Given up the ghost

I feel that I must apologise for the fact that I have been rather quiet since returning from Kandersteg and the fact that I havn't even started writing up the Kandersteg posts. (they are on the way I promise!)

... but frankly I needed a bit of a break from everything

Well, I say everything, but I will put my hands up and admit that there was sleeping, the odd evening round at mates, sleeping, a couple of meals thrown in, some catching up with work (of the paid kind),sleeping did I mention that?, a visit home to see my family in Glasgow and a bit of mourning.

Yup I'm in mourning, it is a sad sad day.

I don't know if I can bring myself to actually confirm it, it just sounds so final...

My boots are dead... and no they are not just resting

Ok, so this may seam like a tad bit of an over-reaction, but I am actually gutted that they are dead. I've had them for about 5 years or so (I can't actually remember when it was I got them), and they have done a lot of work in those 5 years. My Queen Scout Award, Duke of Edinburgh Gold, Explorer Belt,  3Nations trip to Mongolia and China, the World Scout Jamboree 2007, several Blair Atholl Patrol Jamborettes, Eurojam 2005 and innumerable weekend camps, cub trips, scout nights and network events.

Lovely plumage...

These boots have got me through a lot of good times... and always with warm, dry feet.

I noticed the first signs that they were dieing last summer, when I saw that the middle of the sole was degrading. I have since found out that Raichle is Swiss and they had a problem with the acid in the British soil dissolving the sole... apparantly it has been fixed. I was willing to over look my boots dissolving soles, hey it would just be getting as evil as myself, given that they were incredibly comfortable and still waterproof.

But it was this summer that I noticed the fatal wound... a crack in the fabric of the boot. This couldn't really be ignored or fixed*. So while I was in Glasgow I decided to do a bit of boot shopping.

Just like normal shoes, every brand makes them differently, and it is generally sound advice (for boots anyway) that once you've found the brand for you that you don't stray. Raichle is definately my brand, they fit my feet like a glove... well not like a glove, like a sock, a really good fitting sock... oh sod it they fit like the proverbial glove.

But when I looked in Lincoln I couldn't find any Raichle... and even more worryingly I couldn't find them ONLINE! (well in my quick 5min search anyway). So, full of hope, I went to the shops in Glasgow, where I was dutifully informed that Raichle had been bought over by Mammut.

*villagers rejoicing*

*trumpets sounding*

*holds back from kissing the sales assistant out of sheer joy*

So... would you like to meet my new boots?

tough luck, its my blog and I am going to show you them anyway! so there!

all shiney and new!
...and what is more the soles are intact
And to compare old and new... a preview of what will probably happen to my shiny, new, clean boots....

Fairwell my Raichles, you have served me well. You've deserved your well earned retirement at the back of my wardrobe (I don't think I could face throwing them out)

*yes I do realise that duct-tape can fix ANYTHING... but it's not exactly ideal for what I put my boots through and what I rely on them for

3Nations: Evacuation Day

Right, before I get started... if you havn't read them already, visit the Expedition page and follow the 3Nations Expedition from the start.

This post has been rated PG and contains scenes of mild-peril*
No Networkers were harmed in the making of this post.
*Trace amounts of other types of peril may be present.

Tuesday 21st July 2009

Well, this is probably the most memorable day of the expedition for all involved... and not for the right reasons... but before I get ahead of myself I should really start at the beginning of this rather eventful day.

We were to get up early this morning to make sure that we would be able to set off on the hike that our aravt was programmed to do. Given that this is Mongolia, and they generally have little use of maps, we had a Mongolian who was going to guide us on the hike.

Time keeping in Mongolia is a tad different from here in the UK. Generally when we say that we will set off around 9am, then we will try to set off as soon to that time as possible. In Mongolia they will wait for a good omen until they set off. This can mean that they will wait several hours until the omens are right.

I don't know what the omen was on this particular day, but it was actually nearer ten when we set off, heading just over the hill into the next valley and the entrance to the Bogd Khan National Park.

Once in the national park we headed to the museum and the ruined Manzhir Khid monastery. The place really was beautiful and rather awe inspiring.

One of my favourite pictures (that I took anyway). The blue cloth is used in prayer.

I just love the detail!

From the monastery we headed/scrambled up the steep slope behind it to the top of the hill, which is where our first mishap of the day happened. To be honest I am not entirely sure what happened, but one of the girls had a bit of a run in with a snake or something... anyway, she was a tad freaked out and required a bit of consoling. Once she was ok to carry on we set off again.

This smaller shine was part way up the slope.
Occasionally we would pass something similar to cairns randomly dotted in the hills, they would also have prayer flags attached to them. We were directed by our Mongolian guide to pick up some small stones, we were to walk round all of these cairns while adding our stones to it three times; first for luck, then for sorrow, then for luck... so that your journey will start and finish with luck.

It was about 12noon ish that we reached this really large one at the top of the hill, and after doing our circuits of it for luck we stopped to take some photographs of the stunning view.

The approach...
Woo hoo! I got there!
It doesn't really show well on camera... but out there, the horizon just keeps going further and further back. It's like the longer you stare at it the further it goes.

The guide set off again... wait a minute... we came from THAT direction... why is he going away from the site

"now we head for the summit"

.... oh crud...

We thought that we were at the summit already! We had been told that it would be a short walk and that we wouldn't need to take much in the way of supplies. But then again, we still hadn't got used to the Mongolians concept of time just yet.

It was actually 4 hours later that we reached the actual summit, with no food or water left... we were all starting to suffer from dehydration in the hot weather. But we were happy we had reached the summit.

To our left we could see Zuunmod...

to our right was Ulaanbaatar...

... and what's that thing in the middle...

... ohh yeah.... that'll be the biggest storm that they've had in 20years!

... ohhh and look, now its turning towards us

double crud!

We only stayed at the summit for a short while, as we raced down the mountain ahead of the storm. Unfortunately the storm won, it was only maybe 40mins or so after we started our descent that we were hit. This, ladies and gentlemen, is when the excrement collided with the propeller.

We got soaked. But why only be soaked by rain when you can be pummeled by hail stones that were the size of a 20pence piece. And believe me... they hurt! We were carrying our small day sack over our heads to try to provide a little bit of protection while we walked... but there was more than once we had to run for cover under the trees.

I know, I know, you don't need to tell me. Hiding under trees in a thunder and lightning storm isn't a good idea. Frankly it's dangerous. But at that point we were in too much pain to do anything but. Even when we were under the trees, with our bags over our heads we were crying out with pain when hit.

I managed to get one quick photo during one bit of hiding... just before we were told to turn everything electrical off so that we wouldn't attract any lightning.

The rest of the hike down to the site is frankly a bit of a jumble in my head. but there are certain things that stick out in my head.

Like the moment the lightning struck a nearby hill top, you could feel it through your entire body,  and our guide.... the ONLY person who knew where we were... curled up in a ball and started screaming like a little pansy.

I also remember getting scared senseless by the marmots, who had been forced out of their holes (as they were overflowing with water) and were defending their territory against us.

Or the 5 rivers of ice cold water, that hadn't been there that morning, which we had to wade across and which went half way up my thigh.

But, thankfully, we all made it back to the site to find chaos. The flash flood had ripped right through the camp. The people that had been onsite that day had been running around trying to secure everything and reduce the damage as much as possible. They had been panicking about us as they hadn't been able to get in contact with us (everything electrical switched off remember?) and had made sure that there was a ger heated up for us to get immediately bundled into.

We actually had to be stripped out of our wet clothes by the others, our hands had gone so numb that we couldn't bend our fingers. Basically they started treating us all for hypothermia and dehydration (remember we had run out of water as the start of the day had been gloriously hot and sunny).

Once we had recovered enough, we were moved back to our our ger to rest and recover more while the others finished securing the site. By this point it was about dinner time, so we took the decision to make ourselves useful and make dinner for everyone on site (as the others were so busy they didn't have any time to prepare anything).

It was once we had dinner ready that we had been told that the storm may be returning and we were to evacuate.

Everyone and all personal belongings were to be removed from the site... NOW. The race was back on, and we were determined to win this time. All of our stuff was packed, but we also had to pack all the gear from the people that were in Zuunmod and Ulaanbaatar, so we went from ger to ger grabbing things and stuffing it into any bag that you could find. It could be sorted out later.

Those that were on the hike and those that were ill were to be evacuated first, so that included my aravt. We were to be taken to a boarding school that was empty for the summer. It was like a refugee camp...

...mass confusion, stuff everywhere (chain gangs to move gear from the buses inside to the corridors), people going around trying to find their bags... even a hospital room for those that were in bad shape. It was good when I found Eds little room of calm. He had imposed a rule that anyone coming into the room was not the panic and just RELAX.

I remember writing up my diary that night, up until then I had usually done some little funny notes of things that had happened that day (which I have tried to share with you).... but I made a conscience decision not to make too light of a day that could have gone horribly wrong.

Thanks again to those I borrowed photos from

Please be reassured that everyone from the expedition fully recovered from the effects of the storm, it was later reported to us that 8 Mongolians in Ulaanbaatar died... my thoughts and prayers go out to them and their families.

Honey I'm Home!

All going well, I should now be back in Lincolnshire after an awesome week in Kandersteg, Switzerland... with a diary full of memories to pass onto all of you.

Woo hoo

... now to do that laundry

... damn

3Nations: Day On Site

If you're new to the blog then feel free to back to the start of the 3Nations posts, they are all linked on the Expedition page.

Monday 20th July 2009

So it's the first day of activities in Mongolia, in a rather full program... so, what does my aravt have...

*looks up timetable*

... a day off. cool.

Well, a day to relax and get into the laid back Mongolian way of life is a rather good way to start off any expedition. And as we're being laid back we were able to get a lie in, which was very welcome after all the traveling and setting up the site yesterday.

Our first traditional Mongolian activity was stitching, initially they were only going to teach this to the girls of the group... until Dan managed to convince them that the guys should have a go too.

Some of the guys, unfortunately, lived up to the poor expectations of the girl teaching it!

After our bit of stitching we got to try some Mongolian writing, which if I am honest is really difficult. First you have to change the word to the Cyrillic alphabet and then into the Mongolian... which has three different forms for the letters (start middle and end).
File:Mongol khel.svg
It means Mongol by the way
If you want to try it then you can find tables with the letters on wikipedia.

And now, for the laid back nature of this part of the trip, a four hour lunch! I wonder if I could sell this concept to the office?

Eventually we tried the some of the Mongolian music. In total we had three things to try... the horse-head fiddle, the flute and some throat singing.

First off the fiddle.

and yes... that is me trying it



As you can see from the picture above, instead of holding it under your chin, you hold it between your legs. The bow hand actually holds the bow strings tight and the other hand presses the strings. But again it's different from our fiddles, there are only two strings and instead of pressing them into the wood you have to press them across... which makes it really difficult as you have to match the pressure with the bow for the sound to sound right. And even then sometimes your fingers go over the strings and other times then go underneath!

Fortunately I wasn't actually that terrible at it! But what i really wanted to try was the flute. I used to play it in school so I should easily be able to play it, all I would have to do is work out the new fingering right....

... right?

I couldn't even make a sound out of it!

Right sod it, I'll try the throat singing.

*gargle without water sound*
*cough, splutter...

wait a minute, what did he just say? "if you practice this wrong then your throat will bleed" Ok, maybe I'll just leave that to the Mongolians...

... crazy b******* (edited for any younger readers- its crazy bananas by the way... just to let you know, honest)

Here's some people that actually know what they are doing!

Lessons learned today...
  • The badger can be buried
  • Some Mongolians also know some pretty filthy phrases in English
  • The program can and will change
  • Unfortunately the badger is like a pheonix and can rise from the dead... either that or its zombie badger. I don't know what is worse.
 Thanks again for those I borrowed photos from

    3Nations: Off to Mongolia

    Previous 3Nations entries can be found on the Expedition page

    Sunday 19th July 2009
    The Chinese believe in the whole good/bad balance, they call it yin yang. This morning, at least was... well... balanced.

    Good: We were getting a flight to Mongolia today! woo hoo
    Bad: We had to leave the hotel at 3am to get to the airport

    Good: We were given rice cakes on the bus
    Bad: That was the only food we got til the plane as everything was shut at the airport

    Good: We arrived at the check out desk the designated 3 hours before departure
    Bad: No one told the airline staff this, they didn't start check in til an hour and a half after we arrived.

    Good: The flight was relatively short
    Bad: The flight was relatively bumpy

    But all that didn't matter... we were all successfully transported to Mongolia, the main part of the expedition experience. If only we could say the same thing for the luggage. Heather was unfortunately without a bag, a hour or so of investigation... and getting us to all line up with our bags to make sure that none of us had it by accident... revealed that it had fallen off the luggage cart on the runway in China. errr, opps

    Ulaanbaatar Airport, it's really small... only two gates!
    Just before setting off on the coaches, we were introduced to our Mongolian scouts, they would be paired with an aravt (group... kind of like a patrol) for the length of our stay in Mongolia. I am a part of the Lion Aravt, and Anne is our Mongolian scout

    go Lions!

    ... we rock...

    Sorry, just a little bit of Lion PRIDE coming out there...

    you know it's rude to groan out loud like that!

    Anyway... it wasn't that long a trip to the camp site, located just outside the Bogd Khan National Park (on the south side, near the Manzushir Monastary and Zuunmod). It was an absolutely stunning spot.

    Stunning isn't it...

    Absolutely unbelievable, completely untouched and incredibly fresh (well the freshness was extremely noticeable given that we had just traveled from the smog of Beijing!). The grass even had some wild thyme in it... so when walking about you would kick it up and get a lovely whiff of it.

    As you can see from the photos above, not all of the gers had been built (they're the 'tents' that Mongolian Nomads use)

    Ger Building 101:
    First, start off with the floor
    ... and some confused looking Mongolian scouts
    Put together the center of the roof in the middle of the floor area 

    Tie together the curved trellis like walls (all 5 of them)


    ... wait for Mongolian guy to fix your work....

    Get some people to hold the roof centre upright in the middle of the floor area

    Attach the roof slats, slotting them into the central wheel and looping the horse hair string to the trellis

    Getting there...
    woo hoo!

    Cover roof with layer of cotton like fabric

    Cover roof and walls in thick wool

    Get someone to climb onto the roof

    Final top layer of cotton like material (white of course)

    Strap it all in...

    ... and stick two posts in at the door

    And Bobs your estranged sibling of one of your parents (ok uncle then- but am sticking with the estranged, fine then.... just strange then)

    Notice some people digging in the background in some of those photos? Well... that's people digging out the toilets. I'll leave those details* out, am sure you'll thank me.

    With the completion of the gers and the toilets it was time to officially open the camp with a little ceremony. The Scouting, Mongolian, Union and Austrian flags were all raised over the camp, and the Mongolian part of the expedition was underway. Which is when Troll decided to surprise us with a gift. Our very own Mongolian top!

    That's the Mongolian scouts being presented with the expedition neckies
    Each aravt had its own set of colours, the Lions were red and silver, and it had Mongolia written in Mongolian script on it. Very classy. I still wear it to some camps actually

     Random lessons learned:
    • 80 people in a queue to check in at stupid o'clock in the morning can have an uncanny resemblance to human-pick-up-sticks.
    • Sitting next to Stu on a plane can be hazardous to your health (number of flights so far=2, number of people beside stu throwing up=2, number of others throwing up=0... coincidence?).
    • Tiny, little, sweet, innocent Beth can be a force to be reckoned with when she is trying to get the bus to sing.
    • In Mongolia, large stage coaches are apparently classed as off road vehicles.
    • ... either that or anything resembling a brown smudge on the ground is classed as a road.
    • The in fight magazine informed us that it is actually socially acceptable to throw bricks at cars that run red lights in China! 
    *Throughout the Mongolian part of the trip the conversation regularly turned to toilet matters... things like colour, consistency and even artistic impression were discussed. This is how sophisticated we were, and this is what I will spare you from in the future! (except when I publish the International Toileting Badge requirements later- and yes we came up with all the requirements while away)

    Again, thanks to those that let me borrow steal their photos