Friday, August 29, 2008

Welcome to Mongolia

We arrived in Mongolia around 10 a.m. on the morning of July 11 and we were met at the train station by the owner of our hostel. He rushed us back to the hostel, promptly sold us tickets to the Naadam Festival and showed us to our rooms. The hospitality we had encountered at our last hostel was nowhere to be found in this place. It was strange because the hostel was large and nice, set up more like a house with a big kitchen, living and dining rooms and a semi-finished basement with plenty of space everywhere for travelers to gather and share stories. The bathrooms however were limited and hardly ever cleaned and they charged for Internet, laundry and sheets for your bed. It is common for hostels to charge for one of those services, maybe even two but I've never stayed anywhere before that made you pay for your sheets and neither had anyone else we met during our stay. Anyway enough ranting about the hostel ...

After a quick shower and change Jon and I headed out the door and made our way to the festival, which was already very much underway. The Naadam Festival is known in English as the Festival of Manly Sports so we were ready to see just how manly things would get. When we arrived we spent a good amount of time running around trying to find a gate that would let us in since the show was already under way and once we did we found ourselves in a section surrounded by foreigners all watching the opening ceremonies take place on the field.

Jon and I enjoying the manly festivities:

Because we didn't speak a lick of Mongolian we had no idea what was going on whatsoever. This feeling lasted the entire time we were in Mongolia. After a while the ceremony ended and Jon and I meandered the grounds for some food before the first manly event started. We found some Mongolian style hamburgers that were pretty good and then found our way to some seats to watch half-naked men wrestle.

There were a lot of traditional moves going on on the field and even though we didn't understand most of what was happening it was still interesting to watch. We hung around and watched the mostly naked men push up against each other for several hours before deciding we had seen enough and perhaps it was time to find some dinner.
There was a Western restaurant across the street from the stadium that we went to and celebrated my birthday.

After dinner we made our way back to the hostel where we met two British guys. They were still in university and taking the whole summer to travel from London all through Asia, they had just arrived in Mongolia a few days earlier after taking the Trans-Siberian and were then going to drop into China before moving on to Vietnam and Thailand. We sat and talked for a few hours sharing stories and giving them some advice about traveling around China.

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