Soon after returning back to the states we were interviewed on WJR 760 Radio’s Warren Pierce Show. This is the fifth time we have been a guest on his show. Warren, born and raised in Detroit, hosts a morning talk show every Saturday from 6:00AM to 9:00AM. Thanks to both Warren and producer Rachel Nevada for having us on the show.
A couple of corrections: 1.) It was very early in the morning and I incorrectly stated that I hopped aboard the Orient Express to get to Mongolia. This is incorrect–it was the Trans-Siberian Express. 2.) At the end Warren states that we “didn’t quite make it”–that is also incorrect. I (Scott) made it all the way, just not by car. Also, our main goal–which was to raise money for the kindergarten and our other charity, Mercy Corps–was a complete success.
The flight was only a tad bit delayed–much better than having to reschedule my flight three times because of snow as my friend Ann had to do! The plane was a beautiful, spacious new model with touch screens in every seat–much better than I was expecting from Aeroflot. Didn’t get to take advantage of much of anything but the roominess though as I was pretty exhausted and ended up sleeping the entire eight hours, waking only as we were touching down on the runway in Moscow. I turned my phone back on and looked at the time–my connecting flight was scheduled to depart in less than thirty minutes. If I missed this flight I would have to wait a half-day until the next one, so I got off the plane, hurried through customs, and ran towards my gate. I was one of the last two people to make it to the gate before it closed. As the two of us were being driven on the tarmac to where the plane was I saw that the baggage handlers were still unloading luggage from the plane I had just gotten off of. It seems my bag wasn’t going to make the connection!
After I returned to Ulaanbaatar from the Gobi Desert I spent most of the days hagning out with new friends while the nights were spent conversing at the local watering holes. I had the chance to attend a house party, see traditional Mongolian Theater, visit the somewhat laughable Mongolian Museum of Natural History, and, most impressively, order bottle service at the bar every night ($20 for a very drinkable bottle of Genghis Khan vodka!). The city was growing on me and I was having a great time and meeting lots of cool people, but my journey was steadily coming to an end.
The evening of the race we all crawled back to camp to nurse our wounds with food and beer. The more experienced runners among us weren’t doing so bad, but the rest of us were left with extremely sore muscles and blisters a plenty. Even though I was running in hiking shoes I somehow managed to escape getting any blisters, so I was thankful for that. The next morning we got our stuff together, had breakfast, and jumped into the minivan once more for the long ride back to Ulaanbaatar.
We awoke around 6:30 and had a big breakfast together in the restaurant ger. After that we prepared ourselves by getting into our race gear (which for me consisted of putting on my normal clothing and hiking shoes), slathering sunscreen over any exposed flesh, and doing a bit of stretching before getting into the minivans that would take us to the start point some 27 miles away.
I woke up early Friday morning to get ready for the trip. Brigitte was heading out in a separate group, so I would be traveling without her for most of the journey. I met up with the other “bus’ers” around 11:30AM near the MIAT Airlines office. There was a French (now American) lady and her elderly mother, a British (now a New Zealander) lady, a German lady, and I, along with our driver and guide, who were both Mongolian. We introduced ourselves and then headed to the State Department store to get supplies if we needed anything.
She wasn’t hard to find, as she was the only white lady walking around with a dog. Brigitte is the founder and member of the Rotary Club of BayanZurkh, which my Rotary club (West Bloomfield, Michigan) had partnered with in order to assist in building a kindergarten in rural Mongolia. Munich-born, Brigitte attained U.S. citizenship decades ago and then went to Hong Kong to live with her husband before he passed away. After that she took a huge step in moving to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia by herself and opening up her own business. Having lived in Ulaanbaatar for over twelve years she is now the owner of Sacher’s Cafe, a German Cafe & Bakery in the middle of town, and is one of the most prominent socialites in the city with a diverse set of friends ranging from the president of the country to ambassadors from all over the world to the high lama of Mongolia. When we first met in person at the 100th Annual Rotary International Conference in Birmingham, England some months prior she had been gracious enough the offer up use of her residence to me during my stay, and I of course accepted.
Having nothing better to do than sleep for the time being I decided to explore what would be my surroundings for the next three days and nights. I walked the narrow hall and found car after car looking exactly like the one I was in. I went on for about six cars or so before deciding to turn back–there obviously wasn’t much to see here. A few cars before I hit my own I heard some English voices and peeked in a berth while passing to see four white faces. “Ahh–nice to hear some English!” I remarked, sticking my head inside for a second. “It was actually Dutch, but no biggie” replied one of the guys in the room. They invited me inside and we introduced ourselves before breaking out a bottle of vodka. Turns out they were from the Netherlands and Belgium and had met up in Moscow when boarding the train. We had a nice chat before fatigue got the better of me and I retired to my cabin.
The flight on Air Astana to Novosibirsk was pretty uneventful. I arrived in the early afternoon, very tired, and set about on my first mission: finding a bus to take me to the train station. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many Russian rubles on me, I had no idea where the bus stop was, and the train station was quite a long ways away. I stepped out of the terminal and was immediately ‘attacked’ by multiple cabbies asking where I was going and if I needed a taxi. I refused all of them and lugged my bags towards the nearest bus. No luck–it wasn’t the one I was looking for.
I scribed the previous entry too soon. I figured that we would have an uneventful departure from Kyrgyzstan on Thursday and that there really wouldn’t be much to say about the process. That was very silly on my part to assume given what we had been through up till then.
While in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan we were interviewed on WJR 760 Radio’s Warren Pierce Show. This is the fourth time we have been a guest on his show. Warren, born and raised in Detroit, hosts a morning talk show every Saturday from 6:00AM to 9:00AM. Thanks to both Warren and producer Rachel Nevada for having us on the show.
We were lucky enough to be in the capital of Kyrgyzstan during their 18th annual independence day celebration on August 31st. This day sees the major cities, Bishkek in particular, erupt in a mass of celebration. There are bazaars selling everything imaginable; games of tug-of-war, arm wrestling, and Kyrgyz-style wrestling in the park; exhibitions of gymnastics, karate, and karaoke; and a big main stage laid out in the center of the city with various musical performances happening all day long.
The next day we packed up our stuff and walked to the nearest bus stop to board a shuttle to the long distance bus station. Arriving there it was a bit difficult to find out where exactly you purchase tickets to get to Bishkek–the only window that was open was exclusively for destinations within Kazakhstan. I was wondering outside looking lost when a man approached me and asked if I was going to Bishkek. I replied that I was and asked how much he would charge to take us there. He said he’d take us for 2,000 tenge each (about $13)–not bad considering it was a four hour journey! We were still wary of taxi drivers and I triple-confirmed that the price was actually 2,000 tenge per person for the entire trip–not 2,000 dollars, not 2,000 per kilometer, etc. etc. Seemed legit. Satisfied, we accepted and threw our stuff in his trunk. Getting into his car he explained that we could either pay 8,000 tenge to book the car for ourselves or he could go and try another two passengers. It would be a tight fit, but we told him to find some more passengers so that we could save some cash. He returned a bit later with a cute girl, about our age, who got in the back seat and greeted us in English. The driver said she had agreed to pay a bit more if we would as well so that we wouldn’t have to cram another person in the middle seat. I knew it would get more expensive! But it wasn’t much, so we paid 1,000 extra per person and got on the road.
We were interviewed by Prague-based American reporter Kristin Deasy at the Mongol Rally Launch Party held at Klenova Castle in the Czech Republic on the 20th of July, 2009. Here’s a link to the full article on the Radio Free Europe/Liberty Radio web site.
The next day our first mission was the find a travel agency. I found one close to the hotel through our Lonely Planet travel bible and proceeded in that direction. However, like half the information in the guide this info was outdated and the travel agency no longer existed, at least in the location listed in the book. No worries though as we passed another travel agency while looking for the first one. We walked into Daphne Travel and asked about available train and flight schedules. Luckily some of the staff there spoke good English, which always makes things a bit easier for us that don’t speak such great Russian/Kazakh. They checked the train schedules online but came up with no additional information that could help us out. As far as flights, there were a number of flights outbound for Almaty but no direct flights to the capital of Mongolia. Apparently nobody ever went to Mongolia, because it was darn hard trying to get from anywhere to there! Our only option was to fly from Almaty to Moscow or Beijing and then take another flight from there to Ulaanbaatar. The cost of these flights would be in the $700-$800 range and they weren’t available anytime soon. Alternately, they had a sub-$500 ticket available on the 4th of September back to London.
In the summer of 2009, two guys from Metro Detroit traveled 10,000 miles from London to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in an effort to raise money to assist underprivileged Mongolian families in becoming self-sufficient.