Long time no contact. I was busy traveling. Took the long way getting to Mongolia and probably there is no short way, but first let’s start in Cambodia. Found it hard to sleep on Sunday night. My mind kept on racing and revisiting the previous five days I had had with the Scholarship students and PEPY staff. How invigorated my mind feels now. My soul and spirit have been refreshed and life on the other side of the world seems very distant. Manin picked me up at the hotel at 8:30 AM and we went to the PEPY office. My game plan was to spend as much time as I could with the students. I brought my suitcase and everything else with me so that I could leave from there to the airport. So let try to paint a picture for you. The thirty students were all sitting around the edge of the classroom and I put my suitcase in the middle of the room. I then opened my suitcase and took everything out in front of them. Showed them all my winter clothing. Coat, hats, gloves, scarves etc were passed around the room and I told them to wear them if they wanted to. Most of them wore them and started to take some pictures wearing them. They had never seen these type of clothes. It was very entertaining for them and myself. We had a ball. I then got back to my pictures and discussed with them further the differences in climates in the countries I have visited and showed them examples of those differences. Some pictures were taken in Iceland where darkness never came and they were staring in wonder as I described things to them. Showed them pictures of puffin. Puffin’s are beautiful and colorful birds that are native to Iceland. One pair mates for life and they will continue to mate but only together. They never get a divorce and the male sits on the eggs while the female hunts for food. I then restated to them why I keep on coming back to Cambodia and how special they are. How they need to do the best that they can be. They need to set examples and be role models for their siblings and others in their villages. They understood and assured me that they will all do their best. It was then time to say my goodbyes to the PEPY staff and how I loved being with them and watching some of them grow and develop. Then went to the airport with Sarrak, Kimsru and Konnetha. How special these three are to me. They all have a special place in my heart and soul. I will carry these memories with me until we meet again.
It was now time to start my next adventure and go to a country and meet people that I had always wanted to experience. There were problems throughout the trip. When I got to the airport and checked in, I was flying with Air Asia and not China Southern. I flew on China Southern here from NY. My suitcase coming here was not overweight, but was now. Winter clothing is much heavier. Did not want to carry my winter coat for the next twenty four hours so I bit the bullet and paid an extra $175 for my suitcase all the way to Beijing. The flight to Kuala Lumpur was interesting. Sat next to some muslims from Kuala Lumpur and told them where I was going and said that I would be cut off from cell and internet service. They said they could not live without these. We talked and talked for the next three hours and finally arrived. Kuala Lumpur Airport is big and lots of people are running around. I had to get my suitcase, go through immigration and customs and then recheck in. Even though I had a four hour layover, it took me quite a while to wait on lines and redo everything. Second problem. My boarding pass had the gate number on the ticket, but when I got to that gate, and the gate and location was different. The wrong gate number was printed and the new gate was a gate that was way on the other side of the airport. So had to go through two more security checks. Waiting online, taking everything out and finally got to the correct gate just in time. It was then onto Beijing. A six and one half hour flight. There was less than five foreigners on the plane and I was one of them. Don’t believe that China is a communist country. People seem to have great freedom to travel if they can afford it. Landed at 5 AM and then had to go through the same procedure again. Through immigration and customs. Picking up my suitcase and recheck. Lines and more lines all over. In China, they had me take out all my camera gear every time and inspected it. Landed in terminal 1 and found out that my flight to Ulan Bator was in terminal 3. In the future, I will refer to Ulan Bator as “UB”. Was told to go outside and get a shuttle bus to terminal 3. You need to realize that each terminal is at least the size of Newark Airport. Went outside with my suitcase, camera backpack and carry on attached case and saw a long line waiting for the shuttle bus. By this time I was exhausted, totally sweating and my arms and legs were aching. What do I do? I decided to try a NY way of getting out of problems. Saw a woman who was wearing the uniform of being employed by the airport and told her my situation. Told her that I am 68 and 1/2, have been traveling all day and that maybe she could put me on the next shuttle bus. Now she pulled a NY scene on me. What you need is a car to drive you to terminal 3. That sounded good and I figured the cost would be minimal since the car was never leaving the airport. Was I wrong. She said $70. I asked her why so much? She then said “No Receipt”. I said $35 and she said no. The prospects were bleak and slipping from my control. We settled at $50. I follow her down some tunnels that were deserted and we finally get to a parking garage. The car was waiting with the driver. I then said to her, “Who do I pay?” She said me and I then got into the car. Halfway to terminal 3, the driver turns around and says”Tip?” I had no more will nor desire to argue or fight. They had won and I surrendered. I reached into my wallet and gave him $10. He counteracted with $20 and I fully surrendered and gave up. Is this a communist country? I had never left the airport.
It was now time to recheck in. I can never describe what the terminal looked like. Masses of people running around in this big cavernous place. Finally found the counter and checked into Air China to UB. This time my suitcase was not overweight and I took nothing out. A three hour flight to UB. We flew over terrain that looked looked the Andes Mountains in Peru. There were blotches of snow and I yearned for the cooler air.
Sat next to a couple from Switzerland. They were meeting friends who drove from Switzerland to Mongolia. Imagine doing that. Finally landed in UB and went through a very easy immigration and custom process. A driver met myself and three other people on the trip and we were taken to our hotel. Got to the front desk and Andy and Kevin were there to meet us. Said our hellos and got our rooms. We would be meeting at five and then go onto dinner.
At 5 everyone met and one additional person joined the group with a local guide who will be with us for the next two weeks. Her name is Zaya and she is Mongolian and a archeologist who was educated in UB. So the group consists of five clients, Kevin, Andy and Zaya. PERFECT. Zaya told us about some of the experiences we will be having living with the locals and some of their customs and food. There is a local drink here called “airag”. Airag is horse milk. That’s right horse milk. I will be trying that later on as well as Yak milk. We then talked about tomorrow. Where we will be going, what time we need to get up and camera details. It was now time for dinner. So what do you eat your first night in Mongolia. Of course, Mongolian barbecue. Had some great meat and conversation with people I had never met before today. Kept on talking to Zaya about her people and their way of life. Both Andy and Kevin feel sorry for Zaya.
It is now time to try and get some sleep. Probably slept about 3-4 hours on those three crazy flights and expelled thousands of calories.
Talk to everyone tomorrow