Thursday, July 21, 2005

Naadam festival, Gobi desert

I still love this country. Don't let the rest of this blog make you think otherwise.....
Naadam festival, the biggest and most important couple of days every year for all Mongolians. They go crazy. The only problem is that when you get right down to it, it feels like a small town fair with goofy costumes. It was all good fun but I just had to shake my head and laugh. We only went to the first of the 2 days (The 3rd day is technically part of the holiday but nothing happens. I guess they're all just too hung over to work so they take it off.) as we had seen horse racing up close on our way back into town the day before. The opening ceremony was great (but where do they get off mixing ballroom and rap dancing at the same time????) as was the wrestling, archery and fireworks (which obviously come from China and they don't care about annoying anyone as they are going off in 4 different places in the middle of the city at midnight). Most of the 2nd day we spent relaxing and getting ready for our trip to the Gobi desert.
Baagii, our previous guide, hooked us up with a friend (named Future) that had a minivan and was willing to go. Unfortunately Baagii couldn't join us and give directions (it turns out that Future had never been there before either).
Having spent the last 8 days driving nearly 1800 km down to the south Gobi and back, we all have a much better understanding of the concept of "barren wasteland". At times you are driving on the world's biggest gravel field with absolutely nothing around you as far as the eye can see in any direction. At other times you are driving through (or getting stuck in) sand with half buried horse skeletons. It's like the middle of nowhere meets the end of the world.....
In all it was great and a great adventure; ice valleys, giant sand dunes (the Khongoryn sand dunes stretch for over 100 km, are up to 12 km wide, and can be as much as 800 m tall), dinosaur bones (and eggs), camels and a van that didn't want to live.
Things were a mess right from the start. Day 1, couldn't find a place to stay so stayed with the park ranger. Day 2, rolled into town well after dark on fumes and promptly got stuck in sand right in front of the closed gas station. Fortunately some locals were around to help push us out and point us in the right direction so we could go kidnap the gas station attendant from his house and make him give us gas (this was not the only time we had to do this either!). Day 3, again no place to stay so we were on the floor in the back room of the museum. Days 4-6 were okay but it was 45C out and we were roasted alive. Day 7, the accumulated beatings to the van finally took their toll and it died in the middle of nowhere. Okay sure, everywhere is the middle of nowhere but when you are used to seeing maybe 6 other cars on a good day, this day we saw absolutely NONE. What are the odds??? So what was our solution? Why, catch a camel and get it to pull us of course! What started as a stupid joke turned into the funniest thing ever as Bre, Savannah and Future then ran off to catch a camel with Future's shoelaces. I still don't know how they managed but the next thing I know they've got an extremely pissed off camel tied (by the humps) to the front of the van and are trying to get it to pull us to safety. We got a total of 100 ft before giving up. We needed a few more camels but they knew better than to stick around and be put to work. So what next? Tie the camel to a little bush and have Future run off to find help (we could see a couple of gers a few miles off in the distance). Mom then sent the girls off to run around catching lizards as an emergency dinner source (they caught 14). We also still had the camel in case lizard tasted bad (good thing we had already seen the sheep slaughter and were prepared to repeat...). Future came back some 6 hours later on a horse with a little kid in tow. Apparently he had run all over the country side looking for a ger with someone around (and breaking in the roof and "stealing" rice from the ones that were empty) and finally found someone home. The camel finally became useful as we had it porter all our stuff along with the horse (including the spare tire) out to our new home. Another night on the floor, this time in the storage ger. Another bowl of mutton soup had us thinking twice about letting the lizards go.... I love this country but if I have to see (or smell) one more plate of mutton I think I will die. Savannah will agree with me on this one (and as we have eaten the most food so far on this trip we are in the best postition to judge), Bre seems to like it (but she still thinks McDonalds is gourmet) and mom will tell you it is not bad (but she just pokes it a few times, takes a few bites, stirs it around a little and passes it off to me under the pretense of "fattening me up" but really just to watch me suffer through 2 helpings). Anyway, found another neighbor 2 miles further on that could help Future patch up the holes to keep our oil in (this took all night).
Day 8 (the final day) we had a long way to go to get back to Ulaan Baatar so we pushed it as far as we could. Had to continually stop for various new injuries to the van along the way. Everything possible seemed to be wrecked, right down to the key being broken off in the ignition (honestly, how the hell except for an act of a vengeful God? I knew mom should have paid more attention in all the monasteries...). The weirdest thing was that Future was still joking the whole way and would simply look underneath the hood and the latest disaster and simply say "tsk, tsk, I deserved that one for that last joke about Ammon". I suppose being a newly graduated doctor and having a mechanic brother gives you that kind of confidence... After travelling all day (12 hrs straight) we finally hit the paved road for the final few km limp into town when the brakes finally seized and we were stranded. Of course the phone service had to cut out at exactly the same time (again, what the hell?) . Future had to keep pushing it though and stopped just short of starting the van on fire. In the end Baagii came to rescue us with a taxi and drive us to the hostel (which only had 3 beds, despite our reservation. Again, what the hell?). We finally got our bags and everything sorted out at 4 am last night. What a trip!!!!!!
As I said before, I still love this country. It's the people out here that our so great. The little kids are the cutest things ever. If I lived here I am sure I'd steal them all (which wouldn't be all that hard since people are so friendly and we had kids just come along with us for a ride to show us the way all the time). Where else can you just show up and ask anyone for a place to stay and a meal with no notice or compensation? They have the craziest senses of humour too. Love them all.
We are heading to Russia on saturday. I am honestly totally terrified of going back there. I am so traumatized after my last visit. I came out so destroyed, I hope I survive this one......


At 8:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey family!!!
omg it sounds like you guys are having a blast:(...i'm sooo jealous:(....i wish i was with you guys....
i miss you guys tons
luv your sis/daughter


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