And with cool bus I don’t mean 'only cool kids allowed'.
Knowing that I would be on a school bus for two days, I wanted to have the best seat there was. To my great surprise, the seat with the most leg-space next to the door was still available, so I booked it.
It will be comfortable, I thought. It will be fun, I thought.
When I was waiting to get on, the people could not stop staring at me. But instead of getting ashamed I walked on to them and started introducing myself.
“Menya zovut Mari iz Bel'gii . Kak vas zovut?”
I made friends pretty soon, but the mothers were still protecting their children so they would not look into my eyes.
The back of the bus was filled up with packages and luggage, the Tetris-kind of way. I kept on singing the tune when I saw them filling up all the cubics so there was not the tiniest bit of air left between them. Underneath every seat there was something robbing us even more of the already little space we had for our limbs.
And then the passengers could embark... It made me think of Monthy Python's 'Life of Brian', when incredibly a lot of soldiers were entering Brian's small house.
The bus left at 15h, but before really departing we did a tour around the city to pick up even more packages, animal legs and drunk citizens.
I remembered telling to myself several times: “close the fucking door”, because it was extremely cold and I reckoned that while driving the heating would do its thing.
There were more people than there were seats, every shoulder touched the one of the stranger next to them and the heating did not work at all. On top of that, the door did not close properly, so I could feel the cold wind of outside cutting in my face.
I met a young soldier who spoke a bit of Russian and some English too. Thank god, because once again, I was the only tourist crazy enough to take this ride.
It was funny to see that the people who at first were acting more distant towards their neighbours, soon started hugging each other in order to be more comfortable, and most of all, not freeze to death.
After 6 hours being able to see my own breath (yay, I steal breathe!) and not feeling my toes any more, the bus filled itself up with smoke.
There was a small cafeteria in the neighbourhood, so we all had dinner and waited for news.
The vehicle was not be saved any more (probably they would find a way to repair it and use it a couple of years more), so we needed to wait for another one to come to pick us up. This one was also coming from Olgii, so all the hours we had been suffering were only an appetizer of what would follow.
Just to give you an idea how cold it was: my bottle of water was frozen and I needed to put my legs on defrost stand to be able to eat my pasta.
Following a stranger away from the known into the nothing, is something my daddy would not recommend me to do, but hey, I like steps into the unknown.
He directed me into a small dark house which was a bit warmer than outside. There was a bed and a sofa and unlikely the others who were waiting on chairs in the other building, I slept like a baby in a blanket of cold.
Once in a while someone came in shining with flash lights in my face and shouting stuff in Kazach, but my friend assured me everything was OK.
The new bus arrived! And this one was real luxury comparing to the initial one, so I thought.
After playing Tetris with the cargo again, it soon became clear that it was exactly the same bus. It was even worse, because they loaded it faster and less accurate than in Bayan-Olgii, leaving us with even less space than before.
When I entered the cafeteria, the frustration was to be read on everyone's faces, because my ray of sunlight in the morning was the last thing they could use. Still, it was stronger than myself.
Keeping low profile was pretty difficult with my Russian coat, knee socks an bear-hat, you know.
I did not give up on them and started sharing bananas and nuts to the worst ones of the group. They were clearly gossiping about me, but I knew that one can not refuse a piece of banana in the middle of the Mongolian Steppe. It’s like refusing coffee in the morning.
Victory shall be mine!
Maybe the heating of this bus will work?
The whole bus got concerned about me catching all the cold air for everyone else. They started to see it as a heroic act, because instead of changing, I packed my legs into a blanket, put on my sleeping bag and on top of that I wore my big coat. Every time we got on and off, it was a real trouble to wrap myself in, but totally worth the while.
Since we had a delay of about 6 hours, the same driver kept on driving for about 15 hours in a row. We stopped frequently to check the tyres which allowed us to pee and stretch the legs. These 5 minutes once in while were not compensating the long drive through the everlasting landscapes at all. I felt like on open sea, craving for a sign of civilization and a descent stop.
My whole installation of blankets paid off pretty well and the care of my military friend made it just perfect. During every stop, he translated what happened, where to go and fixed me hot water.
In one of our last stops in a Ger, there was a child going totally crazy about my blue eyes. When I took his picture, he freaked out by seeing himself and about 50 photos followed. Before I knew it, the whole Ger was looking at me, and my chair seemed to be exact in the middle of the round construction. The mother of the child came to sit next to me with a very sceptic face. She asked me if I wanted to adopt the kid and if I could breastfeed him. A hilarious conversation followed about the fact Europeans do not have big breasts.
The confrontation about me being small-chested, follows me all the way into the Mongolian Steppe. Grand.
Doing this bus ride had been the most unique experience I have ever had. I love road trips, I love it when the car breaks down, I love to be in a crappy space, miss out on sleep and connect with people in the same boat.
Whilst in the beginning we were all individuals, we ended up to be a group. Even though we could all be frustrated about the lack of sleep and the freezing cold, everyone kept on smiling. We have spoiled our eyes with the beautiful landscapes and hugged each other goodbye when we finally arrived.
This was the true Mongolia.