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My Destination is Maninjau

(see more entries for this location)

If you're inspired by Maninjau, you might also like to check out Singapore, Phuket and Koh Samui.

Nowhere, Yet Somewhere

I had read about Terelj, a National Park in the deserts of Mongolia. Private car transport was expensive but a public bus goes there. I looked up some hotels and figured I could decide when I was there. That plan was ditched when I checked out of my $6 a night hostel in Ulaanbaatar, the capital and only city in Mongolia.

"Hotel? Expensive. I have a friend," the guy running the hostel said.

He made a few calls and told me it was settled. It didn't occur to me to ask what the plan was. In fact, it only occurred to me during my bus ride that I forgot to tell him before I left for the bus. No one spoke English on the ride.

The local buses aren't the sort with defined stops. No worries though. 2 hours into the ride, a rather purposeful woman boarded, decided I was the least local-looking person around and directed me off the bus and into a waiting car. I squeezed in with 5 of her family members in the backseat and still, no one spoke English. Kidnapping would never have been easier but I was a poor target; I could only afford the local bus.

Another hour of driving later, past the actual tourist areas, we arrive at 2 gers in the middle of nowhere. I was the only tourist in probably a 10km radius. My host had to run some errands so she got her two daughters to tend to me. Between sign language and lots of smiling, they decided that I'd like to pose on a rock for photos and to watch them herd goats. They asked if they could sleep in the ger I was in and of course I couldn't say no - it was their home!

My host cooked dinner in the open. It was an simple setup that could be easily packed for moving during the winter months but for that moment, the whole family - and I - ate some mutton, milk and rice stew. After dinner, out of politeness, I asked where the toilet was.

"Toilet? Everywhere!" my host laughed. Yup, I wasn't in some touristy homestay that panders to your whims and dietary restrictions. This was Mongolia.

I didn't get to see much of Terelj and I didn't have photos of the dinners and ger interiors. It wouldn't have been appropriate. What made this detour special is not about what I saw but rather, about what I didn't see - people. It's hard to get a sense of Mongolia and the harshness of their lifestyle without experiencing the solitary lifestyle they're used to. To most of them, the cloudless starlit skies, unique rock formations and springs aren't attractions; they're just... there.

My host drove me back to the city the next day in a very kind gesture of goodwill. Her daughters tell me they're schooling in the city and we shared a bag of tiny slimy berries in the backseat.
In front of a rock and a hard place A real tree-t The kid behind the camera tells me to hold up two fingers
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Jiahui Cai

Jiahui Cai

Currently located in:
Singapore, Singapore.
Twitter: @ipoop_rainbows
About me in 140 characters or less

"By day I'm a videogame designer and by night, I dream. I am a unicyclist, a purveyor of adventure and a more or less happy person. "

A bit more about Jiahui:

"I draw the line at eating... Nothing, I'll try anything once"

"My most essential travel phrase is... Are we there yet?"

"My most memorable souvenir is... the shape of Mongolia carved on my shin by a rock in a river in Mongolia. Oh who am I kidding! It's the shape of Australia."








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