Saturday, November 19, 2011

To Ger or Not To Ger: Day 5 - More Desert Trekking


Our last morning in the Gobi. We woke up to a treat: for breakfast, rice pudding. And it was really good! Go Tumenbayar. We hiked around the local area, read and just relaxed before we drove back to UB.
Yum.  Clean, white, and sweet
My little nook (or Kindle) spot.
But, before we left, we made on more pit stop...  Mongolian style.
Oh boy.  This could be interesting.
(we took these photos the prior night).
Take a look at those planks!
High stakes!


And then we said good bye:
Don't be shy, Dan.
The first portion of the ride was from the Gobi to Modolgobi. Our driver proudly, and repeatedly, pointed out that we were cruising in a Russian jeep. He would bang the dashboard, rattle the steering wheel, and boast, "Russia! Russia!"  And it felt like it. Bouncing and jouncing all over the desert the man was a maniac. He had no need for roads. What he did have a need for was some airag. That’s right, the fermented mare’s milk. You know, because he was our driver, in the middle of the desert, over rough, bumpy roads. Time to get drunk!  So when he thumped his chest and questioned whether we wanted airag Dan, sitting shotgun, readily agreed.  J and I made "meh" noises, but were immediately overruled.
Wow.
D, J, and a Russian Jeep
And so, with a sharp turn we careened off towards a distant Ger, where we were invited in and served giant bowls of airag. When I requested a small portion I was told, “No. Good Mongolian drink,” and received an overflowing bowl.  Good Mongolian drink indeed. Taking baby sip after baby sip Jesse and I fought through about 1/10 of our bowl when Dan licked his lips and inquired about more. I scolded him under my breath, “Dan, you know you have to finish my and Jesse’s airag before you can get a second serving!” Sheepishly, he took my bowl, began guzzling it and lo and behold I had finished my bowl! Within minutes, Dan’s second bowl was done, and we discreetly slipped him Jesse’s still 9/10th full bowl. Gulp, gulp, gulp and it was done. With his belly full of fermented mare milk, known for its ability to fully “clean out one’s system” we piled back into the jeep where we would next enjoy a seven-hour, Mongolian pit-stop only, mini-bus ride back to UB.
The promising town of Mandalgovi (Mongolian: Мандалговь), capital of the Dundgovi Province of Mongolia, pop: 12,000.
And what a ride back it was. We opted to travel with Dan on the not recommended mini-bus. Ger to Ger says, “take the mini-bus only when necessary as these drivers and vehicles are less safe and less comfortable.” True to their word, the minibus was horrible. With tickets putting the three of us in the last three seats in the back row of the bus (these are exceptionally small seats) it was looking like a long, uncomfortable ride.
Luxury coach this was not.
Drawing, however, on the many mini-bus rides I’ve endured, I knew that a butt in the seat is a strong indicator of where one actually sits, regardless of your ticket’s seat assignment. So, I pulled Dan, who is much bigger than me, out of the back row and we took a two-ser towards the back. I explained to him that we sit there, sunglasses on, and don’t move. Whatever they say, whatever they promise, that we just sit in our seats and let everyone else figure it out. First some large Mongolian ladies come and start waving little slips of paper at us. Presumably these were their tickets with the seats that we were sitting in. I stayed true to the plan. I just looked straight ahead, said nothing, and let them chatter away. Dan, on the other hand, started to crack. He tried to explain that he didn’t fit in his seat (this doesn’t work, they don’t care), he tried to explain that they should sit in his seat (this definitely doesn’t work, you’ve stolen someone else’s seat because yours is so bad), and then he finally did it, he got up. Game over; immediately, his seat was gone and I was sitting with a large Mongolian woman instead of a large American man. Next they tried to get me up. As a veteran mini-bus traveler who cut my teeth in India and then Nepal I was a much tougher nut to crack than Dan. I waited it out. Patiently, never yelling, just ignoring their reasonable request that I vacate their assigned seat. Eventually, the driver came back, and this is always the moment of truth, he wants to get going. My butt is in the seat, and there is a lady in the aisle who won’t sit down. Odds are, he puts her in the empty seat and I have my seat (along with a life-long enemy, but that’s OK). But he plays an unexpected card. He offers me the front seat on the bus. The one reserved for his assistant. I am skeptical, I could lose everything, but the upside is huge. It’s the best seat on the bus. A padded chair bolted down next to a two-ser in the front. A large unobstructed view out the front, plenty of air, and the entire door area for me to stretch out into and place my bag in.
Dan - who choose his seat poorly.
Also, don't forget to check out J in her worst seat of life
(hint: she's on the back left corner of the bus,
between an exceptionally large Mongolian woman and a giant nail sticking out of the wall)
And my personal favorite: Dan wanting to blow his own head off.
Jesse went to her special place.
I go for it. Moving fast I grab my bag, dart down the aisle and nudge the large Mongolian women sitting in the outside of the two-ser (now a middle seat) back into her own area. Content, I gaze back at Jesse – who like an angel is jammed into the back corner of the bus, next to the largest Mongolian woman on the bus (which does indeed make her quite large) – and think, boy, this is going to be a long ride for her. Passing over the large Mongolian I see Dan in the middle seat of the back row. Now, back row center of a mini-bus is always the worst or second-worst (it’s a toss-up between his seat and Jesse’s) seat on the bus. It’s a trick. You think you’ll have lots of leg room down the aisle, but in countries like Mongolia, India, Nepal (really anywhere that does not have modern safety laws) that aisle that looks like wonderful leg room will be turned into a seat. And just as I predicted the driver produced a small stool for yet another large Mongolian woman to sit on. Right where Dan thought his legs would go. The other thing about small bus stools? They have no back. So for the next few hours, not only did Dan have no leg room and a tummy full of airag, he had a “hoss” of a Mongolian “taking liberties” on his legs (his words, not mine). That is, she “took full liberties to recline right into me for hour after hour!” It got so bad that after our dinner stop (you guessed it, mutton dumplings) he came and sat in the doorwell of the bus – for another four hours! And raved about how comfortable and pleasant it was as a seat.
Just another round of mutton dumplings...
And unwrapped, they're even worse...
About seven hours later we finally pulled into the bus station. We hopped in a taxi to get to our hotel and rest our weary bones. And shower (it’d been five long, hot days without so much as a face wash). And then, as we were unloading our luggage from the taxi, we got robbed. Again! A man came and swiped my Osprey backpack. What a country. On the bright side, we already had to go to the police station to file a report for the stolen camera.

1 comment:

  1. From start to finish...sound horrendous! How could Dan ever doubt you? Love, Mom

    ReplyDelete

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