Sunday, June 24, 2012

Travelling Mongol Style-Misadventures Day 1

As my time here draws to a close,  I was excited to go on a trip with the teachers from my school.  Last summer there was talk of a group trip, but it didn't work out.  This being my last summer in Mongolia, and the end of my time with all of the lovely people I've worked with at School #1, I figured this would be a trip not to be missed!  And boy was it ever, in so many ways!
our chariot awaits

Foreign language teachers rule!

for our entertainment... the 3 stooges:)
The plan was to journey from our town all the way to Lake Huvskgul, the largest fresh water lake in Mongolia and the second largest on the continent; number one being Lake Beikel in Russia.  Unlike the desert surroundings here, up north the terrain is rich with trees, rivers with actual running water (unlike our "river" here in my town, which at it's peak, is a barely wet stream) and of course the lake.  It's been a place I've wanted to visit since arriving here, and now was my chance to go!

I was fully aware that this would be an interesting and probably culturally challenging adventure, being the only foreigner amongst 72 Mongolians.  All the arrangements were made and I just asked when and where to be and how much to pay.... Each of us paid 100,000 T (around $78) for the transportation and some lodging.  The plan was to camp out at least a couple nights.

Food was going to be an issue, as they mostly eat mutton, boiled and very fatty, so I said no worries, I'll bring my own food.  After some pondering what would be easy, I took individual yogurts, peanut butter, crackers, apples, oranges, a lovely trail mix I made, biscuits, individual coffee packs and several different dry soup mixes.  A little camping pan with a lid, a couple bowls and spoons and I was ready!

We were to leave on Friday morning: I was informed we'd leave at 7 am.  Knowing Mongolian time is not exactly punctual time, I decided to get up at 7.  I received a phone call from Chuka, one of my English speaking counterparts at 6:45 telling me she was on her way to the school and to save her a seat on a micro bus.  I had to confess that I wasn't even out of bed yet!

So, I get to school by 7:20, and sure enough there are 6 micro buses there, loading up. These vehicles are like extended vans and have seating for 12 plus a driver; which usually means about 18 people sandwiched into each.  Fortunately for me, we each had our own seat!!!  In my group were 4 English speaking teachers, 2 history teachers, 4 physical education teachers (3 of them men I like to call the 3 stooges:) one music teacher and me.  A pretty fun group to be certain!

After lots of confusion, etc, I had to track down one of our volunteer tents from my VSO friend Jo, as the teachers said, oh, we may camp a few nights but only have 2 tents.  By 8:15 we were on our way, stopping by Jo's to pick up the tent.  Wow, was I ever impressed that we got such an early start!

However, within about 5 minutes I got the true taste of the flavor of the upcoming trip as we got just outside of town, the entire caravan stopped at the little monument by the "Arvaikheer" sign gate to have a photo session and some vodka toasting to a safe journey.  I informed them I'd pass on the vodka thank you and if I'd had my wits about me more, perhaps would have then said, hey grab my pack off the roof please, I'll just walk back home thank you.

Not to say it was a bad trip at all; but in the words of the Grateful Dead, by the end I was singing to myself "what a long strange trip it's been".  Tune in soon for more on this amazing journey by micro bus!

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