Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Some photos may be up - see if you can find them.

Main roads

Yesterday I took a Russian jeep (uaz) about 240kms from Hovd to Olgii. The road was a single lane unimproved dirt road (the best sort in Mongolia), and the trip took about 7 hours. Of course, the road has lots of bumps and corrugations, so the jeep, whose doors barely closed, was weighed down. In addition to the luggage of myself and my 2 travelling companions, there were 10.5 people in the car. 4 in the front (one of whom was pregnant), 5 in the middle (one a toddler), and two in the back. Luckily we were packed in so tight we didn't feel the bumps!
The road took us up a series of valleys and passes surrounded by snow covered mountains, not unlike parts of australia. There were no trees in sight, and often herds of goats or yaks covered the road. Gers in the distance added to the atmosphere, although the principle component was dust, stirred in huge clouds by large russian trucks (kamaz) with multiple trailers. The road often split into ten parallel streams of equal bumpiness, as the ground was usually pretty smooth.
As we drove past a very large high altitude lake the driver pulled over for the second time and we all burst out like a magic trick. Previously, the driver had switched tanks, refilled the radiator, twisted some wires together under the wheel and cranked the engine to get us going. This time, things were more serious - the right rear tire had blown out (I hadn't even felt it). The jack was put in position, and copious muscle available to lift the corner of the car and wind the jack. At last we removed bolts and the tire, and wheeled the spare into position. It had several large gashes in the rubber, but we were assured the inner tube was good. Sadly, the car was still too low for the inflated tire, so Michael resourcefully grabbed a rock and dug a hole under the hub to give enough space. Soon we all crammed back in and were on our way.
Later in the evening, we arrived at the state boundary border post, and local law meant putting the extras in the front into the middle, so we wouldn't get fined for overloading the car. For a while, we had seven in the middle, then proceeded unhindered. This was all old news to Michael, who had taken a Russian van for 56 hours from UB to Hovd, in which there were 24 people in a vehicle of similar size! The girl who sat on his lap for the duration of the trip ended it by proposing!
Today it was raining, but we proceeded to the muddy and cow-adorned market regardless to buy provisions for a five day trip to the base of Tavan Bogd Uul, the highest mountain (and longest glacier) in Mongolia. For this reason, there are no photos or updates for a few more days. Hopefully it wont rain the entire time!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wild wild west

Woke up at 5:30am the day following the national park adventure and boarded a plane. Local politicians moving about closed roads, necessitating a dusty, dangerous, drifting, dodging, deadly detour. We still got there on time. Flew to the city of Hovd, which is a soviet inspired (?) concrete block town between gorgeous mountains and rivers, lakes and mythical animals. Not far from the bridge over the buyant river we found the cover of the lonely planet guide book, but photos will probably not be posted for some time. (Sorry!).
After an afternoon siesta we had a traditional mongolian dinner of lamb, veggies, and pancakes, which was extremely filling. It brought a nice closure to the day in which we'd seen not one, but two rather basic butcheries in the downtown black market.
Later that evening we dodged mosquitos to find our way to a very echoey concrete sub-basement with a table fixed in the middle of the room, and the walls painted in different horizontal shades of blue. Just when we were getting ready to begin carving strokes in the wall table tennis bats appeared and we (myself and a travel companion Jon) were soundly defeated.
Today we plan to visit the Aimag museum and then catch a 7 hour ride to the next town, Bayan-Olgii!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Awesome 24 hours

Last night after dinner I was looking for company and people to chat to about heading west, so I walked down Peace Avenue past the pickpockets, beggars, and endless banks, to a place called 'sub baatar, the only subs in Mongolia'. It had no notice board, so I went to leave, when I noticed a girl playing guitar, and decided to linger. 3 hours later the proprietor, an expat from Nova Scotia called Tyler, had told me his (fascinating) life story, I randomly met someone who knew someone who I almost met in Beijing, who is going west tomorrow. Soon enough we're chatting, and raise the possibility of walking across Bogd Khan Uul, to the south of the city.

Next morning I found his hostel, but missed him, withdrew half a million Tugriks, paid for an airfare to Hovd (on Sky High Airlines), and negotiated a cab to take us to Manzushir (ex) monastery. Destroyed by the soviets, it is now a couple of museums, some with temple functionality, and a Ger camp. The drive was spiced up when the driver ran off the dirt road into a ditch at high speed, narrowly missing several large immobile obstacles. I would be lying if I said we were wearing seatbelts. I did, however, get a first class lesson in swearing in Mongolian!

At about 12:30, in 35 degree heat, we set off up the mountain. At 2258m it's taller than Australia. The first part of the walk was on a well marked track, and no hazards presented themselves aside from some water fighting, vodka drinking locals, who very nearly induced us to join them chugging spirits in the sun! We reached the summit, pretty tired, and looked to the west. Ulaanbaatar shimmered in the heat and dust, deceptively close. We set out, but were unable to find a track. Following a compass bearing, we walked about 8km through pine forests, wild flower meadows, bogs, dusty moss and lichen, huge boulder fields, and other navigational hazards. Apart from birds that laughed at even my humour, the only mammals we saw were too tiny chipmunk like things, and a larger squirrel apparition with a penguin colour scheme!

Before long the day begins to fade and we're still jumping boulders and falling into sinkholes, walking along fallen trees and photographing the amazing view, but apparently still at least 6km short of our goal. Just when the terrain began to steepen and become even rougher, we chanced upon a narrow, overgrown, and unmarked track. Following it compulsively we finally averaged more than 800m/hour and climbed a steep rocky ridge with excellent views of Ulaanbaatar and the prime-minister's fortified compound. We even got to the bus terminal at Zaysan memorial before it got dark.

One crowded and distinctly flakey bus ride later, I was back home, at which point I realised I had barely eaten anything all day. Ah well, easily remedied.

Photos soon??

Friday, June 25, 2010

photos are up

Here's some photos of Beijing!

<table style="width:auto;"><tr><td><a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/c2hLXcTmnaE8ZVXRiBZVTA?feat=embedwebsite"><img src="https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEhtrhDVUxfXboZVFWubfSYx3TSoUa2sYeEJ4Y0gpqNMfooshCYRs1dxkKcibm9f4PRJ1F-O9HwXxRR4FcB8NtdvSrjU_GPUqb4NIBxSx1lGFClPG0d9cPKctCkQMZlfoSn_Gqq9Fktp_g4/s144/IMG_5717.JPG" /></a></td></tr><tr><td style="font-family:arial,sans-serif; font-size:11px; text-align:right">From <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/CaseyHandmer/Beijing?feat=embedwebsite">Beijing</a></td></tr></table>

Also, Marc Andre Hamelin, the greatest living pianist by far has finally released his own set of 12 etudes, in both sheet music and recorded form. Here's a youtube preview!

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Must go, Ulaan Baatar calls!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ulaan Baatar

Since my last post I walked over about half of Beijing, including a barbie store, cooked rice on a trangia pot that fell through a wok-ring, packed my bag, caught a train to Mongolia, met some interesting people, crossed a border, and otherwise hung out. Cool stuff includes nests with baby birds on power poles, horses, hills, endless steppe, dust, more dust, really steep mountains in China (think Kung Fu Panda), and interchangeable restaurant dining cars!
Over the next few days I'm going to learn Mongolian, travel around, and probably eat some lamb.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Some photos

Last night I was about to set out in search of food at about 8pm when I bumped into my couchsurfer's neighbours, who then drove me to a nearby restaurant to try Beijing Snacks, which were quite nice. Only when we got lost on the way back did I realise my driver had only been driving for about 2 weeks!
Still no photos :(

Sunday, June 20, 2010

First Post

Got up at 5am on Saturday (boo hoo) to go to the airport. Upon arriving I took my luggage (hand luggage only) and placed it in the overhead bin provided. My luggage consisted of a priceless 1906 Faberge egg "le papillon", a pencil, and 10 packs of Imodium. Soon my next door neighbour for the next 11 hours arrived, dragging a heavy sack of anvils, which he lofted with apparent ease into position, accompanied only by a soft crunch as my luggage became a lot flatter all at once.
The flight north was accompanied by no shortage of turbulence, compounded perhaps by an enthusiastic pilot who saw fit to dodge between patches of clear air and hit every storm between Sydney and my eventual distination, Beijing. I guess when you go budget with Kraschalotta Airlines, some fun is to be expected.
Arriving in Beijing after an interminable series of tear-jerker Korean films (SPOILER ALERT: The mum has cancer), I proceeded to navigate the subway system with considerable skill, and presently found the building of my couch surfing host. Unfortunately I chose the wrong entrance (this is at about 10pm), found myself in a darkened corridor littered with bikes. Even after I found the correct flat number, it all seemed rather quiet. Fortunately I realised my error and got out extremely quickly. 30m away the correct place, a somewhat renovated place came to light. I arrived to find 2 other couchsurfers already there, with two more on the way. The host had moved houses 4 days before and wanted to warm the place, I think.
Managed to find food, water, and a ticket to Ulaan Baatar, so now I have 3 days to spend in Beijing. My host and other CSers went to a section of the great wall to camp, so all I have to do is get the TV working and teach the fish to perform integral calculus.
No photos yet, maybe next time.
PS. Beijing is warm in summer.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I like volcanoes, a lot! Here are some of my faves from google image search, which I used as a screen saver for a while. Expect more photos some time in early September. Until then, enjoy!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Recent trip to Tasmania

Some friends and I tackled the overland track. Noone died, so that means it was a huge success, right?


This is a test email-blog update. If it works, then I can proceed to adding some pictures of a recent trip to Tasmania.

First Post

This is the first post of this new blog. Some of you may be familiar with a previous blog of mine containing mainly creative writing from school days, as well as some travel stuff. It can be found at http://kenneth-charles.livejournal.com .

The purpose of this blog is to post information about my experiences outside Australia for a general (ie non-facebook) audience. This encapsulates both anticipated travel in the near term as well as my impending move to the U.S. to continue my education.

With any luck I'll work out a way to update this blog by email or SMS, then there is some chance it'll be updated more than once a year. Either way, I'm already in talks with an interested delegations on tumbleweeds.