If there’s one thing that my recent trip to Khuvsgul taught me, it’s that where travel is concerned, transportation is my Achilles heel. I’m very okay with roughing it when we get wherever we’re going – I can deal with hard beds (or no beds) and not showering, with life without television or Internet. I don’t expect the locals to be able to speak English to me, though I certainly appreciate it when they can. But put me in a crowded, untrustworthy vehicle on a winding, uneven set of muddy tire tracks, and it’s all I can do not to put my head between my knees and cry. I spend the entirety of the journey wondering whatever possessed me to attempt this madness, praying that we don’t crash, and contemplating the fact that this unfortunate ending would at least bring an end to my constant state of semi- to complete nausea. If I’m lucky, I can curl up in a corner before the going gets too rough and sleep through the worst of it – but when corners and sleep are not to be had, the entire experience is an agonizing one.
The ride up to Murun (the provincial capital of Khuvsgul aimag, about 1.5 hours from the lake itself) was nine and a half hours long, and only an hour of it was spent on paved road. I spent the majority of that time leaning my head against the rolled-up sweatshirt I’d wedged between the window and the seat in front of me, desperately attempting to will myself into unconsciousness. It mostly did not work. I did plenty of dozing but remained acutely aware of how slowly time plodded by.
Nine and a half hours is a long time to be conscious, vaguely sick, and unable to do anything about it. You listen to your iPod; you munch half-heartedly on the snacks you brought, especially the candied ginger; you attempt to ride the very fine balance between the agony of a dehydration-induced headache and the agony of a full bladder on a bumpy road. You open the window a little wider to offset the combined body heat of twenty people in a fourteen-seat vehicle, resigning yourself to getting coated in dust if the breeze lowers the temperature even infinitesimally. You shut your ears to the retching of the child in the seat in front of you, hoping he doesn’t throw up on your friends, who are seated across from him, but mostly trying not to think about it so that you don’t join the puke parade. And you grumble to yourself that this trip had better be worth it, because you’re going to go through the same thing all over again to get home.
But really, I needn’t have worried about that. In some ways, the return journey sounds much worse: it took twelve hours, starting at 5 pm, in a fold-up seat that left me nowhere to rest my head. But there were only fourteen of us in the mikr this time, and the only drunk passenger was all the way in the back. The driver turned off both the lights and the radio in the wee hours of the night, immensely helpful in the snatching of brief bouts of sleep. Most importantly, the temperature in the vehicle never climbed beyond the mid-sixties, remaining well shy of the threshold of misery. All the same, it was a very long night.
Never again will I complain about driving in the US – if I do, remind me about Mongolia, and that will shut me up. No matter how long the drive, paved roads and your own seat make all the difference. AC and the ability to go to the bathroom at need don’t hurt either.
Will I get in a mikr again? Sadly, that answer is a definite yes. There’s just no other way to get around most of this country, and there still so much more country to see. Though I decided long ago that this is a country I would rather see on horseback than by car, no matter how much more time it took, the unfortunate fact is that that’s not really an option. So I’ll bite the bullet and remind myself that yes, the sights I’m headed for are worth the misery of mikrs.