane, we arrived in Seoul, South Korea. First, we slept. Then, the next day, we went out and looked at the Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was a grey day, and it was the rainy season, but we got lucky. It didn't rain much, and the clouds protected our weakling skin from sunburn. It did seem a bit dreary, but the incredibly colorful palace made up for it!

The palace also had some unusual stone critters protecting the place:

We sat here awhile, and listened, astounded to the crazy cicadas.

Clicky for Cicadas!
(Turn your speakers up LOUD for lifelike effect!)

The pictures now jump to Mongolia, and I think Lennart must have a few in his phone that haven't been unloaded. Ahh well, here is Sükhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar:

A random skewered flying saucer:

And a little boy who decided we were utterly fascinating but still had to play it cool:

We later visited the Bogd Khan Palace Museum. More color!

These fellows on the doors were impressive:

Oooh, look, it's me!

After that, we toured the city and went way up on a hill near the city to see a very nice, old Communist monument (and a large, golden Buddha).

(Keep in mind, the housing seen in this area is REALLY expensive, even by our standards, and the only people who can afford to live there is foreign businessmen and politicians.)

View over the city:

There is this weird mix of old, decaying Soviet buildings and new, glass structures. The Mongolians themselves tend to refer to themselves as Asian in location, but Western in attitudes, and I would have to say it is true. They might look like their neighbors to the East and the South, but their behavior is much more Western. They have long been sending students to universities in Berlin and Moscow, and have, since the fall of the Soviet Union, been heavily influenced by Western Europe and the US, which they like, but also by China, which they don't like. In that respect, it seems many miss the Russians and their former ability to keep the Chinese out. And yet, when the Communists recently stacked an election, there was a demonstration in which the Mongolian police (never having dealt with such things before) blundered and the whole thing turned into a riot, burning down Communist Party headquarters and injured many (even could have killed a few...not quite sure). They're very independent, that's certain!

That night, we were supposed to fly from Ulaanbaatar to Ölgiy (the green marker) to then drive on to the eclipse site (the blue marker). But our travel organizers had underestimated what would happen when lots of people came to see an eclipse, we think, and the flight went away and we had to fly instead to Khovd (the turquoise marker). And drive from there.

View Larger Map

Our interesting little hotel in Khovd:

(Note the remote control. There was a tv, but it showed only a splotchy rainbow of colors on all channels. Lennart said it needed to be de-magnetized.)

The electrical outlet Lennart bravely used to charge his laptop:

Our lineup of good ole Russian vans, ready to take us on our trek:

These vans are each owned by their respective drivers who are not just "drivers" but also fabulous mechanics, and they have to be. They carry a number of spare parts (which you may later see lying along the "road" whenever you stop--and there will be frequent stops, for who knows what reason, really.) Being a driver in Mongolia is an occupation that mothers dream of for their sons. Seriously.

The...traffic in Khovd:

"It'll take about 6 hours to get to the eclipse site," they told us.

In most of Mongolia, there are no roads. Or rather, there are as many as you like:

The first breakdown:

A big bug:

The second breakdown:

The third breakdown:


Not much to eat here:


The fourth breakdown:

The Altai mountains:

The fifth breakdown:

A slight...puddle:

Our driver made a pit stop to say hello to his sons, who are here helping to build the road:

Another big bug (these are relevant! One jumped down my bra later. Eek!):

The place with the two trees:

The sixth breakdown. Really:

The seventh breakdown:

Anyway...after more than 16 hours of driving, we got to the eclipse site at around midnight. Lennart and I crashed in our gers and the next morning, we and our van-mates (we had the coolest van of all, everyone agreed!) grabbed the beer we'd wisely bought the day before and went down to the river to drink and relax:

Our little ger camp. Ours is the littlest one at the furthest right of the picture:

Some riders put on a bit of a show:

Then it was time to go watch the eclipse:

Mostly it's a lot of waiting:

But then:

The next day we learn that we don't have to drive all the way back to Khovd, but only to Ölgiy, to fly back to Ulaanbaatar. Yay!

How do they find their way in the dark?

A pretty lake that we completely missed in the darkness when driving in:

Our driver...waiting for the radiator to cool down:

The airport in Ölgiy. No indoor plumbing, but there was a shed of 4 or 5 pit toilets where you crouched on very flimsy boards over a hole in the ground. Oh, and there was a little goat trapped in there. :(

Items you should not have in your carry-on:

And then, without further ado...once we got to Ulaanbaatar, our flights to the Gobi were rescheduled to that night. So we flew to Dalanzadgad (the red marker in the map above) The couple who went with us were two from our cool bus, so we four had a good time down there!

We walked into this canyon...

That once had ice up to where the black rock meets the beige:

Now, this is about all that's left:

It was hot...hence my't unhappy, promise!

A family milking their goats:

Their sensible dog who stayed in the shade of the ger:

They were also making felt for the gers. You take the goat wool, get it wet, roll it up tight, and then drag the roll around on your horse for awhile. Repeat. Eventually, it gets compacted together enough to use for the walls of your ger.

Some stray camels:

The Flaming Cliffs. We decided we'd seen weirder in Utah. Lots of fossils and dinosaur eggs have been found here, though:

A saxaul tree...which our guide kept pronouncing as a "sexual" tree. :)

This day, we visited the camel herders. I'm pretty sure that somewhere in Lennart's phone is some pictures of the inside of their ger and all the fermenting and fermented camel and horse dairy products we were offered. Let me just say that I have now tasted them, and no longer need to. Ever.

Before we left, a village near us was having their Naadam festival. We saw the winning horses:

And the fancy party clothes:

And the archery:

And the wrestling:

The winner floats around his "coach":

And gets a prize of bread and camel cheese:

And we got more fermenting mystery milk:

Our ger in the Gobi:

The dining ger from the outside:

And the inside:

And finally back to Ulaanbaatar, where we visited the monastery:

Big Buddha!

(these are made of flour paste, and they do new ones regularly)

A throne fit for a lama:

Many arms:

The monastery school:

And finally, Ulaanbaatar on our last night: