I turned 21 on Monday, which was a P-day. I had thought to go out for lunch, maybe buy a little something as a birthday present, write emails to my family, and so on. But by coincidence, our mission doctor and his wife were visiting Choibalsan for the weekend to provide some training. They asked to be taken Monday to some memorable or interesting site. So we arranged to go with a member to visit her relative (also a Church member) who lives about 120 km away from Choibalsan out in the countryside. We hired two taxis and assumed it would be a 2-hour drive each way. We were thankful the doctor offered to pay for the taxis, since we poor missionaries could never afford to do so.
So, 120 km on a paved road would take a little over an hour and so we felt our allowance of two hours on the dirt roads of Mongolia would be more than enough. But that's if the road is in good condition. But it rained a lot on Sunday, and that meant the roads were not in good condition. Our trip was ... five hours each way. We just didn't know that when we set out.
About two hours into the drive, our little taxi got stuck in the mud. The other taxi avoided it but came back to help. We Elders and the driver all took off our shoes and socks and got out into the mire surrounding the car and tried to get it out. We kept trying to lift the car out, push it out, pull it out. The other taxi even went to a nearby (and since we were in the countryside, that means not nearby) home and got a "rope." We tried to tow the car out and that didn't work either. Thankfully, a nice family stopped their car when they saw us and offered to help. With their help and by picking up the stuck car's back end and manually turning it to line up with the non-stuck car, we finally towed it out of the mud.
Then we drove in this little no-longer-white car until we got to ... the river!
At the river, we stopped to wash the car. We Elders, still with no shoes, got out and waded around in the shallow river (no deeper than two feet). The other taxi was stopping for the driver to do some maintenance. Eventually, we let the cars go over the river with minimal passengers and we missionaries walked across the river. We then got back into the car with relatively clean feet and donned our shoes and socks again.
This brought us to Sergelen County Center, a teeny town with a single K-8 school. Anyone who wants a higher education has to go to Choibalsan. At this point, the mission doctor and his wife were worried they would miss their flight back to Ulaanbaatar, so they left us and went back in the smaller of the two taxis. We continued on, convinced that the countryside dwelling we were going to was about 30 minutes away. It was more like 2-3 hours away! At least on the way, we were able to take some great photos of the Mongolian countryside, which is greener than green and void of humanity. It was pretty cool. We also stopped by a rock that contained an impression in the shape of a boot that is said to be Chinggis Khaan's footprint.
Finally we got to the place we were going, a single ger with a singe shed in the middle of the Mongolian steppe, green as far as the eye can see. The weather was perfect. We met a member that lives way out there (fairly isolated, eh?) and ate some goat liver.
At this point, it was getting to be 6:00 pm and we were realizing how far out we were. Still, we were convinced that we would be back by 8:00 or so. We rode through the seemingly endless Mongolian countryside and finally got back to Sergelen. Then we crossed the river again and made another endless ride back until we finally reached Choibalsan at about 10:00 p.m. The ride back had been uneventful--just frustrating because we realized how far away we had been.
But it was a 21st birthday never to be forgotten!