Oh yeah, and add in a puking kid, a couple of plastered old timers and three flat tires.
When I first got on the bus, I realized immediately that I would be in the back row. Seat 32, not a good sign. The back is where you want to be when you're 13 and riding the bus to junior high for maybe 20 minutes a day. The bumps are bigger, it's more fun. When you're an adult looking at a 48-hr ride, bigger bumps are not what you're going for.
Oh well, I figure, at least I'm not in the broken seat in the corner (I wish this computer would let me upload photos...) The driver assures me that I'm in the seat next to it. As people pile on, I realize that it will be the white guy's duty to be in the worst seat on the bus, obviously. Remember that mechanical bull? Maybe loosen the saddle a bit so it slides around on you.
We head out of UB on paved roads and it's not so bad. I begin to think to myself "hey, is this the worst it can get? No worries!" Wrong. Pavement soon gives way to patchy pavement, then sometimes it's more like a forest service road, graded and gravel. Sometimes more like your average beach access road, a bit sandy and rutted, but it's there. Then sometimes it's more like your average ATV track, or maybe portage trail. And remember, each of those bumps is at least twice as big in the back seat. Sometimes the road is a river crossing, sometimes it's driving through a field. Oh yeah, and sometimes the road just isn't.
All in all, though, it was surprisingly bearable. It helped that Sanjay and the other Mongolians were clearly as uncomfortable as I was. It turns out there isn't some gene that makes you immune to discomfort, just a general ability and willingness to subject yourself to more of it if necessary. You find ways to get "comfortable" I have a great photo of Sanjay and I cuddling for y'all when I get to a better computer.
40+ hours... that's a long time. Around hour 25 I thought to myself: "hey, almost there!" I immediately had flashbacks to running the Seattle marathon in 2003 with my friend John. At mile 18 I tried to encourage him by saying, "look, John, mile 18! We're almost there!" Thinking that since we were over 2/3 the way, we were almost there. "F*** you, Shawn. We have 8 miles left to run. We are NOT almost there!" Yes. 25 hours was not quite "almost there"
But it was more "almost there" than I thought. I had been told 44hrs by the bus driver in UB, so I was planning on arriving here in Khovd at around 8am with time to settle in, find a place to stay and find out how to get to Olgii. Unfortunately, (or fortunately), the bus was about 9 hours early, somehow. We pulled into Khovd at 11:15pm. In the dark. Everyone else said goodbye and left.
I started walking north. My plan was to camp out of town, anyway, might as well do that instead of try to find a hotel. Then so many of your voices passed through my head and I decided, "you know, maybe walking around the outskirts of a strange town at midnight with obvious tourist luggage is a bad idea..." So I forked up the $15 for the closest hotel and passed out for the night. I was comforted by the proximity to the police station, right across the street from the bus stop and less than a block from my hotel.
This morning I got up and walked past that same police station. One of the cops was swatting at spiders with his baton while one of the others was threatening his comrade with a live taser. At least I had the illusion of safety last night...
A man named Tilek just stopped by and introduced himself. He's the only one I've met in Khovd who speaks English. He says he works for the WWF across the street (where I had just asked for directions) protecting wild horses. He also says he can show me how to get to the market and to the bus stop to get a bus for Olgii. Hopefully he's as helpful as he looks!
Once in Olgii, I'll try to get in touch with a friend of a friend who is setting up a homestay for me with a Kazakh nomadic family. I'll be with them for a week or so, maybe two. I'll post again whenever I have internet!
Take care and keep me posted.