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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Schnirkel Openair

After a long absence Labia finally made a return to the stage. They spent the last couple of weeks practicing with their new drummer Philipp (formerly PX-Pain). The difference was apparent. The drum is twice as big as before and the music got a bit harder, nevertheless, the famous variability is still present.

But back to some more ordered thoughts. Labia rocked as the last band at midnight in front of a couple of hundred people at the quaint Schnirkel Openair in Glattfelden. The show was fantastic! Labia even played a song from Slayer in the middle of their set. The audience received them very well and didn't stop asking for encores, which unfortunately couldn't be fulfilled.

I've seen Labia 22 times now and I can't wait for the next show!

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Mongolia: There and Back again

After my two month stay in Mongolia last year, it was clear that I wanted to go back one day to see more of this wonderful country. However, I wouldn't have thought to come back this soon. But the signs seemed to be right when I booked my flight. Due to unfortunate circumstances my luck changed. But I had my ticket and I tried to make the best of it.

Part 1: Ulan Bator

This time I flew with Aeroflot from Zurich to Moscow and from Moscow to Ulan Bator (UB). The worst were the 7 hours I had to spend in Moscow airport, where there is absolutely nothing to do except shopping, and even this looses its thrill pretty soon. The best was the flight to UB, for whatever reason I was flying business class! Lots of space, nice food and even a white tablecloth.

In Daka's guesthouse, a very nice place with a fantastic breakfast but at 10 US$ a bit expensive, I met my friends, Ursula, Christa and Tabea who took the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow to UB. We soon started to plan our first trip. We soon agreed on the Ger to Ger trip to the Gobi desert. I was pretty amazed though that they recognized me in the Ger to Ger office. However, I was flabbergasted when I saw my picture on the front page of their new flyer!

I used the time in UB to meet up with Burmaa, a former co-worker, to arrange for a tailor. A tailcoat it should be, which I could then use for our diploma celebrations in November.

Part 2: The Gobi

On Friday, 4th August we boarded the public bus to Mandalgovi, where we arrived 7 hours later. We were picked up by a local facilitator who helped us arrange for a driver to get to the first Ger and to get around the last 3 days of our trip. In the office I found another picture of myself on the wall, the same as on the flyer. Dundgov Aimag belongs to the North of the Gobi Desert and against our expectations it was extremely green. We soon found out why, on our way to the first Ger it started to rain! After tea at Oyunerdene's Ger, where Christa tried to milk a goat and we listened to/sang Mongolian and European songs, we reached Darhanbaatar's Ger. Here it was time to say goodbye to our driver and start the real adventure. As it is custom we were immediately invited in for milk tea, I was surprised that the milk tea was unsalted, but it still tasted very good.

Our tents, bought at the black market in UB for 25'000 Tugrik, didn't have any tent pegs. Darhanbaatar (loosely translated: blacksmith hero) lived up to his name when he made pegs out of old pieces of metal for us. They were direly needed because heavy winds were blowing almost all the time.

The next three days were great fun. We played Shagaa (traditional Nomad game with ankle bones), tried our hands at the Horse-Head Fiddle, and rode Camels, Horses and Camel Cart. We played with the children, made felt, built a miniature Ger, sang songs, and enjoyed the landscapes and ate way too much food. There are too many memories to write about them all.

On the fifth day we met our new driver, who would drive us to Uush Sand Dunes and then back to Mandalgovi. He was accompanied by Oyuga, one of the facilitators working in the Mandalgovi Ger to Ger office. It was quite tight with four people on the back bench of the jeep, especially because it was designed for three, but we made do.

On the way to the sand dunes our driver got lost, which is normal in the Gobi with no road signs at all and just a couple of dirt tracks, but after driving around a bit we found two Nomads on a motorbike who could point us in the right direction. Our driver used the Mongolian GPS (Ger Positioning System) :).

We could spend the night inside one of Batsur's Ger, which was a nice change from our windswept tents. The sand dune was very impressive. According to local legend it has healing powers and I tried to channel some of these energies to strengthen my health ;). Just behind the sand dune was a "big" Saxaul forest that is lots of small trees resembling shrubberies.

On our way we visited the ruins of a city which burned down in 1955 as well as a small cave. The stay for our last night was planned in a Soum (a small town), however, we were not welcome there. The woman told us through Oyuga, who thankfully acted as our translator, that she didn't want any more tourists. After debating for a while we decided to head north in the later afternoon and camp in the nature close to Mandalgovi. Before we left we had the chance to wash our hair, that was a great relief!

Our driver took us to a riverbed surrounded by green meadows. We found a small streamlet as well as a couple of puddles. In one of them I made an interesting discovery: Tiny crabs that looked like they were leftovers from prehistoric times! Just when we wanted to pitch our tent a Mongolian family arrived with their Ger, so we went to another, quieter riverbed.

The next morning we decided to hike back to Mandalgovi, it was only 12 kilometres and we had all day to spend. The route took us through the local trash-dump, a huge field with trash and ash from former trash removal actions. In the middle of this dump we saw a pond which would have been deep enough to swim in (we were desperately looking for a lake or big river at the time), unfortunately it was extremely polluted and the water had an unhealthy brownish colour. The visit of the local Shower Palace (a house with 8 showers) was appreciated by all of us and we felt like newborn.

Early the next morning we took the public bus back to UB.

Part 3: UB again

Due to a miscalculation we arrived in UB a day early. Nevertheless we still found a place in our guesthouse. The next couple of days I spent hanging around, especially because I got a bad case of diarrhoea. Because there was no hot water in our guesthouse we decided to change to Idre's Gueshtouse (4 US$ a night without breakfast).

Part 4: Terelj

My second Ger to Ger trip took David (from Czech Republic), Jana and myself to Terelj. Getting there was very easy; we took the public bus for 1'500 Tugrik. Our directions were to get out at the final destination, however, a woman on horseback, stopped the bus on the way and told us to get out :).

We got to the first Ger on horseback. My horse had a different idea however and stopped cold in the middle of the river. No matter what I did, it wouldn't move. Only after the Nomad came to help me, we could finally leave the river.

For the second day we had 20 kilometres of horse-riding on the program. The saddles were not the traditional Mongolian kind (Wooden) to our great relief, but padded with comfortable leather cushions. We stopped at a Ger after only 1.5 hours. We noticed the Ger to Ger sign pointing in the wrong direction (normally it is always visible from the direction one is arriving) and gladly accepted the invitation for tea. When we were asked to pitch our tent, however, we started to rebel. We were in the wrong place according to the information we got back in UB. After several attempts our guide finally saw his error and we put all our stuff back onto the packhorse. Now, facing another 10 kilometres, our guide suddenly increased the speed and we were trotting for most of the way. Even with the better saddles this was not extremely comfortable. But we survived and reached Amarjargal's Ger. Close-by we discovered a small river, which was ideal for a short wash. During the night we heard a commotion outside; the dogs were barking and growling. We didn't think much about it and continued to sleep. The next morning we heard that wolves killed a sheep!

The next two days we travelled by Ox and Yak Cart, discovered Nomad traditions and learnt to tie a knot, sew a button and milk a cow. We spent a lot of time trekking and exploring the forests and mountains on our own. The landscape was very different to the Gobi, lots of real grass, lots of mountains, big forests and rivers. The downside of this was the hordes of mosquitos we encountered.

The nights got extremely chilly and my sleeping bag couldn't quite keep up with these low temperatures, so I was very grateful for an extra blanket that I got for the second night. It was getting close to new moon; in addition the moon was rising quite late, this gave us the superb chance to enjoy the stars. As in Arkanghai the year before I saw the Milky Way, thousands of stars and two satellites, unfortunately it was way too cold to stay outside for a long time.

The food was excellent again, we got Buuz on two occasions and very nice low fat dishes on the other days. As during the first trip we couldn't eat all the things we brought with us for lunch.

For the way back we took a minibus which charged the same price as the public bus and, to our great surprise, wasn't filled to burst. We were the only passengers going all the way to UB.

Overall it was a very nice trip.

Part 5: UB again and conclusion

My last day was spent with organising and packing. Shopping for my trail rations (I had 10 hours in Moscow to kill) turned into a treasure hunt. That's the fascinating thing about Supermarkets in UB. You can buy everything, just don't expect a product to be in the same place the next time you go looking for it :).

I still like Mongolia a lot, especially the countryside; however, my attitude towards the city has changed quite dramatically, as has the city. A new mentality seams to spread and lots of people follow the doctrine: "How to cheat the tourist". For example even cabs with taxi meters will try to charge several times the normal fare. In addition I had another unfortunate experience, my small backpack was stolen in the middle of Sukhbaatar Square (a huge square in the centre of UB), fortunately nothing of great value was in there, but it still annoyed a great deal. I ended up being extremely suspicious of everyone in UB, which is unfair in a way, because there are still people around who are willing to help.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Starring in an ad campaign

I was dumbstruck when I got my hands on the latest flyer of the Ger to Ger project in Mongolia. I was on the front page! Granted, it's not that clear, but I surely recognized my picture :)

I'm the guy trekking in the lower left corner.

I was even more amazed, when I spotted a huge billboard next to the train station with my picture on it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The last Shave

It is a tradition or an old charter or something that all graduating students at the Technikum in Winterthur grow a beard during their diploma thesis. Today all students of our class met for the last shave. From now on the beards will grow until our graduation ceremony on November 24th.

On the picture you can see me in my brand new tailcoat tailor-made in Mongolia. More news about Mongolia coming soon.

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