Thursday, May 28: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
14:00 I walk from Mongolian Steppe Hostel to the hotel that will serve as meeting spot for the Dragoman trip. There’s a note at the front desk of Hotel Zaluuchuud indicating that my roommate’s name is John and he’s from East Sussex, England.
15:00 First glimpse of the Dragoman truck comes through a third floor window. Her name is Sura.
15:30 I walk to the State Department Store to buy Mach III blades and a better water bottle than the one I currently use. The blades are insanely expensive in Canada and twice the price in Mongolia. I narrowly avoid being charged with shoplifting when I take the water bottle onto the escalator with me, intending to pay at the exit. That’s not the policy here. A security guard takes me by the arm and leads me back to the 5th floor cashier. (I later figure out that people taking you by the arm is more of a Mongolian thing than the guard’s attempt to stop me from fleeing.)
16:45 I stop at Caffe Bene for a latte and some wifi. The wifi works for 10 minutes but then shuts down and everyone in the cafe is out of luck. For once, it’s not just me!
18:00 There’s a group meeting at the hotel and I arrive 20 minutes early only to find that with no cell service my iPhone has not switched from Beijing time and I’m actually 40 minutes late.
19:20 Group heads to nearby Indian restaurant where everyone fills me in on what I missed. I like this group already.
23:30 My roomie, John, arrives after a 12-hour weather delay in Bishkek. He’s in surprisingly good spirits and I take that as a good sign. He’s only a few years younger than me, a tax department employee from London, and like me, this is his second Dragoman trip. We’ll get along well.
Friday, May 29
10:00 Dragoman has arranged for a 20-passenger bus to take us to the Gandan Monastery and Ulaanbaatar’s Black Market. Many of us have to buy sleeping mats and/or sleeping bags. I pick up the thickest mat they have for about CA$10.
15:00 Others return to the hotel on the chartered bus but Ros and I remain at the market to scout for bargains and photos. I buy a ball cap with “Canada est. 1967″ on the front. This is incorrect as 1967 was Canada’s centennial year. I suspect that these caps were rejected by a Canadian purchaser and ended up in this Mongolian market where they sell everything from saddles to ammunition to satellite dishes to “Apple” brand pantyhose complete with a rip-off Apple logo.
17:10 Ros and I share a taxi to the State Department Store but after 15 minutes we still aren’t sure that the driver understands where we want to go. After 30 minutes we arrive at the store (near the hotel) and the fare is less than CA$3. Ros buys marshmallows for a future campfire and I buy a second water bottle in as many days.
18:30 We’re late for the second group dinner. There will be many more so I don’t feel too guilty.