Sunday, 23 January 2011

Mongolia Part II (The Gobi)

As good a start to a post that there could be as we welcome our 122nd participating country to the readership. Brunei Darussalam holds memories for me as we enjoyed a week there between back-packing through China, and embarking on a 2 month adventure in Australia. Most fondly remembered were the people, a fantastic example of the Muslim world, and in conjunction the grandeur of the Great Mosque and Royal Palace. Welcome to the Blog and be sure to pass the link to your country folk.

Springlike would be a true description of how today began with the sun shining despite half cloud cover, very little in the way of wind and a slight increase in temperature. That was until reaching Portland where there was a curtain of fine mist and a wind chill, again from the north, making it a few degrees colder than Weymouth. With little or nothing to detain me my end of the Beach Road, as yesterday I caught an early bus to the Island where things were also very quiet. Bird wise, the Borough is in the Doldrums which is hoped will be short lived, but on the up side everywhere I went today seemed to be packed with House Sparrows. There was also this

'ringed' Rock Pipit which I cannot make head nor tail of, so it has been submitted to the Bird Observatory in the hope they can decipher it!

Regardless of the day the 'crabber' Portland Isle was working the 'ace' and other inshore waters, always a fine sight, and returning to Weymouth

c2 Dunnock were foraging in the centre of the town.

Yesterday's headline Nomad - Iron Maiden, (A Matter of Life & Death) provoked some reaction from a few, most e-mails stating the moment, for the writer, had been lost. In my view its never 'lost' as I was a late convert. I did listen briefly to the Paul Di'Anno years, when he was resident vocalist but in later years when Dickinson succeeded him I was totally blown away. I discussed this on the phone at length with my dear friend Andy Lindsay last night (the only time sense prevails is when we talk music) as he had recently watch an 'in depth' documentary on the band, and was totally surprised by their calculated, sensible and sober approach, not only to their music but business sense and fan-base alike.

I related to him a moment at the Manchester Apollo about 5 years ago when the 'mosh' where being a little more badly behaved than usual, spitting, urinating and generally cocking up the proceedings for everyone. The 'mosh pit' is the area directly in front of the stage at 'Metal' gigs where the die hards (equivalent of football hooligans) congregate for crowd surfing and other antics. It was obvious Dickinson et al was not best pleased and stopped the band mid-second track, making an announcement that the nonsense stops or the band does. The rest of a sensational set continued without hindrance.

The current, and by my calculation the best, line up comprises

from l to r - Janick Gers (guitar), Steve Harris (bass guitar, backing vocals, founder 1975, song writer and sole surviving original member), Bruce Dickinson (lead vocals & airliner pilot), Adrian Smith (guitar, backing vocals), Nicko McBain (drums, percussion), Dave Murray (guitar).

If indeed you fancied 'a toe in the Maiden water', you could do worse than trying their fine offering as above, currently available @ Amazon at a paltry 'fiver'. In the main it is a hard hitting 'Metal' excursion with a vocal range second to none, McBain at his zenith while Murray takes the Stratocaster into an unexplored dimension on 'Out of the Shadow' a gentle love song.

Hold a halo round the world, Golden is the day
Princess of the Universe, Your burden is the way
So there is no better time, Who will be born today
A gypsy child at day break, A king for a day

Out of the Shadows and into the sun
Dreams of the past as the old ways are done
Oh there is beauty and surely there is pain
But we must endure it to live again


Returning to Ulaan Bataar, the second leg of our adventure was to see as much of the renowned Gobi Desert as we could. The trains run daily to Beijing, the novel part of this journey being the 24 hours stop off at the Chinese border to change all the wheels on the train as the 'rail gauge' is different in each country.

A little spartan, the 4 berth compartments were alright with bedding provided and an adequate restaurant car and bar.

We thought we were going to be searched on meeting the train attendants when they asked if we had any alcohol, but this is the only place in the world I've ever been where the question was asked to make sure you had remembered to bring some!

I should just say a few words about the little boy looking up at us in amazement, as he was only 9 years old and had recently lost all his family. The only living relative he knew of was an uncle who was working in China which seemed to be his only lifeline to survival. Considering between us we had seen many 'scams' this wee fella seemed to be genuine and en route we bought his food and drink and later had a 'whip-round' for him. This is the only photograph we got of him.

Not wishing to make it look too obvious we all waited in the compartment for about 20 seconds after departure before heading for the beer bar, where we were to find some celebrities. Escorted by 2 of the biggest henchmen we had ever seen, this gentleman (with Billy Rhubarb & Custard Crumble) was Boyo, the countries top comedian,

while sat next to Jim the Medic was one of Mongolia's best know male vocalists Chimo. Accompanied by their staff and other entertainers, they were on the way to make a TV show and like us looking for a bit of fun on the way. Man, that was a night to remember, if only we could!

Our destination was Saynshand, a very small town, deep in the eastern part of the Gobi and on arrival at midnight the only light were those on 3 or 4 jeeps waiting for the train. Boyo saw us off the train and yelled at the jeep drivers who took us (free of charge) to a disused Russian Army barracks that served as the only hotel. The 2 'fat lads' got the bunks while yous truly won the sofa but that was of little consequence.

In the morning we were met by an English speaking, middle aged man who said he could arrange anything we wanted but asked if he could join us in whatever we decided. to practice his English. That was no problem at all, as he proved to be a very useful guide

Jim getting the view from the top,

of us and the Jeep below.

As we drove further and further into the desert, there was barely a time when a religious monument (Oovo) was not in view,

while at this one, covered in attiks, which seemed to be something of a cross-roads

we met these lovely people having a picnic. We had no idea where they came from, or where they went but they shared food and whatever that alcohol was in the plastic Jerry can and we all went on our way.

Jim was happy to spin a few prayer wheels, but we knew we were in trouble when we found

Billy all done up in his Sunday best, complete with lipstick - it is Billy isn't it?

About 50 miles on we came across an American Roc Oil Base where, apart from the menacing looks of the armed guards on the watchtowers we were made particularly welcome as we explained being in the same business.

Jim Mckay (Base Manager) from deep south Mississippi was off base at the time but quickly recalled to meet his unexpected guests, from whom we received some special 'southern' hospitality.

It was soon time to get going again and reaching Dalandzadgad, another god forsaken enclave, we decided to return from whence we came.

On the way back we saw a few 'wild' Camels, but most of these beasts are now domesticated.

What was only a dream thus far was to see a Khulan, the Wild Ass of the Gobi, both timid and elusive we were told they are rarely seen. That was before 'keen eyed' Billy picked up a small herd about a mile away, an excellent end to this leg of the trip. We returned to the capital just to rest up for a few days before heading to Terelj about 80 miles away.

There, it seemed more Alpine, but the heavy rain hardly stopped and we all got more than one soaking.

A little damp Bill?

A wood-chopper returning from the forest.

Before we left the Oil Rig for this trip, one of our mates had drawn this cartoon of what we might expect to encounter. The almost obligatory plane crash, Vultures, seedy hotels and of course Yaks on which Billy is riding, Jim is pushing and I am guiding while bird spotting.

On the road to terelj we found a woman with a pet Yak which she hire to us so we could re-enact the scene from the cartoon for this photo call. On our return to England I had T-shirts made with the drawing on the front, the photo on the back and some appropriate wording - a fine conversation piece in most pubs we went into after that!

and finally, in the Ulaan Bataar Mega Store where you could buy just about anything, we each bought a traditional smock and a variety of hats, since when I have worn one of my hats every day. This is me, the wife and brat at the Sales.