The night was pretty warm although the morning
was cold and when we got up we had to make sure that this time,
the tents were swept,
clean and rolled particularly well as it would be some time before
they came out again. Eggs for breakfast and then the ultra cleaning
of the pots, containers and utensils….not a nice job for those
that ended up doing it. We finally left camp at 9.30am as we only
had a 2 hour drive back to UB. Cloudy with a spot of rain – this
was unfortunate as it had been so bright for the majority of the
trip and had lived up to its reputation as "The Land of Blue Skies”.
We hit the tarmac almost instantly and it felt
luxurious, although even the relatively smooth road felt like
a rough side road in
the UK. The group discussed what they would like to buy from the
black market or State Dept Store ( Mongolia’s only department store)
when they arrived back to UB. It was also humorous to know that
many had "held out” and had not had to "dig any holes” the day
before, as they were hanging on for a western toilet at the hotel.
As we drove along the "suburbs” of UB and passed the
gers that made up the outskirts, the familiar smell of fumes and
us, we were again in awe of how driving can result in getting anywhere. We
noticed the women street cleaners, standing in the road sweeping
the dust from the middle of the road…but to where? Trucks and
motorbikes battled for space. Suddenly there were scores of people
and we had only been used to a few. It didn’t take us long though,
before we were familiar with what is really our normality of hustle
and bustle. However, driving in UB was rather like driving in
any developing country and it was more a case of battle than driving.
It was good to turn in to the side street and
recognise the hotel entrance to "White House Hotel”, to experience that feeling of
completion, a holiday well done. It was overcast when we piled
out of the van, but after about an hour the sun came out and the
group decided what they were doing.
Those going home the next day (10 altogether)
wanted to fit in lots of things, but what seemed to be on the
top of everyone’s
list, was to buy North Face Jackets or wind stoppers from either
the State Dept Store or the black market (roughly the same price
but the market offered more choice). Others visited the monastery
and bought souvenirs.
Andy and I wandered down the street, by the
boys playing pool on the open road side and the men sitting on
the makeshift kerbs
with bathroom scales. We saw the "public telephone stands” which
are basically men and women in the dust ridden streets, holding
a typical house telephone in their hands (as obviously many homes
do not have telephones). They are apparently either radio or very
basic satellite phones.
We made it to the store and ended up buying
Andy a North Face jacket and also 3 windstoppers for myself,
Andy and Andy’s dad. The
windstoppers came to about £13 each – a bargain.
Every day articles, food, clothes etc did appear
to be very cheap in Mongolia. Even imported items appeared cheaper
than they were
in their original countries (e.g. Cadburys chocolate). Obviously
it was all relative, but it was great for the short time visitor.
We went back to the hotel and finally experienced
the long awaited hot shower. It was bliss. To wash the layers of dirt off, that
had built up over 3 weeks felt good. Although there had been a
couple of opportunities in freezing lakes and rivers, hot water
always seems to help when washing… The feeling after washing my
hair was great and then I came out of the shower and dried myself
and got changed, all with space around me rather than on bended
knee in a tent. It was worth waiting for.
At 7pm it was time to re-group for one final
group meal. Photocopies
of e-mail and home addresses were exchanged and we were given back
left over food kitty money. For some reason this was about $30
each so suddenly Andy and I ended up with 60,000 togrog again! On
the way to our meal we called in to the exchange booth at the store
and changed it to dollars.
The goodbye meal included everyone, all the
group, drivers and Solongo. It was Solongo’s birthday the next day so we had a surprise
cake for her, we also had all clubbed together and bought her a
backpack. Solongo was overwhelmed with her "party” and gift and
made a lovely speech about what an impact this summer had made
on her life and how 12 weeks with Paul had meant he had become
a very important man in her life. For her, a Mongolian English
student about to enter her final year at university, she had experiences
to last her a lifetime, something many westerners take for granted. We
had the money and opportunity to travel and therefore experience
various cultures, Solongo had had to wait until we came to her
and she had experienced us on such an intense level as she was
thrust in to our company in the wilderness for 3 weeks with no
real means of escape. Solongo undertook 4 trips, all of a 3 week
duration and back to back and she loved every minute of it.
Final goodbyes were exchanged. Some went on
to a local disco, Andy and I went to bed. Promises to keep in touch were made; whether
they will be kept….only time will tell.