June 2, 2013
I’m in Mongolia.
It’s amazing how the types of challenges of my weeks prior to departure helped me prepare for the ones I am encountering now. I’ve been feeling in the middle of chaos, and relocating to Mongolia has simply upped the ante! First of all, it’s obvious I don’t know how to pack for this kind of trip. I thought packing was a hump I needed to get over, and then it would be finished. It’s ongoing because I’m living out of suitcases and moving around. Second, I had been eating differently than usual in the 2 months prior to departure. Well! That has really increased!! Third, irregular sleep came on a new level. Just last night I finally got more than 1.5 hours at a time. I actually slept 6 hours!! I feel better today.
The flight to Korea was surreal. The flight from Detroit started on Thursday, and it continued for 13 hours. There was thick cloud cover, and it was so bright outside that the flight attendants asked everyone to close the shades. So we were hurtling through space in a dark cave. Time kept passing, yet the sun never set. When we arrived in Korea, it was Friday, and we had experienced no night between Thursday and Friday. It was a very long day. When the tracking monitor showed that we were over Siberia, I stole a peek. I was thrilled to see land, covered with snow that was melting. As we progressed into Russia and China airspace, there was less snow. Somewhere in China, when we again came close to ocean, cloud cover returned.
After a 4.5 hour layover, we boarded the plane in Korea and immediately were served a dinner unlike any we’d had up to then. We had a lovely meal, with real dishes, with lychee for dessert, and a glass of wine! As soon as the attendant took my tray, I reclined my seat. The next thing I knew we were landing in Ulaanbaatar, about two hours later, and I had a customs form on my table. We deplaned, and were crowded into the small customs room. There were two queus for natives and two for foreigners. There were more of us, so they opened more places for us. They took our passports and stamped them, and that was customs. No one’s bags were searched, no one was questioned.
Our country director met us as we were gathering our baggage, and immediately rolled up her sleeves, helping us get organized as our bags appeared. It took quite a while to get the baggage, but as we proceeded out of the terminal, a huge mob of current PCVs (peace corps volunteers) cheered us each as we emerged. Then they stayed with us and talked to us outside. We were soon loaded into a bus after giving our luggage to someone with a huge truck. Spirits were high. We were taken to a ger camp, where we were placed 6 to a ger for the next several days. It was 11:30 at night when we arrived, and we finally got settled at 2:30am.
I didn’t sleep at all, but lay there, grateful for a horizontal surface. I watched the space at the top of the ger for daylight. Before 4, I saw it getting lighter. By 4:30 it was fully light outside. By 5, I risked waking the others to get up and go outside. I just had to see where I was. Besides, I was hearing unfamiliar bird sounds. I put my sweats on over my pajamas, and piled jacket and vest on, grabbed my camera and binoculars, and went out. When I stepped outside, I felt immediately, despite sleep deprivation, hunger, jet lag, etc, that I’d come to piece of heaven! It’s intensely beautiful here. I say intensely truly. It’s not a word I would use to describe the beauty of Greece, for example. And there were birds!! The birds are for another post. We were in a valley with mountains everywhere. There were horses on the hillsides. I can’t begin to describe this special land. The sunsets and sunrises are stunning!!