(some photos on facebook)
For quite a while I was not exactly in a mood to write. Maybe too many things were happening and one needed to pay full attention not to lose the pace...
Going to Ukraine meant that one year I was to be stuck in one country with possible trips to ... Czech republic. How exciting. That was thus definitely an incentive, to look for other weird places and Mongolia emerged. A friend of mine works there and after few chats, the "plan" was set, hiking equipment purchased, visa received and I was ready to fly.
The first stop on my way to Ulaanbaatar was Moscow. That was my first time to visit Russia, although I was just at the airport. It is worth mentioning it though, since I had a 10 hour stop-over there. The flight to Ulaanbaatar was in the evening local time and I arrived early in the morning to Mongolia to be picked up by Kuba. First few hours in UB we spent just talking and getting ready for the trip (with Indian meal for lunch!) and in the afternoon we arrived to a local bus stop in UB, ready to start the adventure. The bus was to leave at 3pm. I was then already 30 hours without proper sleep.
Our plan was to take a local bus from UB to a small city of Olgiy, in a western most province of Mongolia, Bayan Olgi. There was over 1600km ahead of us.
When the bus left at 5pm, all the seats were full, few more seats were invented and all possible empty spaces - under the seats, in the aile, next to the driver, on the exit steps - were filled with boxes, bags and other luggage. Mine and Kuba's seats were in front in the bus which meant that we did not have to climb to get to them... other travellers (only locals) in the back ... were less fortunate. I only could admire old grandmas with sticks who with a strained smile climbed up on those piles of boxes and bags and courageously were struggling to their seats.
Sitting down meant hitting with knees on the back of the front seat, with feet cramped between boxes which were pushed under the each and every seat. Literally, one could not move in any direction, and this way, we were to stay for 2,5 days and nights.
In the first row, with their back to the driver, there were several passengers sitting. I think they were 9 altogether. Among them, one was a young woman with a small baby, next to her was a grandpa with a grandson. The boy was just coming back from a surgery, still clinging to his cratches and sitting on his grandpa's lap the whole trip!
The bus left in the afternoon of Monday and with regular breaks for toilet was driving through the vast deserted plains of Mongolia. We spent hours talking, listening to mp3, looking out of the window, tucking the wholes up around the glass in the window to prevent rain pouring down on us ... and there were still hours and hours to go. Usually we stopped for dinner but other than that, we would eat in the bus, "sleep" in the bus, "wash" in the bus, "live" in the bus...
It was Wednesday 2pm when we left the city of Hovd. It seemed we are just a tiny bit away from our destination. Then we heard this creaky noise and the bus stopped. After some examination, they found out the gearbox broke down and since we did not have any spare one, it was necessary to get a new one. There was obviously no mobile connection, few men thus set off to hike on the close by mountain to trace a signal. Others were waiting for passing by jeeps, which either did not stop, or did not offer a help. We were still fortunate enough though, as the bus broke down only an hour away from the Hovd city.
It took some 4 hours for the bus to get repaired. Fortunately, the place where the bus was forced to stop was amazingly beautiful and it was fairly sunny for most of the time, so the time did not pass by that slowly.
I must admit though, that my mind was ready to suffer only for 2,5 days. Thus when we got back to the bus, I was starting to feel very anxious and was not at all happy about a stop for dinner that we did at 1am... I really really wanted to finally arrive...
We were 51 hours on the way and together with the previous 30 hours of hardly any sleep, I was beyond exhaustion. After the dinner, the driver continued the journey. It is worth mentioning there were two drivers that kept changing, as we were not sure about that when we were leaving for the trip.
It was nearing 4am and I kept on looking out for some lights that would signal we are nearing the city. The only thing I noticed was yet another weird sound, and then the bus stopped... we ran out of gas...
... I was furious. Especially, since there was again no mobile signal and with the morning only few hours away both of the drivers just lied down next to the driver's seat and went to sleep... they obviously decided "morning wiser than night" and reckoned they could ask for a help once the morning arrived.
I woke up at 7am. That was the first time during the whole trip that I felt like I slept and probably the first time ever that I slept sitting down which could possibly be explained by my tiny
exhaustion... I was not in a happy mood as I was trying to straigten my neck (my very very long neck, mind you!) and only the bags and other co-travellers' bodies that seemed to be lying scattered across the bus and thus in the way, prevented me from climbing front to where the drivers were sleeping in neatly set & very comfortably looking beds, to wake them up... an awakening none of us would remember with love (cruel satisfaction maybe)...
"What is the time?" I asked. Kuba stirred in his sleep... as did the people around us. I was really proud of myself, as with one question I managed to wake up the bus... but not the whole bus, the drivers (flying daggers...)were still asleep... but in a bit suddenly some guys appeared outside bringing a canister with gas... not sure how that happened and I dont care... the most important was, that the noise outside made the drivers finally wake up too and we were on our way within some 30minutes (grrr, sure, go brush your teeth, you little *) and after another hour or so we finally arrived to Olgiy. It was Thursday morning and we got out of the bus after 60 hours.
One passenger in the bus, who spoke some English and with whom we got to talk a bit during some of the breaks on the way, helped us to book a hotel. We brought our stuff in, I had the best shower ever, after taking clothes of that I had on myself for those previous three days (!!), and then we set off for exploring the city, Kuba probably tried writing his thesis for a bit too... In any case, we met with a person, who was to become our guide and driver in the Altay mountains for the next several days, we did grocery shopping for the trip, visited World Vision :o), arranged some permits to the national park and border areas and went to a tourist bureau where the general answer to all our enquiries was "I dont know" and "no, we do not have that". In the evening, we got back to our hotel and I finally went to sleep.
Hundred hours without bed.
The next day we were to set off for a 7day trip to Altay mountains.