Friday, August 23, 2013

End of the Road

It's an exciting time to live in Ulaanbaatar.  Lots of stuff is going on.  I was worried about running out of things to write about, but heck, with the Mongol Rally in town, a food festival at a new shopping/living center called Viva City, and the first Ulaanbaatar film festival just being announced, it looks like I'll be kept busy, not to mention that part of the black market, Naran Tuul, burned down yesterday morning.  Engrish and I were out on our morning constitutional when we saw a huge black cloud billowing up. 
The Mongol Rally is what I, a seasoned travel veteran, would term a true adventure.  Groups get a granny car in Europe (some start in England, but others join in the Czech Republic) and drive all the freaking way across central Asia, according to whatever route they feel like taking, til they get to UB, where their car will be sold for charity.  It's organized by a group called the Adventurists, who seem to have all sorts of crazy events (if driving across Central Asia isn't your thing, maybe you'd be up for racing rickshaws across India, or a 1500km run across the hostile terrain of Siberia?)

Well, this spring I missed seeing all the cool cars coming through town for the Peking to Paris rally, so when I heard about the finish line party for the Mongol Rally, I decided to go against my introverted nature and check it out.  It was set to begin at 8, and I got there about 8:20, to a nearly empty bar.  There were a few ralliers (would that be the word?) around, so I sat at a table with a trio of attractive British guys who regaled me with their stories.  My favorite was that they had made it all the way into Mongolia before their first major problem, when they punctured their gas tank.  One of them had gone looking for chewing gum to try to patch it with, but were saved from testing this avant-garde repair method when another, better prepared group caught up with them and gave them some putty that was designed for that exact purpose.  I really loved the sense that I got of these guys, all out on this great adventure, meeting like-minded people and helping each other out; there was a real sense of camaraderie amongst the ralliers, who knew each other by name and had all these stories in common.  It made me want to give it a go, although there seemingly weren't many either Americans or women in the group.
Well, a finish line party demands entertainment, and what better way to entertain men who've been on the road four weeks than with contortionists?  The ones hired by XO were great, and it was interesting to see them so close - normally you're further away, but there's just not that much space in a club.
However, the highlight of the evening - at least when it comes to the entertainment - was Altan Urag's performance.  They mix traditional Mongolian melodies and instruments with rock and roll.  It's amazing.  They perform regularly at Ikh Mongol, next to the circus, but I've never seen them because Ikh Mongol is kind of a bar and I don't spent a lot of time in bars without having a good reason.  Altan Urag seems like a pretty good reason, now that I think about it.
The thing that I felt like I missed out on, going to that first party, was the lack of stories on their "Tales of Adventure" map.  No one had written anything yet!  So when Engrish was kind of moping last night because she wanted to go to the party but she had to pack, I convinced her that we should go - we could watch the entertainment and talk to a few people and still leave early.  When we got there just past ten, it was packed and we weren't allowed in - apparently if you didn't already have a ticket, you had to have a Rally wristband.  I did take a look at the map quickly, but nobody had written on it.  Which could be another reason why I need to do this some year.

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