it seems that i've arrived in the land of the improbable, and i'm glad to be here.
i arrived in monoglia yesterday afternoon after about 36 hours on the first leg of the Trans-Mongolian train from Beijing to Ulan Bataar. i shared a 4-bed "hard sleeper" compartment with 3 mongolians who were university students studying abroad in china. as i quickly learned was par for mongolians, they were extremely friendly and helped me translate my scribbled notes on my mongolia hostel into a mongolian note for the taxi driver in case i needed to take a taxi from the train station.
my friend martin (coincidentally in mongolia from his usual home in new york) met me upon my arrival at the ulan bataar train station, and after unloading my gear at the hostel that he'd reserved for us a few nights earlier, we headed out to eat "mongolian barbeque" at an american-founded chain restaurant that both had nothing and everything to do with mongolian tourism. packed to the rafters with western package tourists, it was a surreal experience that neither martin nor i had been expecting.
that night i heard tales from people at our guesthouse (located in a communist-era apartment block that evoked memories of similar buildings i've seen in romania and hungary) about fights with aggressive drunk mongolians, an old woman attempting to sell a live baby eagle by the side of a road, sitting reading on top of a traveller's bus trapped in a river, beautiful sheep-fur lined coats purchased from shamans, and other improbable experiences.
we spent the afternoon watching the wrestling matches at the stadium today which are part of the Naadam celebrations (now in their third and final day), trying various pieces of mongolian food, and preparing for our departure on a 8-9 trek through the gobi which we will be departing for tomorrow if all goes as planned.