33 hours, 3 flights, and 2 nights in the airports later and we arrived in Mongolia after an emotional rollercoaster that lasted 27 days. Despite the tiring ordeal we landed in high spirits, happy to finally be in Mongolia and still full from the extra plane meals we had managed to blag.
As we set foot in Mongolia there was a mixture of emotions. Our high spirits were damped as our mode of arrival sank in; none of us thought we would be seeing Ulaanbaatar from the air for a good few months yet but the relief to be out of Kazakhstan was still palpable. We checked in to a family run guesthouse with a room the size of a postage stamp before heading to GoHelps office to explain the situation. This didn’t make us feel any better as we flicked though pictures of previous teams that had completed the task.
The only consolation, although it shouldn’t have been, was news that ‘The Improbables’, another team that started early had also failed to reach the end. They had come across trouble at the Ukraine-Russian border with a new law preventing emergency vehicles passing into Russia. Unfortunately they met a strict border guard that knew the law, even refusing a $7000 bribe. They did manage to eventually donate their ambulance to a hospital in Budapest instead of having to leave it in the barren landscape of Kazakhstan. Despite failing to donate the ambulance GoHelp were still happy with the money we continue to raise. Migah, was extremely helpful and promised to help us get settled into Mongolia, she immediately started looking for an apartment for us.
Meanwhile we started to get to know the city we’d be spending the next few weeks in. Ulaanbaatar in a fairly small city but around 38% of Mongolia’s population is crammed into this small space. The hustle and bustle of any major capital is obvious to see but Mongolia’s poverty takes away any hint of a modern, cosmopolitan feel. The crammed roads, which are the most difficult to cross in the world (even with a local as a blocker), spew out noise and pollution into a city that looks dilapidated to the naked eye. But behind closed doors Ulaanbaatar is developing rapidly with new businesses and infrastructure being funded by money from mining Gold and Copper.
As we wandered round in search of a Lonely Plant travel guide we bumped into an English lady called Jo in the city post office. It turned out she volunteers in a district hospital 7 hours outside of the city which she invited us to. Our plan is to spend the last week of our placement seeing some real rural medicine.
We’ve moved into a pretty plush apartment about 5 mins from our hospital. After nearly a month of not knowing where our next bed would be (probably the ambulance) it was a relief to have our own place. We had only spent 5 nights in hostels; with an equal number of showers (not including a couple of portable showers) it really was luxury.
We’ve managed to see some of the local sites of UB already; the national history museum holds some of the biggest and best dinosaur displays, including an impeccable 3m tall cousin to the Tyrannosaurus Rex. We also took a trip along the Chinggis Khan trail to the 40m statue of the leader built on the site where legend states he found his golden whip.
All in all were glad to be in Mongolia and settling into our placements, obviously its disappointing not to have delivered our ambulance here, but were hoping our efforts in the hospital and our friends/families donations will still make a real difference to healthcare out here and that was our main intention in setting off on this trip.
For the next 2 days we will be off celebrating Mongolia’s independence day in the form of the Naadam festival, involving horse riding archery and of course wrestling. Most of the doctors from our hospital have also taken the days off so not sure who’s left there but we will be back soon with an update of our first week in hospital and the photos since our arrival.