Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mongolia : Day 6

It's hard to follow up such an exciting post. Especially such a well written one. And especially with the details of another 30 hour train ride.

I do want to tell the Marmot story first, though. On our way to Mongolia, Justin intoned sober warning to us: Marmots in Mongolia carry the bubonic plague. Apparently, these strange little creatures are out scavenging before winter sets in and carry a disease we only knew from the history books. Every so often we would remember Justin's warning and wonder out loud, "What the heck is a marmot anyway?" Our only clue was Justin's Marmot jacket. Which wasn't really much of a clue at all. Eventually, we settled on either a bird or a rodent.

On our way through the Mongolian countryside, Justin decided to slip some questions about Marmots into his friendly chatter with Tushik, our driver. "Tushik, have you ever seen a Marmot?" He grinned, "hmm...Yes, Marmot, I like." Tushik tells us that he likes to eat Marmots. Apparently, he hunts them, although they're hard to find in late autumn. Then, he goes into detail on how to skin a marmot, place hot stones inside of it, and grill it over a fire. Apparently, that's the best way to enjoy a Mongolian marmot.**Justin asks Tushik, "So what does marmot taste like?" To which Tushik wryly grins and politely retorts, "Marmot... tastes like marmot."**(Justin had to remind me about this, hehe). We try to ask whether the marmots have the bubonic plague, but all we really learn is that it's best not to eat sick marmots. hmmm...Justin decides to change the subject, so he asks Tushik, "Well, what's your favorite meat?" He grinned, "Marmot. Do you want to try?" Backpedaling quickly, Justin politely declines. The three of us make eye contact while thinking exactly the same thing: "If he thinks we want to try Marmots, he'll convince the family we're staying at to cook Marmots as a gesture of Mongolian hospitality..." Images of me rolling on the Mongolian plains, slowly and painfully becoming a zombie because of the bubonic plague, flash through my mind.

Later, when we climbed up to the Buddhist temple, we noticed a strange brass carving of a rodent serving as the handle of the entrance door:
From Beijing Dou

"Could this in fact be the dreaded mythical Marmot, the very one that struck such petrifying fear into our hearts?", we mused.

When we arrived back in Beijing, M looked up the wikipedia entry for Marmots. Apparently they're just oversize squirrels. Cute ones at that:

To which Justin replied, "They are cuter than I expected… I can’t eat that."

I was sorely disappointed, since I was expecting more of a Rodent of Unusual Size:

But consider yourself warned; next time you're wandering around the Mongolian plains shortly before winter, stay away from any cute curious rodents that want to play. They'll turn you into a zombie.

Ok, so enough about Marmots. (Although I am curious why a rugged outdoor clothing company chose Marmots for their moniker. You don't see me wearing a "Prairie Dog" jacket.)

Day 6:

The next morning when we rolled out of bed at the crack of dawn, we were extremely stiff and sore. After muttering and grumbling about horses for a few minutes, we managed to get our stuff together and head out the door. It was lightly snowing outside, and still mostly dark. We hopped in a cab and made it to the train station with time to kill. We had blown all our money on Indian and Mexican food the night before, leaving us with only 300 tugrug (30 cents). Justin wandered up to a few of the counters trying to use his remaining money to buy sour gummies, but to no avail. Finally, just before the train left, he drove a hard bargain and got us a small bottle of water with our remaining money.

Upon boarding the train, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our two rooms (since we were forced to buy the expensive 2 per berth tickets) shared a bathroom. We spent most of the trip with the bathroom doors open so that we could lock the main doors and keep an eye on our stuff.

This time it was my turn to sleep on the top bunk. Unfortunately for me, I was so sore that every time I had to swing up there, every muscle in my body screamed out in pain.

The train's heater on the way to Mongolia had only run for a short time in the morning and a short time at night, but apparently in the expensive seats, the heater runs 24 hours a day. All three of us were quickly dying of heat. We did take advantage of it, though, by placing our leftover Mexican and Indian food on top of the heating coils to warm our lunch.

Sometime on the trip, Marilyn had introduced me and Justin to a card game that she called PaiQi (Rows of 7) growing up. Apparently it's also called Sevens or Dominoes in other parts of the world. Whether we got the rules wrong or she learned it differently, M's version of Sevens included the exciting rule of being able to "burn" cards when you couldn't play. Since the goal of the game is to take turns building out from each suit's seven up to the King and down to the Ace, a burned card meant other players were stuck with unplayable cards, which would then be counted against them at the end of the round. We wiled away hours upon hours of this game, often squabbling and bickering about how tightfisted and withholding the other players were being. Despite M's insistence that I would sneak up from behind to win it, she easily took the first 3 games. I was finally able to sneak past Justin in the final game for the 500 point win. It was a controversial last hand as we were pulling into Beijing, so we grabbed our stuff, disembarked, and ran across the street to Mcdonald's to grab some food and replay the last hand. We started up a new tally in Beijing, although Justin now aptly calls it "The Evil Game". Currently, Justin's up by about 150 points on us. Looks like his turn has finally come.

Other than that crazy card game, we spent the rest of the time moaning about the heat, sleeping, and eating ramen and peanut-butter/jelly or nutella sandwiches. The return trip went by quite fast, and before we knew it, we were home:
From Beijing Dou

The Mongolian Adventure was over. We returned victorious (and very sore).

So that's it. Thanks for following along on our crazy trip. I'm sure we went into a lot more detail than you needed, so you're a trooper for reading all of it.

We've tossed around the idea of trying to do the whole Transiberian next time: Moscow - Irkustk (Risk players, you know wassup...) - Ulaan Baatar - Beijing. Who's in?


Ingrid said...


Justin said...

YOU FORGOT THE BEST PART!!! Justin asks Tushik, "So what does marmot taste like?" To which Tushik wryly grins and politely retorts, "Marmot... tastes like marmot."

Tawnie said...

Fun times! I miss you two. The Princess Bride picture is my favorite.