Waiting in UB

27 Aug 2010, by Kim in Uncategorized

Hello world!  Yes, I am indeed alive and kicking, now in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  It’s been 3 weeks since my passport with all my visas was stolen in Istanbul and with so many decisions to make and emotions to digest it’s taken me a while to feel ready to post.

After Amy, Yasmin and I had our little Greek island get-away, we booked it back to Izmir where they flew out early the next morning to meet up with the team in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Although extremely grateful for them staying with me and doing a great job of cheering me up, I found myself abruptly alone.  I boarded a bus back to Emily’s familiar little oasis, the Eris Pansiyon, in Assos.  We drank wine and watched movies on the terrace, walked the ruins, swam in the Aegean, and dined keeping each other company and promising to reunite when she comes to Seattle this winter to see her family.  Can’t wait to return the favor of hospitality, Emily!

On 8/23 we said our goodbyes as I boarded the bus that would take all day to get me back to Istanbul.  At the end of the day I realized that I had stared out the window nearly the entire ride engulfed in a sea of emotions about what has transpired – feeling lucky to have been issued a new passport so quickly, grateful for Amy and Yasmin’s sacrifice of time on the rally in order to keep me company and for Emily’s generosity, anger for having let my guard down for the instant my bag was stolen, guilt for feeling that I let my team down by doing so, and in the background of it all a sad longing for Brian.  It may seem silly to most, but in the 15 years that we’ve been together, this 3 week span will be the longest we’ve ever been apart from each other.

The airport in Moscow seemed eerily vacant for 5pm on a weekday when I landed.  No reader boards about my connection to UB.  Hmmm.  I came across a daunting line of about 250 people tackling 1 airport employee.  The sign above her read “international connecting flights.”  Really?  I stood at the back thinking that there just HAD to be a better way, when another airport employee sauntered up and started yelling, “connecting flight?  Paris, London?”  I sidestepped right over a mere millisecond before all the others, showed her by boarding pass for the UB flight, and she waved me through a little door saying “go!”  Okay!  Gladly!  I passed a few hours in a cafe (the only one open?) which thankfully had wi-fi.  The flight to UB was a long one but it was maybe 2/3 full, so I got comfy in both my window and isle seats.

Coming into Mongolia was one of the most beautiful moments on this trip.  It was about 6:30am and the full moon was still shining over the steppe – amazing.  I was picked up by the very kind manager of my guesthouse at the airport.  Like all the others its in a very drab, run-down Soviet-era concrete block of a building with no sign, one tiny bathroom and a little kitchen for all to share.  But it’s clean and at $20USD a night for my own double room, I can’t complain.  I rested in my room a bit and then ventured out with map in hand.  This is a bit of a strange city, and with all the stories of pickpockets and bag slashers, I couldn’t help but feel a bit intimidated and longing for communication with the outside world.  My phone wasn’t working, no matter what I did.  A guy at a phone store didn’t know what was wrong either and didn’t think my problem would be solved by buying a SIM card from him.  Glad he was being honest.  So I found a little French (!) cafe with wi-fi.  I was nearly done composing my emails when the connection went down.  Ugggg.  I looked up to see if others were having trouble, and low and behold I saw a chap with a Mongol Rally t-shirt!  I walked right on over and introduced myself.  I thought he was fellow rallier, but no, it was Rob – one of the top organizers from the Adventurists!  He knew our team well, listened to the short version of my story, and then offered that I accompany him to another cafe that may have a better wi-fi connection.  (Power surges and the like are quite common here.)  Rob was great to chat with as we both finished up our online work and had coffees.

Yesterday morning I woke with a spring in my step!  I was going to be picked up and taken out to the Gorkhi-Terelj national park to ride Mongolian horses, and stay with a family in their spare ger.  I was very happy to have a few new friends in my group – a Swiss girl, 2 Korean girls, and 1 Korean guy.  They all spoke English well so we had a great time together.  We all went for a ride in the countryside led by 2 boys, one about 10 years old and the other 15.  They were very skilled riders and at one point the 10 year old galloped around us shirtless yelling in his most manly voice “I am Chinggis Khan!”  Pretty cute.  Later the father BBQ’d up some beef skewers (which were fabulous!) and we all drank until midnight under the wide open sky and full moon exchanging life stories.

This morning I was taken back to my guesthouse.  After cleaning up I hailed a taxi for the Gandantegchenling Buddhist monastery – Mongolia’s most important.  As I walked in I was approached by a soft-spoken young man who had a portfolio of artwork done by him and his father who was standing nearby.  After a nice exchange about Mongolian horses, I purchased one of his sketches done on rice paper.  At 3000 togrog, I couldn’t say no ($2.75USD).  This monastery was not too unlike those we visited in Tibet.  This one recently re-opened it’s doors in 1994.  The buildings were rebuilt after either being destroyed or used as horse stables by the Soviets since in 1938.  The 26m high golden Buddha was an especially impressive site.

Rather than hail another cab I wondered my way back stopping at a Thai restaurant for dinner where I also finished my 4th book on this trip.  Good thing I had sense enough to grab another at the bookstore in the Istanbul airport where they had a small English section.

Now I’m back in the little cafe, polishing off my second glass of wine, listening to one of the employees strum her guitar and hoping I’ll get to see my husband and team tomorrow.  I miss them all so very much.  My trip ended up being a very different one than expected – namely a beach vacation which I feel guilty about knowing all the hardships I should have endured with them.  I would have traded it all in a second to have been with them through it all.  But as they say, “such is the Mongol Rally.”  And although we’ve had very different experiences these past few weeks, I hope that when we reunite I’ll feel like a true member of Baatar Hero again.

6 COMMENTS
  • Barbara Mitchell Reply

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s my hope that this will be one of your life’s biggest lessons and nothing more tragic than what you’ve already gone through. I’m convinced we learn far more from our mistakes than from our successes. I’m not surprised that Amy would volunteer–lucky are all her friends to have her in their lives. Please give her a big hug from me. May the rest of the trip be full of rich experiences that you all share. Be kind to yourself, Kim, every moment in time has infinite possible outcomes….

  • Roy Reply

    You guys be careful! I heard from Jean’s mom about the attempted car-jacking (first police stop-take away jean’s passport; second police stop-try to take away jean). Have fun but be careful! If anything happens to you guys, I will cut them!

  • andy tovar Reply

    kim, glad to hear you are well. perhaps you will look back on your misadventure differently in a while. you are an integral part of your team, your teammates will confirm that. enjoy the rest of your adventure, you will have great stories to tell us all when you get back.

  • Awesome post, Kim. Just emotional, raw and lucid. I am glad you are in Mongolia, riding horses, and being a trooper. I’m sure this period will be a source of strength, pride and discovery as you look back on it! Enjoy the time to yourself as you await your knight and his henchmen and women.

  • Wow–Kim, thanks for writing this entry! I’m sure it’s been an emotional roller coaster and not AT ALL what you expected or mentally prepared yourself for. I’m also happy as I read this to know you’ve reunited with Brian and the team and are back to having team adventures (without all those border crossing hassles!). Can’t wait to catch up when you guys are back!

  • maggie Reply

    i second matt’s comment. this is such a great post. hope you guys are having a great time cruising the gobi.

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