Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Overheating on the Way to Erdenet, or Why I Left My Husband on the Side of the Road in the Middle of Nowhere
Yesterday we got a taxi from Ulaanbaatar to Erdenet. We left the city around 10 AM, and everything went smoothly for the first 4 ½ hours of the trip. John took Dramamine so he was sort of groggy in the front seat of our little white car; I was re-reading Morris Rossabi’s excellent book Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists in the backseat. We stopped for lunch around 12:30 PM at a little brick building somewhere near Darkhan, and then continued on. I asked our driver when we could expect to arrive in Erdenet and he told me around we should be there by 2:30 PM or so. I guess that was the jinx on our trip, because shortly thereafter we slowed down to a crawl and then stopped when smoke appeared from under the hood of the car.
As it turns out, the engine was overheating. I know very little about car maintenance and repair, but I knew this wasn’t good. We stopped for a while, used our two bottles of drinking water to feed the car, started again and made it a bit further. When the smoke appeared again, John and I both knew the chances of getting to Erdenet in this particular car were, well, less than good.
After 20 minutes or so, another car stopped to find out what was the matter. Our driver explained the situation, and that driver agreed to take one person in his (already full) car to Erdenet, which was approximately an hour’s drive away. Since my Mongolian language is stronger than John’s, I suggested that he go and that I stay with the car and catch the next ride in. The driver’s exact response to this was, “I’ll take the little one, I’ve got two grandmothers (i.e., elderly women) in my small car already and I can’t fit that big guy.” (See post My Husband is a Giant in Mongolia for more on this topic.) So, what to do? If we didn’t take advantage of this ride, there was no telling when the next one might come along. But the thought of leaving John stranded with a taxi driver in the middle of nowhere was not appealing, and I’m afraid it might become the stuff of legends (“Remember that time you left me on the side of the road in Mongolia?”). Despite my trepidation, I jumped in the tiny Korean car with the grandmothers and off we went.
Arriving in Erdenet an hour later, I discovered that my cell phone was dead (from trying to find service in the middle of nowhere, I guess) and so I hoofed it up a hill to the school my Mongolian family runs. Alta, my Mongolian mom/the school director, asked me if I had traveled well. I replied that I had but that John was another matter. After charging mine, we tried to call his cell phone several times but wherever he was, he still wasn’t getting service. Alta tried to figure out exactly where we got stranded but my photos were no help at all. I took pictures of the pretty mountains, John sitting in the car, a horse—but could not say specifically where we were. (In my defense, you’ll note that there really aren’t a ton of landmarks around or anything.) After about 10 minutes of trying to figure out what we should do (Should we try to drive out to where they were? What if John got a ride in another car and we unknowingly passed him on the way? Should we wait for his call and hope he was on his way in another vehicle? Argh!), we got a much anticipated phone call. John still hadn’t been able to hitch a ride with another car, as his size really precluded him from squishing in another taxi, but the driver of our taxi got some water from a passing truck, which allowed them to get to a small town, where the driver then filled 10 bottles with water, which allowed them to drive into cell phone range. Hurray for cell phones! Alta, Urna and I jumped in her car and drove about 25 minutes to meet them, picked up John and drove back to Erdenet. The taxi driver, Sukhe, apologized profusely for what had transpired. He had enough water to slowly drive his car back to Erdenet, where I hope he got it serviced for a new radiator or hose or whatever it needed.
So that was Monday. Fortunately, yesterday was much less eventful. In the morning I had several interviews with alumni of the National University of Mongolia who are now working in Erdenet, then John and I ate lunch at a little Russian café (I had borsht and he had a beef cutlet), and then we went to visit the schools where I used to work (#1 and #8). I took some photos with fellow language teachers from back in the day and reconnected with my friend Suvdaa’s daughter Saucera. Then last night we went out to dinner with Urna and called it a night. It’s really great to be back in Erdenet; it’s still quite quiet and peaceful here compared to the hustle and bustle of UB.