Tuesday, August 14, 2012

back in UB

well i did it.
i went to the gobi and survived.
mind you i did it quicker than previously thought. why you ask. cause its a freakin' desert! it was hotter than i ever could have imagined. i don't know how i worked it out that me, a hearty canadian girl could go by herself to the desert in the summer and camp...for a week. HA!
silly emily anne. you're not a camel.
no, i am not a camel. which is why after my first 24 in the desert i made my way back to the dusty southern gobi town of dalanzadgad and booked a bus ticket back to UB. where wind blows a cool breeze, not just more heat and sand. where you can find a cold beer around every corner, although to be honest i usually opt for a popsicle. and where there is often aircon at night time. and i get to cuddle up in a big duvet in order to fall asleep. i don't care if that doesn't make me worldly...i like to fall asleep wrapped in blankets in a room that is chilly! there i said it.
waiting for the bank/internet/apartment building to open
picked a direction and started walking
so after i wrote the last post from the apartment/bank/internet building i swung on my bag and wandered around the town looking for a place to stay that night. the first place i went in was a concrete square box on the edge of town. it was painted a fading baby blue color and had big block letters spelling out hotel across the top. i pulled open the large creeky wooden door and walked in to a dimly lit reception area. which was empty. when i walked in past the entry way a short plump little lady came in.
'yeah nik'
then she motioned for me to follow her.
nik is the number one. thanks to the english camp kids, i now know how to count to ten in mongolian!
we went up a flight of stairs and she led me into a tiny room with four beds. each bed but one was obviously occupied. i noted this by the clothing strewn about the floor and the unmade beds. i shook my head.
she walked me down the hall to another four bed room. this time when she opened the door and i peaked inside and saw a toddler passed out on one of the beds. the old lady shouted something, i assumed not at the toddler, or me...but i wasn't sure. seconds later i heard footsteps coming up the stairs and a man rushed into the room scooped up the little girl and ran away. she turned to me and smiled, as if she had answered my wishes. she was a genie.
'how much?'
she whipped out her cell phone and produced a laughable number on the tiny nokia dial pad. i shook my head and typed back half. she laughed and waved goodbye at me.
this i took as a sign, and as the advice i found online suggested, i picked a direction and started walking.
big camp sites

about three or four hours later i picked a spot. i laughed when i remembered what my lonely planet guide said.
'there is lots of opportunity for camping around dalanzadgad. just walk a couple km in any directions and pick somewhere secluded'
secluded HA! it is the desert. the best i hoped for was to set up camp within walking distance of a shrub that was taller than the rest, to act as my bathroom privacy. i spent two nights here before heading back into town and booking the first ticket out of the scorching inferno.
my bus arrived at 8 in the morning. i stood by the driver as he loaded the bags and boxes into the boot.
'do you want to put this back there, or have me take it on the bus?'
for a brief second the driver looked at me as if i had sneezed, before continuing on with loading the boxes. as if i didn't say anything. the man standing beside the driver however shouted into the crowd of people waiting to board the bus, then he looked back at me and smiled. soon a woman was standing by my side.
'can i help?'
transport back to UB
pee break
and she sure did! it was the mans wife. they were on their way back to UB with their daughter. the mom works for world vision in mongolian and dealt with a lot of canadians, which is where she perfected her english. over the 16 hour bus ride back the mom took me under her wing. she told me what seat was mine on the bus, she woke me up at rest stops, she held a jacket around my bright white butt when we took pee breaks in the open nothingness of the gobi, she translated the lunch menu for me, and she even asked a local to drive me to my hostel when we arrived back in UB, so i didn't have to pay for a cab. she was my desert angel. and along the bumpy drive back i watched her and her husband and daughter. the daughter was their only child. she had just graduated high school. the mom and dad rotated seats every few hours to sit beside the daughter. when they switched, the daughter would curl up into a ball and rest her head on her mom or dads lap and the mom or dad would pull her in close over every big bump and jolt of the bus. i stared at them. it reminded me of my mom and dad. and how they would do the same thing. i got teary eyed as the mom put a jacket over the napping daughter, and when she handed the dad another cucumber sandwich and he kissed her hand as she gave it to him. that family trip gave me my first tinge of homesickness. i put my headphones on and played  michael buble's home and made the situation ten times worse.
local woman selling goat milk and other dairy products
i am now back in UB. yesterday i booked a flight to beijing for the 21st. i will head there to attempt to get my pakistan visa. if i don't succeed i will still head into western china and then figure out something from there.

*fun mongolian fact. they drink aloe juice here. it is like sweet water with chunks of aloe plant in it. it was weird to adjust to at first...since it felt like i was drinking huge chunks of backwash. but once you get over the vomit worthy texture issue, it is amazing!



Wednesday, August 8, 2012


so the next morning i did get picked up by sergy. sergy is a petite man from ukraine who runs a summer camp for kids with his wife, odna.odna is from mongolia. they have two boys. hakim and ohhantucsk.
sergy picked me up at eight sharp. we drove along roads littered with pot holes and dust. it took about an hour and a half to get to our destination, terelj national park. he talked the whole way there. i just kept nodding and smiling and trying to decipher when he was telling a joke, so i would know when to laugh.
'the mongol people, how they live. hard life, lots of babies. i don't know why so many'
i nod.
'the mongol goverment, how it function. they put president in jail, you know?'
i smile.
i didn't intervene. i photographed. 
as we got further into the national park i started to see more and more ger's.
some were in clumps or rows. those sergy explained were tourist camps. the ones that were out further and only one or two standing alone, those were the real deal. we pulled up to a fenced in area with about 18 gers in rows beside one another. each labeled with a number. sergy took me to 12. it was all mine. i set down my bag and sergy sniffed the air. was it me? then he turned and walked out the door. while walking away he said
'it smell, too much rain. we dry'
i followed him outside. the door leading into a ger is short, so most have to duck to get through. sergy is short, he didnt duck. i am new to the ins and outs of using a ger, and im not short. this combination left me with a sizable bump and scrap on my forehead. when i did make it outside without any injury, i saw a group of boys coming towards me with sergy behind them. the boys evenly distributeted themselves around my ger and started to lift up the bottom pieces of canvas and wool liners and were tucking them into rope holds. sergy explained that they do this in the day to air out the ger, and at night they put them back down to keep in the heat and keep out the creatures.
my dunking was less violent
the next couple days i spent with the kids. the campers range in age from 10-22. the older campers stuck to themselves. which meant i was buddy buddy with a slew of pre-teens. my favorite kid was a little girl named anungoo. you pronounce it like an-un-gaw. her father is the prime minister of mongolia. anungoo spoke english very well and she would come to find me each day and would practice her english.
they got teacher real good
all of my meals were taken care of. they revolved around rice, mutton and milk. breakfasts were a variation of the same thing. rice in a bowl full of hot sweetened milk, rice in a bowl full of hot milk and hot goat broth, or rice and unsweetened cold milk. needless to say my lactose issues took a hit.
on my last day there two local men who help run the camp, killed a goat. one of the boys came running to get me. 'teacher teacher!!! they have whole goat today!'
scraping off the stomach gunk
he knew i would love to see what was happening, because yesterday they prepped three goat heads, and he was with me the whole time i watched, to translate for the men dealing with the heads and me. when we got up to the goat prep station...aka in concrete stairs in front of the kitchen, i saw the process in all its glory.
the men had already skinned it, and were now folding up the skin, and taking the legs and ribs into the kitchen. i stayed with my mini-translator and watched as about four women dealt with all of the innards. they showed me how to dump the contents of the stomach and intestines, how to scrape off the stomach lining, and what parts are good to stuff in the intestines for sausage.
bottom right...bucket of blood
that night odna told me about a closing ceremonies type thing for the kids. she asked me to host it. my hosting duties consisted of greeting them and then handing out medals and certificates to the kids. odna would have liked to have me read off each students name, but we quickly came to realize that no one would understand me as i tried to sound out the names. i was fine with the three russian campers. julia, christina, and anya. but when it got down to anungoo, oronbaatar and zozozaya...i would struggle.
and that was it. my brief stint as an english teacher was over. and early the next morning i crammed into an old school station wagon with a couple other of the mongolian teachers, and a driver who must fancy himself an indie 500 hopeful, and we headed back to UB.
when i got back to my hostel in UB i met up with three girls and a guy who were here for the mongol derby. now i have heard of the mongol rally before but not the derby.
torchin' up some heads
my ger
the rally consists of people buying shitty run down, or silly vehicles (we met guys from sweden that did the rally in an ambulance) and then driving them in a race from england to mongolia. the mongol derby is organzied by the same people. it consists of a race around central mongolia by horse. they are basically on the horse for 14hours a day. they have check points every 40km, where they swap horses, grab food and continue. there are penalties for bringing your horse into a checkpoint dehydrated or out of breath. last year the winner did it in 9 days. and this year they are predicting 8. but most people do it in about 10 days. this year there are only 35 people doing it. and on average 2 of those 30 dont even make it past the practice sessions on the two days prior to the race. you can follow their progress at www.theadventurists.com.
one of my students and odna's youngest son, hakim
my friends in the race are:
aimee from england
charlotte from england
linda from norway
and christoffer from sweden.
they left for the first practice day on the same morning i left for the gobi. we even timed it out so that i can meet them at the hostel on the 20th when they return from the race. they all booked rooms at the ramada for that night. to treat themselves post race. and im going to tag along!
mongol derby friends and me
so we said our goodbyes and i headed for the bus station. i was the only non-mongolian on the bus. it took fifteen hours, four squat outhouses, one questionable truck stop meal, two quick-fix breakdowns, and two snickers bars.
we pulled up to the bus station at around 1130. everyone but me seemed to have a ride come and get them. the bus station seemed like it was onthe edge of town, so i put on my pack and headed into what looked like an open field. as i got closer it didnt look so much like a field. more like a construction yard. i had to balance myself across a ditch with huge pipes laid inside. then i found some large dirt and rock piles. i found a flat spot in front of one of the piles and set up my tent. i was cozy in my sleeping bag by midnight.
first sunrise in the gobi
this morning i woke early with the sun. packed up my gear and headed in town. with the help of a local girl i found the somewhere to use a computer. it is in a bank/apartment/internet building. i started to google about people walking from here to yolyn am, but so far haven't found anything concrete. all i've got is 'pick a direction and just walk'...for hours. so i think that's what i'm going to do. either this afternoon or tomorrow morning.
ill post again from here in a couple days.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

first twenty-four in UB

i caught the train in beijing. no problem.
it was an almost sad night, saying goodbye to all the friends id made at the hostel.
at first i was kind of regretting staying at the hostel instead of cs'ing. but the people i met were beyond amazing. i have made friends from so many places! it was a weird feeling leaving beijing and the people i met there. they were my travel friends.they were all solo travelers. but they were all leaving too. soime where going home after a year of travel, some had school, some were continuing on to a new country. so i guess it was time.
the train left at 8am and got into mongolia 30hours later. i bought the cheapest ticket possible. the hard sleeper. it was a cabin with four beds in it. there was only me and one other guy in my cabin. his name is mike. mike is 25, from southern california, greek and an artist. we befriended lots of other twenty-something travelers on the journey north to ulanbaatar.
even at the six hour border crossing there was a group of eight of us that left immigration and went out into the town to find a restaurant for a last meal of chinese food and beer before crossing the border.
when i arrived in UB (ulaanbaatar, capital of mongolia) i was greeted by a gorgeous mongolian woman with a sign that had my name on it. i felt super awesome. everyone else was trying to arrange taxis and i had a sign lady. i was one of those people who you see walking into a town car at the airport, while you have to go wait at baggage claim for your mom and dad. well not today! but instead of a town car we squished into a really old grey mercedes with grey suede seats that had the louis vuitton LV symbol embossed all over the suede seats. it was really weird. there was our driver, a large mongolian man who spoke perfect english and in the passenger seat there was another big guy who i later learned is named kenny. he has been in mongolia for over three months. he got here and bought a motorcycle for 950$ and rode it all around the country. and the hostel here kind of adopted him, he helps them out, they help him out. kenny is from georgia state. and in the back of the car was my sign lady, me and a dutch couple on their honeymoon. oh and the car was also blasting 90's rap.
when we got to the hostel i took off my shoes at the entrance, as per the neon orange signs request. then i waited in the lobby before i got given the grand tour.
"we have four bathroom. this one the toilet is broken, this one cold water. this one is the only one that gets hot water...and only between 2 and 4 pm, and NO wifi between 11pm and 7am, breakfast over at 9am"
i was shown my room. a six person dorm. i chucked down my bag and headed to the closest atm.
mongolian money is insane. i took out 450,000$!!!! which is about 300 canadian. this makes for ordering food confusing.
'id like one panini and a sprite'
'6000 dollars please'
tonight i met up with five other guys from the train ride. thanks to my handy traveler cards...NOT  business cards. i gave them out when we parted ways on the train and a few hours later i had heard from two of the guys to see if i wanted to meet up for dinner. so a couple hours later i met with an australian, malaysian, czech, american, and a brit for dinner. we pointed to four things on the menu and hoped for the best. it worked out and dinner was amazing! it also didnt hurt that it worked out to about four dollars a person.
after dinner i parted ways with them. i wanted to head back to the hostel to meet up with the dutch couple and see if they had figured out a tour to go on. i was interested in the same. maybe a three day tour before heading north west to camp for a week or so. when i got back to the hostel i was coming up the stairs to the front door and i heard
'hey canada, wanna go teach english in the national park for a couple days?'
'uh i darn tootin' do!'
it was kenny. he had done it for a month a little while ago and loved it. after i said yes, he got on his phone and called sergy. sergy is a little russian man, who appeared at the hostel twenty minutes later. i met him, we shook hands.
'what time i pick you up?'
'in the morning?'
'yes. eight'
'well alright then, ill see you at eight'
'bye. eight sharp i here'
and that was it. that is all i know. kenny hinted at the fact that there was food provided and maybe sleeping in my own ger. but other than that i know nothing. i dont even know for sure what date im coming back. i dont know what ages the kids are...or even if they are kids, i dont know if there is a shower, if i need to bring money, what park it is in etc. im putting all my faith in this kenny character.
so im off to bed now, and in the morning a little russian man is driving me somewhere, to apparently teach english to someone...
fingers crossed!

*fun mongolian fact. its mongolian law that drinking and selling liquor is illegal on the 1st of every month. i arrived on august first. the guys were not impressed!