“For the truest satisfaction of the Wanderlust is to explore the world by virgin routes and pose as a bold pioneer in the rendezvous of the “profession” ever after.”
-Harry Franck, Vagabond Journey Around the World
This above quote sums up the approach of the traveller in Mongolia perfectly, as there are large tracts of land here that are not often tramped by even the most rough-necked wanderers. Wayfaring here is a definite possibility, and the edges of civilization can be breached. But the hows of such need to be sorted a little and preparations need to be made before setting off. So I sit in Ulaanbaatar studying Mongolian and talking to all the travellers that have returned from journeys in the Wayside.
I arrived in Ulaanbaatar around three days ago, and have just been taking it easy- pondering upon what I would like to make of this huge country. I registered with the Immigration office today, so I have almost three whole months to explore the deserts, mountains, and steppes of this land. But I am feeling a little in the mud, as I have found a little comfort and do not want to stray from it too hastily. I have also decided that a little knowledge of Mongolian will be of great use in the countryside; so I found a teacher and will begin studying tomorrow. But the open road is calling.
The traveller Loren Everly, (over 70 countries, www.loreneverly.org), asked me if I wanted to go up to the national park 65km from Ulaanbaatar with him for a couple of days. I pondered it for less than a fraction of a second and five minutes later I had my bindle thrown together, the guest house paid off, and we were out the door. We walked to where we were directed to catch the bus but did not find it readily. So we asked a few passerbys where we could find the station by showing them the little yellow post-it note that had the address written on it in Cyrillic. We were then pointed in the direction from which we just came. Thinking that we mis-understood our initial directions we hastened up to where we were now pointed. We asked a few more people only to be led in circles around the city. So we gave up, figuring that we missed the 4PM bus anyway, and just returned to the guest house the butt of the entire residency’s jeers. “Wow, that was a really fast trip, man!,” they all said laughing at us. It is a good thing that we did return so quickly because I found my pink slippers by the doorway where I had forgotten them. I don’t know what I would do without my little pick slippers. Everybody, and I do mean everybody, that I have come across in Mongolia has pinked on me for wearing these slippers of feminine color. “Ha ha! your have all these tattoos and tough looking clothes but you are wearing PINK SLIPPERS!” “Sorry, man, but they just look stupid.” Then I have to explain how my girlfriend had given them to me before she left and how they are special to me. They just laugh all the more.
Ulaanbaatar is perhaps one of the most un-photogenic cities that I have ever been to. Maybe this is because it was built on Communist dictates, perhaps this is because the Mongols have little interest in cities- their capital seems to be more of an afterthought than a point of national focus. It almost seems as if this city was constructed solely because Mongolia felt pressured to have some kind of urban assemblage within its borders. But this place is alright. The city proper consists of a few main streets, a few temples, a black market, and lower class Ger camps that surround the periphery. But, it is a decent place to lounge around for a few days and read and talk to other travellers.
The foreigners in Mongolia seem to be 50% train people coming through on a couple of day stop on the Tran-Siberian Express, 25% business people , and 25% roughneck traveller who can boast of no other home but their boots. I have found the company of the later group very amiable and have enjoyed the conversations that pass around between the travellers in this city.
All of this travel through national capitals have made me begin thinking about my impressions of all of the capital cities that I have been through. These ponderings have provoked the following list of National Capitals and my impressions of the in a few words.
Quito: In the past
Lima: On the rocks, colonial outpost ever present
Santiago, Chile: Fast running, yet without vigor
Buenos Aires: Impeccable
Montevideo: Still a sea port city
Washington D.C.: Desert of the human spirit
Madrid: All- invasive, thorough old-time Grandeur
Tokyo: Metro, metro, metro, metropolis, ingenious
Bangkok: Temporary outpouring of personal suppression
New Delhi: Escape plan needed
Beijing: New-world desert
Ulaanbaatar: In the dirt, revealing
As of now, I think that I am going to try to study Mongolian until I can travel on it and then maybe try to find some Archaeology work. My Archaeology buddy Steve Marquat gave me that idea, and I think it is a good one. A few days of sending out some letters my find me in a really interesting position in a location that I would not otherwise be able to access. I could also use a little work at this point. Summer is coming up and that is the season for labor. I could also use a little bean money.
Outskirts of Ulaanbaatar.
Ger camps on the fringe of city.
Travelling Banjo man. He is Renault and he is from France. He has been traveling the world for the past twenty years playing his Banjo in the streets for his bean money. Every nook of the globe has at one time or another heard the sound of his banjo. A lifelong and professional busker, he said that, “twenty years ago people told me that I could not do this, that I would starve. Look at me now, twenty years later.” He was a real jolly companion and told worst jokes than me and other silly anecdotes of life “on the road.”