Monk on Cell Phone
Meenday and I are making our way across Mongolia. At the moment we're in Moron, a small city in the north. We've been trying to get a lift out west to Uvs, where Meenday has friends. There's not a lot of traffic heading out that direction, the few rides we've been offered have asked far too much--more than we've budgeted for the remainder of our time in the country, in fact.
People have been friendly and willing to help us, though it's more a matter of waiting than anything. Announcements pairing riders with drivers are broadcast over loudspeakers just off of the central market. We spent much of yesterday inside the trailer from where they were broadcast, chatting with the woman who made the announcements. She didn't have to let us into her workspace or spend so much time sharing information, but people here just seem genuinely helpful and open. We've received several invitations from people to come and stay in their homes.
Our current hope for moving on lies in a pleasant, older couple who drive an old, leaky Jeep. They're asking a reasonable rate to get us where we're going. However, they would like to add another couple passengers before setting off. It's already late evening, I figure we're stuck in Moron for another night. That's not such a bad thing as we've found an inexpensive, comfortable guesthouse. I won't mind one more night, though am hoping we'll be able to head west tomorrow.
Our last stop before Moron was Lake Khuvsgul in the far north, just across the border from Tuva in Russia. There's not a lot of popluation around the lake, some people still manage to exist by herding reindeer. Lanky yaks stroll the around the pastures, munching on grass. We spent two nights in Khatgal, a small town along the southern edge of the lake. For accomodation we had a choice between a log cabins with bunkbeds or a yurt. On my birthday we hired a couple horses to take us through the forest, then back along the lakeshore. Living in Urumqi, it's been awhile since I've spent time somewhere so remote and set in nature.
Getting to this area from Ulaan Baatar was comfortable for half the journey. There is a train as far as Erdenet, about half the distance to Moron. We splurged and bought tickets for the most expensive class--soft sleeper tickets for about $7.70 U.S.. I often travel on whatever fare is cheapest, but it didn't seem worth it to spend 12 hours in last-class to save $5 this time.
It's still an open question as to what will happen when I head to the border with Xinjiang. Before leaving Ulaan Baatar we visited both the Chinese embassy as well as the Mongolian government ministry that issues border permits. Both places gave the firm answer that the border is closed to people with "third-country" (i.e. neither Mongolian nor Chinese) passports.
So, we'll see what happens. I find that just showing up and hanging around is often enough to make it through borders that are "off-limits". I do have a back-up plan though, in case I am flat-out denied at the border. Before leaving Urumqi I got a visa for Kazakhstan, as there are flights between western Mongolia and eastern Kazakhstan. If I can't make it directly back into Xinjiang, my next entry will likely be from Oskemen, KZ.