Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cr-Ulaanbaatar (Cruel-Ulaanbaatar)

322 days, that is how long we travelled without any criminal incidents; no theft, no robbery, no pickpockets. We successfully made it through some of the most notorious cities for this type of petty crime: Buenos Aires and the San Telmo marketCairo and the Khan al-Khalili market, and Delhi and the Chandni Chowk market, just to name a few. But on our 323rd day, our streak came to an end. Ulaanbaatar (UB), it seems, had our number, and the Mongolia thieves called on us not once, but twice during our 10-day visit to their fine country.

Seems the Lonely Planet was right,
pickpockets do target public buses.

It is not as if we shouldn’t have known. Ulaanbaatar is well-known for petty crime against tourists. But, then again, so are all the other cities we had successfully navigated crime-free, including our many years in New York. And we assumed that the precautions we always took would be sufficient in UB. Alas, they were not.

The first incident occurred at the Dragon Bus station where we were boarding a bus to head to the Gobi desert. We found our bus, dropped our luggage, and were happily situated in our seats with all our possessions. As we sat in our front seats looking out at all the other pathetic run-down buses we saw a large American wandering around looking lost. We recognized him as the third member of our Gobi tour, and so, I hopped off, introduced myself and we returned to the bus. And then I realized, Remy was gone. We frantically looked through all our pockets, all our bags, and all around us. But he was gone. Along with all our UB and many of our Beijing-Mongolia train photos (thus the photo-free post). I even had the audacity (and foolishness) to walk back through the bus station looking on the ground and asking the dodgy-looking fellows if they had seen my red camera. You can imagine the blank stares I got when I made my photo-taking gesture and implied if they had seen my bright red camera. And the worst part was that I knew it was right there, in one of their pockets, and would soon be on offer at the nearby Russian market along with all the other stolen goods in UB.

And guess where our hotel was when someone
snatched our backpack?  On Peace Ave between
the Post Office and the State Department store.
Way to go Lonely Planet.
With nothing else to do, I hopped back on the bus, reminded myself that at least I still had Fatty-D, and resolved that one pick-pocketing in nearly 11 months of continuous travel was not so bad. Plus, we’d have to go shopping for yet another point-and-shoot camera (fun!) in Mongolia (expensive).

Fast forward four days. We had just completed an eye-opening, stomach-closing, and incredible tour through the Gobi desert. Fatty-D proved up to the task, taking incredible photos, and surviving a very near-death experience [more on this in the next few days]. We also just completed the worst, or second-to-worst bus ride of the entire trip [JLM: It is impossible to make an actual determination of which ride was worse]. And while we were unloading our bags outside our hotel (on Peace Ave; peace, ha) from the taxi from, someone stole our backpack. So on the 327th day of our trip, we were robbed again. We could hardly believe it.

Next up, our trials and tribulations working with the Mongolian police department...

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