Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Today, we are tourists

I hesitated before writing this post but I decided to be honest with my readers although I will not disclose everything. I will not say where the money came from. Maybe it was my finances, maybe Janela's, maybe someone else payed for it. Anyhow the fact is that we decided to live like tourists for today.

I have been hitchhiking for seven months, getting housing and transport for free. I haven't been living badly; I haven't been hungry or unconfortable.
I used to think that money was needed to buy confort but not even that is true.

Do I need money to get from one place to another? No. I have hitchhiked to pretty much every place, never needed to pay for a ride.
Is paid transport more confortable, faster than the rides I get for free? No again. Hitched rides can be luxurious jeeps or cars driving way over the speed limit getting me faster to my destination; faster than paid transport would have because they have to respect the rules.
Do I need money to have a place to sleep? No.
Do I need money to have a confortable and beautiful place? Do I need to pay for luxury? Still no.
Do I need money for food? Absolutly not.

So what do I need money for? What is it that money can buy, that I cannot get for free? The answer is not obvious, it seems money is completly useless. But after a long meditation, I think the answer to that question is privacy. You might also get privacy for free but not always so I would say you need money to spend time alone and that is why we are spending it now.

We make our way to a big hotel near Ulaanbataar center.
"It's [insert astronomic figure here] for a room," says the guy at the reception
"Come on mate, you don't have any tourists here anyway in winter."
"Ok, you can have it for less and we give you breakfest for free sir"
"You don't have to call me sir but thanks"

The guy was a bit thrown off balance, I guess other people like to be adressed as sir. The hotel was of the same caliber the police used to pay me in China. It had wifi and a bath tub and TV. But most importantly, we had time and privacy to talk. And there was a million things to tell.
In the morning we went down to the first floor for breakfast. There was a giant quantity of food and we just threw ourselves at it. Sausages, yahourts, milk, tomatoes, we took breakfast for about ten people and what we didn't eat we stuck in our pockets.
Hahaha we are going to eat all your breakfast

We just ate all your breakfast!

The hotel staff looked at us in disbelief. Who the hell are those people? I guess we are a little wild, at least compared to the average hotel resident. The average resident of this kind of hotel must be a little snobby.
Showered and rested, we realized that our snobby adventure was only for one night and we don't have a place to stay... again. We have to get to Tsoo but it's not as easy as it seems. Buses decided to stop going to this part of Ulaanbataar because the terrain is too hard and they are too lazy. Happy mongolian people do whatever they want, so if the bus driver doesn't want to drive uphill, he will not drive uphill. And Tsoo lives about 13 kilometers of uphill driving.
We catch a bus which drives north-west and we arrive 2.5 kilometers from tso's place.

That's not a bad score except that Tsoo lives 2.5 kilometers accross the nearby mountain which has no roads and which we have to cross through the deep snow. Night has just fallen down when we get out of the bus and Janela's feet freeze in about 500 meters without even touching the mountain. I might be able to make it but not her. In this terrain, she would just die and this is no exageration. You can really freeze to death inside the capital of Mongolia if you are not careful.

"I can't walk anymore," says Janela, "I am completly frozen, I can't feel my feet"
"Run to the closest yurt, quick!"

She manages to cover the 20 meters separating us from some garage, there are people in a car inside.
We knock on the door frenetically: "just let us in!"
The car door opens, they obviously understand our situation, we are not the first nor the last people to freeze here.

Quick, they guide us inside their yurt. It is nice and cozy and we get tea and chocolate. Janela is completly frozen, she can't feel any of her body extremities. The lower parts of her hair are white as she was losing pigment but when you look closer you notice that ice has accumulated on them.

"Were were you headed?"
"2 kilometers through the mountain."
"My god! In the night! This is suicide! My god! The traversal is dangerous even during the day." The woman seems really worried.
She calls Tsoo. He also, seems concerned.
"Do not move from the Yurt! I am coming!"

The family would not let us go anyway. They didn't guide us to our destination because they had some beers and didn't want to take the road. That's another example of responsible behaviour towards alcohol in Mongolia, I really think that accusations of alarming drunkenness in mongolia are unfair.

Tsoo arrived thirty minutes later, as soon as he could. He found a jeep of the same caliber as Gena's parents had and we hopped inside. We rode until the city center and then we took a bus.
Tsoo explained to us his marriage and family plans. They were unusual to say the least but is there really a guide on relationships? And can you expect something mainstream from a person whith anrtistic background?

"I have some friends who own a motel, you can sleep there"
So after meeting Tsoo's newborn child somewhere in the city center at some woman's place (literaly "some woman" was the woman's name according to Tsoo) we met Tsoo's friends and were slowly riding towards that motel in the Ulaanbataar traffic jams.
I was going to be on the air on some french radio any moment now and I was stressed that they were going to call me in the middle of this mess. Plus, they started to sing soviet songs. Janela was doing everything to organise people around me and to calm me down.
They finally called the moment we stepped inside that motel, I could talk in peace. Janela was just wonderful at organising everything around, giving me space, handeling the people so they didn't interefere. The interview was short, everything went well, the people were nice. I could talk to Claire, a friend from my student days who I value very much.
The interview can be heared here at 38 minutes.