Day 5, July 23rd – Summer camp

A rather varied day – but at least it didn’t rain!

A sponge bath in the morning, with hot water provided by Kaz, who got up early to make the fire after the fiasco of last night. It feels so good to wash in hot water again!

I still need to find an opportunity to wash my hair, though.

We didn’t have a chance to wash our clothes either, at fist because it was cloudy and we feared it would rain, and then later on, when the sun shone brightly upon us, the water tank ran out. This place has to have water delivered by a truck, and only special persons – such as our group – are gifted with a red key to temporarily unlock the faucet. It could be worse- on the trek, we’ll have to get water from a lake!

Spent half the day entertaining the children. I just can’t tell you how sweet they are. Even though they don’t speak English, that didn’t prevent us from playing card games like ‘spoons’, playing frisbee, being squirted with water pistols and distributing some of the toys we brought with us.

The rest of the day was taken up with providing wood for the fire, after experiencing having to get the fire nice and hot for at least an hour before we could start cooking. What with stripping little branches off for kindling, and snapping big branches for fuel, I am very glad I brought leather working gloves, otherwise my hands wouldn’t be hands so much as lots of splinters with miscellaneous bits of flesh around them at the ends of my arms.

Our – and particularly my – strenuous efforts created plenty of fuel for the fire, leaving plenty of time to cook, even though our hearth was commissioned by some of the staff to create and Mongolian barbecue; a procedure where plenty of stones, heated by flames, are dropped into a pot of chopped lamb and vegetables, cooking them thoroughly. It’s is fascinating to watch, and delicious to smell and taste.

Our vegetable stir fry-cum-pasta sauce, created out of some tomato sauce and whatever vegetable we didn’t want to go off, seemed rather mediocre in comparison, though it tasted very good.

Afterwards, during the heating of water, I came into my own – Amit, slopping water onto the fire by accident, put most of it out, but I endeavoured to keep it alight. eventually, after much effort with bark and twigs, I begged some of the fat off the remains of her Mongolian barbecue from Manda, our interpreter. I applied the fat to the fire on a wing and a prayer, and – SUCCESS!

The fire burst back into splendid life again, if not immediately.

The rest of the day was mediocre in comparison – clearing up, and a disco with the kids. It is official. Children in Mongolia dance better than I do.

Day 4, July 22nd – Summer Camp

Today was a very exiting day. Packing our belongings and supplies into an 18 seater mini bus, we drove out of Ulaan Baatar, and the shanty town that surrounds, with both makeshift houses and gers, to a valley with houses at its opening, a military outpost and checkpoint, and finally the summer camp! It is fairly big, but still seems somewhat small and compact.

The children are all really sweet. The boys in our group forbade us from going ‘aaaah’, but it’s so hard! The first thing we did when we arrived was to go on a two hour hike with the children, through some really beautiful landscapes, and they kept picking lovely wildflowers and presenting them proudly to us. By the end some of the boys were staggering under bouquets. Alex in particular seems to have gained the affections of a particularly enamoured little girl; he has decided to pretend he is married! I have made friends with another girl called Sarah.

Later on we tried to start a fire in the designated cooking area, but since it had started to rain and the wood was damp, we couldn’t manage it. In the end one of the women who work here came to our aid, setting up the stones to shelter the fire and using pieces of bark. Better informed, I am certain that next time i.e. tomorrow, we will fare better.

The toilets. The less said about them, the better. Despite the smell of a mass pit dug for sanitary purposes, since it’s set far away from everything else, we’re not too fussed. At least we don’t have to worry about whether the toilet will flush!

We are enjoyed purchased bottled water without having to rely on iodine sterlized dregs all the time.

I finish this entry in the comfort of my tent (only slightly crammed by the added presence of Georgie and Emma, with my money belt by my head – despite the friendliness of the children, we have not forgotten that some of them are former pickpockets, and have decided to play it safe by organising to have a continual watch on the tents at all times. Only slightly spoiling the atmosphere.

Still raining.

Day 3, July 21st – Ulaan Baatar

We had an interesting day today. Will, Alex, Leslie and I went to the bus depot in an attempt to find a bus for the trek beginning next week. Not too successful, but we have hope.

We have been relying on a French restaurant for takeaways and pastries, and a deli for takeaway dinners. Pretty good chips!

The hostel that World Challenge has arranged for us to stay in has gers in the backyard, with wooden floors and bedsteads. They are cool in the day and warm during the night, but the lavatories, though they are ‘sitters’, keep breaking down. One of the lavatories doubles as the only shower for guests, meaning queues to use it and a very confined space to wash in.

Ulaan Baatar is incredibly hot, but very cheap – we got into an internet cafe and had an hour for 400 togros – something like 40 pence! Later, our group went to the post office and bought post cards ad stamps, and a souvenir for my sister.

When the members of our team who went to Ulaan Baatar’s Black Market to purchase pots and pans for cooking came back, Emma had been pick pocketed! But it was only a piece of paper from her back pocket that she’d put there as a test. Thank goodness for money belts.

We bought supplies for the project that will begin tomorrow. Lots of food and pots, and some large plastics bowels for washing vegetables, clothes and ourselves.

I washed my hair in the sink in the hostel. Getting used to sponge bathing, as well as sterilised water! We have organised to stay here again when we return from the summer camp, and before we set off on the trek section of our journey.

Tonight, we visited something you are able to find even in the depths of central Asia – an Irish pub, complete with Cher music.

Day 2, July 20th 2006 – Beijing to Ulaan Baatar

Thanks to my confusion over time zones, my alarm went off much earlier and I mistakenly woke everyone up long before they needed to, fearing we would miss our flight. Fortunately, everyone didn’t hold that much of a grudge.

My turn to be dehydrated today, but fortunately it didn’t last too long since I’ve drunk lots of water. We’ve started the iodine sterilization process – it’s an acquired taste. To me it’s actually beginning to taste a bit sickly sweet.

Our group gets on much better than the other group, I think. We cooperate and organise well, and so far we haven’t had any really big arguments. Let’s hope that won’t change for the rest of the trip.

We were all glad to leave the hotel, even if it did have hot showers (that only marginally worked). The squat lavatories were not very pleasant to use even without being able to flush. Added t this is the fact that there were hardly any English speaking people around. The airport is right on the edge of Beijing, and as Mr. Postle (the attending teacher) said, to expect much English to be spoken there is like stepping off the plane in Heathrow or Gatwick and expecting to find the Chinese embassy down the road.

Fortunately, most of the shops in the airport had English signs, so we were able to have a moderately timed breakfast at Starbucks.

We’re now flying over Mongolia – at least I think we are. It’s hard to tell when you’re in the air. Poor Leslie’s still feeling sick, and I’m feeling rather ill myself, but I’ve taken medication.

Definitely Mongolia below now.

I will send my family an email as well as a postcard, as soon as I can find an internet cafe.


Day 1, July 19th 2006 – Beijing

An interesting, if sober, first day. I left a perfume container behind on the plane, Emma lost a plastic bag of things, we lost the guide to Mongolia belonging to Kaz (our team leader) – one great big day of losing. Poor Leslie got incredibly dehydrated and sick at the airport. Even though we found a good deal on the hotel we eventually chose, as well as the journey there, the bus trip being included in the price for staying, we had some near misses with wallets.

In the end we had to return to the airport in order to find somewhere to eat where the waiters spoke English – which is where we lost the guide book – and we enjoyed probably the last hot showers we would experience for a long time. Even if the shower room was communal, and we all bathed in our swimming costumes.

Coming to terms with East Asian plumbing , which involves much squatting, was something of an adventure.

At least I am cooling down in my room, in a hotel on the outskirts of Beijing. I miss home already. I wish I were home. I wish I were cooler and less humid. I wish I had brought a better pyjama top.

Day 0, July 17th 2006. It begins.

Preparations at school, and our group is annoyed that the other group who will also be doing the challenge arrived much later than us, when we’d been told we’d have to show up incredibly early in the morning. Unfair.

Having packed our rucksacks last night, we then have to repack them in ways that would actually be feasible for the month ahead, and lessen the chance of things digging into our backs. Several of us had bought rucksack liners, basically toughened plastic bags, but they don’t seal at the top and would be useless in an actual trekking situation. We have to make a quick dash to the local camping store, with the help of a parent, in order to get some much more hardy liners. I decide to re-purpose my old liner as a clothes container. I was grateful for this decision in due course.

A Health & Safety and Hygiene talk about how we will need to wash while out in the country, and what the state of the local plumbing will be like. The prospect is not good. We must remember to rub our hands with hand sanitiser even after washing them, and drink only bottled water or water that has been boiled or sterilised. Remember that.

We also lay out some ground rules as a team. The two most important ones are that none of us must ever go anywhere on our own, but always go in threes, and that each group must have at least one boy in it. Less likely to find trouble.

After teary goodbyes and some clinging to familial units, we set off for London Heathrow by coach at 3.55, 10 minutes late. Arrived at Heathrow who knows when. Checked in and all got little tabs for Air China to put on day rucksacks, packed with essentials.* ‘Hilarity’ ensued, with forgotten wallets, bagels with that smidge too much cream cheese, and chocolate machines that swallowed money but yielded nothing. All the fun of the airport.

Flight for Beijing took off at 8.55, half an hour late. Tucked into in-flight meal of beef and rice, and was careful to drink lots of water. My shoulders are very painful from having been rubbed by the straps of my 70 litre backpack. Far too many bits still sticking out! At the moment, on the tv screen, two lovely Chinese ladies are singing.

Extra thoughts for the day:

  1. When packing a 70 litre rucksack, put all the squashy things at the bottom. Sleeping bag out of its holder, clothes, the odd niffy kipper- you name it.
  2. To ensure a team runs well and is united, share out the camping gear. You’ll find a person is less inclined to be nasty towards another if said another is in the possession of several long, spring and rather hard tent poles, just waiting to be swung.

* That tag remained on that backpack until it finally ‘died’, nearly eight years later. It was buried with full military honours.

Ten Years Since Mongolia – BEGIN!

Roughly ten years ago, I and several of my fellow students went on a World Challenge trip to Mongolia, to spend about a month there. I kept a diary nearly throughout the experience. I say nearly because, during the final few days in Beijing before we returned home, there were certain mitigating factors that prevented my keeping a complete record.

As you shall see.


For the rest of July and into August, I will do my best to post the diary entries for each corresponding day back in 2006, along with pictures once I manage to find the proper sources, and all the additional memories that this project sparks in my brain. Already things are coming back to me.

Sain bainuu, everyone. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as we did.