Week 8: Mongolia, Home-stay 3

Posted: November 8, 2009 in Mongolia (Fall)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Day 6-7 (Wed.-Thurs., Oct. 29-30): Getting out of dodge

Family life. Our third family consisted of the mom and dad, an older son or two who weren’t around most of the time, assumably tending the livestock, a five-year-old son, a nineteen-year-old son, and an older daughter.

The mom was really nice and friendly, and insisted on serving us only western-style tea with tea bags in Christmas-print mugs. She cooked good food, which included the noodles and meat, but with fried potato slivers and cabbage. Her sweater-vest reminded us of the uniforms that Michael’s Craft Store employees wear.

The dad was in the middle of making a bunch of rope out of dried leather hides. It was neat to watch the two-day-long process of making several meters of rope, which were tied between the rods of the ger structure to straighten them out. He was quiet otherwise, and usually made himself invisible in the family’s other ger.

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The five-year-old was a cutie, but there are only so many games of sword fights, gun fights, ninja fights, sword-and-gun fights, and sword-and-ninja fights that can keep two twenty-year-olds entertained in the Mongolian steppe. Some other gracious tourist had apparently equipped the rascal with basic English vocabulary including, “You! Me! Come here! No!” which he would cleverly link with gestured explanations of how we were to die at his all-powerful hands.

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Romany and I eventually had to add some subtitling to our games: a WWII-type guerrilla scene turned into a strange mix of jedi fights with some Gandalf and “Wingardium levioooosa” exclamations thrown in there. When I became a horse, with galloping sound effects to boot, the kid’s version of a Little Red Riding-hood reenactment degenerated into a very amusing (for us two Americans, that is) Monty-Python-esque escape from the French. . . “Run awayyy. . . .” Ohh, good times.

The daughter generally busied herself with making noodles and pozi and expressing amusement at what her youngest brother had suckered the two Americans into doing, whether it be us losing, “Agaaain?!” to him in Connect Four, tic-tac-toe, or a rules-rewritten game of checkers.

The nineteen-year-old, Saanjan, turned out to be really cool, not that we had any reason to doubt that. He knew some English, showed us his favorite shows, wrestlers, and music videos (Kelly Clarkson and P. Diddy!) on TV, got out his high school yearbook and pictures from last June and told us a bit about his school life, and showed us a much more fun and skill-involved game with the ankle bones akin to jacks.

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Camelback. Since we had declined the horse ride of the day, we had extra time to kill on day 3 of the tour, so it was good that we had the younger family members to entertain us/babysit.

In the afternoon after lunch, though, we took our ride on the camels with Saanjan, who accompanied us on horseback. We were supposed to make it to the Khadagt Khoshuu holy place, but it was 10 km away, according to our guidebook, and the weather had gotten a lot colder, and the wind was wicked, which long underwear and two pairs of jeans didn’t help stop from freezing my knees. So, instead, we made it to the top of a nearby mountain, got some photos, and then headed back.

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Riding on the camels was really great. They bob their heads a lot when they walk (or run, which is also funny) and have a sort of glide to their motion. Mariana, the Scot we’d met on the train and stayed with in the same hostel, had said (in her great accent), “I hear i’s a lot like shagging. I mean, what, when else do you really ‘ave to use those muscles?” Good point, I suppose.

Saanjan, as promised in the guidebook, liked to sing, and he sang a traditional Mongolian Long Song as we went for part of the way, which was really neat.

[Video coming soon.]

Part of the deal with singing is that if someone sings a song, it’s obligatory for everyone else in the company to sing one, which for Mongolians, isn’t a problem, because the best nomadic singers know upwards of 200-300 unique verses to traditional tunes. So the only thing that Romany and I had up our sleeves was the Peter, Paul and Mary version of “If I Had a Hammer,” which turned out alright. No video for that one.

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We got back soon enough to our hot tea and the oven with time to settle in for a night of continued playing with the young’uns. Finally somewhat used to the pace of life and general practice of living in a ger, we went to bed on our last night slightly bummed that we were leaving already the next day, but also more than ready to get back to not-wooden beds.

Leaving. So the problem, or rather anomaly, of the fact that we had not at all followed the itenerary of going from family 1, to 2, to 3, but instead, went 2, to 3, to 1. This generally wasn’t an issue, apart from the fact that we had to guess what we were seeing, who we were with, and worst of all, how/if we were going to have a ride back to the bus station, where we might have tickets waiting for us to get back to UB.

These questions still hanging over our heads, we got our stuff ready late in the morning on day 4, thinking our jeep would arrive between 2 and 3 in order to get us to the bus station (we had no idea how far away we were from Sansar, the bus stop). The lady had said our time of departure would be 4:00 p.m. So we were ready at 2:00. Then it was 3:00. Then it was 3:15. We asked how long it would take to get there, and we got a 30-minutes guess. Ok. No sweat yet. Then it was 3:30. Then it was kind of panic time.

I, of course, realized that there was really only so much we could do. At the same time, I was a bit more adamant than Romany about the fact that we could do at least try to do something to make sure that we could be back in Ulaan Baatar by the end of the night. I finally found the tour agency number hidden on our little “I’m-on-this-tour” ID Card which we never used, but apparently the mom didn’t get cell phone reception except on the tops of mountains. So I kind of resumed the “I don’t know what to do” pacing/dance.

3:40.

3:45.

3:50.

Then there was a sound of a motor in the distance. Jeep! There is a God! Not that I was seriously doubting or anything. It was just more clear we weren’t completely on his bad side that day.

The driver relayed the news that our bus wasn’t until 4:40, and we pulled into Sansar at 4:15, at which point my blood pressure slowly began its climb back down to human levels. Going along some back street, we slowed down for some reason, and a lady got in the car. She was smiley and said cheerily “Helloo!!” We were confused.

She bought us tea in the cafe, where we sat and waited the 15 minutes for the bus to arrive. We asked, “Bileti?” (“Tickets?”) a few times, but she gave us the “just wait” wave of the hand. Blood pressure resumed to climb, but wasn’t totally out of hand, only because I had the sense that all the random arrivals, pickups, waiting had to be planned, meaning that there indeed was a plan, meaning that at some point, we’d be ok.

And ok we were. The lady, who we eventually figured out hadn’t brought her cap uniform that day (I mean, what’s it to her? Just a cap. . .), talked to the bus driver, and we got on, no problems, and breathed our final sigh of relief once we were comfortably sitting in our two seats in the back row.

Friday night party-bus to UB. Not really. Instead, try amazingly awesome put-together state-run bus to UB. So we were in the back row, which was a row of five seats, slightly elevated above the rest of the seats. A drunk guy, who somehow the driver didn’t kick off, got on, and lay down across the boxes at the feet of our neighboring back-row passengers. Funny, and didn’t bother anyone, so no harm, no foul, I suppose.

Romany and I got out our hard-boiled eggs, cheese and crackers, peanuts, and chocolates that we hadn’t touched the whole trip, and had a nice dinner as it started getting dark around 6:30. And then the most amazing thing in the world happened.

The bus lit up with multi-colored, flashing disco lights. I kid you not. The comedy programming on the HD flatscreen changed to music videos (see Mongolian music videos, exhibit A and exhibit B for an idea of the awesomeness that this involved). The rest of the back-row burst into murmured song, going along with the generally jovial atmosphere.

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We exchanged some thumbs up and chuckles with our back-row collective, which, as a matter of fact, contained the only passengers making any noise whatsoever. The drunk guy’s merriment, though he was sleeping, was apparently contagious.

Around two hours later, the pitch-black surroundings of the steppe changed back into the city lights, and we rolled into Dragon Auto Station in Ulaan Baatar Sweet Ulaan Baatar, and couldn’t be happier or more fatigued.

So close. . . . We’d promised ourselves a celebratory dinner out at one of the great, low-priced imitation restaurants of UB as soon as we got back, but we were way too tired to enjoy it. So we decided to get the city bus back to the hostel.

However, when we inquired at the ticket counter (Russian language–so handy) whether or not the 23 and 36 numbers could get us to where we needed to go, we were told that one of those bus numbers didn’t exist, and that the other one was already closed, seeing as it was 9:00 at night already. The impression of Ger-to-Ger/the rep there, unchanging ’til the end: LIARS!

So we wandered to the nearest city bus stop, asked a few people but to no avail. So we just started walking towards the next stop/the hostel. After all it was only 6 km, and we only had like $5 on us total to be ripped off if someone wanted to mug us. That end of “Peace Avenue” was dark and had the bad urban feel, most definitely. We ran into two girls who were students who had studied English, and who walked with us to the stop. They told us which busses would work, and got on theirs. But that’s when all the busses started driving by with their lights off.

Bad situation. We asked another lady, who chased down a few busses pulling out of the stop to try to see if they would get us to our side of town. She finally expressed, in Russian luckily, that we were probably out of luck, and asked if we wanted help getting a cab. We agreed, and when she got there, she asked if she could ride along to her stop, on the way. Again, we agreed, realizing it was the least we could do, and plus, would probably not get overcharged as foreigners if we had a Mongolian with us.

Great success. We stumbled into the hostel, exasperated, around 10:15 p.m., sent our “I’m alive” emails and tweets, and drifted into a deep, deep sleep in mattress’ed (!!) beds.

 

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Another 350 plug!

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