Day 63: Ulaanbaatar , Gear shopping: Maps & electronics

Tall backlit cabinets full of expensive electronics.
Window shopping is dangerous here.

In the late afternoon I head to Ikh Toiruu, where I find the ELBA Center, and behind this, the Map Shop.

It’s a homely space. A small room in a dull and worn-out building. It feels like a university office, the kind of place that ages with its inhabitant.

She sells me a paper map of the Gobi area, covering my planned route: South, to Dalanzadgad, then East, to Zamiin-Uud.

It provides some level of assurance, though I’m not actually experienced with my compass.

Keen to protect my new map from the elements, I enquire at another shop about lamination, but they tell me that the process could actually damage the map, and is too risky. Perhaps the map will be more of a liability than a help.

As well as getting ready to leave, I’m also concurrently evolving my digital setup.

My work contract requires that I test my work on a range of devices. In my previous employment I could just ask my workmates to test on their phones, but now I don’t have any workmates. Or I could access the ageing stash in the office Device Cupboard, but now there’s no office either.

I experiment with using a web-based testing service. There are two Wi-Fi networks at the hostel, but sometimes neither of them is particularly speedy. It's frustrating and it seems like it will be easier just to have everything on one machine.

I use Ghostlab to test on my physical phone, and MacOS to test MacOS, but Windows and Linux testing requires installation of various large VirtualBox virtual machines.

My tiny 11″ laptop has a tiny 120GB hard drive. My external hard drive stores 2TB, but even that is rapidly filling up. I need more storage.

Heading down Peace Avenue, I find Tuna Electronics. It sounds fishy, but their credentials are instantly verified by tall backlit cabinets full of audiovisual gear.

There must be a small fortune on display, but the sole attendant doesn’t seem at all phased by the apparent lack of paying customers.

Window shopping is dangerous here. The extensive range of high-end camera and video gear would easily empty my bank account. But thankfully it's not what I came here for. Eventually I settle on a tiny 64GB memory stick and some rechargeable AAAs for 97,850 MNT (60 NZD). So long, big spender.

All these gear purchases impact on my finite storage space on the bike.

Keen to minimise my load, I go through all my gear, singling out things to send home.

First up, things that are unreliable. This includes my flakey Petzl head torch.

Next, things that are impractical. This includes my Russian head torch, for which I can’t find batteries, and my shower attachment, which requires stripping down in public.

And lastly, duplicate things. This includes my Amazon Kindle (the companion app and audio books are available for my phone, and real books aren't that expensive either), excess straps from my panniers and dry bag, my sleeping bag lofting bag, and my bulky camera bag (I have dry bags).

On their own, none of these things are particularly cumbersome, but together they represent a fair whack of space.

After my harrowing experience freighting my bike from Beijing, I find Mongol Post far easier to deal with. I buy a single box to hold everything and fill in the straightforward English address label.

Next stop is the local Korean coffee chain, Caffé Bene.

Touted by other Digital Nomads as a good place to work, I weigh it up. It has Wi-Fi, check. It has coffee, check. It has an interesting outlook for people watching, check. And it seems really popular, check.

But coming from New Zealand’s backyard coffee culture, it also feels really contrived.

Maybe I’m just old, but I really don’t see the appeal of the glitzy interior, brainwashing playlist, sprawling menu with inflated prices (which rival NZ), and being served by someone who doesn’t actually run the business.

I wonder what the real nomads make of it.

The day doesn’t end well.

When I return to the hostel I'm suprised to find that the gate is locked!

Banging on it elicits no response and I assume that the host family have gone out somewhere.

As the only other guest is the owner's hearing-impaired father, it's time for Plan B.

Hauling myself awkwardly up onto the fence, I drop down the other side. I land hard, my tough boots slamming onto the hard concrete surface and almost bursting a blood vessel.

Once safely inside, I discover that the entire family is in fact home 😞.