Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Butcher of Bondi

Or more accurately, of Wyong.

Look what she's gone and done to my barnet! Ok, so I've had an almost terminal case of helmet hair of late, and Nadine has a pair of medical scissors, and she sorted it. Sort of. But actually it is much better now and the resident sand and twigs are no more, yet she won't let me return the favour. Spoil sport. But wait till she's asleep;ha, ha.

Finally met up with Tuul (Purvee's wife – my sis in law's brother) this morning. Wires got a bit crossed as they always do with translation, but it all came right in the end. She gave us the tyres and tubes for Will, and we commandeered her taxi while she went shopping, and went looking for him at his hotel, which he had told us was on Peace Avenue ( the main street) behind the hospital. But the taxi driver didn't know it, and it wasn't behind either of the two hospitals he took us to. We searched unsuccessfully for two hours, with the cabbie making calls to his mates while he drove to try locate it. Then just as we were about to give up, a friend told him the exact spot and he took us there. And it wasn't on Peace Avenue at all but several side streets off it. Note to self: never believe other people's directions and don't try too hard for other people, especially when they don't appreciate the effort, and stiff you for cabs fares spent on them.

We are now resident in the ger community and it is great. Purvee has built a ger in his back yard for us and our bikes are safely parked in his compound. The neighbours ( and their dogs) obviously know all about us as they wave and yell San bainoo as we ride past – the neighbours not the dogs – and are very welcoming. It is excellent up here – terrible roads, a hotch potch of wooden huts, ger, wild dogs, wilder kids and intrigued people who as always, want to know who we are, where we came from, and why we are here.

The kids are really cool too and have been playing on our bikes, and most speak a few words of English -even Purvee's four year old - which they have been practising on us, and they really giggle when we get the Mongolian phrase book out and muller their language. It really is very difficult to get the sounds right as sounds seem to come from the back of the throat rather than the mouth like European languages. The women in the hotel had a good laugh too this morning but taught us the correct pronunciation for the most polite of Mongolian phrases after the initial greeting - “ how are your animals fattening?”. This is really a countryside phrase but we have adopted it as a bit of an icebreaker as it always makes people laugh and then chat to us.

So this afternoon, bikes unloaded, we rode around UB. Traffic was chaotic but certainly no worse that we have already encountered in Africa or earlier on this trip. Also had a quick whiz through Sukhbataar Square, past the embassies – all of which look decidedly dusty and a bit worse for wear – past the statue of Lenin which was deliberately left intact, untouched and undesecrated after the Russians let the Mongols have their country back, then had a look at the statue of Sukhbataar and the other bloke whose name begins with N but I cant remember ( Just discovered it was N Enkhbayar), before trying to find a camera charger for Nadine, and a sim card. We failed on both accounts, so gave up and had an ice cream, chatted to some of the street kids, then moved on when a drunken domestic developed right in front of our eyes;this is not a busman's holiday for either of us.

Now back in the ger community, Purvee is home – he looks just like sis in law but with shorter hair, and its all happy families. Really nice to be here and part of it.

Sorted our visa extensions

Remarkably painless and surprisingly organised, and we're now legal here for another week after our visa was due to expire But the office has moved – it's now near the airport, next to the new sports dome, rather than in Peace Avenue. A bit of a fag to get there but Tuul's brother kindly drove us. Bumped into the English couple from Ulan Ude who were towing a caravan – Carol and Mike. They are staying in UB and having a good time.

Limited sleep last night though – all the dogs in the neighbourhood versus the town cockerels in a howling and crowing contest. What a bloody din. Need some supersonic earplugs for tonight.

Just off back into UB central for some lunch then a bit of sightseeing. Will probably go to Sukhbataar Square and then Saisan. Bought a local sim card so we can now text home etc. But is was a complicated process – had to go to several counters and do stuff in Mongolian cyrillic, then go to another place to pay, and master the mad queuing system that they have here. Luckily, Tuul was on hand to help us again, but still, the whole process took about an hour.

Well the sightseeing didn't happen. Just as we were kitting up to go out, the heavens opened and it tipped it down. Then the thunder and lightening started and carried on for several hours. The whole ger community disappeared under a fug of grey misty rain, and the mud streets slipped a bit further down the hillside as the water soaked into the dust.

So we did the sensible thing and stayed inside the ger playing scrabble. And Nadine used up all the credit on the new sim. Bad woman.

I have also overcome my fear of the toilet here. It is wooden platform with a hole in it over a long drop of about 3 metres. What lurks down there is too horrible to describe but lets just leave it that you really wouldn't want to fall in it. Anyway, it put me off until I was really desperate but now I have a system: empty pockets of anything valuable, open loo door, walk in backwards but very carefully, hold onto shed wall, place loo roll on floor in front and well away from drop, rearrange clothing as appropriate, squat, then hope nothing goes wrong. It really helps not to look down to, but fortunately it is dark in there. And definitely don't go in there after a few drinks.

So tonight we've scoffed pizza at Marco Polo on Seoul Street. Lovely and a real change from our usual fare of whatever we can find, with bits of grass in it. Had a funny ride through peak hour traffic to get here. Streets were covered in mud and stones from the earlier downpour, and it was gridlocked with police on every corner, dressed like ice cream men, waving sawn off light sabres. But they didn't seem to mind us sneaking past the bits they'd blocked off, nor filtering, nor waving and chatting to the stationery motorists, or getting our pictures taken by them. Don't think they really knew what to make of us and so let us carry on doing our thing regardless.