June 2 was our day in the city of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. I was still jet-lagged, but many of the group seemed eager for a city excursion. We needed shots, and we were each to be assigned to a group led by a current PCV for a tour of Ulaanbaatar, hereafter referred to as UB.
Our ger camp was just outside the capital, and we had taken the road in the night when we had arrived. The going was slow because the road was rutted and full of huge holes. Today, as the bus dodged the worst of the pitfalls, I busied myself taking pictures. My perspective was great, as I was in the little collapsible monkey seat in the stairwell at the front of the bus.
As we neared the city, the bus had a flat tire. The driver opened the door, I jumped out, and then the driver got out and started looking for tools. He apparently didn’t find what he was looking for, and made a phone call.
In my experience, when a bus breaks down in a foreign country, wonderful things can happen, and this was no exception. At first, a couple of men in the group tried to help the driver change the tire, but he gestured them back into the bus. Meanwhile I was standing at the side of the road in a large gravel/mud area, watching the proceedings. The driver made more phone calls, yet nothing seemed resolved, but shortly a van arrived from the ger camp. A few minutes later, the van driver made yet another phone call. People, one by one, began getting off the bus and joining me at the side of the road. The van driver told us there was no jack, and that one would be arriving in about 20 minutes. Then he proceeded to answer our questions about the language. Soon he was teaching us phrases, and we were all practicing. He knew enough English to be able to translate our slang into Mongolian. I think he had as much fun as we did. Finally, the jack arrived, the tire was changed, and we continued into the city.
After we got our shots, we headed out on foot with our tour guides. This was a crash course in culture, food, and shopping. We found the opera house, the big Chinghiss statue, small shops, and the Mercury. The Mercury is a huge market full of food, most visibly produce, but of all sorts. This was the highlight of the day for me. I’m still learning to think about taking pictures, and I missed this opportunity.
The next morning we headed north to the place we would be staying for the rest of the week of orientation, stopping at the Immigration Office on our way out. It was a very windy day, but the cows grazing near the office didn’t seem to mind.
We drove through the countryside for four hours, through small towns, past gas stations, with a pit stop half way. And what a pit stop! It was the first outdoor, hole in the ground outhouse for many of the group. There was great hilarity all around.