My dad’s travel journal part 9
Thursday, August 26, 2010:
For some reason, Carol was awake alot throughout Wednesday night. She was out of bed soon after 6 AM. This morning, there was a bit of frustration…the water was off, at least the “hot” water. Whether bathing or just heating your home, you are dependent upon the city’s system. Water is piped to you through loops of pipe. If they are delivering it to your faucet or your wall radiator, you’re okay. If not…you live with it! It soon arrived. We had pancakes, yogurt, juice, etc for breakfast. Once again, I settled up my “bills” with Chris. We went so many places, paid admission, took cabs and buses, ate out, etc…that he was constantly trying to keep track on the spending so we wouldn’t mess up his accounting system. As a missionary, you have your own personal money, but you also work from several accounts, i.e. “housing”, “salary”, “pension”, “insurance”, “vehicle”, etc.
Sometimes you have to keep it straight on your end so that you can help the “home office” keep it straight too. They are trying to keep track of your incoming money there, as well as your expenses. I wasn’t sure that we were getting Chris paid for everything that he was spending, but had plans to give them some extra money at the end of our stay, so hoped it would balance out okay. After wrapping another gift or two, we began packing for another overnight stay, away from the city. Today, we would head west…to another part of the Mongolian countryside. As we traveled, we saw some yaks, in the roadway, some camels alongside the road, cemeteries, an industrial part of town, etc. We learned that Mongolians are pretty superstitious and won’t spend much time in a cemetery. After some time, we arrived at the Chigghis Khan memorial (We say Ghenghis…they say Chingghis). This is a recently built attraction, way out in the “boonies” a long way from town. Not sure why they put it there, but it dominates the surrounding prairies. For miles, there is not much of anything,…then this hill rises up,…and a round building sits atop it. On the building’s roof is an immense stainless steel statue of their national hero, astride his horse. It is around 120 feet tall (as tall as a 15-story building). Five-hundred engineers were used in the planning and erecting of this great monument. There is to be beautiful landscaping around it…but it was not completed yet. We climbed stairs up to the entrance and Chris negotiated our admission price. While doing so, Elijah smashed a finger in the doorway. Suddenly, the staff was very concerned for him. Not sure, but perhaps that helped us get a better price. Mongolians get a cheaper ticket. They wanted to charge all 6 of us as Americans, but Chris argued that his family was from Ulaanbaatar. Inside, there was a huge Mongolian boot, made of leather. I think it must have been over 20 feet tall. We took pictures beside it. We did a bit more exploring in a basement museum and then some of us took the elevator and stairs up to the horse’s head. From there, you could look out over the mountains and plains that surrounded this monument, and get a close-up look at Ghenghis’s face, sword, etc. We also watched a movie about construction of the behemoth. Pretty amazing! On the second floor of the building, it was quite elegant. Crystal chandeliers hung above tables with lovely (though soiled) yellow tablecloths. Chris and Tiff decided that we’d have lunch there. There was no sign of any kitchen, and we still aren’t totally sure where they prepared the food, but we ordered, and they brought us lunch. I ate noodles and beef. Not sure what the others had. By now, Carol had developed a very sore throat. I looked and could see white spots on her tonsils. Again…no real feeling that medical help was nearby, so I encouraged her to eat salty broth. I think she was sick enough to try about anything. After lunch, we loaded back into the microbus and headed to some ger camps out in the mountains. They had stayed in one before and enjoyed the experience. Chris chose a camp that had a nice lodge, several gers, some cabins, a wonderful playground, and a good shower house/restroom. The price was a bit high, but nothing excessive. I have noted that it was around $14 per person. We were assigned the ger closest to the bathhouse…not a bad plan. You have to understand that this is a “tourist” camp. Both visitors from other countries, and Mongolians from nearby cities come here for a weekend of “camping”, similar to what we do in the U.S. We had 4 beds (twin-size), a dresser, a wood/coal stove in the center,….and an electric power bar connected to a little chandelier. They had provided bedding, toothbrushes, etc. There was a linoleum floor and a padlock on the door. We checked it out, visited the playground, played with some dogs (one knocked Joel down), and then loaded back into the car for a visit to “Turtle Rock”. This is a huge rock formation, more like a small mountain. We climbed on it, scooted through a narrow opening that was barely big enough to get through, greeted some Japanese tourists, and just relaxed. All around us were mountains. The elevation was probably around a mile high. When we returned to the ground, we watched tourists getting camel and horse rides, and some people shooting arrows from a bow. Elijah played in a little cave and collected pieces of charcoal (burned wood) into a discarded bottle. Many people visited this place and we saw Koreans (Japanese?), Mongolians, a group from Argentina, etc. There were two very old Mongolian ladies there, in native dress. Often, we saw people who had not changed from the centuries-old way of attiring themselves. I really enjoyed seeing them. We discovered that these two ladies were sisters. A number of people wanted to have pictures taken with them, and they were very gracious about it. The Argentineans spoke only Spanish, and it was interesting to see a young Mongolian woman acting as the interpreter as they talked to these elderly ladies. She could speak both Spanish and Mongolian. I wondered at how she had acquired those skills. It seemed unusual. After buying some snacks at a nearby store,…which they had to go get someone to open for us, we observed some of the activities mentioned above…and then headed back to our ger. Arriving there, we decided to patronize the restaurant in the lodge. It was a very nice place, with a chef in a tall, white hat….and menu prices to explain it all. We were in a bit of shock, and decided to maybe do some sharing of meals. We purchase a hamburger and a chicken dinner…and split them 6 ways. For $14, you got 3 drumsticks, salad, and rice. The chicken was tough and dried out. Probably that was the only really unpleasantness that we experienced while there. Earlier in the afternoon, Chris, Elijah, and I had climbed a nearby mountain,… up to a gazebo there, and found a geocache under the floor. We took a couple of items and replaced them with an American quarter, etc. Chris was the first person to find this cache, so there was a bonus prize in it for a “first to find”. He got to take away a 5,000 rupee bill. He took with him a “travel bug”. It will go into another cache somewhere, and will be tracked as it makes its way around the world.
After supper, we decided to climb another nearby mountain. Whenever I see a mountain, I want to climb it. People with me usually hear me say that alot. What I am discovering is that it is much harder to do so than it is to talk about it…particularly as I near 60 years of age. We set out though and were soon climbing over one of the very rare fences in Mongolia so that we could get to the other side of the mountain. Over there, we looked down into a beautiful valley, with other tourist camps, small farms, etc. It was nearing sunset…and just an exhilarating experience to me. We kept noticing what appeared to be groves of newly planted trees. To this day, we don’t know for sure how they got there, but Chris suggested a possibility. Korean Airlines makes an effort to see that 50,000 trees are planted in Mongolia each year. We think that perhaps they have paid these people to put new trees on their properties…and to care for them. Evening was beginning to arrive and we headed back to camp. Our gers were just tiny little things off in the distance. Elijah ran ahead of us and arrived back at camp long before us. It is so wonderful to be in a safe place where your kids can have this kind of experience. When I was a child, I lived in Wyoming, so much of Mongolia reminded me of the good experiences that I had then.
It was now becoming very, very chilly. We got out the jackets and put them on. Carol and Joel headed for the ger. He was a very tired boy. Not only did the playground have equipment for the kids, but it had a double swing and a glider bench for the adults. Chris & I sat and watched the moon as it seemed to “leap” over a nearby mountain peak. One minute it was hidden…moments later it was headed “north” (or whatever direction “up” is). It was quite a show. I was expecting to see an awesome “star show” on this night because it was clear, cold, and far away from the city. However, I was a bit disappointed because the lodge kept floodlights burning, and the moon was nearly full. At 8:45, Chris had gone to the ger and I think some of them were playing a card game. I sat on the deck of the lodge in order to have enough light to write these notes. Elijah seemed to never run out of energy, so he entertained himself by running to and fro, and playing out some imaginary scenario. I am awed by the amazing creation of God all around me and I speak briefly of it to Elijah. A bit of wood smoke hangs in the air. Perhaps someone has the stove lighted in their ger. My camera battery had finally died here, earlier in the evening. It was expected,…but sad! Chris loaned his to me…and continued to do so for the rest of our trip. It only had 5 mega pixels, but took quite good pictures. It is unusual for one of my kids to have something with less technology than me. I tried to be very careful with it, because we had learned that some people from their church wanted him to be their wedding photographer the next day. As night fell, Elijah went inside too. I stood out on the mountainside and looked at the faint glow that outlined the mountains (where the sun had gone around that part of the earth). The stars were in the sky now. I had been able to show Elijah the North Star and the Big Dipper before he went in. I wondered at it being so visible…here…12,000 miles from home, but remembered that I was still in the Northern Hemisphere….about the same latitude as Canada. Perhaps, you can’t see it from the Southern Hemisphere…I don’t know. After Elijah went in, I stood in the immense quietness and prayed. I can’t say that God seemed exceptionally close at that moment, but I believe that He was hearing me. I prayed for me, for Mongolia, for its people, its spiritual darkness,…for Chris & Tiff and the boys….and for my family, back home. I can still feel what I felt that night. It will rest in my memory. It was nearing 10 PM….the end of another long day…so I headed for the ger…and bed.
……You might think the story ended there. Well, sort of. But the night’s events were something to be recorded here too. Believe me…they will reside in my memory for many years. Elijah slept with me, in my twin bed. Though not terribly cold, it was cool. The beds had a sheet on the bottom, and a very thick and wonderful comforter on top. It kind of folded in around you, but with two people in the bed, that particular activity became a bit difficult. I think that perhaps one person could have folded it underneath him / her. You have heard it said that when you make your bed, you have to lie in it. Well, I did! But , if I had actually made it, I would have made it softer. The bed was slightly harder than rock! I turned over and over and over and over. I tried to be quiet because 4 adults were in the same room…all trying to sleep. I felt like a chicken on a rotisserie. The next day, I asked Tiff if she heard me turning and she admitted that she had. At one point, I considered just going out to the playground and sitting up all night, but eventually abandoned that idea. At some point in the night, I decided that the comforter would do more good under me than on top of me. There was still a thin, camel wool blanket that I could cover up with. With that action taken, life suddenly became much better, and I slept. Around 5:30 AM, there was a gentle knock on the door. I had latched it. Chris unlocked it and a man came into the room and started a fire in our stove. That was kind of neat! I heard Chris get up one time after that and add some wood to it, but by the time we all got up for the day, it had gone out. I guess it knocked the chill of the early morning. Carol claims that she also did not sleep much, but I jerked on her covers several times…trying to stop her loud snoring,…so I am not much of a “believer”. We had expressed a desire to spend a night in a ger…and now…we had done it!
….And now, my story for today…is done!