The very words, nomads and Mongolia, make my feet itch and my skin tingle with excitement. After all, it's what most of us think about when we think of Mongolia. It's one of those untouched countries. There is still purity and tradition there. Plus, you can brag to all your friends about being in Mongolia!
I've heard a lot about Florence Nightingale Syndrome, but never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I would have to deal with it.My last day in Mongolia was quiet. Most of my clothing was being laundered, so I sat around in my pajamas until almost 3 in the afternoon and tried to catch up on some writing, emails etc. As it was my last night in Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia, it was also party night. Which meant everyone in the hostel would be buying beers or vodka and we would be hanging out until the wee hours of the morning.
Cold and sniffling, I slowly woke up and looked around the room. Empty. I've had a 6-bed dorm all to myself for almost 5 days, 4 of which I have been sick. The beds are wood and the mattresses are just your basic sleeping bag mats. The sheets are too small and don't cover the mats, but the duvet is heavy and the pillow is soft. On a regular night, falling asleep comfortably can be a challenge, but on a drug-induced night, sleep comes a little easier. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the small amount of gravol and sudafed that I brought with me from Canada.
The ground was covered with white crunchy snow, the air was cool and I could see my breath. It was 5 a.m. and our bus had just pulled into the station at Erlien, China. As I stepped off the bus a jeep driver approached me."You need jeep?" "Yes, I go to the border." "Okay, 20 RMB."
Ah, a Chinese sleeper bus, they are complete heaven -well as heavenly as a bus can be. The bus is divided by two aisles and contains three rows of what I call, sleeping pods. Each row of sleeper pods are set up like bunkbeds and gives the bus a dorm room kind of feel. When I took a sleeper bus from Jinhong, China to Kunming, I was beyond excited when I boarded the bus. Well, after I had to shimmy down the aisle.
One of my favourite things to do in Asia is visit local markets whether they be food, clothing, souvenirs, marriage of birds. There is something wonderful about wandering through local markets. It's a glimpse of local life, it's trying local foods and sometimes it involves locals trying to scam you- but for the most part it is a pleasant experience.
Finding the unique and bizarre has become a kind of side quest during my travels. My general philosophy has been, If it looks different and interesting, I must know more! This sort of side mantra has served me well. There's a boat that travels from Northern Thailand to China? Hell yeah, I'll go. Kunming has a bird market? Sounds kind of interesting, I wouldn't mind checking that out. Every weekend older parents flock to Green Park and look for future mates for their unmarried children by sharing photos, posting signs and looking through catalogs? Say Whaaaaat?!
Let me tell you, arriving by boat in the middle of nowhere when it is pitch-black outside is completely different from landing at an airport. Unlike ports in North America, in China docking your boat or ship involves a buddy system of sorts. There is usually one dock and 4-5 ships trying to unload. Instead of waiting for their turn (this is kind of a foreign concept here), they dock against one another. When we arrived in Guan Lei, we were boat number 4 and docking against a freighter was a bumpy experience.
Okay, so maybe it wasn't exactly a slow boat, but it was a boat! My mind had drifted from the bumpy bus ride through the mountains and dirt roads of Northern Thailand. Most of the locals I had spoken to in Chiang Mai were confused when I asked them about the boat that sailed from Chiang Saen to China. While some travelers would have taken that as a sign that the boat was just a myth, I took it as a sign that if the boat did exist, it would be a unique experience. My mind was racing. For 5 hours I sat in my seat and thought about what the boat would be like. Would there be a lot of travelers? Is it running or was I wasting time and money traveling to Chiang Saen only to find out that the boat was a myth. The possibilities were endless and I thrived on them. My quest to know was almost as thrilling as the idea of traveling to China by boat.