Bad karma, the Russian van.......and the Khuvsgul Ice Festival

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March 4th 2011
Published: March 15th 2011
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First break downFirst break downFirst break down

The Russian van.....front seat removed and all!

Bad Karma

Upon reflection, I should never have published my last blog that included reference to the negative events surrounding me in UB. I was only asking for trouble - and I got plenty of it!

On Sunday, the day before leaving for the Ice festival, I withdrew a heap of cash from an ATM which ate my Australian VISA card (thankfully after I had the cash in my hand). After a minor hissy fit in front of the ATM, I was able to speak with Jo's interpreter and arranged for her to contact the bank on my behalf and request for the card to be held for me at the central branch upon my return from the festival. I also sorted out with my Australian bank to temporarily block my VISA card and have some emergency cash available to me through Western Union- just in case.

The next morning, Jo and I trudged down the road to the wrestling palace in preparation for our 8am pick up. I sent a text to Kara, who lives just behind the Wrestling Palace, and said I would be there to help with luggage in 5 minutes. Somehow, between removing my
Break down landscapeBreak down landscapeBreak down landscape

It was a pretty place to break down.
mobile phone from my purse and walking the 200m behind the wrestling palace, my purse disappeared. I still don't know if it slipped out of my pocket or I was again targeted by pickpockets. Either way, I was somewhat upset - I lost most of my ID (work permit, Mongolian VISA card and VSO emergency card) plus a heap of cash. As Kara later pointed out, "Merryn, you have just given a Mongolian more than a month's salary!" Yep, this was not good.

Thankfully, VSO arranged for my March allowance to be paid to me in cash and sent the cash and my passport (my only ID now) with our tour leader, Aki, to Khuvsgul the next day. After that, Jo kept a much closer eye on me and my possessions. No further personal misfortune occurred on that trip (and I got my Australian VISA card back at the end of the week). Phew!

The Russian Van

As a group, luck was not with us with respect to our tranportation to the festival.

Firstly, the van turned up more than one hour late. Not unusual in Mongolia but we were waiting outdoors in the early morning
Break down landscapeBreak down landscapeBreak down landscape

Where we were headed
on a March day. All of us took several hours to thaw out.

It was also not our van! The van we were meant to have refused to start in the morning so we got a replacement van and driver! This van did not have a back seat so we had to take a detour to fetch one. Well, it was placed in the van but not actually attached to anything which progressively resulted in it moving forward during our 2 day trip. Most uncomfortable.

In addition, as soon as Aki left, we ended up with two additional Mongolians in the van. So much for the back seat giving us some room to spread out! And the odour of our additional company was not pleasant, to say the least.

And then the breakdowns! We had one mechanical breakdown, a flat tyre, and got bogged several times in the snow.

However, despite the lack of comfort and the scary 3 hour drive from Murun to Khatgal in the dark, we finally made it to Khatgal around midnight on our second day. It was a trying road trip but we made it!

Khuvsgul Ice Festival

Break down landscapeBreak down landscapeBreak down landscape

It was also great to start seeing some trees!
Khuvsgul is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, it contains water that is fresh enough to drink (when not frozen solid!).

I could not get enough of the lake itself. The fantastic color and patterns in the ice, watching all forms of transport drive over it and the challenge of not slipping over on it!

Becky described it well when she said walking on the lake was like being in a skyscraper with glass flooring and being scared to trust it despite the knowledge of it's thickness! Apparently, the ice was around 45cm thick but not everywhere given that two weeks earlier a petrol tanker went in (and whilst the petrol was later saved, the driver was not) as well as a family car on night one of the festival (all family members were safely removed from the vehicle before it was partially submerged and then frozen in!)

The Ice festival itself was organised in a typical Mongolian way - not all that well! On day one, events took place out of order and several hours late etcetera etcetera but it was still fun.

We watched the start of the 100km ice skating race,
In the vanIn the vanIn the van

Max and Chris decided to attach themselves to the seat to keep a little steadier.
tug of war on ice, a fashion parade and a competition called 'Mum, Dad and me' which was a tedious set of games with the winner determined after more than 1.5 hours! We did not watch the lot!

In between events, we warmed up in food gers by sitting near the fire, drinking milky tea and eating khuushuur.

Unfortunately, we missed the end of the horse sled race (our host brought us some sandwiches for lunch so we were sitting in her car eating them!) and the ice wrestling was cancelled due to concerns for the welfare of the competitors in hitting ice.

However, we went into town to see our assistant tour operator, Dalai, wrestle. As anyone could compete on the day Max and Chris from our group and a couple of other foreigners had a go (with little success) too. It was great fun being so close to the action (a little to close for Erin - see one of the pics).

Our accommodation in the guesthouse in Khatgal was great. Sure, there were 5 of us in a ger but the hospitality and the meals provided easily made up for that. Best of
In the vanIn the vanIn the van

Kara and Catherine had a different idea in the squishy conditions
all, our host cooked up fish for dinner one night. My first real seafood experience for more than 6 months. The fish from Lake Khuvsgul gets the tick for taste and texture.

In order to make it to the camel festival in the Gobi, I flew back to UB on Friday so missed out on the final day in Khatgal (but apparently missed nothing) and the long van ride home. So pleased about that! I am a nervous flyer on small planes but I managed ok on the 36-seater from Murun to UB. Gobi desert here I come!

Postscript - I have updated my previous entry about UB to include a trip we made to the Lotus Orphanage in UB. One paragraph of text plus a heap of photos so please feel free to re-read that entry.

Additional photos below
Photos: 70, Displayed: 26


In the vanIn the van
In the van

Jo and Becky with me in the back seat - when the back seat was steady despite not being attached to anything!
Lunch time landscapeLunch time landscape
Lunch time landscape

Blue skies....just brilliant.
Lunch time landscapeLunch time landscape
Lunch time landscape

Again....the road ahead.
Cute pupCute pup
Cute pup

A very friendly little fellow.

Waiting for Marilyn to bring out more fatty meat leftovers from the 'vegetable' soup the cafe provided for lunch.
Flat tyreFlat tyre
Flat tyre

Yep...the gamut of break down options were experienced.
The spareThe spare
The spare

Note the large amount of ice attached to the spare. It was under the van, exposed to the elements.
The windThe wind
The wind

This was not an ideal break down location. We all stood with our backs to the winds sweeping over the plains.
Early morning in KhatgalEarly morning in Khatgal
Early morning in Khatgal

View from our guesthouse

It seemed odd to see so much wood in a Mongolian village.
Our guesthouseOur guesthouse
Our guesthouse

5 of us stayed in the wooden ger on the left

It may have been sunny most of the time, but the icicles on our ger reminded us that it was still very cold in the north west of Mongolia.
Around KhatgalAround Khatgal
Around Khatgal

Pretty place for a morning walk
Khatgal main streetKhatgal main street
Khatgal main street

Again, so different from other villages I have been to because of the wood.
Khatgal main streetKhatgal main street
Khatgal main street

Boy waiting for ? or just soaking up some morning rays?

16th March 2011

Hello, Wow the skies look so blue... I miss the snow.... Can I have you e-mail address again. Kila
17th March 2011

the van
Hi Merryn, oh reading about the van and the breakdowns soooo reminds me of Egypt...remember how we were squished into that van (granted the seats were attached) and we kept screaming at the driver to slow down as he was hurtling along the dirt "road", not braking for cattle crossing etc...

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