The Beginning – Impressions of Ulaanbaatar

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It is difficult to describe the beginning of an adventure while the end is most present in my mind and my dreams are still filled eagles, yak, and the sour-musty smell of dried yak yogurt-cheese (I have never before experienced dream smells.) Here, however, are my first impressions of Ulaanbaatar, where my 14-day through Mongolia began.

The trip started on the final sliver of moon mid-September in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. After 24 hours of mostly uneventful airline travel from LAX to Beijing with a transfer on to Ulaanbaatar (or UB as the locals say), I first met Buugii and Yonda at the airport on the east side of the city. I had yet to fully realize their role in our adventure: Buugii as guide and camp mom and Yonda as driver in Van #1.  In the parking lot on this pleasantly warm 70+F degree day, Yonda was greasing the front axle of his pale green-grey vintage UAZ 469 or “Buchanka”. To me it looked sort of like a VW van. They are apparently mechanically very simple, last forever, and, as I experienced, can traverse almost any terrain.

After being dropped off at the hotel, I went for a walk through downtown UB. I was hardly prepared for what I saw with its hustle and bustle and the contrasts of old Soviet buildings, shed-based shops, and modern high-rises with a busy street life showing both traditional and modern fashions. And the traffic! Mongolians are truly crazy drivers. I walked an hour or so to the center of town and back to the Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace and tried to capture a few scenes of a city and people very unused to seeing camera wielding visitors.

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