"The greatest oppression is to those that don't truly know they are not free."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mongolia Part I

Escapades of the Mongolian Kind:

Since I was a wee child, I dreamed of going to Mongolia. Not many do, but as a child two things greatly lent themselves to forming my identity: 1. Being supremely skilled at riding and caring for horses and 2. Being a hobo. Mongolia: the land of nomads and wild horses. Clearly, I belonged in Mongolia, I thought as a child.
So now 17 years later, with one jolly and long-suffering friend in tow, I venture to my Mecca. 12 days spent there and many escapades collected. Here is an assortment of anecdotes in chronological order to sum up our travels in the magical land of Mongolia.

1.       Arrival
Pulling into Ulaanbaatar felt a little like discovering an oasis in the desert. We had spent the last 15 hours looking at the same unchanging scenery of vast uninhabited grassland. Finally, here was civilization. Though as a city, it certainly was a different one. Gers (small, round Mongolian dwellings made of wood and sheep felt) surrounded and perforated the whole infrastructure of the city. Everything appeared grey and dirty except the brightly painted roofs of the one-level houses, making the city look like someone had dumped a box of crayolas on top of a concrete rubble pile. But civilization nonetheless and the beginning of our journey.
                Snafu 1. We were supposed to pay the balance of our excursion fee upon arrival and the plan was to just go withdraw the money and pay them. Who knew that withdrawing $2,000 dollars from a foreign bank would be so hard. Each bank had a $50 withdrawal limit so began the great tour of Mongolian banks, withdrawing a limit from each one, accruing tons of ATM fees, but an hour and a half later we came back to the office bearing over 2 million Tugrik..Mongolian currency (1,200 T = $1)
Snafu 2. Then we were told that we would set out on our excursion that night, arrive in the countryside the next day, and embark on a 9 day horse journey with no showers and no sight of civilization the entire time….not exactly the itinerary we booked. Instead, we asked to be put in a hotel that night so we could straighten everything out and after getting back on track to our original itinerary we set out the next morning.

2.       Uka
Our tour guide/ translator is called Uka. His English can be hard to understand. Yet he is somehow a professional English teacher at a University. Glo and I are worried for the condition of Mongolian’s education system. Uka calls himself “Strong Arm”. Uka is 26 but he lied and said he was 24. Uka runs around and jumps like a child. Uka makes very exaggerated facial expressions. Uka consideres himself to be the best English teacher at his university, but we have to repeat ourselves 3 times before he understands us and Gloria has to translate for me when he talks. Uka thinks Glo looks Mongolian therefore they must be distant cousins. Uka wants to know if Glo speaks “Mexican”…”Do you mean Spanish?” ….”No. Do you speak the traditional Mexican language called Mexican”…………………..”No, Uka. We speak Spanish in Mexico.”….”No, I believe you should speak Mexican.” Sigh, the world according to Uka is a world in which people speak Mexican and want to kill each other and still subject the whole African race back into slavery, and where the Black Death was started by Mongolians throwing sick marmots into European castles. Also it is a world in which blue Dragons rule the rivers and the black birds are trying to give us messages from Hell. Uka perpetually confused us and annoyed us. We tried to be patient with him until we realized that he got on the nerves of the entire normal Mongolian population too. And in the end we discovered why Uka is the way he is: Uka used to do nothing but play video games and once he spent 36 hours straight in front of the computer screen without realizing how much time was passing, completely absorbed in his world of CounterStrike. Congratulations, Glo and Joe, for surviving 12 days with the maniac known as Uka whose email is: Doyouknowme@yahoo.com.

3.       Passage to the Ger camp
Glo is a little new at camping and trekking and a little freaked out by bugs. Nontheless, both of us were enjoying our jeep ride into the countryside, passing by beautiful pristine nature and all sorts of animals right outside our windows: sheep, cattle, goats, horses, yak, and marmots. We rolled down the windows to get a better view and fresh air when I grasshopper flew inside and Gloria freaked out. She was screaming and trying to crawl over me to switch seats with her. The whole car (me, our driver, our cook, and Uka) were all just watching her be a spectacle. As soon as she calmed down we went over a huge ditch and somehow just Gloria went airborne and smacked her head on the top of the roof. She screamed and then broke out into hysterical laughter and we all followed suit. 5 hours later, we arrived and settled into our ger.

4.       Shaking the eagle
Before getting to the ger camp we stopped by a monastery where there were two tame eagles outside. Before we even realized we had consented, I found my hand shoved into a thick leather glove and a man putting a huge 20 pound eagle on my right wrist. And then I had 3 people crowd around me and me new eagle telling me to “Shake it! Shake it!” …..what? shake the eagle?...before I had time to figure it out the man had grabbed my wrist and started shaking the eagle. It spread its large wings and posed for a picture. For those of you who have never shaken a 20 pound eagle, it is no easy task. That bird was heavy!!  Glo followed in similar fashion but with more giggling, per usual.

Ger Camp
We stayed with a Mongolian nomad family in our own ger. Each ger has an iron Russian stove in the center to heat the ger because nights on the Mongolian step get quite cold. I spent a lot of time honing my fire making skills. Often I would get such a crackling fire going that I would overheat the ger and then we would have to open the door anyways to let some cool air in. One night I overheated the ger and in impulsive frustration I decided to open the stove door and pour water over the fire, ignoring Gloria's protests, and sending plumes of ash out into the ger and all over our beds and belongings. We woke up the next morning coughing and smelling like we had spent the night in a campfire.

No comments:

Post a Comment