Sunday, 26 August 2012

dust and a sharman

We spent some time last night talking to one of our colleagues who puts our running exploits to shame. She has completed the 'grand slam of ultra running', running 4, 100 mile races in one season. In doing so she became the 5th woman to complete the feat she did it in the company of her father- she has also run with the Tarahumara and was involved in some form or other with the race in the Copper Canyon that launched the Born to Run bandwagon. So having discussed the Sunrise to Sunset race next August with her Sarah and I decided we would go back out to the Tuul river for another jog. We really need to find a way into those hills, the road is very, very unpleasant with dust and cars and dirt. The wind was in our faces all the way back whipping up a dust storm and covering us with a fine layer of dirt. Thank god for good sunglasses and a rugged phone/camera.

Uneven road surface? No kidding!
 It was actually a blessed relief when we got back on the road heading into town.

On the way back just as we were passing the ovoo we heard drums so stopped and went to investigate. Sat on the floor in front of the ovoo and surrounded by a family was a sharman beating a drum up in front of his face while a lady tapped him on the back with some kind of stick and another lady flicked vodka into the air. It was fascinating but sadly the picture does not do it justice.

Sharmanistic ritual the Sharman is kneeling in front of the lady in jeans, he is facing the ovoo and is beating a drum.

Trail run (kind of)

Sarah and I set out from school on Friday to have what would be Sarah's first run in (or rather out of) UB. The jog up to the Tuul river was it's usual dusty dirty run in the gutter affair but thankfully it is only just over a km long before you get to the gates of the presidential palace. There was a large work party weeding and picking litter just outside the gates, as others erected marquees in the grounds behind the gate, clearly something big was going to be happening.
We turned left (east) and jogged down the road to the site of several ovoo at a site where there are also, apparently, some ancient petroglyphs, though we didn't go in search of them.

We then carried on for a little way before turning and hiking up onto a ridge, before turning round and running down and back to school via the river wall.

A very pleasant way to end a week.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

road and construction again.

The road outside our apartment complex is a busy (if not very busy) main road. And yet it looks more like a farm track, that has seen better days.
The cars are obscuring the hole in the ground that is damn near 40cm deep and as wide as the right hand carriage way. We are told it is because of
a) the really wet summer
b) the large construction lorries splashing through the puddles

Can't wait to see what the winter's freezing does to it if it's in this state just now.

I am both irritated by and completely fascinated by the construction outside our window. The noise and dust are infuriating and yet the methods of construction are just fascinating. The re-bar reinforcement for the concrete is cut to length on site, by hand, it is then tied together by a small army of mostly ladies before being built into shape and the concrete poured over it is then held in position with plywood and posts until it sets. They poured concrete the other day on what I guess is the roof of the carpark and then were forced to cover the entire roof with big towels that they watered all day to stop it drying too fast in the sun. It's a short building season here, before long they won't be able to use concrete at all, it'll be too damn cold.
The dark grey is newly poured concrete soon to be covered with wet blankets

And then there is the lady in heels, just one, but she strides across the yard, clambering up the ladders and climbing the re-bar frames, all in high heels and with her handbag slung jauntily over her shoulder, before scrambling in to the building through one of the as yet unfinished windows. I've no idea what she does inside that shell of a building but we've seen her coming and going several times.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

You can run out of the city

it just takes a bit of effort.

Running on UB roads is a challenge, not least because that is exactly what you are doing for the most part - running on the roads...or what passes for roads. There are unfixed man hole covers drainage ditches and pot holes the size of a mini to contend with, and then there is the driving. It has been said the Mongolian drivers still culturally view driving in much the same way they view riding horses on the plains, go where you like when you like stop when you want to.

They also have no idea how to maintain traffic flow and will fill every available gap at every intersection regardless of the consequences for others.

Anyway a 2km run from school got me to the Tuul river and a dusty 2km run along a dirt road got me to one of many ridges where I could yomp up and look back at UB, it does not quite show up so well in this clip but it is a sprawling place with no end of construction, construction everywhere - no idea who is going to live in these places of visit these hotels, but there it is, a city of under 2,000,000 people with probably another 250,000 homes in construction, and it's not social housing for the people in the ger communities.

Anyway I digress, the run was good but it was hard - I was not expecting any problems with altitude, we are after all only at 4500ft but it was difficult. I was probably a minute/km slower than my normal pace and whether it was fatigue, dehydration, or the fact that I'm out of shape, I was definitely working harder to maintain that pace

That said I did find a way out - now I just need to locate the trails that actually go out into those hills , they are there and with just a 3-5km jog from the apartment it has to be possible to get out there more. Lets hope I get out there before the weather closes in.

Life in Mongolia sure ain't Kansas,

So we arrived in Mongolia OK and our bags came a few days later, good job we always pack enough stuff in hand luggage for it to be OK. We met the staff, settled into the flat, and began all the 'stuff' that needs done when you move to a new country; fill in the forms, buy the kit, work out how best to get about the place and start sampling the local brews.

After a week of that it was time to leave the city. Ulaanbaartar is a vibrant and culturally rich city but with seemingly no traffic laws and the worst roads I have ever seen. The roads here make the roads in Nairobi look and feel like a newly laid motorway. A really cold winter followed by the wettest summer anyone can remember has quite simply washed the roads away in many places. So when offered the chance to go to a ger camp for the weekend we jumped at the chance.

So after a slow and bumpy 1.5hrs in the school bus we stopped for a photo opportunity with a Khazak, his eagles, vultures and a peregrine sitting on a stuffed wolf.
Mei holds her first eagle

while Jess goes for something bigger

Some time later we arrived at the camp and went to load our bags in our own private ger. The ger was surprisingly spacious and comfortable.

After a spot of lunch we set off for Turtle Rock and a bit of a horse ride, those ponies were tough little feckers but while some were led others just followed, it was a strange experience in that they are trained very differently. They are neck trained rather than bit trained for steering but legs are simply used to grip, kicking is entirely redundant, instead a shout of Choi! (or something similar) is used to make them speed up but as it is a call if anyone in the group shouts loudly all the horses pick up the pace. There were several first time riders in the group and some did better than others at staying on the rather unpredictable beasts.

The ride took us up to Buddhist monastery where a lovely walk up some steps was punctuated by buddhist teachings.

'An ordinary person teaching another echoes like a comedy'
The view back down the valley was truly spectacular!

Once back at turtle rock some of us opted to walk back to the ger camp via a derelict dinosaur park.
Come on Dino this way, 
Leave Dino Leave!

The night spent in the ger was pleasant and surprisingly warm . The fire was lit for us in the evening but having stayed up a bit after the expected bed time it needed to be lit again. the wood provided burns fat and clean but even with the stove fully loaded the heat was gone inside an hour. At 6am the door to the ger opened and in came some one to light the fire again, but neither of us actually managed to get out of bed to throw more wood on so while it was lit it soon went out, giving us a bit of a chilly awakening. 
The next day was a much nicer day and after breakfast Sarah and I set out for a trail run up a path behind the ger camp, sadly the path disappeared in a beautiful little valley. We could see people from our group on the ridge above and set about finding a way up there, by the time we had reached what we thought was the ride they had gone and we were somewhat disoriented. We knew where the ger camp was but not how to get there, again there were no trails. So we kind of bushwhacked / scrambled around rocks until we found our way back to a trail we recognised. It had taken an our and a half to cover 3km but it had been absolutely stunning.