Memorable journey – Kingston-Miami-London-Bangkok-Phuket…..

It’s been a while since I had a memorable journey post on my blog so I thought I would write about one trip that I will certainly never forget. For many reasons. Read on…..

I was living in Kingston, Jamaica when the awful Asian Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 struck. I am sure many of us recall watching the news unfold on our television screens, a long, long way away. It was the way the numbers went up so rapidly…..tens dead, hundreds dead, thousands dead…..at around that point I think the brain shuts down a bit. And being so far away, pretty well on the other side of the world, it all felt very distant and very unreal.

A few days later, my now husband and I went away for the new year’s holiday. We stayed, as we often used to in those days, at an All-Inclusive hotel in Negril – one of the nicest beach spots in Jamaica. We relaxed, swam, dived and saw in the new year at a table that included (amongst others) a prospective Liberal Democrat candidate for the upcoming elections. I wonder what happened to her! (for the non-Brits amongst you, the Lib Dems were all but wiped out at our last set of elections, earlier this year).

So refreshed and relaxed we returned to Kingston – and a message in my in-box from London that called for assistance in Thailand. It seemed that our embassy there couldn’t cope with the sheer numbers involved in the tsunami – Thailand (and the other involved Asian and Indian Ocean countries) is a very popular tourist destination and untold numbers of British nationals might or might not be caught up in the tragedy. Hundreds of bodies were lying in morturaries, unidentified, and a huge number of people had been reported missing. So anyone who could be spared was asked if they could come to do temporary duty in Thailand – either at the embassy in Bangkok or at the emergency unit that had been set up in Phuket.

Now look on a map or, more usefully, a globe, and you will see quite how far apart Kingston and Bangkok are. So although I put forward my name – in particular because I had good experience of press office work in exactly this sort of emergency – I didn’t think for a moment that I would be called.

So imagine my surprise when the next day I received an email saying yes please, could I come? Perhaps the woman who was organising the extra help hadn’t actually looked at the map. Maybe she was too busy. But yes I would need to fly to the other side of the world and yes it was going to take quite a long time.

memorable journey kingston to thailand

I packed my bags and within a couple of days my flights were booked and I was ready to go. But because it was a busy time of the year in the Caribbean (if you remember, the tsunami was on boxing day so we were still in January and the holiday period) the only flight to the UK I could get on was via Miami. So off I went on step one of my journey: Kingston – Miami.

I arrived in Miami and due to the timings of the flights I had pretty well an entire day to fill. I have spent a lot of time at Miami airport and it is safe to say it is not my favourite airport in the world. I have been delayed there overnight after missing a flight from Dominican Republic, I have spent the day there waiting for luggage that was checked in and needed to be checked out again as our flight was cancelled. I have lost bags there, I have had a camera stolen from checked-through luggage there. There are other reasons not to like this airport – including the particularly unfriendly and unhelpful TSA staff, the inevitable immigration queues which I think are the worst I have ever encountered and the absolutely totally rubbish shops that only seem to sell stuffed flamingos and salt-water taffy. Oh and chocolate in the shape of crocodiles….

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Welcome to Miami!

So having a day to spend there didn’t exactly fill me with joy but at least, due to the fact that I was flying business class (those were the days!) I was able to use the lounge. Where, as I was sitting reading my book, an elderly man walked in with what seemed like family members and a buzz went around the room. People looked and whispered and then a military man in combat uniform asked to have his photo taken with him. I had no idea who he was. After a while, the man and his family left and most of the people in the room stood up and clapped. I was so curious, I had to ask the staff on the reception who he was. Apparently they weren’t allowed to tell me – but he was an ex president. Well he certainly wasn’t Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan….eventually I worked it out.

Apparently it was Jimmy Carter! Who I grew up knowing as Carter Carter the peanut farter! Although now I know him as a good guy who has done a lot to promote human rights around the world. So I was glad to have seen him in the flesh. Even if I didn’t know it was him….

Anyway eventually it was time for the next leg of my flight, from Miami to London. As I checked in I chatted to the woman doing the check in who asked why I was going all the way to Bangkok. I explained that I would be helping out with the UK Foreign Office’s efforts to help distressed British nationals post-tsunami. She said British Airways (the airline I was flying with) was also doing some work in this area as some of their staff and many of their passengers had been affected. I went on my way, thinking nothing of it, until I got on the plane. They looked at the name on my boarding card, they looked at their list and then they took me to the front of the plane. Right to the front. I had been upgraded to first class!

This is (and will probably remain) the only time I have flown first class as an adult. There were only about eight of us in there and we had beds and duvets and pyjamas and amazing freebies. As much champagne as you could want. However, as you can imagine given the circumstances and what I was headed to, champagne was the last thing I wanted. I certainly wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. But the flat bed and duvet was nice and I was at least able to get a bit of sleep.

I arrived in London the next morning and had to whizz around between the office and a travel clinic where I answered questions about my general health and made sure I was up to date with all the needed vaccinations. One of the questions was whether I might be pregnant as there were certain medicatons they wouldn’t give me if I was. Well I guess it was a vague possibility but I doubted it….

Finally that evening I boarded the second overnight flight within a 24 hour period and we were on our way to Bangkok. I wasn’t upgraded this time but we were still flying business class so it was another comfortable flight. But two long-distance flights and a time difference of 12 hours was always going to take its toll – so getting to Bangkok and basically being take straight into the office was hard.

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However, it wasn’t as hard as what so many people in that part of the world had been through in the last couple of weeks. As well as having to deal with a lot of very distressed British nationals, staff at our embassy were also going through their own grieving process as one of the staff members had lost their life in that dreadful event. Those of us who had arrived to help put our heads down and tried to get on with it – we wanted to be as supportive as possible.

A few days later, I was moved to Phuket to take over the role of press officer there. This was even more difficult but we did at least feel we could help in a more immediate way. I was able to see first hand some of the terrible, terrible consequences of the tsunami and some of the images from those days will live with me forever.

However, a week or so after I arrived, I found something out. Something that would change my life forever and something that, from a very personal point, shielded me in some ways from the trauma of what we saw and heard about in Phuket. I found out that I was pregnant.

The daughter that was inside me has just turned ten. She is a long-legged. blonde-haired, sports-crazy near-teen. I look at her and can’t believe she was inside me all that time, when I left Jamaica, during my hours in Miami, the flight to Bangkok. Just she and I, we did that together. I bought a little orange elephant in Phuket just after I found out I was pregnant and I have it still, a reminder of those strange, strange days. Although now that I desperately want to add a photo of it to this post I can’t find it – one of the perils of having just moved to a new country and still be in chaos!

I immediately went off anything spicy and had to pretend to not feel very well every time someone invited me to the bar. I think all my colleagues had me down as the most boring or antisocial person in the group. But I decided not to tell more than a couple of people there and started plotting my escape. Another week or two and it was decided my work was done, I could return home. I packed my suitcases again and did the whole journey in reverse. Only, this time, I knew I wasn’t alone.

To read about other memorable journey’s in this series please click on the tag below. And if you have a memorable journey you would like to share please let me know – I am always after interesting tales!

Photo credits: Miami skyline Bryan Sereny Bangkok sunset: Mike Behnken

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Memorable Journeys #7: First Journey of a Tiny Expat

Journeys can be memorable for many reasons. Previously I have written about a journey that was memorable because I spent 12 hours at Moscow airport – with a sulky brother who wouldn’t speak to me. And another journey that led to us spending the day in a hotel in Dubai – when we weren’t ever meant to be anywhere near that country! And guest poster Pheobe from Lou Messugo wrote about her very memorable journey in Mongolia – on a very dodgy airline. But they can also be memorable because it’s the first time you have ever done something, too. Here, in the latest in my Memorable Journey series, Yuliya of the Tiny Expats blog describes what it was like to take their eldest daughter on a plane for the first time.

For Clara’s Memorable Journey series, I decided to tell you about our older daughter’s first experience of relocation. We were moving from Hamburg, Germany, to Shanghai, China, and had to change flights in Dubai.

Hamburg-Shanghai

This was the first flight for our daughter and it was also the first flight for us, as parents, with a small child (she was 1 year and 4 months old), so we had absolutely no idea what to expect! Hamburg-Dubai flight lasts approximately 6 hours and we hoped that our daughter’s day nap could supply us with at least an hour or two of free time to sit back and relax a little. In my experience, plans that include small kids don’t usually work out the way you want them to. A trip to the airport, all the security checks and detailed investigation of all corners of a a waiting lounge proved to be quite exhausting, so our daughter fell asleep in my arms in the airport and decided to wake up, when we were invited to board our plane. “Would you like any newspapers or magazines for your entertainment during the flight?” asked the flight attendant. “We believe, we will have more than enough entertainment on our hands as it is..” came our gloomy answer.

One thing I can say for sure – I was very happy that I still breastfed at that time. You just can’t beat the benefits of breastfeeding during long journeys! I didn’t have to worry whether she would like the food we could get in the airports and on the flights – she could always top up with milk. And, of course, it’s the direct route to tranquility, albeit a temporary one.

The 6 hours went past surprisingly quickly. Although, our daughter already had a nap, there was so much to discover – buttons, screens, weird chairs, strange windows. Being in a business class didn’t hurt as well. When we landed in Dubai, we could exhale in relief – now just a few hours of wait in a lounge and a night flight to Shanghai.

Our wait in Dubai was not bad at all. There was a play room, where either my husband or I babysat our toddler. It got more difficult as it started to get closer to bed time. Our flight to Shanghai was scheduled to depart around midnight and we hoped to be able to entertain our kid until we boarded the plane, so she could fall asleep for the night. She was excited in the new surroundings and stayed up longer than usual in any case, but she still was a one and a half year old, who could switch off anywhere if she needed to.

Like a professional baby carrier that I was, I took her cuddled up in my arms all through the long walkways and check in. My husband went with a stroller and carry on. I would’ve preferred our daughter to be in the stroller, but she was too tired/stressed out and in a serious need of a cuddle, so the stroller was just an unacceptable option.

As soon as we sat down and I buckled her in together with me, she just switched off in an instant. In about 9 hours, I actually had to wake her up, as the plane was about to land in Shanghai. The night went by quickly, only interrupted by some milk top ups (I think, more for comfort than for food), but she didn’t even fully wake up for those.

It was a morning in Shanghai, as bright as it could get, with a yellowish disk in the sky trying to shine through the grey smog. That was going to be the next chapter in our expat lives, totally different to Hamburg.

P.S. If I could give you an advice for taking small kids on a plane, it would pretty much come down to these points:
– continue breastfeeding at least until after the relocation – it’s just such a great help!
– night flights are the best
– if possible, don’t do it without your partner; you would, of course, survive, doing it alone, but at a greater cost

Thank you Yuliya for sharing your Memorable Journey with us, and some great tips there. I would particularly agree with the point about continuing to breastfeed if you possibly can – it is hugely reassuring to know you will always be able to feed your baby, whatever the circumstances. If anyone else suddenly remembers a journey they have taken that might make a good yarn, please do get in touch. It doesn’t have to be a flight or even a long journey – a train or bus ride, a walk, a horse or donkey ride……

Memorable Journey #6: 28 Hours on the Trans-Mongolian Express

Epic train journeys – they’re the stuff of many true travellers’ fantasies. I know I have always wanted to do one of those mega-trips, the ones that you read about in the travel section of the Sunday papers and think ah, one day….But actually are they a bit over-romaticised? I’m sure if you’re willing to take out a second mortage on your house, you can still pay for one of those ultra-luxury Orient Express affairs and traverse the countryside in proper style. But how about doing one of those famous trips without the four-course dinners and the viewing lounges? What is it really like? For the latest in my Memorable Journeys series, we hear from Rachel of Persephone’s Blog – who actually wrote this half way through her amazing trip from China (where she has been teaching) to the UK. 

MONGOLIA, Ulaanbaatar, Railway station

MONGOLIA, Ulaanbaatar, Railway station

Travelling from Beijing, China, to Ulan-Bator, Mongolia, could have taken a few short hours on a plane. However, myself and the two friends I was travelling with decided that a trip on the Trans-Mongolian Express train would be a better idea.

I know it’s a long way, but I think calling it ‘express’ is being a bit overambitious.

We were picked up from our hotel at 9.30am by the tour guide and driver who had been organised by the company we’d booked our travels with. The guide seemed nice enough but also didn’t seem to pay any attention to what we said to him. He started explaining that we would have to walk to the end of the street as the driver couldn’t drive up such a narrow street; we told him we’d been there for three days and were dropped off in the same place when we arrived so we knew about walking to the corner, but he paid no attention, even to me saying, “We know. We know. We know!” In the end we just let him talk. It was easier.

Arriving at Beijing Train Station we had to queue for about 15 minutes for our passports and tickets to be checked before being allowed through to security for our bags to be scanned – just like at the airport. We then had to wait for our guide to be allowed through (as he didn’t have a ticket), even though by the time he caught up with us we had found out where we needed to go and which platform our train was leaving from. Not that difficult, really, if you know your train number and time of departure.

After picking up a few snacks and drinks for the journey, we got to the platform entrance only to find that the platform wasn’t open yet and many other people were also waiting there with suitcases, rucksacks and random boxes. So began the first of many periods of waiting on our journey.

The platform was opened after a while and we eventually found the carriage and compartment that were due to be ours for the next 28 hours or so. Luckily for us, no one else joined us in the tiny four berth compartment, which gave us a little more space. We departed promptly at 11.22am, Beijing time.

Once the train had got going, one of the guards came to our compartment and gave us tickets – for food, we discovered – lunch and dinner, which was a nice surprise. Lunch consisted of rice, cabbage and some kind of meat with carrots in a nice sauce – much better than many meals I’ve had on flights and the like. We were lucky we went straight to lunch as soon as we got the tickets as otherwise we wouldn’t have got a table. There was really not enough space for everyone that wanted food at the same time. In some ways this ended up being a good thing, as then we started chatting with some of the other passengers.

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The afternoon consisted of reading (I finished my book), looking at the passing scenery, taking occasional photos and chatting, until 5.30pm came around and it was time for dinner – which was very similar to lunch. However, this time we had wine with our meal (Great Wall wine which cost £4.50 a bottle and we had to add coke to, Spanish style, to make it drinkable). We chatted with a few more people and ended up ordering another bottle of wine (plus three cans of coke) as we watched the beautiful colours of the sky as the sun set over a vast plain.

Our conversation was only interrupted by a guard coming to tell us that we were nearly at the Chinese border and we had to go back to our compartments (in broken English, “Now, border, go,” with accompanying hand gestures). We shortly arrived in Erlian, had our passports and departure forms collected and then had another passenger told us we should get off the train as we would be stopped for hours with no available toilet. Accordingly, we disembarked and went into the main building… only to watch our train disappear down the tracks with all our luggage and passports and the doors be locked behind us. Slightly disconcerting.

I checked with one of the staff and she told us that the train would be back at 11.45pm as the wheels were being changed (due to different gauge tracks in different countries). The time then was about 10.40pm and we’d already waited almost an hour, so we decided it would be a good idea to go to the shop and buy vodka to keep us going!

The train eventually reappeared around midnight. We piled back on, got our passports back, were given another form to fill in for Mongolian customs, waited for ages then set off about an hour later on a short journey (about 20 minutes) to the Mongolian border. More officials then walked the train, checking and collecting passports, disappeared while the train moved backwards then forwards, backwards again, forwards again then stopped. We got our passports back with a small green stamp on a random page at the back. All this time we couldn’t use the toilets, and by then it was 2.40am. Sleep? Who needs sleep?! Thankfully, we didn’t have to get up at any particular time as we wouldn’t be arriving in Ulan-Bator until after 3pm the next day.

Around 3am we finally got to sleep, lulled by the rocking of the train. To be honest, I didn’t sleep that well but that was due more to the hardness of the bench I was sleeping on than anything else to do with the train.

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After a few false starts, I awoke properly just before 10am. The landscape was dramatically different. We’d been talking the day before about the changing landscapes we went through and whether Mongolia would look significantly different to China – and it was. Before we’d travelled through mountains, past lakes, through cities and past agricultural areas, all overshadowed by a misty sky the whole day. Mongolia was a vast, burnt umber plain disappearing into the distance as far as you could see, with a few cows grazing here and there, surmounted by clear blue skies with not a cloud in sight. It was breath-taking.

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A few hours later, spent mostly reading and snacking on the random junk food we’d picked up, we arrived in Ulan-Bator. We were finally in Mongolia, the second stop on an epic summer adventure. The next day we would go to visit and stay with a local family for two nights, sleeping in a ger out in the countryside. I couldn’t wait!

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Thank you Rachel for sharing what certainly must have been a very memorable journey – I hope the rest of it went well (and maybe we’ll hear about the second part of your trip in a future post!). Remember, you can check out oter posts in my Memorable Journey series by clicking on the tag below – and do let me know if you have a Memorable Journey you would like to share with me and my readers!

Memorable Journeys #5: London to Islamabad via Dubai (where we should never have been)

The run up to our posting to Islamabad wasn’t easy – we had a baby and a toddler, the baby got ill (gastroentiritis), she then developed some sort of exploding nappy syndrome…luckily at the last moment I remembered the doctor mentioning that gastroentiritis can lead to lactose intolerance in babies (and STUPIDLY I had given up breast feeding just before we were about to launch on an epic journey when not having to worry about her formula would have been one thing less to worry about)….

…so eventually we bought some lactose-free formula, the baby’s nappies stopped being quite so horrendously green and smelly, our bags were packed, we said our goodbyes to all and sundry and we set off to the airport, all of us packed together with about 6 large suitcases, two car-seats, a buggy and one of those huge nappy bags you have to take everywhere with you when you have any child under the age of about two.

We were lucky enough to be flying business class – these were still the days before the austerity cuts put an end to that (for us, at least). So check in and the period leading up to the flight was all relatively relaxed. We got on the plane, found our seats and settled in for what we thought would be a nice, straight-forward, A-to-B flight.

Never turning right again!

Never turning right again!

I can’t say the main part of the flight was fun. First the baby slept while the toddler was awake (see above – E, aged two, enjoying the best BA Business class has to offer). Then when the toddler finally feel asleep, it was the baby’s turn to wake. Still, I told myself as I paced the aisles bouncing a crotchety seven-month-old in my arms, it won’t be long until we’re there and we can all collapse into bed in our new house….

And we were nearly there. We were VERY nearly there. Unfortunately, we had been beaten to our destination by a very large thunderstorm. Which meant landing in Islamabad was going to be impossible. And since we couldn’t land in Karachi (security issues) or in Delhi (too many Pakistani’s on board – the Indians wouldn’t let them in) the only viable option open to us was to turn around and head for Dubai. Groan!

From London to Dubai

So the captain turned the plane around and back we went. This was annoying but we thought it would just be a blip. We were reassured that there would be BA ground staff waiting for us when we arrived in Dubai – they even made it sound like someone somewhere had a clue what they were doing. Ha ha ha ha ha.

When we landed in Dubai – one of the busiest airports in the world – it soon became clear that in fact no-one, not the Captain, nor the crew nor anyone at the airport had any idea of who we were, where we had come from or what to do with us. The plane wandered around aimlessly for a bit before finally finding somewhere to park. We were ushered off and taken on a bus first to one gate, then another. Eventually we were pointed inside the airport building and led around in a few circles. No-one went through any kind of security and I almost lost the toddler in the scrum. I screamed at her across the airport as she was about to disappear into a dense thicket of thawb’s, abaya’s, kameezes and dishdash’s….

Finally we found ourselves, plus some of our suitcases, on a bus to a hotel. Where there was a queue of fellow-passengers snaking around the room and to the door. We found some seats and made ourselves at home. While my husband and I took it in turns to queue, the children fell asleep…..

Now just to add some context here, the London to Islamabad flight was a night flight. We hadn’t managed to snatch more than a few minutes sleep before we arrived in Dubai – by which time it was some time the day after we originally took off. As for meals, I don’t think we had any idea as to what we should have eaten when. We’d gone through so many different time zones, and then back again, by this point that the only clue as to when it was time to eat was our grumbling stomachs. Unfortunately we were now in a country for which we had no relevant currency….

Eventually we were taken up to our hotel room where we were presented with one bed for the four of us….and certainly no such thing as a cot or anything safe for the baby to sleep in. Luckily, although the rest of us hadn’t had anything to eat in a while, I had packed some pouches of food for the baby (Ella’s Pouches – thoroughly recommended!) as well as some formula in little boxes (once again, why oh why had I stopped breastfeeding before this journey?), so she was able to eat. We were eventually presented with some tokens for the restaurant downstairs – where we managed to stuff the toddler with bread as there wasn’t much else that she recognised on offer.

So at this point we thought we would all at least be able to sleep while we waited for some news from the airline. However, if you remember a little further up the story, the children had slept while we waited to check in. And were now wide awake and full of beans. And jumping (well, the toddler was jumping, the baby was watching her) all over the room.

We were getting close to two days without sleep and it didn’t look like we were getting any soon.

It was a dismal, dismal situation. We were stuck in a small hotel room in Dubai with no money, no information, no food and no sleep. And this is what the view out of the window looked like:

Dubai_Arch_Tower_Under_Construction_on_10_January_2008

As the day wore on we started to get more and more desperate for information. I am sure our sleep deprivation, as well as all the accumulated stress from the weeks leading up to the move, wasn’t helping, but things were starting to get a little emotional. We tried calling the airline, but just kept being put through to the inevitable clueless call-centre operators. There was no-one from British Airways to be found, anywhere.

EVENTUALLY we were told a bus would take us back to the airport that evening and we would be put on a flight to Islamabad. The children fell asleep and we all managed to get a couple of hours kip, before we had to wake them up, bath them and get them ready for the next leg of our seemingly never-ending journey.

We didn’t want to stand in any more lines so changed enough money for a taxi to get us to the airport and thus one step ahead of our fellow passengers. We still had a three or four hour wait at the airport and I remember how interesting it was watching all the people in all their various different outfits – Dubai really is a true crossroads of the world. I was also starting to feel a little more benign towards our unwanted destination, now that we knew we were on our way out of it.

So the rest of the story is actually quite unremarkable. We got on the plane. It flew to Islamabad. We got off, entered Pakistan, were picked up by my husband’s predecessor, drove to our house on the diplomatic compound, found with huge relief that someone had turned the air-conditioning on….and collapsed into those beds we’d been dreaming of since before the u-turn over Islamabad. Our time in Pakistan was difficult, full of drama and short -lived. But despite this, the memories of that awful journey haunt me to this day.

This post is part of my memorable journeys series. Read the other posts in this series: 

London to Cameroon via Moscow 

Keeping it Sterile

A Step into the Unknown at Frankfurt Airport

Mongolian Airways to Khovd via Moron

And please don’t forget, if you have ever had a memorable journey and would like it to feature in this series let me know!

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Memorable Journeys #4: Flying Mongolian Airways to Khovd – via Moron…

The latest in my Memorable Journeys series comes from Phoebe an old school friend who blogs over at Lou Messugo. Coming from a similar background to me (Phoebe’s father was also a British diplomat), she is one of the few people who won’t bat an eyelid if I talk about some of the more remote places I have visited or how many countries I have lived in. Here she proves this point by describing a journey she and a friend made in Mongolia – one country I haven’t actually been to. Yet. I hope you will agree, it’s an excellent read – thank you for sharing it, Phoebe!

Inspired by Clara’s series about memorable journeys I’ve been thinking back on some of the crazy trips I’ve taken and there will always be one that stands out, despite being over 20 years ago. In 1994 I flew from Ulaan-Baatar (UB) to Khovd in Western Mongolia on a domestic flight with MИAT (MIAT – Mongolian Airways) known locally at the time as “Maybe It’ll Arrive Tomorrow”. Looking back I’m amazed I arrived at all!

Mongolia in 1994 was only just beginning to wake up to tourism, there were very few foreign travellers and not many expats but my friend Sally and I quite literally bumped into one of the few other Westerners on our first day in UB while looking for a place to stay. As luck would have it, Matt turned out to be working for the only foreign tour operator in town and was in the process of organising a recce for the summer season. He invited us along for the ride. We had no fixed plans and a visa for a month so we jumped at the chance to go with him to the Altai mountains to check out locations for tours. We would be riding horses and camels and sleeping in gers. It was perfect, and such luck. But first we had to get to Khovd.

mongolia map

A few days later we got ourselves to the airport, passing a big billboard on the way announcing “Welcome to Mongolia”. It was definitely facing the direction of the leaving Mongolia traffic! We were travelling with Matt, Mandelhai (an interpreter) and 40 boxes of food and equipment, 4 kit bags and 2 suitcases. There were 2 flights leaving that morning for Khovd, one passenger flight and one cargo with a few passengers. It was pot luck which one you got on. The check-in process was a scrum. No queue, no formal procedure but somehow we scored seats. A friend of Matt’s ended up on the cargo (I was secretly jealous!) However, by the time we had checked in both flights to Khovd had gone off the departure board. Apparently this wasn’t anything to be concerned about. As well as our small party there were 5 other foreigners, 3 Germans and 2 Americans, on our flight. I remember being impressed by one of the Americans reading philosophical tome The Malaise of Modernity by Charles Taylor amongst the chaos at 8 in the morning! I was also impressed (alarmed?) by what seemed like thousands of other passengers waiting for our flight – many more than there were seats for on the plane.

Intrepid explorers

Intrepid explorers

Everything was a shove. There was no point standing back politely. It really was a scrum. Elbows were put to use as we only had 3 boarding passes for the 4 of us! Again apparently this wasn’t a problem. As long as we shoved and pushed nobody seemed to notice whether we actually had a boarding pass or not. Matt had to pay tax somewhere and disappeared and by the time he came back the bus to the plane had left. There were no airport ground staff around but other passengers were shouting “Khovd” and pointing to the plane furthest away on the tarmac so we all rushed in that direction after the bus. About ¾ of the way to the plane an official appeared from nowhere and put us all on an empty bus heading back to the terminal….which after a while turned around and took us to the plane after all.

Everybody was carrying a ton of luggage which had to be dumped at the back of the plane (on the tarmac). Most packages and boxes didn’t get checked in. We had to wait at the bottom of the steps for 15 minutes while ground staff went in and out of the aircraft and others examined the wheels. Finally our ticket numbers were called out and we scrambled for our seats. There were several people too many who sat with the luggage at the back and up with the pilot in the cockpit. There were also several people turned away who didn’t seem to mind too much.

The inside of the plane – a 1950s propeller plane – was quite unique. It had absolutely no markings – no signs on the emergency exits let alone instructions, no seat numbers, no No Smoking signs, no logos, no seatback tables and very few seat belts. I had half of a belt. (On the return flight the luggage was stored in a section between the cockpit and passengers. The door to this section swung open when the plane pointed downwards, which was a handy indicator that we were landing.)

Northern Mongolia scenery

Northern Mongolia scenery

Once we were on our way an annoucement was made saying we’d be going via somewhere in the South Gobi. However, when we landed it was in a town disconcertingly called “Moron” in the far north, with a wrecked plane by the runway. Taxi-ing from the runway to the terminal building the pilot took the most direct route – across the grass where there were sheep grazing. No one seemed to bat an eyelid about any of this, not that it was not the town announced, nor the crashed plane beside us, nor the unusual cross-country route. We were allowed off to buy the only things available, snickers and fanta (needless to say there was no catering on the flight) and took the opportunity to pose for photos on the steps without the scrum. It turned out this was a necessary refuelling stop. Also slightly disconcerting as it was only just over a 3 hour flight altogether!

Moron airport...with wrecked plane in the background

Moron airport…with wrecked plane in the background

I don’t remember much about Khovd airport other than that it was as chaotic as UB and had no toilets (or food or drink but that’s a minor detail). But I do remember that we had to weigh our luggage on arrival before being allowed out of the airport (having not weighed it at check-in).

A suburb of gers in Khovd

A suburb of gers in Khovd

I don’t think I’ll ever forget this journey, it was alarming, challenging, exhilarating and possibly the most adventurous flight I’ve ever taken, but if my memory one day fails me, Sally and I wrote a communal diary of our travels which I’ve still got. I had a wonderful reread of parts of it to refresh myself of the finer details of this journey and honestly I haven’t made any of this up. I haven’t even exaggerated, in fact if anything, I’ve played it down compared to the descriptions in the diary. Travel on MIAT really was crazy! I’m glad I don’t travel like this any more but I’m so glad I have.

Thanks again Phoebe for such an interesting story! Don’t forget, let me know if you have any memorable journey’s you would like to share – and check out the earlier posts on this – Keeping it Sterile, A Step into the Unknown at Frankfurt Airport and London to Cameroon…via Moscow

Memorable Journey’s #3 – Keeping it Sterile

Another contribution to my Memorable Journey’s series – this time from Morag, who blogs over at Morag’s Place and who writes about a journey she made from London to Seatlle – via first Boston, then New York…..

He did go down for a second landing attempt but his heart really wasn’t in it, and we were diverted off to Boston. With all this bumpy travel, plus the fear factor of an aborted landing attempt, there were quite a few people making use of the sick bags on our plane. The cabin crew were doing a sterling job running up and down the aisles exchanging full ones for empty ones.

You can read the full story here – Keeping it Sterile. Thank you Morag for sharing this with me – sick bags and all!

And in the meantime if you haven’t already done so don’t forget to check out the other posts in this series – A Step into the Unknown at Frankfurt Airport and  Cameroon – via Moscow.

Finally, please don’t forget to let me know if you’ve got a partcularly memorable journey you would like to share. It doesn’t have to be a plane journey, it could be by train, car, boat….or even horse. And I do welcome positive tales as well as the horror stories!

Memorable Journey’s #2: A Step into the Unknown at Frankfurt Airport

Following my first post about a memorable journey when I travelled the wrong way to Cameroon via Moscow, Silver Linings Mama has kindly contributed her own story about arriving at Frankfurt airport and getting lost in the German language.

Thank you for this interesting post and please don’t forget to let me know if you would like to contribute your own Memorable Journey to this occasional series!