2 days to go
I've named my blog "Making Connections" because, to me, travel is all about connecting - both literally and metaphorically. Through travel, one makes connections with people, with places, with self ... and with flights and trains and so on. No matter how you look at it, you can't travel without connections.
"You're going where?" "You'll be camping?" "Seriously?" Questions Cilla & I have heard many times over the last 18 months or so. Yes, we're going to Mongolia. Yes, we'll be riding for 10 days, 5-7 hours a day on a wilderness adventure. Yes, we'll be camping. And yes, as far as I know, we will need to shit in the woods. All this as a result of a connection with my dear friend Helen, who has been working sporadically in Mongolia and, when visiting me over Christmas 2016, showed me pictures of a beautiful and totally exotic country where horses are simply a fact of life. Almost immediately I wanted to see it for myself.
So here we are, leaving for Beijing, en route to UB in 2 days. Rather than simply take a connecting flight to Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, we'll be touristing in/ connecting with Beijing for a few days, then flying to UB. Getting excited!
We're clearly on the homestretch now. But what a ratrace it's been getting here. I'm not one for surprises or hassle (who is?), so the seemingly never ended hiccups in our planning and prep for this trip have stretched my patience on a number of occasions. Without going into massive detail (ie, a rant), a few things I've learned: 1. never, ever, try to get a Chinese VISA by going through the website of the Chinese consulate. While "click here for VISA" seems straightforward, it is not! Unless you enjoy endless loops of links that don't work, phone numbers that don't connect, and requirements that are impossible to meet, if you're going to China, enlist the help of a travel professional to get your VISA; 2. Do not assume that simply because you have bought train tickets for a certain date and time to travel from China to Mongolia, that the train will actually run at said date and time. Fortunately we learned early enough in advance that the train segment was no longer available as the train was being rerouted to Moscow to take people to the World Cup, but it meant scrambling to make alternative plans; and 3. sending payment to Mongolia can be bafflingly difficult as my payment kept disappearing into cyberspace - not received by the vendor, but also not received by VISA (I called the VISA people to confirm they weren't blocking payment. It took 4 attempts, combined with multiple phone calls and emails before the payment actually connected. Never before have I had to work so hard to spend money!!!
But now, all is well and the countdown is on! 2 more sleeps...