Naadaaaaam

Many of you readers probably would have found the location of our guest house in Ulaanbaatar a bit off-putting. We were on street 5 of probably 6 or 8 dirt streets lined with corrugated metal or wooden fences with a mash up of brightly colored just visible. There is no homeowners’ association here. But the guest house was quite charming, with Smurf-blue stucco walls and a ger, a traditional nomadic tent, sleeping 11 people in the yard. The family running it was fantastic: charismatic parents and two hardworking daughters about my age. Papa Gan is a former Mongolian secret police officer who was educated in Moscow (and read Shakespeare in Russian!), who was chatty and helpful to a fault.

Our UB neighborhood from a nearby hill

We chanced our arrival during the Naadam festival, a two-day national celebration of manliness with competitions in wrestling, archery, and horse racing. Our arrival also brought more rain than Mongolia is used to seeing–a lot more. But even though the shops and restaurants were closed for the festival and the streets were flooded beyond all hope of keeping your sneakers dry, we managed to have an enjoyable time.

The plan for the day after our arrival was to catch a bus to the horse racing about 30 km outside of town. We caught a bus, but not a very direct one. An hour after getting on, we were crawling off road, taking multiple attempts at crossing deep ditches, losing a bumper and all hope of getting to the race before it ended.

We had indeed missed the races, but there were still dozens of gers set up selling food, and men and boys riding around on small horses. Another guest who had come along approached a few different families to make friends, so we ended up flying cheap kites with a group of Mongolian kids and playing volleyball-monkey-in-the-middle with several families.

That night our guest house hosted a Naadam BBQ, which actually meant lamb and potato stew cooked in a keg set on top of a fire pot with hot stones inside. Despite the added cooking power of the stones, the lamb wasn’t ready until 11 p.m.–I stuck to the potatoes and carrots, but Colin said the meat was good.

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