Well! It has certainly been a while, and 6 months later, I struggle to know where to start, but I shall begin i think, with the most important thing...
It is with great pleasure, that I introduce you to Molly, the miniature Mongolian Border Collie :-)
I adopted Molly shortly after reaching Ulan Bator during a somewhat impulsive puppy hunt last September. She is about 2 years old (I think), very lovable, totally bonkers, and eats absolutely everything, except, most frustratingly, dog food!
She adores roast chicken, duck liver pate and popcorn, whilst also taking huge pleasure in devouring books, tampons, paintings, loo role, maps, socks, shoes and underwear, all of which I now have very little left of!
Despite all of this however, she has been a wonderful companion and an absolute joy to have around! Roman came to visit a day or two before the puppy hunt commenced, so as you could imagine, what with Grettle, Molly, myself and Roman, I had rather a full house and lots of fun and games!
Moving on from Molly, Roman and Grettle, and into the months leading up to Christmas, I found myself a part time job teaching art at the English school of Mongolia, and for a while, had rather a lot of fun making long-mained lions with the boys and floppy eared rabbits with the girls. I was known as the artist in residence and three days a week, would put on drawing and sculpture courses for the kids...
Despite the new job however, my new furry friend, and two visits from Roman, it must be mentioned that I did in fact hit a bit of a low during these winter months, and a sudden run in with the black dog, made life, to put it lightly, a misery.
I suppose the transition from such a colorful adventure, to everyday life, routine, and work, coupled with temperatures which plummeted to -30, a dreary smog which suffocated the city, and days which shortened into darkness, brought on the blues badly, and left me feeling awfully glum.
At a point where I considered things could not get much worse, what happened next may well sound like a joke, but I can assure you, it is not!
Having built up great excitement about my upcoming trip to Zanzibar for a family Christmas and a much-needed break from the gloomy smog of UB, bikinis were packed, flights were booked, and studio was tidied, when I realized with horror, two days prior to departure, that I had forgotten to get an exit/entry visa from the immigration office of Mongolia.
I know, it does indeed sound crazy, but mad as it is, I could neither leave nor re-enter the country without one. Not only do they usually take 10 working days to process, but in order to get one, I also needed a signed and stamped letter from school.
I spent a hectic day trying to contact the secretary, who had, alongside the rest of school, broken up for the Christmas holidays, and was altogether far from happy to help with anything at all.
Having finally persuaded her to write me the letter and after much desperate research into obtaining a ‘rush’ exit/entry visa from immigration, I eventually ascertained that with one full day remaining before my flight, all was still possible and I would make it to Zanzibar after all.
Or so i thought...
I breathed a sigh of relief, arose from the pool of papers and passport bumph surrounding me, and hopped in a hot, relaxing shower.
And relaxing it was, until, I stepped out of it, to find molly, looking awfully smug, with my passport between her paws and a scattering of chewed up pages beneath her...
Not only did I not yet have the exit/entry visa, and the letter from school, I now had no passport either!
Ideas of a hot Christmas on the beach eating lobster and drinking cold beer sank slowly out of mind as I inspected the slobbered over and nibbled remains of my passport photo page...
As I rather hopefully typed into google ‘my dog just ate my passport, can I still travel?’ and researching quite how damaged a passport needed to be, in order to actually be considered damaged, it transpired that several poor souls had also had their passports devoured by their dogs, and that sadly, any damage considered more than every day wear and tear constituted the passport useless.
Panic struck but plans formed rapidly. I contacted the British embassy and within two days, had acquired an emergency travel document (ETD) which allows one to transit through certain countries on route home. Unfortunately it was too late to catch my original flight but thankfully, for a small fee, the airline persponed the booking until 4 days later. I got the 'rush' exit/entry visa put into my ETD and at long last, albeit a little late, made my way to Chenggis khan airport.
I left Molly with a friend, equipped with basket, toys, a bucket of KFC chicken and two new books to eat for Christmas, before boarding my flight, at long last, to Tanzania!
I arrived in Dar es salaam on Christmas day where I was transferred onto a tiny plane with 6 others, to Zanzibar island. Getting off the plane into 30 degree heat, motorbikes whizzing about the dusty tracks, coconuts being cut on every street corner and blue sky overhead, was so wonderful that I had a constant grin on my face all the way to Bengaloo beach bungalows. Here, the dirt track narrowed and a clearing in the trees revealed a white sand beach, upon which a little bar played music, and I spotted my brother with his fiancé, sitting on a bench under an arch of flowers.
What bliss! At last- I relaxed, cracked open a cold beer and changed into my bikini to soak in the sun and feel the heat on my skin after what seemed like a life time. We made our way to the pool next door for a dip since the tide was out, and having just told my brother how smug and happy I felt to be in this perfect place, I made my way to the bar in search of an ash tray. I was half way through asking the barman for one, when, without warning, I fell down an 8 foot hole!
It was really quite a shock, I had not expected an open hatch and hole in the smart patio layout of the pool area, and so naturally was not looking out for one. I just seemed to keep falling! I bumped into a few sharp edges on the way down and finally hit a metal dome of some kind at the bottom. After a loud reel of swearing, I looked up to find the no doubt startled bar man making his way down a wooden ladder to help me out of the hole.
My leg was covered in blood and an unnerving shade of purple was spreading rapidly over an already huge bump on my thigh. Since nobody but the barman and a small child had actually witnessed me falling down the hole, Tommy and Aureli were still chatting happily in the pool, and as you could imagine, were rather alarmed to see me only moments later, covered in blood and bruises!
The bar man had told me he was off to find help and reappeared rather uselessly with a small towel. Tommy rushed off to a chemist to get bandages and Aureli fished out a tube of germalene from her bungalow. Ideas of an even tan were thwarted badly, as we wrapped the bandage around my leg and fastened it together tightly with thick tape just below my bottom...
Despite the last two months of hell in UB, my passport being eaten by my dog, and falling down an 8 foot hole, my mood, miraculously, was not dampened, and the holiday was fabulous, filled with swimming, snorkeling, boggle, beers and so much fish, I swear we were all growing gills and fins by the time it came, all too quickly, to head home again….
Now as wonderful as the holiday was, I had not fully thought through the consequences of acquiring my exit/entry visa inside an emergency travel document. An ETD gets disposed of as soon as one reaches the UK and so I found myself, once again, without a Mongolian work visa, which, unlike a tourist visa, takes at least a month to process.
Having planned to stay in the UK for a short week, it soon became clear that by the time I would have not only a new passport, but also a new work visa, at least 6 weeks would have gone by and I would be extremely late for my job.
When I finally got in touch with the school who had not been in contact at all over the Christmas break, they appeared most unsympathetic and extremely unimpressed with ‘the dog ate my passport' excuse, and it soon transpired that I had no job to go back to at all!
Not returning to UB was not an option, I had a good few months left of rent in my studio, all my stuff, including Grettle, inside it, and of course, Molly to get back to!
The plan had been, to fly home at the end of the school term with molly in June, ship grettle back, and return to the UK in time for my brothers wedding on 1st July.
With no reason now to stay in UB until June, having discovered the colossal cost of flying molly home, coupled with shipping Grettle back, and having regained a more positive frame of mind, a plan as quick as a flash was formed...
I decided I would scrap the flight, and the shipping, and drive Grettle home instead, with Molly on board, for a fraction of the cost, and one hell of an adventure!
I calculated that if I were to leave at the start of may as the weather in Mongolia would just be beginning to warm above freezing, I should be back home by mid June, in plenty of time for Tommy's wedding.
I have slowly been preparing Molly for travel since I adopted her, and she has now had all of the necessary vaccinations, microchips and tests required to avoid quarantine when she leaves Mongolia...I hope! I also took the liberty of buying her a travel bag, which I do hope she likes, as i plan to have it, and her, perched on my lap during the long drive home...
Now as wonderful as it sounds having the companionship of Molly during the 9,000 km journey home through Mongolia, Siberia, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France, the reality of traveling with a dog on top of a rapidly deteriorating Vespa, along with myself and all my luggage, began to dawn on me…this was going to be, to say the least, a BIG challenge!
With bank account pretty much at rock bottom, and no job to get back to, I set about working for my wonderful parents, who offered me a job rubbing down and repainting the house...
I spent 3 weeks working at home to gather together enough money for the time left in UB and for the trip home, managed to get both a Mongolian and a Russian tourist visa, and arrived back in UB a couple of days ago.
I am reunited with Molly which is very exciting and we have been practicing ‘hop in the bag’ commands which so far have gone very well!
She did however, look a little nervous when I actually tried lifting up the bag and walking around the studio with it, so I am a little apprehensive about how she will feel when on top of Grettle, with ignition switched on and traffic is whizzing by...EEK!!
Grettle has been hibernating over the winter but I plan to buy her a new battery and hope she will swing into life soon, so that Molly can begin her driving lessons and the training can commence!
Until then, adios...