Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



Greetings from Mongolia.

Although it has only been a brief sojourn here, I have got to know the country a little and enjoyed myself a lot.

The train from Beijing to Ulaan Bator (UB) was very comfortable. The carriage I was in was to be dropped off in UB so all the passengers were only going that far. Half of them were Japanese, including my compartment mate and they got off just after we crossed the Chinese Mongolian border so there was only a few left, I had my compartment to myself, next door were a couple of girls, Alice and Arabella who were off to teach English at an orphanage in UB for six months before going to University. There were also a couple of decent Dutch blokes Micha and Mark who were just going to Mongolia for a short time to see a bit of the country. Other than these four were an Austrian couple who we only saw just before arriving in UB and a Korean bloke who kept to himself. Still not a bad little group and we chatted and drank beer happily together. The scenery out the window was generally nice and there was even some snow in the lower Gobi, as we passed through Inner Mongolia.

As Russia and Mongolia have a peculiar gauge railway network, when the trains get to the border from China there is what I am led to believe is a unique process whereby the bogies of all the carriages must be exchanged for ones with this unusual width gauge. So after passing through Chinese immigration, leaving the country one can either disembark and relax in a waiting room or stay on an watch the whole bizarre process. All in my compartment stayed on board as we had picked up some beer at a previous stop so there was no reason to get off. The train then pulled into a large shed and the carriages are all separated from one another and put on jacks and lifted up, the Chinese bogies are disengaged and shunted away, it is then strange looking around the shed to see all carriages just suspended in mid air bogieless. Then the Russian/Mongolian bogies are brought along and attached to the carriages, the carriages are lowered, they are all checked, then they are all shunted back together again. We then went to a station a couple of minutes up the line, where the duty free shop refused to serve anyone. A woman selling grapes went past so I asked her to get us some beer, she returned a couple of minutes later with a case which we dutifully bought and then I changed the last of my Chinese money into US dollars with the same helpful fruit seller. Whilst waiting to move on a few of us enjoyed a game of train Frisbee with a metal dish, much trickier due to the narrowness of the corridors and also pretty noisy. About two in the morning we moved just a short way up the tracks where we came to the Mongolian immigration, they were all much friendlier than their Chinese counterparts and the soldiers outside were very cheery with great big cheesy smiles despite the arctic weather. They particularly appreciated the bottle of Baijo (Chinese spirit) I gave them which they necked in one gulp each and threw into the snow and gave even cheesier grins. Shortly after they even came aboard and made a point of shaking hands to say thanks. Much nicer than most of the border guards I have previously encountered.

The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful, but the views of the desert and then the steppe going past were nice. We arrived in UB about two in the afternoon and Nassan, the owner of the guest house I had previously contacted was there to meet me off the train and take me to her place. There I met Robert, a Swedish bloke I had met a few weeks earlier in Xi An. We went for a wander round town together and when we saw a Mongolian Fried Chicken restaurant we couldn’t help ourselves but try. When we returned to the guest house, Mark and Micha were there putting plans together for a jeep trip, so I invited myself along and we worked out an itinerary for a week long trip through the Mongolian hinterlands starting the next day. With that business out of the way we went off to have a few beers and some food.

The next morning Seren our driver came to pick me up from Nassan”s and then we picked up the other two from their hotel before going to stock up on provisions for the next days. Then we took off into the great wide open under a sky of blue. Mongolia is alternately known as the Land of Blue Sky and the Land Without Fences. It is what the Americans call big sky country, with absolutely clear blue skies and most of the time uninterrupted panoramas. It is also somewhere where there is almost no private land ownership, therefore almost no fences outside of the towns, which adds to the pristine appearance of the place. There was even a proposal at one point to turn the entire country into a national park, but instead they settled for about thirty percent of the land, still very impressive. Considering the population is less than three million people spread over a country three times the size of France there is a general feeling of space and at times even isolation.

Heading off into the wilderness that makes up most of the country Seren and I attempted communication, but his English is limited to say the least and my Mongolian is almost non-existent. He then started saying odd kind of words to me which after a while I worked out was his version of French, with a fair twinge of Mongolian involved. At least now we had a way to communicate and over the next few days my proficiency in this strange Mongolian derivative of French became near fluent. When we drove across the steppe and saw white foxes, eagles, buzzards, hawks, vultures, swifts and thousands and thousands of voles. A couple of times we even saw marmots which were supposed to be hibernating as well as a few ermine and ferrets. From time to time we would also see a Ger, the traditional home of the nomads in this part of the world. Essentially the same as a Kazakh Yurt, with only subtle differences. These were to be where we stayed for most of the week, a circular felt tent with a peaked centre where the chimney from the dung fired stove pops out. One would also see guys on horseback wandering through what looked like the middle of nowhere.

That evening we stayed the night by a small lake called Ogii Nuur, where Seren found a Ger with an old couple living in it where we could stay. They made us dinner and we attempted some basic communication. In a Ger there are a number of rules and types of Etiquette, from the way one offers and takes things, to what and where a guest can go within the thing. Our hosts made us some mutton Goulash with macaroni, a meal we were to have repeatedly over the following days. These people go to bed early, which means we do to so, at nine o’clock it was bedtime and we made sure we wrapped up warm for the subzero night time temperatures. Next day we headed onto Terkhin Tsagaan Nuur, another lake. This one however is formed by a number of interlocking craters that gives it a very special look. A bit before we got there we picked up a mother and son hitch-hiking who’s family we stayed the night with. The mode of finding accommodation in this part of the world simply being finding people, they welcome guests, particularly if they come as we did bearing gifts. Once again we had Goulash for dinner and another early night.

In the morning Seren showed us some of the craters and fissures from the local tectonic jiggling. We went past a couple of canyons and climbed a small mountain for nice views of the area. As much of the day-time involved long off road drives cross country it gave a lot of time for conversation, not all of it entirely sensible. On the way to Tsetserleg, the next stop we (Mark, Micha and I) decided to found the republic of Xanadu (Xanadu because it’s Kublai Khan’s place and we were in his country or at least his great granddad Chinggis Khan’s country. Also because there is no country beginning with X, something that should be rectified). I was elected Prime Minister, over the next years to progress to President, King then Emperor. Mark and Micha were to be ministers. As you can tell we had quite a bit of time to kill. This little conversation ended up having repercussions that lasted until the guys left the country as will become clear later.

In Tsetserleg we visited a nice monastery and museum had a slightly different goulash for dinner and checked in at a hotel in order to have showers etc. We also made good use of the bar and then later went upstairs and played several games of pool, when the Mongolian Olympic Wrestling team turned up, who I was to find out later were in town for a wrestling championship the next day. Their training regimen differed somewhat from that of other athletes. They were drinking and smoking quite heavily and they also had a room with a prostitute in that after the team manager had sampled the team all took in turns to have a ride. It made for quite an amusing spectacle to see these guys when I was playing pool with them and they were taking it in turns to go into the room and bang the whore. One would come out and take the cue from the one I was playing pool with like they were passing the baton in a relay race. They were mostly fun guys and we had a good laugh despite the lack of a common language, they found it particularly amusing when I would launch myself at them trying to



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