September 10, 2009 GMT
Retrieving Thelma and theArt of Marmot Smuggling

With Ian safely home in England, I could now turn my attention to Thelma who had been languishing in a shed in Eastern Mongolia for a week. Arrangements were made that I would go with the watchman from the Oasis hostel where I've been staying, and that we would go in a pick-up truck.

It turned out to be a very long day as my eight hour round trip to Ondorkhaan (which needs to be said in a Mongolian accent with a bit of saliva at the back of the throat) became a non-stop 14 hour slog in which I was squashed in the middle seat of the little pick-up truck cab wedged in between two Mongolian blokes who spoke no English, I had an exceedingly numb backside by the end of the journey and felt like I could barely walk. I was also feeling very nauseous- luckily I already had my travel sick wristbands on due to the nausea from my painkillers- I decided I'd better stay off the tablets for the rest of the day.

Our slow progress was partly due to the fact that the main road heading east out of the city was closed - as this is one of only two tarmac roads in the whole country it led to a long detour on dirt tracks and to my disappointment I found that after one and a half hours of hard driving we were still only 46 kms from Ulaanbaatar. I settled in for a lengthy journey, enjoying Baatar and Banyu's hatter about the various gers (yurts) and horse we passed. One of my main fears had been how well they would tie Thelma down for the return trip, but I needn't have worried as they did an excellent job using straps and various ropes.

We had an interrupted journey on the way back as the driver stopped at a couple of gers, making enquiries, we then shot into the nearest town and parked up in a quiet corner near the market. My curiosity was raised further by the sight of a woman scurrying down the street with a carrier bag, she furtively looked around and then handed the bag over in exchange for some banknotes. Baatar quickly wrapped the bag in his jacket and stuffed it onto the seat between us. Intrigued, I tried to find out what it was but they were not very forthcoming. Twenty minutes later we passed a police checkpoint and shortly after that they opened up the bag and showed me some meat and the roasted head of something that bore a distinct resemblance to the roasted guinea pigs of South America. It was a marmot and they seemed very pleased with themselves.

Later back at the hostel as all the staff gathered round to share in the feast I was given the full story- roasted marmots are considered a delicacy in Mongolia and the animals are now an endangered species, the government has taken action declaring it illegal to kill them and that anyone found with a dead marmot is heavily fined. I can just imagine that appearing on my criminal record.

Posted by tiffanycoates at September 10, 2009 07:03 AM GMT

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