My apologies for the complete lack of posts over the last few months years… as you may or may not know, we’ve landed back in the states and have been settling back into life in the US of A. But you’re probably wondering how we ever made it out of Mongolia…
Our last evening at the gar was a special one, as the goats were being milked Erbolot started pulling one of the larger males out of the heard by his horns and almost instinctively “Bruce” knew what was up. 15 minutes later “Bruce” was hanging over the stove smoking, his hide was tanning outside, and his head and hooves were sitting by the door of the gar. It was amazing how quickly and efficiently everyone in the family executed their jobs of dispatching and using every part of “Bruce.”
The next morning after saying by to the family; Liz, Erbolot and I headed out onto the Mongolian steppe on horses while our driver put a few chunks of “Bruce” in the van and drove to our next camp.
Over the next 5 days we spent half the day riding and the other half enjoying the beautiful surroundings and some pretty amazing sunsets.
Liz enjoyed every minute on horseback as we crossed fields and streams.
We explored petroglyphs high on a hillside.
We tried to make friends with some 2 hump Bactrian Camels. But they weren’t having any of it.
We camped out under the stars and enjoyed some wonderful fresh caught trout shared with us by some locals and ate plenty of Bruce.
In true Mongolian fashion, we had beautify blue skies and some pretty ridiculous weather. One afternoon we had our cook tent blow down in the wind and unfortunately our day hike to the highest point in Mongolia, Khuiten Uul Base Camp, was a bit anticlimactic in the rain.
View of the highest point in Mongolia.
We also enjoyed one last bottle of wine given to us by our good friends Gavin and Becky to celebrate the conclusion of our trip. They sent us off on our journey with an amazing bottle of wine that we enjoyed in Nepal; So it was extremely special to enjoy another outstanding vintage from such a remote vantage.
And before we knew it our time was up and we were rattling through fields back to Ölgii.
Upon arrive back in Ölgii our first order of business was to get a plane ticket back to the capital. We had heard plenty of horror stories of the bus ride from Ölgii to Ulaanbaatar and we were willing to do just about anything to avoid that… anything except spend 2 more weeks in the thriving metropolis of Ölgii, Mongolia.
Apparently August is back to school time, which means every kid in the country is making their way to school … in Ulaanbaatar. Those with means fly and those without take the bus. And with only one airline in the country and only one flight every other day from Ölgii to Ulaanbaatar we were looking at at least 2 weeks before we could get a seat. Any seat!
So, looks like we’re taking the bus. We asked around about how long it should take to get to UB on the bus, “Two to Five Days.” DAYS. DAYS! They are measuring the time in DAYS!
We give up on the plane plan and go to where the buses leave from and start asking prices. It’s basically the same price for a mini bus (11 passenger van) or the big bus, and when they showed us which seats were available on the big bus (for gringo like us) we opted for the mini bus. Hindsight that might have been a mistake, but I have absolutely no plans of ever finding out if the big bus is any better. I think you see where this is going …
Clearly it was their marketing that sold us.
We make a deal with a minibus guy and he says that we’ll be leaving at 1:30pm Mongolian time. “Great!” we’ve got plenty of time to get some lunch and get back. So we leave our big bags and go around the corner to grab some lunch. We make our way back at 1:25 to see the last bus pulling out of the parking lot…
WHERE DID OUR BUS GO? WHAT HAPPENED TO MONGOLIAN TIME? Where are our bags?
Luckily, a guy in a Toyota, who kind of speaks english, says he’s been waiting for us and to hurry up… we jump in and then make a number of stops at various alley’s picking people up and dropping people off. Even switching drivers at one point. We have absolutely no idea what’s going on but Toyota guy is insisting, in broken English of course, that he’s taking us to the bus with our bags. #Trust
Mongolian bus stop
By 1:45 we’re at what seems to be at a combination minibus mechanic/corrugated aluminum sheeting company/family home where the minibus we made the deal with is as well as 4 high school age kids. We arrive as they are wrapping everything up in a trap on the roof where we’re told our bags are. The Toyota guy takes off and we proceed to wait thinking we’re leaving any minute and how lucky we are that it’s just us and some high school kids… plenty of room. You see where this is going …
Three more trips from the Toyota guy later and it’s now a quarter to 4 and we’ve got our 11 passengers. As we start getting in the van we’re told we need to sit in the back. Oh, no. We know this routine. We’re sitting right here in this middle row, we got here first. After a little back and forth they realize this isn’t our first rodeo and give in.
By the time we leave town we’ve made 2 more stops and we are comfortably sitting 5 wide on a 3-person seat with 17 people in an 11-passenger van looking at over 1000 miles of open fields between us and Ulaanbaatar.
Through multiple breakdowns.
Desperados waiting for a mini bus.
Just trying to make friends during a breakdown.
Being towed across a river by a tractor.
Getting towed across the river.
And through the nightly karaoke party that seemed to break out at dusk every night.
For FIFTY. SIX. HOURS.
I guess we’re lucky it didn’t take the full 5 days!
Danang is NOT a tourist city. In fact the guidebooks have approximately a third of a page on it, and basically say “oh it’s a city, nothing major here, you can skip it” which is really too bad because it’s such a cool city and has incredible beaches!! It’s modern and growing like crazy with gorgeous new architecture, and fun hip social scene. It’s definitely not on the tourist trail – which was great for us, we wanted to experience the real Vietnam.
As such, though, it’s not a particularly walkable city and we quickly learned we needed a moto (motorbike, scooter, moped). There are very few cars, but about a one to one ratio of motos to people. We rented our scooter from “Mama’s Motos” at Bread of Life Bakery and Café. It was a Yamaha Deluxe LX edition, with faux leather trim that had “LX” embossed into the naugahyde in a very familiar pattern; it looked exactly like a Louis Vutton purse pattern, Our moto affectionately became known as “Louie!” Rick and I really liked calling it a scooter for some reason – and Rick really liked driving it – and singing about driving it while driving it!
We were so glad we had a moto, we would have missed out on so much without it. Here are our favorite Danang adventures on a moto:
Scootin’ around out on the town with friends
This was just after our friends Christophe and Sakura invited us out to dinner with their local friend and tutor to experience real locals food. It was such an awesome dinner. Afterward we all rode around beautiful Danang!
Exploring the Marble Mountains
We took our moto on and adventure to these crazy mini-mountains made of limestone and marble with caves running throughout them. We climbed mountains and dove into exploring the caves. Many have temples and massive Buddha statues in the caves… we got a secret tip that if you really want to see the caves you have to go up on the alters and around behind the statues and there are stairs and pathways to deeper caves there – we had a blast exploring.
Historic Hoi An
We met up with our friends from Cat Ba Island here. Hoi An was a great port city in the 1800’s, but then the river filled up with mud and cut it off, so this grand city was basically abandoned and forgotten. Which means that when the American War (as they call it in Vietnam) was going on, it had no value to either side and was left alone, and therefore not destroyed. It’s main economy now is tourism. And at night the city is lit by lanterns which give it a magical glow. Oh and I got a custom made pair of leather sandals!
Just make sure you know how late your scooter parking lot is open… we found out the hard way when we went to get our motorbike at 9pm and they lot that had hundreds of motors earlier was now dark and empty. Our Louie was nowhere to be seen. Through charades we managed to get a guy to wake-up an older lady that had our moto locked up in her kitchen… we paid a dollar to get it out of “lock-up.”
Admiring the awesome bridges of Danang
Crazy bridges! There are nine in total (some still being built) – We learned a feng shui expert advised the city 20 years ago that to be prosperous it needed to build nine prominent bridges across the river. Here are a few of our favorites: The Dragon Bridge: made to look like a huge dragon and on Saturday and Sunday nights it shoots fire and water out of it’s mouth; The Han Bridge: all lit up with a rainbow of lights that change and at midnight every night it spins sideways; The Sail Bridge: beautiful artistic suspension bridge/scripture that is lit with vibrant colors.
Tam’s epic tales
Christophe suggested we go get a burger at Tam’s Pub & Surf Shop because she had good stories – and that was the under statement of the century!! Tam was 12 years old when the Vietnam/American War started. She was befriended by a Navy man and started selling Cokes and beers to the troops to make money for her family. She couldn’t wait to tell us her incredible tales. She was buried alive once and American troops rescued her. She was told to take a bomb disguised as a Coke can into an American base by the NVA, but instead told the Americans what it was and saved dozens of lives, she was almost killed by the NVA for doing this. She escaped from a war prison. Survived being a cast away on an island. And she absolutely loves to be reunited with American soldiers that she knew during the war – and has the photos to prove it.
Tam’s joy is contagious and we felt so fortunate to get to hear about her amazing life. Oh and she still surfs and rents out surf boards! Here is a video (that we didn’t make) that gives you a quick introduction to Tam:
See a Real Fire-breathing Dragon
I know we already mentioned the bridges, but the Dragon Bridge’s weekend displays really shouldn’t be missed. We parked Louie on the sidewalk with all the other locals right next to the bridge. There are tons of little pop-up restaurants selling drinks, and street food. We saw a big circles of kids with guitars and drums playing music. Just a fun little party that lasts about an hour or so every Saturday and Sunday night. The vendors start setting up about 8 pm the fire and water show starts at 9 pm and the whole thing is wrapped up and gone before 10 pm. It’s kind of like the moto equivalent of tailgating I guess.
Beautiful beaches – China Beach, My Kye, Etc.
The beaches were great and stretch for miles – we played in the sugary soft sand and the surf. The waves were quite strong, in fact they have lifeguards out all day everyday and they only allow swimming in a small areas due to the really strong undertow; they even have a lifeguard in the water keeping tabs on the ever changing currents. But in that area we had so much fun body surfing into the beach. The breaks were just perfect.
Today was an epic day!! We got to go whitewater rafting, care of Roxanna! As a going away gift, Roxanna Martinez gave us such a cool gift – she wanted to gift us one awesome day of adventure on our trip. And I promised I would make it an a most excellent day that she “sponsored” and do something special. Oh boy and we did!!! THANK YOU, ROXANNA!!
So thanks to Rox, we got to do a special treat that Rick and I had both been dreaming of doing, but didn’t think it was possible in our budget – enter Roxanna’s gift! 🙂 We both love whitewater rafting, but had only gotten to go on our honeymoon We each secretly hoped we’d get to go on this trip… but hadn’t said anything to each other yet. And Nepal is know for it’s rafting (think Himalayan mountain range rivers!). So we happened to start talking to a couple of guides in Pokhara and learned instead of taking a bus to Chitwan National Park (our next destination), we could do a day and a half whitewater rafting trip down the Seti River.
We met our guides in Pokhara and rode to the put in point. We were the only guests on the raft. The Seti is the warmest river in Nepal, and goes through gorgeous gorges and jungle forest, and has views of the Annapurna range.
It wasn’t long after we got our instructions on “Paddle forward”, “Paddle back” and “GET DOOOOWN!” that we hit our first rapids. The raft twisted around and we paddled hard and made it through – I only thought I was going to fall out of the raft once. Rick says he wasn’t going to, but I’m pretty sure his back touched the water.
Then we reached a calm stretch and the guides said time to swim. In the back of my mind I’m thinking… hey, once we get to Chitwan, aren’t we going on a crocodile watching expedition? And we’re rafting to there now. And I’m swimming in this warm river. Hmmm…. But we jumped in anyway! We actually got to swim through some small rapids which was really fun!
We continued and hit a couple more sets then reached our stopping point for lunch. The guides made this amazing set up. They prepared everything from scratch and we got to eat on the beach, and relax a little.
More rafting, with the rapids getting a little bigger each time! It was so fun!
We were tired when we reached our camping beach. Since it was an overnight trip we got to camp right next to the river. I was totally surprised by everything those four guys were about to pull out of the raft – we had a sweet camping set up. We got a tent, and they created a “lounge area” out of the raft and a tarp.
And then we started to learn that our guides were also chefs. I think we got a 7 course dinner that night… the food just kept coming and it was all good! We started with f freshly popped (over an open fire) popcorn. Next was this “party mix” of what I think were dry ramen noodles, popcorn, diced up cucumber and onion and spices – it was super addictive! Then we had soup. Then we had bread. Then we had the main meal, which was spaghetti with meat sauce and a couple of sides of vegetables. It was all delicious and it all came from our raft!
As they prepared the meal, we played games with them… just little games with rock and sticks but it was fun. Rick was building things out of little bamboo sticks – and he, feeling highly confident in his skills, challenged me “ok, Liz, what do you want me to make? Anything!” first thing that came to mind was a rocking horse! Rick did not like that challenge so much at first… but of course, if you know him at all, he’s going to take it on and figure it out. So about 30 minutes later, here is the bamboo rocking horse! J pretty impressive!!
As we played and ate, it grew dark and our guides set up us with a campfire on the beach and lanterns throughout camp. The stars were spectacular!!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many or seen the milky way that clearly. I guess that’s the upside of the constant power outages… very little light pollution in Nepal! We found a bunch of constellations and a couple shooting stars. And when we were finally exhausted, we slept very well in our tent.
The next morning we woke up to tea ready for us to go, and breakfast. We packed up and got ready to go. It was cloudier today and we were told we would cross into a new river the Tiraslu, which is much colder than the Seti River… so we got wetsuits! I don’t think I’ve worn one before so that was an experience! But they certainly worked to keep us warm! We went through many rapids that morning and then got to swim in this new colder river – Rick jumped in first and I could tell by the look on his face it lived up to it’s cold reputation! I wasn’t really planning to get in, but Rick said I had no choice as he grabbed the back of my life jacket and pulled me into the river with him. It was cold, but with the wetsuit quickly warmed up to bearable.
The crew joked with us and taught us more Nepali words. I have to say, it’s the most fun rafting crew we’ve ever gone with. All smiles and really knew what they were doing -plus excellent chefs!
We finished our trip (back in the raft) with one last great set of rapids! What a treat!! ROXANNE THANK YOU SO MUCH!! We loved every second of it!
So it’s almost 1am here at the brand spanking new Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar our first stop (18 hour layover) of our trip and I figured it was time for me to make my first official post to our blog. Liz has done an excellent job of documenting our moving/packing/re-packing/etc up to this point and I’m sure she will continue to surpass me in frequency and quality of posts.
We spend ~14 hours on a Qatar Airways plane and it was actually quite pleasant. They’ve got an awesome selection of movies/TV/etc for free, the seats weren’t too uncomfortable even after double digit hours in them (Liz was kind enough to remind me when we sat down that we spent 16 hours in a U-Haul recently) and we got dinner and breakfast.
My favorite part of the airport so far has been the free luggage carts that glide effortlessly across the floor and just beg to be ridden.
I leave you with a hyperlapse Liz made of us playing in the airport.
If you’ve gotten here then you probably know that Rick and I are about to head out on an adventure! We are leaving for (what we think will be) about a year to explore the world, experience different cultures, and serve God’s people wherever we can.
That’s right, we’ve quit our jobs, sold our house, gotten rid of most of our possessions.
We have a one-way ticket to Kathmandu.
Well, that’s the first stop at least. Check out the map to see our rough plan and the countries we hope to hit, but who knows it could all change as we explore along the way.
We know God has created this path for us and we’re excited to serve doing mission work along the way in different countries. We have one specifically planned out – that’s Seed Effect – a microfinance ministry we have supported for the last six years or so. Read more here about our personal connection to Seed Effect, what we are doing with Seed Effect, and how to help us get there. We have contacts for other opportunities to serve along the way that we’ll solidify as we get closer to those places (and we are still looking for more contacts, so please let us know if you have any)
When we really started thinking seriously about the possibility of doing this, we set up “pillars” for the trip – the things that if we didn’t get to them we would come back from the trip disappointed. Turns out it’s a big world and there’s a lot we wanted to do – so we had to prioritize! Among all of these we know we want to volunteer, travel locally/authentically to really gain an understanding of the culture, and enjoy the outdoors.
Drumroll… here’s our list:
Visit and serve with Seed Effect in South Sudan (Rick & Liz)
Hiking and trekking in Patagonia (Rick & Liz)
Spend around 6 months in South America (Rick & Liz)
Become fluent in Spanish (Liz)
Hiking and trekking in the Himalayas (Rick)
Experience the culture and volunteer in India and countries in Southeast Asia (Liz)
We definitely want to stay in touch along the way, so please fill out the contact info and we'll put you on the list to get occasional updates
…check back tomorrow for a post on why we're going…