Camel Jockey and Twinkie Driver: 24 July 2006 (Monday)


To continue the story where I left off I would have to describe our (very) brief camel ride through a part of the Bayun Gobi. Unlike the horses in Mongolia so far, I had to admit that the camels were very quiet, non-smelling and relatively friendly. The saddles between the humps were also quite comfortable. The camel guides took Scott, Naidam, Jargalan and I through an area which mimicked the famous photos of the sands attributed to the Gobi Desert. While the ride was brief and we got no farther than a quick trot, the experience gave an idea of how stable the camels would be on a massive sandy expanse.

Having declared ourselves camel jockeys we retired to our Girs and then to supper. I should mention that only Scott, Derek and I are sharing a Gir. We had swung an arrangement which left Jargalan and Robin sharing a Gir (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more!). Supper was a rather intimate affair as we all realized that this journey was coming to an end. Jenny read out a poem she had composed about our trip which captured the major events, personalities and spirit of the sixteen days we had spent together. Once we went back to our Gir, Derek decided to create a sauna inside and maintained it throughout the night so we could sleep in minimal clothes embraced by the firewood-created warmth.

The morning dawned marginally better and there was a surprise awaiting us when we boarded our vans, potentially for the last time. The drivers wanted us to drive at the start. What a treat! My turn came second and what fun to speed along those trail-like roads in Mongolia with these powerful vans answering my beck and call. It was a completely different driving experience to my little car back home in Edmonton. I may have to come back and learn how to drive on these roads if I’m serious about doing the Dakar Rally.

I could describe the vistas of rolling hills, flat grassy plains, the oft seen herds of horses, goats and cows, but really the last day’s ride was given to sleep and contemplation. As the plains of Mongolia rolled by I could imagine the horsemen riding to war 800 years ago. They would have drunk airag, slept in Girs and done many of the same things we had seen and done. Within six hours were were suddenly amidst noisy traffic, pollution and traffic jams. We had undoubtedly made it back to Ulaanbaatar in one piece.

My first stop after dropping my bags off was to run to the travel agency and pick up my train tickets. Probably a good thing I went as early as I did. My reasoning was to pick up my tickets for Thursday and inquire about trains for Sarah, who was looking to be in Beijing around the same time. As it turned out, my travel curse may actually extend to trains after all. The government of Mongolia had commandeered most of the reserved tickets and many people, including myself, had to make alternative arrangements.

My options included taking a local train to the border, wait twelve hours or more and then take another local train to Beijing. The second option was to stay longer in Ulaanbaatar, which would essentially mean missing out on Beijing. I chose to pay an extra $30 and fly to Beijing the next day on MIAT – Mongolian Airlines. This was a disappointing and hard decision to make. It would mean that I would not quite complete the journey overland though I told myself that Berlin to Ulaanbaatar by train was still quite the achievement. However, I now had the opportunity to see Beijing with Scott and Sarah and hang out with Robin. I suspected that perhaps this was fated somehow. Onwards.

Arriving back at the hotel I had an eerie sense of deja vu. Scott was sitting outside to inform me that Derek had called his girl from Strings again and was currently up in our room with her. I managed to rescue my bags from Derek and thanks to Robin, managed to get a shower. This trip seems to be filled with somewhat last minute glitches. As it turned out, the plan was to go see a cultural concert, similar to what we had already witnessed at Khovsgol Lake. Unfortunately – can I get a dollar for every time I write that word? Unfortunately, Jargalan phoned to say that she had been locked out of her parents’ apartment and wasn’t able to make it to the show on time. She had the tickets. “Nevermind,” says Robin. He put on his best bullshitting face despite his zero knowledge of Mongolian and we went off to see how we could get in. In the end it was all smoothed over and we managed to see the show. In fact, compared to the fifty others who interrupted and walked in during the show, we were actually on time.

The show was indeed a larger scale production of what we had witnessed at Khosvgol Lake. Unfortunately, as with many large scale productions, it lacked the personal soul of what we had already seen. The most disturbing part of the show was an acrobatic part with several young girls and one older girl bending into positions that should never be possible given the human skeletal structure. I’m told Danielle was averting her eyes at the unnatural poses.

Supper was at the Silk Road Restaurant where Derek was to join us after his more intimate “cultural” adventure. The Silk Road was the most western restaurant I’d been to since Berlin. I could actually order a vegetarian meal (my meat eating had stopped once I reached the polluted air of Ulaanbaatar). Scott and I obtained a couple bottles of “champagne” (Bulgarian sparkling wine) and we set forth a feast of congratulations, speeches and thanks.

This was when we found out about Khosvgol Lake and the group that had been only a couple days behind us. They had attempted to leave the Gir Camp and where we had crossed dried up river beds, they discovered actual rivers. In crossing one river their van had become stuck (probably similar to what had happened to us, but on a bigger scale). Everyone had panicked and saved themselves and presumably their luggage. Unfortunately the van had tipped over in the rushing water and had started to float down the river. The driver had saved the van by lassoing it to a tree. Eventually the folks had been evacuated back to the Gir Camp, which, while flooded, was still habitable. Amazing! To think we missed it by “that much”!

Supper over, our sad farewells began. Danielle and Derek were shuffled off to the airport (Derek was all smiles tonight) and we were shuffled off to bed.

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