Just a couple things! A couple character-building things. Let’s put this in terms of Lessons Learned.
Lesson Learned #1: Organize your transportation to Kharkhorin ahead of time, you idiot
Here’s the thing. I made reservations out the wazoo before my parents got here. Reservations at a swanky hotel in Ulaanbaatar. Reservations at a ger camp in Kharkhorin. Reservations for a private jeep from Tsetserleg. Reservations for the city of Erdenet to turn off the hot water as soon as we got there. Et cetera.
What I failed to do, however, was organize transportation from UB to Kharkhorin. No need, I thought! Our swanky hotel and/or the ger camp could surely help us find a private car! And, failing that, we could just take a bus, and getting tickets would be no big deal!
Oh lolz. So here is my mom, taking a Grumpy Dad photo at the transportation center, after these things happened:
1. We ask the ger camp people whether they know any drivers who can pick us up in Ulaanbaatar. They say no.
2. We decide, as a group, to just take the bus. I assure everybody that this is for the best: It’ll be cheaper, and more of an adventure! And getting tickets will be no problem at all. No need to get them ahead of time.
3. We arrive at Dragon center at around 9 am with all our stuff. Dad and Ryan sit down with the stuff in the parking lot; Mom and I go inside to the ticket window and get in line.
4. After 20 minutes, I reach the front of the line and ask for four tickets on the 11 am bus to Kharkhorin.
5. I am told there are only two tickets left. And there are no other buses until tomorrow.
6. Whaaaaaaaaaatthefuuuuuuuck oh my god oh shit
- HOW and
- WHY and
- JESUS and
- MY PARENTS ARE GOING TO KILL ME
7. I break the news to the fam. They say, “Well, we’ll wait here with the bags! We’re sure you guys will figure it out.” I hear, “Great planning, you stupid bonehead! What a great idea this was, putting our idiot daughter in charge of our vacation.”
8. Ryan and I talk with the bus driver. I play it real smooth, saying such calm, detached things as “MY FAMILY MUST GO TO KHARKHORIN TODAY” and “TOMORROW IS IMPOSSIBLE, IMPOSSIBLE! OH GOD!” Ryan stares at me and is like, “You probably shouldn’t act so desperate?” but he cannot deter me, the master negotiator.
9. One of the gym teachers from my school wanders by. Deus Ex Coworker-a!
10. My gym teacher, the bus driver, and some other random dude get together and decide that we should buy those last two legit tickets for my parents. Ryan and I can then pay the bus driver, under the table, for standing room in the aisle. Okay! Okay! Sounds good! Moving right along here! Ryan goes inside and gets back in line.
11. My gym teacher has an intense conversation, with lots of gesturing toward the ticket area, with the random dude. He then tells me that we should all go inside to see Ryan. Okay? We go inside; gym teacher tells me to get the money and passports from Ryan; I do; gym teacher takes these things and hands them to random dude, who then disappears into the crowd. Gym teacher walks away.
12. What! What! What! Hey! Fuck! Hey!
13. Random dude emerges, minutes later, with our tickets and passports. I stop dying.
Lesson Learned #2: Thieves! Storms! No real lesson here besides: They happen
The actual bus ride to Kharkhorin was uneventful enough — the driver even managed to score two extra seats for us, so nobody had to squat in the aisle, after all. My favorite part was when we pulled over for a pit stop, and Mom and I struck up a conversation with a traveling couple from Los Angeles while in line for the outhouse. More specifically, my favorite part was when they told us that a) they were about to embark on a five-day, multi-family homestay in the next town and b) they had to cut the conversation short, because, oh gosh, the outhouses looked pretty bad and the smell, my god! Ugh! They needed to just go stand somewhere else, sorry.
Here’s hoping they enjoyed holding in their poops and pees for the next five days.
So! We arrive at the ger camp, and everything is swell. Here are Dad, Mom and Ryan, havin’ a post-dinner beer:
Here we are the next day, taking in a nice view of the Orkhon River valley:
And here is the lovely Erdene Zuu monastery:
Not pictured: The team of professional pickpockets who tailed us, then used the classic Push-and-Shove method to rip off my dad for huuuuuundreds of dollars; the inside of the Kharkhorin police station, where our driver insisted we file a report; the administrative offices of the monastery, where they told us that the same thing had happened to a group of tourists two weeks before.
So, internet, hear my cry: There are slick pickpockets outside of Ulaanbaatar! Watch yo’ shit, even in Kharkhorin! Also please look out for stinging nettles, which will attack you when you wade through bushes to get your very own Clichéd Shot of Erdene Zuu:
Obviously, the theft took the wind out of our sails a little bit. But it was okay: We hadn’t lost any passports, thank god, and at least we had an afternoon of horseback riding to look forward to back at the ger camp!
Oh wait just kidding! There was to be no horseback riding that day. Instead, a dark, evil-looking storm ripped across the steppe and kept us in our shuddering gers for at least 30 minutes. The hurricane-force wind! The horizontal rain! The buckets of hail! The very extensive property damage!
(Pictures from my mom’s Flickr stream; thanks, Mom!)
It was insane. Obviously, the ger camp employees spent the rest of the day trying to clean things up. We spent the rest of the day in our (cold and soaked but uncollapsed) gers, trying to keep warm. Summertime in Mongolia! WTF.