Thursday, October 25, 2012

On the Road Again

To have a really great travel experience, I think you need 4 things:
1. Good travel companions
2. A good destination
3. Good timing and a little luck
4. Some adventure along the way
This week is our fall break, and a couple of friends (Engrish and Five, to be exact) and I decided to go to Kharkhorin, Mongolia's capital in days of yore.  We hired a friend's driver and his "Land Rover" (a Toyota Vista that I swear had a titanium undercarriage) to take us out there and back.  He used to be a tour driver and he speaks English pretty well.  So that's a great big check for number 1.  I'll talk about numbers 2 and 3 in subsequent posts.  That leaves us with number 4: some adventure along the way.  Where do I begin?  How about animal crossings?  You've all seen deer crossing signs, right?  I've even seen a camel crossing sign or two in my day.  Here in Mongolia, we don't have the signs, but we've got crossings aplenty:
 Cattle crossing, of course.
 And horse crossing.
Goat and sheep crossing.
And although they weren't actually crossing the road at the time, I was very excited to see my first yaks.  So excited I made Enkhe (our driver) stop so I could take a picture of them.  Enkhe is an amazing driver.  He never got tired, never complained, and only got a little off course while driving down roads that hardly existed.
I mean, I have an almost perfect sense of direction, and I think even I couldn't memorize the path through here.  He got us back on track and on our way quickly enough after this, and we got to see a little more of this gorgeous landscape.  We also got stuck a couple of times.
There were tons of crossings back and forth over the Orkhon River on our first and second day (getting out to the waterfall and back).  Each time we held our breath, because that water was COLD, if you can't tell by the ice, and getting stuck anywhere is no fun.  During one of the last, Enkhe got stopped by a big sheet of ice.  We girls got out and convinced him to let us push, and once we got a rhythm between the four of us he was out of the river in no time.
Enkhe assures us that off-roading is a standard part of the Mongolian driver's license test.  I couldn't help remembering my dad's driving as we were soaring over boulder-strewn tracks that could only be loosely classified as "roads."  I'm not sure even he - in his truck - could keep up with Enkhe.  (If you'd like to hire him, send me an email and I'll put you in touch...with Enkhe, that is, not my dad, although he is retired and if you find yourself stranded near Omaha he might just be willing to help you out).
On our last day, heading back to UB, Enkhe stopped at Mongol Els, a sand dune that wandered out of the Gobi and couldn't find its way back (that's my story, anyways).  After pushing and digging and digging and sticking bones and the tread of an old tire under his wheels and pushing some more, Enkhe finally went after help.  Fortunately someone was home at a nearby ger and he brought his truck over to help pull us out.  We gave him some of the snacks we still had as a thank you.  That's how we roll out here.
The aftermath of our labors.  It's a good thing I'd already decided not to be prissy and worry about sand in my clothes/hair/ears, etc, because let me tell you - 24 hours and a shower later, and I'm still finding sand.  Totally worth it...but it DOES make me wonder if I'm ready for the Gobi, where I am assured being stuck in sand happens on a regular basis...


  1. Hi.

    There used to be an animal crossing signs all over mongolia. Then, one day all the insurgent cows took them down and ate up all the signs as a breakfast. Now they have a right of the way. So be careful when traveling.

  2. The animal crossing pictures cracked me up. :P