Now, much further ahead than I should be, I must recount the wanderings in Mongolia that lead me to this Olympic Paradise I now enjoy. Visa secured, well, receipt in my pocket, which assured me I would be welcome to pay $130 a few days later in return for my passport with its new stamp, I wandered out of the city to find some of the vast Mongolian steppes and mountains and rivers and streams I had driven through but not explored. Finally, after three hours wandering through town in failed attempts to catch the right bus, I arrived, via paved roads - surprise! - to a monastery south of town, carrying my backpack through at sunset and arriving atop the southern mountain just at dusk - I experienced the Buddhist flags and stone piles in the dark and then made my bed under a tree. I walked back to town the next morning, laughing about all the fuss over this visa - they really only wanted to see a few things, ticket in, ticket out, bank statement, letter of invitation from my friend, copy of his passport, copy of his lease, copy of my uncle's youngest daughter's catholic sunday school diploma. In town, I headed to the British pub, rumored to have some Mongol Ralliers, but not before a nap back at the guest house because my tree had been less than five star. I ran into a British chap who we had seen on the road about 1500 km back, arrived and alive and headed out that evening, securing my final picture for Chris, to prove I was still sporting the reverse mohawk.
Next step, buzzers, and it was great to lose the hair beard and grease that had accumulated over the years of not showering. That night I met a Chinese-citizen-British-marine who had hitchhiked across the US to prove to his friend that On the Road was still a liveable dream. We managed to find a really good local rock band jamming out with traditional instruments, followed by a US trouncing of Lithuania in basketball (prelims), which got me excited to get down to some celebrating soon in Beijing.
Despite my attempts to find other climbers, I headed east of Ulan Bataar to the national park alone, staring in awe as we passed boulder after boulder and eventually trotting off the bus when the rocks disappeared behind us. To my rescue, Chook strolled up and convinced me to come to his gher village to stay and fish and hang out with his broken English, scribbling something about two dollars and fifty cents in the dirt. I wandered through stream after stream - bridges were not a luxury expended by this area - and found a fishing pole, kindly offered to me by a man who, as it happens was disassembling a cow with his family when we stopped by. I failed to catch any fish, but I was more interested in standing around than really triumphing over nature, and had the surprise of a lifetime when three white guys rode up on horseback and also happened to be Mongol Ralliers. Whoops?! That evening I was treated to dinner by Chook's family - some delicious noodles fried by his father because his mother had broken her arm in an accident in town. A night in my own gher - I couldn't quite believe it, the coziness, the warmth, my own fire - and it was in fact too good to be true because the next day, good old Chook dropped the bombshell that it was in fact twenty five dollars for my night, claiming that a hangover had impaired his speech the night before... I wandered away after an hour of arguing with seven dollars less - not bad for a gher, fishing and dinner.
I found a boulder - maybe "Turtle Boulder" as someone else's Lonely Planet had recommended but I failed to get to the top of it - my climbing stamina is much weakened and I had nowhere to warm up, but did snap a few pics. I saw a black squirrel as I trekked around, assumed it was good luck, and ran into a local who gave me a ride, advice on where to hike, and dropped me right by some more beautiful rocks. More hills than I had asked for separated me from the final town of destination, but wearily I arrived, stuck out my thumb, and got driven the last mile or two to the Air Adventure Camp, where Alex had promised me an affordable morning of paragliding. This ex-special force sniper told me story after story about taking down animals from far away distances - 1500 meters - and in the dead of winter - a huge red wolf - and with his bare hands - a bear? Not quite.
Alas, it wasn't in the cards and after sitting around for a day, waiting for the right wind, I headed back to town, and found myself a bit under the weather - maybe it was my four polish candy bars that got me through my waiting. I sucked it up, loaded my fancy Swiss phone and its super tiny memory card with mix tapes from my friends, and managed to interview a non-profit (Asia Foundation) about river water quality in Mongolia. The day passed quickly with the help of naps and some conversations in the guest house, but suddenly I was late, somehow with only twenty minutes to catch my train. Stupid twenty four hour clock. I hopped on, just in time, and took off toward the Chinese border with a multicultural car of Japanese, Swiss, Australian, and the newly hairless Texan fellow. China here we come!!