Thursday, 20 May 2010

Leaving Mongolia

We left camp at Ikh Nart with a spectacular sunset on the evening of the 13th. We stopped at a pretty quiet nightclub not far from the station at the town of Shevi Gobi. I had imagined a kind of rough place, but it was a nice, clean restaurant with a small dance floor and disco ball and no one in it (sorry, no pictures. I know: poor effort). We were all kind of bummed to be leaving and the only other client was a lone drunk, so there wasn't any dancing. We made it to the station in plenty of time for the overnight train.

Back in Ulaanbaatar ('red hero') for our last official Earthwatch day, we had time for a warm shower (yippee!) before heading out to see the sights with Buyanaa, Puujee and Tuwshin, the van driver. In the evening we went to a fantastic performance of traditional Mongolian singing and dance, including a dance with masks like this one. Then we had a final team dinner where we said our goodbyes and Phil, Amanda, Puujee and I went out for some drinks.

The next day Barbara and Amanda headed back to reality, but Phil and I still had a couple of days left. We dropped Amanda off at the airport (Barbara left too early) and then walked around town for a while. In the afternoon Puujee met us again and gave us a guided tour of the Natural History Museum and took us to visit the local temple. That evening we met Kevin, Rich and Amgaa for more final drinks, and ended up going with them to dinner with some serious academics and World Bank people. I said I work in sewage and they hardly troubled me at all. After goodbyes with Kevin, Rich and Amgaa and still more final drinks with Puuj, and me starting to develop quite a taste for Chinggis vodka, we called it a night.

Everyone was gone the next day so Phil and I headed out of town to visit Manzshir Khiid, a monastery that had been destroyed by the Stalinists. It was a public transportation adventure, and just what I needed to get over my leaving Mongolia blues. We found the bus at around 9am and shared it with a very vocal drunk and his worryingly gassy friend. Fortunately for us we didn't have a clue what he was saying, but the woman sitting next to him didn't look amused. Of course, she also had to deal with his friend falling asleep on her. Eventually both the drunks fell asleep, and the vocal one actually spit in his sleep on his buddy. It was all I could do to keep from laughing and waking them both up again. With friends like those...

We were a little worried that the drunks were going to try to take us to the monastery, but with the lady's help managed to evade them and set off on our own. It was a 5km walk, reminiscent of our regular trips in search of Sara the hedgehog, and like our trips to find Sara, on the way out we probably didn't take the most direct route. We made it, though, and even got to see the beautiful rock carvings on the mountain. We saw a couple of eagles while we were up there, and we could really have used Puuj's identification skills and Kevin's fabulous camera (we missed all of you!).

It was really something to see the extents of the ruins. Apparently 350 monks used to live there. They have rebuilt one of the buildings, but all you can see of the rest are the foundations.

On our way back in the drunk-free bus it started to rain, and I think it kept raining all night. It was certainly very wet when I headed to the airport at 5:30 the next morning. If it rained like that at Ikh Nart too it'll be all green now. Lucky June team!

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