Back for part two of this week’s adventures…
So Tuesday morning Chris and I hit the road on a bus to Darkhan, a city about 3.5 hours north of UB. We were headed off on our great kayak adventure, a three day trip that would carry us from Darkhan to Dulankhaan, about 30 miles in total as the crow flies. But in the boat? Ehh, that’s a good question. We weren’t sure just how long it would be…and Google Earth showed us a rather curvy river…but what the heck, why not?
In Darkhan, Saruul, my interpreter, met us at the bus station to bring us to lunch at her family’s home. I hadn’t met her family before, so this was a great little window into her world, and they were wonderfully welcoming people…it was really nice. Initially we intended to take a car from there to the Orkhon River but Saruul’s dad told us that this time of year we would be just fine jumping in the Kharaa River. The Kharaa runs along the edge of Darkhan, so it made for an easy spot to start, though admittedly we didn’t know how much time it would add to our trip (in hindsight: 20 extra miles of paddling).
Anyways, Saruul took us to the river to send us on our way. She hung out while we inflated the boat, drew a crowd, broke our hand pump, fixed said broken hand pump with duct tape, and finally set off on our way.
Here’s Saruul with Chris and his helper:
And part of the crowd we drew (the naked children just loved the weird whities):
Day 1 was fairly uneventful. We passed heaps of Mongolians picnicking by the side of the river, had many photos taken of us (the weirdos in a blow up boat), and paddled along on our way.
One odd thing that we noticed as soon as we left the people behind was that the animals were incredibly curious about us. They stared. Really. One cow strained his neck looking so far over his shoulder at us that he lost his footing and tumbled to the ground. A group of two horses chased us for a few miles down the river, staring as we passed then running to catch up. The goats and sheep looked like they were watching a very slow tennis match as we paddled by: all their little goat and sheep heads followed very very slowly as the fools ambled by.
Keeping a watchful eye:
The fool’s paddle:
Oh and we caused a stampede! The horses didn’t mind staring at us, but they did not like our yellow monster of a blow up boat floating towards them. So they freaked:
And, finally, on Day 1 we passed lots of poop. I mean, LOTS of poop. All different animal poop varieties floating past us. Gross. The river was our drinking source. So we pretty much clogged our filter on the first pump and were left with a tired filter and hopes of not pooping our pants (as of the time I am writing this, neither one has pooped his/her pants on account of the river water, so I think we’re in the clear – thank you trusty Katadyn Water Filter). But yeah…lots of poop:
And then we camped. We found a lovely little perch full of every type of insect you could ever imagine, and we decided that would be our home for the night. Good thinkers, we are.
Day 2 repeated itself much like Day 1 with the exception being that instead of being on the water for 14 miles, we would spend 32 miles paddling through Mongolia on Day 2. That’s a lot of miles in a blow up boat. But we did it and maintained happy little faces for most of the day. We also managed to paddle through the middle of a herd of cows crossing the river; they didn’t seem to mind, but we surely did when we realized that we had taken half of their flies with us. Dammit. But then we found a wonderfully secluded little spot to camp for the night, pulled up the yacht and pitched the tent. Chris cooked me a gourmet delight of ziti with tomato sauce and half-cooked onions and garlic. I kid you not, it was delicious.
He went off to fish for a bit; I drank my wine, read my book. Sunset rolled around, and that’s where things got fun. All of a sudden he started saying nice things – really nice things – to me, and I thought surely he must have heat exhaustion, but no, the next thing I knew he was standing in front of me saying more nice things, and then he was on one knee in a pile of sand and rocks, and then I thought holy crap! and yep, then we were engaged (duh, I said yes, yahoo, ARE YOU CRAZY, OF COURSE!). And happy. We were happy.
And then we chilled the champagne in the river of shit (the man brought champagne in the blow up boat – yet another reason I love him):
And we popped it:
And drank it:
But really we drank it in the tent because we were, once again, surrounded by so many goddamn bugs and they were NOT going to rain our parade. So into the tent we went, and then we saw the most beautiful full moon followed by a horse fight outside of our tent. Really. Three horses wandered over to the field we camped in, and began to fight. And then they left. And we thought that things couldn’t get weirder.
And then Day 3 rolled around. Up early, we ate some breakfast and hit the river. We weren’t sure how far we had to Dulankhaan (it depended on how curvy the river was), so we figured best to start early. Well long story short, we arrived to Dulankhaan – or at least to as close to Dulankhaan as the river would take us – at around 1 or 1:30. And then we were floating on, moving farther and farther from the town without ever having seen any semblance of a town. Crap. So we found a little beach, pulled up the boat, and decided that everything was great; we would spend the afternoon by the water, then make our way to town just a mere three miles from our beach.
We swam, we cooked, we enjoyed a relaxing end to our trip. And we were engaged and in schmoopy love, what the hell, let’s enjoy more time by the river!
So we decided to leave our little spot at 4:30. From what we knew, the train back to UB left Dulankhaan at 8pm at the very earliest, but most likely it was more like 9 or 10. Right, so we’re so smart, we’ll play it safe and leave at 4:30. So we pack up our crap, deflate the boat, and by God we can already taste the cold beer that awaits us in town before the train leaves.
And off we go, me and my Sherpa:
We cross the desert:
Only to discover marsh…and more marsh…and about a hundred bazillion gazillion bugs. More goddamn bugs. And then – AND THEN – we discover that our little idyllic perch on the shore? Yeah, it’s an ISLAND. And we have already deflated our boat. And remember, our pump is broken or if not broken held together by duct tape? Right. So we swore a lot in unison, I refused to help decide how to get ourselves out of this mess (a la “YOU got us into this!”), and ultimately we decided to inflate our boat once again and kiss goodbye any chance that we would make the train that evening.
So inflate the boat we did:
And then we paddled…and found shore that we were certain was on the mainland.
And then we walked down the train tracks until we found town. It was hot, and we were idiots. We had water…some water…but remember the clogged filter? Well it’s really hard to pump, so we had less water than we normally would have, and town was about three miles away. Great. Just great.
Anyways, here we are on the tracks like a couple of hobos:
And then we wind up in Yeroo, a town we didn’t realize we would come to. We ask the train guys if we’re in Dulankhaan, and they say no you’re in Yeroo, keep walking for about a mile. We ask about a train to UB, and then say, again, Dulankhaan is over there. So we buy some water and wander away, but not before we stop to remark that there is a passenger train at the station that seems to be the train that we might want to be on? Surely we’re on the right track (literally)?
Idiots. Really big idiots.
Cold water in hand, we set off for Dulankhaan, about a mile down the road. We get there, ask the train guys at that station if we’re in the correct town and what time the train to UB leaves, and they say, “there’s no train to UB here, you have to go to Yeroo to get a train to UB.” We were JUST THERE. So we don’t believe them because what would people who actually work on the railroad know about trains? We keep walking and finally find someone in the tiny little town who, again, instructs us that we must return to Yeroo to get the train, but we must hurry because it leaves SOON. So we schlep all our crap back to the next town over, back to the same mini market to buy another cold bottle of water, and back to the SAME DAMN TRAIN STATION WE HAD WALKED THROUGH AN HOUR EARLIER. And we ask the same person about a train to UB, and they say, “Of course, that train comes through here; it leaves at 10.”
So at long last, here we are, the weary idiots, waiting to board our train at Yeroo:
We did it. We bought train tickets, ate a can of corn for dinner (really), found our crappy beds on the train, and made it back to UB.
And we were happy.
And we’re getting hitched!