Sunday, August 21, 2011


One definition of a utility is something that you take for granted until it’s not there. Think about electricity. Most of the time we flip a switch or push a button and pay our bills. It’s only when all the lights go out in the neighborhood that we curse the power company and duct tape shut the freezer. Mongolians have lower expectations. Apparently their utilities are still something of a discretionary luxury. 

Our Lonely Planet Guide is an older edition, so we’ll forgive it for misleading us on where to stay in Bayanhongor. Particularly since we discovered on our own that the Bayanhongor Hotel is clearly the best place in town. After a clean bed and no roaches, we had two hotel selection priorities - running water and surfing the web. (Hard lessons were learned from our brief and disappointing visit to a nice looking hotel in Altai - it's always worth visiting the rooms and making sure things are as advertised.)

At seven o’clock, we were assured, the electricity would come back on. With the electricity would come water. The internet, however, was down indefinitely. The transmission tower had been destroyed in a Martian invasion and vaporized. Not even the university had internet! (Sometimes we take liberties with our lack of language skills.) No internet plus no electricity equals no ATM. We squandered the last of our tögrög on beer. Tom bought a Mongolian SIM card for his phone only to discover his Nokia was locked on to Orange’s network. Mike’s phone, however, was more catholic in its tastes and seeing as it was unlocked Tom used it instead of buying another. 

Eventually, Tom negotiated the sale of some Yankee greenbacks so we could pay for dinner. Back at our hotel the most intriguing character was our middle-aged, pot-bellied chef. Asking him what the best thing on the menu was, he immediately pointed at two lines. In 20 minutes we had tender beef in savory Mongolian barbecue sauce, as well as sliced, charcoal broiled, beef complete with a smoking lump of charcoal. Both meals were delicious. At nine o’clock the power suddenly reappeared, the water followed some four hours later and at last we washed off the grime of the past week. Rivulets of brown sludge poured down the drain (is this too much information? - ed.) as we scraped off half of Mongolia. Had the water not been frigid it might just have been the finest shower in history. 

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