Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Day of More Surprises

Blog for August 13, 2011
It was the barking dogs from hell alarm clock again today at about 5 am. We only got back to our hotel room at about 2:20 am so I could really have used a little more deep sleep. I think these dogs are actually singing since they do this every morning and they never seem to be fighting or chasing anything.
I decided to get up and work on some of my emails and reports even though I have no internet service, I want to be ready to blast everything off when I do have service.
This morning we will be travelling to Kharakhorum for our next credit union assignment.  Our ride is supposed to arrive at 9:00 am but realistically, the roads and flooding will certainly slow them up a couple of hours. I packed up my suitcase and got myself ready to leave when the driver arrives. I hate causing them any delays. I wish there was some reciprocation to my timeliness and readiness.
At 9 am breakfast is supposed to be delivered to the dining room of the hotel. But, I am the only person in Mongolia wearing a watch so why do I expect them to be on-time. True to form, breakfast arrives at 10:30 am. Also, our driver arrives at the same time. I am impressed because the terrain had gotten so bad from the recent storms.
After breakfast I start saying goodbye to Jamia, Sarah, Dash and Sarah’s husband, Zundui, but I am told no, not yet as they are going to travel part way with us. This apparently is a Mongolian custom that I am about to experience.
We all hop in our respective vehicles and start our day’s trip. We no sooner get out of the muddy road sections of town and stop beside a fast flowing brook and a carpet is pulled out of the truck for a roadside picnic.
I forgot to mention that I had an upset stomach from the night before and other then an early morning bout of intestinal disruption, I was barely holding things together. I thought I did good consuming breakfast which had two scoops of rice which I knew would help my stomach and intestinal rumblings.
Well here we are on the picnic rug when the airag (mare’s milk alcohol) gets brought out. I am really worried now as I really do not care for the taste but have been polite and drank it whenever passed to me. As it came to me, I took a deep breath and did my best to drink the bowl dry. The down side of this is that they have a gallon that they keep refilling the bowl and passing it around. I had to ask Jig to explain my illness and I was afforded exemption on the next few rounds.
I knew I was really in trouble when Jamia pulled out a 40 ounce bottle of the best vodka, Genghis Khan Gold. As tradition would have it, I as guest would be the first to be handed the tea cup full of vodka. There was probably 4 ounces in this cup. I took a big gulp and swallowed. Then another and another until the cup was empty. I knew I had to do my part as the cup would be passed around the circle until the bottle was empty. I noticed that few people were emptying the cup, so that meant it was going to go around at least three times before the bottle was empty. Trudy and Jig were real troopers emptying the cup each time. They knew that this was the only way to conclude this ordeal.
Right in the middle of the first round, Sarah returns with a plastic bag full of fresh cooked meat. It was a ground hog and the head was intact but roasted. The ground hog’s little ears, eyes and two bucked teeth were clearly visible and oh so appetizing. I apologized but declined on this treat again citing my upset stomach but also that I had just finished a large breakfast. Otherwise everyone dug in an grabbed pieces of the ground hog and swore how delicious it was. Sarah’s husband, Zundui, cut the cheeks off the groundhog’s head and said this was the best part. After all this food was consumed, we made speeches and said our goodbyes. At this time Jamia presented Trudy and I an oil painting of the Orkhon water falls that we had visited two days earlier. I thanked everyone and told them that Trudy and I would get a presentation plaque made for the frame and have this picture hung in the International Development section of CCA’s offices for all visitors to see the kindness afforded us.
As we got underway, it was apparent that our new driver and his Russian made 4 wheel drive type jeep was quite capable of making good time even through the bad trails and roads.
The accountant from the credit union, Gambold, was in the front passenger seat and talked to us most of the way. He had very good questions to compare Canada and Mongolia and it was evident that he was deeply proud of their history and particularly the conquests of Genghis Khan.
We only stopped once along the way, at the White River Falls where the Red River and White River meet. The Red River was very muddy and we were told that was because of mining operations upstream. I started to have a pee near the river when they all shouted no no that this would pollute the river so I move away a respectful distance. With all the garbage that gets thrown out the windows, I was amazed that pee was a worse pollutant.
We arrived in Kharakhorum at about 2 pm only to be surprised that the modern hotel we would be staying at was actually a guest camp of gers. Although disappointed, I resigned myself to enjoy the experience for the next 4 nights.
We were shown to our ger. Two women and I sharing the same ger may not go over well. Although there is enough room for privacy and respect, we were each a little uncomfortable so the owner gave Trudy and Jig a second smaller ger. I now had the 4 bed ger all to myself.
Trudy quickly did a tour of the grounds and discovered a building that contained showers. Another moment of brightness in our expectations was accomplished. However, she reported that the outhouse was unpleasant and had two holes in the floor and no wall between. I think that news gave me immediate constipation.
Lunch was ready for us in a nice dining hall and the food was great. The next surprise came when the lady informed me that they had internet but it was slow. I have experienced slow before but this was really slow. It took 45 minutes to get to my mail and 25 minutes to send one short email to my wife, Louise, who was certainly worrying about my whereabouts and safety.
Surprises just kept on happening. As I was making my way to the outhouse with my trusty roll of toilet paper in hand, the grounds keeper kept grunting and pointing to the shower building so I went in and sure enough, there were two stalls with flush toilets. This was surely heaven!
We decided to walk into the center of the town which we were told was about 3 km.  The walk was enjoyable but more like 5 to 7 km each way. We passed a market area of stalls in front of the very large Buddhist temple. Although they had lots of restaurant stands and gift shops, we were on our way to town for groceries and supplies.
Jig received a call from her husband who had been in this same town for the past 3 days for a conference but was supposed to leave early that morning. Good fortune smiled on Jig as her husband was late leaving and he would drive to the grocery store to meet us.  Jig’s re-union with her husband was short and he departed for the long trip back to Ulaanbaatar which would be about 7 hours.
The big grocery store was quite small but packed with goods. We were able to find everything we needed and started back to camp.
After our late dinner of noodles and meat, Gambold arrived with mare’s milk alcohol. We passed around the cup several times before calling it a night and retiring to our gers.

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