Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Ice cold in UB!

As I write this, I’m looking out on several yurts, a beautiful garden and the mountain beyond in a lovely hostel just outside Ulaan Baatar. I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but somehow all six ambulances entered the Mongolian capital in convoy yesterday. Given all the drama and hard work we’ve had over the last few months, it all seems a bit surreal.

Early celebrations started in Darkhan, when the end finally seemed in sight. After a few drinks in the hotel bar, most of the group decided to go out and sample the delights of a Mongolian nightclub. The locals seemed bemused and entertained as we all hit the dance floor, partying like it’s 1999 on a Monday night. We were equally bemused and entertained when Griff was chatted up by a rather persistent local man wearing a questionable hat! The club shut at midnight, which at the time seemed disappointing at the time, but at least it enabled some of us to catch up on some much-needed sleep while others continued on to a bizarre late-opening venue, which lacked both music and drinks!

It’s called ‘planking’ – apparently it’s all the rage in Darkhan.

The next morning we took time to explore Darkhan’s Buddhist temple and market before continuing on our way. The scenery surrounding us on the drive towards Ulaan Baatar was nothing short of breathtaking, with green towering mountains and open plains scattered with yurts. Cattle and goats being shepherded by men on horseback flanked the roads and we often had to slow down as they strayed onto the tarmac. Everywhere we go there are children at the roadside waving at us and smiling people asking who we are and where we’ve come from before wishing us well. Mongolia is nothing short of beautiful and its’ people have overwhelmed us with their friendly and welcoming nature.

A shrine to the sky gods over-looking Darkhan

A few mechanical issues prompted the convoy split for much of the journey towards Ulaan Baatar but we reunited around 50km outside the city so that we could all drive in together. There was elation as we all approached the sign welcoming traffic into the city. We could hardly believe that we had made it! After a few pictures, and a confusing conversation with a police officer who spoke no English, we carried on into the city.

Mission accomplished!

At this point the groups split, with teams Mahayana, Temujin and Breakfast choosing to stay in the centre while Kasotiri, Commonwealth and Mutley to Mongolia opted for hostel on the outskirts.

Navigating our way through the city was not easy – Ulaan Baatar makes Russian driving look safe and sensible! It wasn’t helped by the fact that their roundabouts seem to have very different rules, with the vehicle approaching the junction having right of way over the car already on the roundabout. Needless to say there were a few tense moments!

The last of the fuel goes in on the way to the hostel. Now Mongolia rather than lost!

Thankfully we arrived at our beautiful hostel in one piece and finally felt able to relax. We had a few too many ice cold beers and shared stories with some of the other hostel guests - many of them are also on long distance drives from Europe, so we’ve had quite a few common experiences.

It all still seems like a dream and we can hardly believe we’re here. All that’s left now is to hand our vehicles over to Go Help and enjoy the rest of our time in Mongolia!

Katie Norman

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