Posts Tagged ‘bus travel’

I’ll blame my lack of posting on a few things. First, wrapping up finals season always comes with alternating bouts of productivity and extreme laziness, meaning that when I was working, I was burning the midnight oil, and when I wasn’t working, I really wasn’t. Second, Ryan got into Irkutsk two weeks ago, so between showing him Russia, making sure he knew where to go around the city and how to get there, and trying to keep him entertained, that’s occupied me, too. Finally, it’s Christmastime, which I’ve been preparing for with great anticipation (!). Check my next post for that.

But, having Ryan here to show around the streets of Irkutsk (he’s been clinging to my Irkutsk-Detroit analogy as an explanation for many of his discoveries) has been fun to one, see what I’ve learned since I got here almost four months ago equally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and two, to revisit and expand my knowledge about a few aspects of the life and culture I’ve been living.

Russian America. Our Buryatia trip hadn’t completely run down Midd’s budget for excursions for our Irkutsk group, so Elizabeth organized a van tour around Irkutsk two weeks ago after our classes. The theme of the tour was “Russian America and Irkutsk;” to give the appropriate history lesson (parts of which are from our Baikal studies learnings, parts from the tour). . . .

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Day 4 (Tues., Oct. 27): But. . . there was no lady with a cap. . .

I consider myself someone who’s ok just “going with it,” “easygoing” as it were.

But, when in a country, of which you don’t speak the language, when you find yourself half-stranded at a bus stop in a town of population of 100 (?), and the person described to you as “lady wearing a cap” with a name of a long stream of unfamiliar phonemes isn’t there, things change.

To rewind seven hours or so: Romany and I got up at 6, had breakfast, double checked that we had everything, checked out of the hostel, and walked out the door at 7:00 a.m. to our taxi waiting for us while crossing our fingers we’d be back safe and sound four days later. Our hostel hosts at the Golden Gobi (the best in UB–no joke) let the taxi driver know where we were headed, and sent us off.

A quick note on the Ger-to-Ger program, to clarify: we’re basically on our own until we get to the first family, who takes care of us, takes us to the second, who likewise gets us to the third. Tourists on their programs are supposed to meet the Ger-to-Ger rep (lady in the cap) at the on-location bus station who helps arrange a jeep to the first ger from the bus station, a jeep back to the bus station at the end of the tour, and who gets money from tourists to buy their bus tickets back to Ulaan Baatar. So step one: get to the bus to the village.

We had a map of how to get to the bus stop, albeit made out of poorly-constructed boxes and lines in Microsoft Word, meaning not terribly useful. However, good enough, so that when our taxi driver was getting ready to turn off the main road, I had enough of an intuition to make some general I-don’t-know-Mongolian-but-I-need-to-say-something noises (more of these to come) in the back seat, and withdraw our guidebook with a picture/name of the bus station (“Dragon bus station”) included.

“Ohh,” murmured the taxi driver, maneuvering the car into the other lane. We got there a few minutes later, about 50 minutes before our bus was scheduled to leave.

The bus station was a wide, dirt parking lot in front of a brick building with the label “Auto-Station” illuminated in red lights. It was still dark, but getting lighter. There were small stands of for-the-road goods and snacks. Families of urban-dressed folk were saying their happy goodbyes to those traditionally dressed, getting on the buses, and vise-versa. As with my general Mongolian/non-Russian Asian experience in general, the goodbyes involved more smiles than their Russian counterparts.

Needless to say, stepping out of the cab, Romany and I stood out with our tall, bright red and yellow backpacking packs and with our wide, half-eager, half-scared eyes, looking for the bus labeled Ovörkhangai-Arvaikheer. Irrelevant, but perhaps fun, fact: if we didn’t know Cyrillic, we might have thought we were looking for a bus that sounded like “Obepxahta-backwards-N-Apba-backwards-N-x33p.” We found the bus, handed over our tickets, and took our seats. Part one, done. Whew. Now for the watching for our stop. . . .

Now the lady at the travel agency told us that we should get off the bus at the first stop, at Sansar, which would be five hours after we left. So we stopped for gas, but that obviously wasn’t our stop.

Then we stopped so people could get off the bus and pee on the side of the road (80% of the bus participated), but that definitely wasn’t it.

After that, we stopped on the side of the road again, but it was only so that one guy with some lumber could get off, but since we figured it wasn’t a “‘stop’ stop,” and since even if it was, it looked far too uninhabited (i.e. the side of a country highway in Mongolia–mountains and wild animals the only objects in sight) for our taste, we didn’t want to get off anyways.

Finally we pulled into what looked like a little strip of 10 cafés and grocery shops in a “town.” Only problem: it had only been 4 hours. Since everyone else got off to use the real bathroom (meaning side of the road for men #1, or the outhouse a stone’s throw away for woman and other business), and since the bus driver said enthusiastic- and positive-sounding Mongolian things when we said “Sansar?” and pointed downwards, we figured, why not? Part two, bus ride, done. We think. Whew? Now to find the lady in the cap. . . .

As I’ve already ruined the surprise of that one, yes, no lady in the cap. Romany and I look at each other. Then turn our heads the other way. Assess surroundings. Small town. Then we look behind us. Road, two houses, Mongolian wilderness. Repeat the looking from side to side. Then we kind of take two and a half steps one direction, look the other way, make a quarter of a step to go that way, then kind of turn around to make sure the other one is still there. In the general sense, you can call this “not knowing what to do.”

I had to use the facilities, so I found a nice patch of side-of-the-road. Meanwhile, traditionally-dressed nomad approaches Romany back near the bus doing the “not knowing what to do” dance, albeit a slightly less concerned version of it than mine, and says to her “girtugir.” She figures it out: “Ger to Ger.” I return from the restroom. She updates me on the developments. Cool. But where’s the lady with the cap who we’re supposed to pay for our jeep and tickets back?

No big deal, we say to each other, not really believing it. The guy is showing us to his jeep, knew our agency’s name, but otherwise, really, has no other credentials. Speaking of the agency, my feelings about “Ger to Ger” at this point: LIARS!

So we’re driving down Mongolian highway x, the town gone by as quickly as it came up, thumbing through our 11 pages of Mongolian-English phrases (which, we would soon note, didn’t include rudimentary feelings of desperation like “Why?” “Who?” and “I don’t know”). Doing the “not knowing what to do” drill, sitting in our seats, Romany and I agree that I shall have the wherewithal to initiate communicative exchanges number one through three.

1. “You?” Point to the fuzzy picture. “Ee-cheen-hohr-lu?” (that was the name of cap lady). Friendly nomad replies with a mighty vicious shake of the head, as if “Oh no, no, definitely not.” Right. Conclusion: We’re in the car with man who relates in an affirmably negative way to Ms. Ichinhorloo, Absent Cap Lady, with whom our rendez-vous was planned. Hm. (Incidentally, gestures may have international cognates, but I beg to differ with whomever it was, who said that they mean or connote the same things across languages.)

2. Point to Romany and myself. “Ger?” Point to fuzzy picture of host father number one. “B-yam-bah-tog-oh?” (host father number one’s name). Friendly nomad replies with another shake of the head, but added in the hand motion of “cut it out,” as if “Nahh, not goin’ there.” Conclusion: We’re in the car with man who is in fact, not taking us to our first home stay. Panic level somehow still not activated.

2b. Friendly nomad points to picture of host father number two, Mr. Otgonbayar, and waves down the road. Conclusion: We’re in the car with man who is taking us to our second home stay. Slight relief. However the question arises: does he know that’s wrong/does that matter? Answer still unknown.

3. Look up word for “tickets.” Russian/French cognate, thank God. Look up word for “bus.” Again, score. “Bileti? Avtobus?” Point backwards. “Ulaan Baatar?” Friendly nomad replies with nod of the head, as if,”Oh yeah I gotcha,” then points to himself, and then does the “later, later,” wave of the hand. Conclusion: We’re in the car with man who will take our money later and who knows that we want to buy tickets to Ulaan Baatar, although unfortunately with whom, due to the Great Wall of Language Barrier, it will be impossible to arrange a rendez-vous in order to get these tickets.

If two years of a Russian major and two months in Irkutsk weren’t enough of a practice in dealing with contradictions and irony, I suppose I’d been put in the right situation. Regardless, I’ll spare relating the ensuing stream of consciousness because I don’t remember (or frankly, want to remember) how I managed to convince myself that, well, probably, we’d be, to some degree, at some point in time, “okay.” We had paid a tour agency after all, right?

Insert cliffhanger here.

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