May 31, 2014

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The final day . . .

We woke up around 07:00 and starting prepping ourselves for the long drive back to the capital city. We had some more breakfast snacks (when I type ‘breakfast snacks’, I am referring to processed, packaged food such as biscuits and danishes bought in the supermarket) to give us much needed fuel for our tired bodies. We said “thank you” and “goodbye” to our host nomadic family and waved as we drove off east toward the sunrise, to the city. We left at the same time as the two Americans, who spent the night with us, drove off in their drab green van.

Watching two camel calves outside the ger we stayed in the night previous.
Two camel calves outside the ger we stayed in the previous night.
The drab green van's flat tire.
The drab green van’s flat tire.

We were not on the road for too long, before the drab green van’s starboard front tire had become flat due to a piece of glass lodged in it – the litter in this country had caught up with us. Our driver immediately hopped out and began to assist in changing the tire. Then a grey van of the same Russian make as the drab green one pulled up to assist; this van had a young driver, no passengers, and was from a different tourist company, yet the drivers from each vehicle conversed as if they were all long time friends, and perhaps they were.

Just as the tire exchange was nearly complete, another grey van of the same make as the other two had arrived to offer assistance – we had seen this van the day prior at the nomadic family’s ger, but it had left with it’s two French female tourists and guide soon after we had arrived. Once the drab green van was healthy to hit the road again, we all took off in a four vehicle caravan.

Our caravan of four vehicles (all operated by tour companies).
Our caravan of four vehicles (all operated by tour companies).

We then stopped at the nearest automotive repair shop for the drab green van to turn in the busted tire for a new one. During this stop, as with almost all stops on this trip, the drivers from each vehicle would get out of their respective automobiles, smoke, and bullshit with each other for long periods of time. It may have proved enlightening, or at the very least entertaining, if we could understand any of the dialogue being exchanged.

Soon we were on the road again. The van with the two female French tourists had gone on ahead to a river, where they stopped to drink some strawberry flavored süütei tea. Once the other two vehicles and ours spotted the van down by the river, we all pulled off to join them. There were a herd of horses bathing in the river, but otherwise, not much was happening.

Horses bathing in the river.
Horses bathing in the river.

When we had finished our tea, we took off again, but soon our vehicle, the drab green van, and the grey van with the young driver stopped for lunch at the same restaurant we had ate at on the first day. For lunch, the Frenchman and I had rice, vegetables, and grilled pieces of mutton and fat. After we had finished, all the drivers stepped out to have a smoke and talk amongst each other. When they were finished, we were on our way again. Our vehicle followed closely behind the drab green van while the young driver took off in his.

About an hour after lunch, the drab green van pulled off to the side of the road and our driver followed suit. Their driver jumped out to use the communal squat toilets, which were in a hard walled shack off the side of the road of the small town we had stopped in, and our driver followed in after him – their bodies must have been synched up with each other. While they were relieving the pressure that had built up in their intestinal tracts since lunch, a young mother with child waited outside for them to finish to go next.

We were on the road again for a few minutes before spotting the grey van with the young driver off on the side of the road. His engine had overheated and needed water to cool it down. The drivers all worked to get the vehicle going again, but it would not run. The drab green van then used a metal cable to tow it most of the way to Ulaanbaatar. About a half hour from the edge of the city, we stopped again, the drivers once again used this as an opportunity to smoke and joke. The grey vehicle could now run on it’s own and soon did the rest of the way.

We started up again and soon hit the traffic of Ulaanbaatar. The roads were a mess, clogged with an abundance of drivers and pedestrians crossing in between moving vehicles. In the city, people cross the streets whenever it looks opportune for them, making it so the drivers constantly have to dodge them. Even at the crosswalks, most people will not wait for the signal to cross, they will go whenever it pleases them. This has a negative affect on the drivers; since pedestrians cross the street at all the wrong times and places, drivers will force their way through an intersection even as people are crossing. How can you blame them, since pedestrians can’t be trusted to move at the right time?

However, we were soon at our final destination: the guesthouse. It was 16:30 and we grabbed our belongings and hurried upstairs to drop our bags off and and immediately shower and wash-up after our four long days of sweating and accumulating dust and grime. Once I was bathed I caught up on emails and messages from friends on the other side of the world and conducted research for my next adventure in Mongolia.

For dinner, I joined the Frenchman for some Mongolian cuisine at a nearby restaurant. I had a Tiger beer and a sizzling plate of mutton, fat, and onions, with rice on the side.

Overall, I enjoyed the tour we had done, though the final day was difficult to enjoy with the long drive, frequent stops, and nothing new to see or do. I was glad to have survived the long hours of driving with no seat belt and the nomadic food, coming out healthy and unscathed. My assessment: it was a worthwhile experience.

Sketch of a Mongolian cowboy catching a calf with an uurga (a long pole with a rope looped at the end).
Sketch of a Mongolian cowboy catching a calf with an uurga (a long pole with a rope looped at the end).

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