Making Local Call
Mongolia impressions of a 4 months visit. I always wanted to go to Mongolia. The reasons? I didn’t know anyone who had been there, the desolate endless landscapes and the totally different culture.
In 2004 I had to do an international placement to finalize my Bachelor in International Tourism. After weeks of email contact with a tour operator, my university and I, we agreed on a three months placements in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar. During my stay in the capital, weeks of isolation passed away, caused by the lack of communication possibilities between the locals and me.
The only one I could speak with was my boss, who spoke German. Despite the isolation I managed to get familiar with the capital and its surroundings. Ulaanbaatar is located in a valley surrounded by some beautiful forests and mountains.
The beauty of the country for me is the undeveloped infrastructure, the nomadic culture (50% of the Mongolians still live like nomads) and because of the lack of infrastructure and low population, the unspoiled nature. Where in Europe can you find endless landscapes, uncontrolled rivers and kilometers of primary forest…….As soon as you leave Ulaanbaatar nature is all around you, and 50 km further the paved road stops, and mobile telephones lose their signal.
One of my colleague's wanted to show me around town and get me into contact with his friends all the time. One problem, no one spoke English and the nonverbal communication was a problem as well.
Some nights I ended up in weird bars or discotheques, forced to drink more vodka, totally pissed. Fortunately I always managed to find my apartment at a certain time in the early morning. The only language they can speak everywhere in Mongolia must be vodka, a legacy of the Russian occupation.
After about two months my parents came over to visit me and explore some of this huge country. We enjoyed the Nadaam festival and took off for a ten day trip by 4WD. Impossible for a stranger to navigate in the labyrinth of unpaved roads, but easy for the 60 year old Mongolian driver.
The landscapes are great, but the distances to cover, on unpaved, roads are killing. Especially for the Dutch, cause we are used to small distances as our country is only 300km from North to South and 100km from East to West.
The ten days trip gave us a good impression of
what Mongolia has to offer. Definitely worth visiting. My parents moved on with the Trans-Mongolian Express to Irkutsk and I was alone again.
Still had to finish my placement and finish the requested reports. I had 4 weeks left till my twin friends would arrive. Luckily I did complete my reports in time and finished my placement with a good grade.
My friends, Sjoerd and Arne arrived in Ulaanbaatar. I picked them up at the airport. They were never been in a ‘underdeveloped’ country like this. They relied on me, as their local guide and the first night we had to go out, to celebrate the reunion.
The second day we started to collect enough food and beer for a two day trekking, we visited a temple and the natural historic museum. After all that work we had to sit down at a bar of course.
Day three, four and five were some 40km away from the capital. We had taken a cab to the Terelj NP. An hour drive by cab only cost about €5. We camped somewhere in the wild and argued about the campfire. Sjoerd disagreed with the height of the flames, I thought they weren’t high enough……..I won.
Our preparation for the hike back to Ulaanbaatar was poor. We only thought about bringing enough food and beer and not about how to hike back. In my thoughts, the only possibility of the river we camped by, was to go straight to Ulaanbaatar. But mountains blocked our view, so I had to convince the twin that it must be right to follow the river.
We walked for hours through rivers and swamps till we decided to leave the riverside and move 300m inland. How could we be so stupid!! The struggle was over and soon we reached a village. At least we were back in civilization again. Another two hours we made it to a restaurant I was familiar with and the waiter drove us back to Ulaanbaatar for a small amount of money in change.
Two days later we went to the train station to catch the train to Beijing, a 36 hour trip! Arne was sick, probably caused by the delicious food and hygienic manners in Mongolia!! After looking for hours at the desolate Gobi dessert we finally reached the border with China.
It would probably take years before I will visit Mongolia again, what a strange but fascinating country!!!