May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Well, We Thought We Were Going To Russia -- little did we know!

July 12
Today was all about travel.  We got to the train station insanely early and got on the relatively short train with a whole bunch of German senior citizens, who hooted and laughed and investigated the train curiously.  We stretched out, read, slept and watched the beautiful landscape slide by.   

Our room corner first floor
After passing the Mongolian boarder, we were stopped at the Russian boarder for not having a visa to enter.  We had ordered and paid for a multiple entry visa from “Visaexpress.”  Apparently, they gave us a single entry visa.  Surprise!   
So they searched our room, evacuated us and sat us in a big empty room with a large X-ray machine for baggage in it.  They said they will send us back to Mongolia, because there is no way to get a visa except at an embassy.  We broke the law, so we have to pay a penalty of about $70 each. (…and we have other losses: Trans Siberian Rail Ticket, either new visa or plane ticket toward Helsinki, deposit in hostel in Moscow,  room/board in Mongolia, Flight from Moscow to Helsinki. Plus the pain and suffering: 20 hours in "prison" offering only bread and tea for food, not being able to go to the Contact Improv Festival concert in Moscow, the jam too, and the kitty show!  We had a tall interpreter with big eyes who likes being in the army and hopes to increase her rank in the years.  They brought us, guarded to a place with metal bunks and lumpy mattresses and a window covered by metal slats so you can’t see anything out of it. 

Across the hall was a leaky rusty toilet with no lid or seat and a sink with soap, and a door that won’t close.  The shower is a platform with a shower head on a long tube.  We have two people (man and woman) guarding us at all times.  I got up to pee at 6am and startled the woman who was supposed to be watching over us.  They have our passports.  I wonder where a criminal would go? 

July 13,  
We got up late, thinking about making a music video to “Folsom Prison,” and getting out some cranberries and nuts from the groceries we bought.  Their bread is pretty good.  They let us open the metal blinds in the kitchen about a foot, so we have a little natural light, and we have been working on the itinerary and journaling.  Oxanna just came in to ask us some basic questions.  Then told us that we only have a ride back to the Mongolian boarder, not to Ulan Baatar as promised last night.  She was very nice.  Funnies thing that happened today was that we asked if we could go for a walk.  “No.”  We asked if we could go with them for only 10 minutes.  “Go Shopping?”  Just a walk. (That seemed to confuse them.)  They called the boss and then said we could.  So there we were, wandering around the village park of Nowski, with cows in the park, trash all over and an arts building on the other side, with our two police escorts following us.  I don’t think I’ve ever imagined I would be in such a situation in my life!  I know it’s protocol, but it seems like we’re not much of a flight risk.  I was trying to figure out to where I would escape!  So we came back, wanted to take a shower, but there was no light bulb in the room.  I rigged some flashlights, and the shower experience became quite pleasant.  All of a sudden, the plans changed.  We were rushed out at 4:30 on the 6:00 train rather than the 7:30 one.  Quick!  So we rushed on and went to Sukbaatar.  There, they told us we needed to have a ticket to Ulanbaatar, but we said that the Russians promised us a free ride.  We lost that battle, and Les ran at the last minute to get a ticket in Mongolian second class.  They wanted money for the sheets, the hot water, etc.  It was a local train so it arrived at 6AM. 

July 14
We parked our stuff at Andre’s Hostel, before we went to town to do business.  Of course nothing is turning out in our favor. No free ride to Ulanbaatar, no refund of the train tickets, no one at the bank understands how we can make the penalty payment, the Russian bank was closed when we finally found it.  The Russian embassy guy was friendly, and hopefully on Monday, we can get the penalty paid.  We spent a fortune on quesadillas and real coffee at the Bistro, walked a long way to the hostel to shower, taxi ($1) to the theater and home to crash.   The show was amazing!  I loved seeing the style of the movement of the 30 or more dancers that were so energetic.  

Costumes for San(?) Dancers
Much of the movement reminded me of what your shoulders and arms would do if you were galloping on horseback.  A slow up and strong quick down.  They stylized their hands and smiles and even danced around us, creating winds.  Even more astounding were the throat singers and horse-head fiddlers.  Wow.  There's so much range in what those two strings can do.  It's sensitive and passionate, and deep and resonate.  Wow.  The show started with a woman who had a voice that could carry across many valleys.  Strong, confident, beautiful, powerful and lovely.  I was impressed with all of this.

July 15
I spent the morning with a Watson Fellowship winner who is finishing her year of travel before going back to Minnesota.  She spent months in 5 countries, including Egypt when she had to flee because of the revolution and where she learned a special kind of embroidery on the west side of the oasis in a town that just got a road. She went to Guatamala where she witnessed the strongest women’s active group, Uganda, and Mongolia where she is learning how to embroider in this special way in the western part of the country, and how to felt with a contemporary artist.  She also went to an area where women are gathering materials from the garbage to weave rugs and make artwork to sell.  Pretty cool conversation!  We went to the train ticketing station to see if we could get our money back there, but alas, no.  The afternoon was spent researching couch surfing.  It looks like a great match with my sentiments.  Tomorrow, we have booked a trip to the national park, to ride horses, stay in a gur and to see the sights in the countryside.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! nice hotel accommodations! Haha! Makes one appreciate America! Hope all works out with your Visa's. At least you are making the best of it, I would be wanting to get far away from there! You are both troopers and what an experience! I can't believe it!