My Trans Mongolian Railtrip

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Home sweet home

The doctors finally certifies me fit to fly back with an escort. Thankfully the escort is Vera.

After 10 days of bed baths, I finally take a shower at the hospital. I feels really nice. Due to my condition, I was sent home on Air New Zealand’s Business Premiere which was really nice and comfortable. The crew were absolutely wonderful in that they made sure I was near a toilet and my walking aid was kept near me. Each time I had to go to the bathroom, there were there to make sure I was able to get there and back.

We arrived in Auckland the next day and then after a short connecting flight to Wellington, we reach home!

I am now recupertaing at home. I have been given a 3 month sick leave which is how long it will possibly take to be able to get back to work but will take a lot longer to fully recover.

The trip of a lifetime almost cost me my life! Will I do it again? Hmmmm…..

St Teresa Hospital, Hong Kong

An ambulance waits for me at the Hong Kong airport. After immigration formalities, I was transferred to the ambulance for the 1 hour drive to the hospital. This time the drive was more pleasant. It was either I was completely drugged or the roads were much better. I think it probably was a combination of the two.

We arrived at the hospital at the wee hours of the morning. I was immediately taken to the ward. Cleaned and taken down to for x-rays, CT Scan and MRI. At 2.30 in the morning, my doctor was called from home and he came down to see me.

Went to sleep after all that. When I woke up at 10am, my doctor came to see me and told me what I had which was a compression of the nerves and a fracture of the backbones. Apparently it could have been worse and I would not have been able to walk for life if the fracture was a little lower.

That day, despite being a public holiday in Hong Kong, they managed to get a back brace done for me so that it stabilises the back bone helping it to heal.

I was given like 20 odd tablets and capsules for the nerves and the pain. I slowly started to see improvements. It would be another 10 days before Vera flies down from Wellington to be with me and fly me home.

On the way to Hong Kong

Despite the pain, I managed to hang in there. Again without my tour guide’s wife I would have lost it!

I had a call in the morning saying that the crew had arrived and I will be leaving that afternoon. At 2pm, the doctor and a nurse arrived to prepare me for the transfer. I was given a couple of shots for the long flight and moved to a different stretcher that buckled me up completely until I could not move my body. It had a steel plate at the bottom to hold my back in place. After another shot of morphine, I was ready to be moved.

Then it was another torturous drive to the airport. More potholes on the road. Finally got to the airport at 4pm and the aircraft was waiting for me. The ambulance drove straight on the tarmac to the aircraft.

The aircraft was a specially configured for medical evacuation as it was fully equipped with all the necessary stuff for an emergency. It was equipped to carry one stretcher and two passengers – no more. They slide me into position and I was locked into place. The doctor and the nurse was seated and the pilot checked that I was secured and another shot of something or rather. Supposed to make me relaxed for the flight.

We made two stops for fuel somewhere in China I think. Each time we stopped, the door would open and the immigration and customs would come in and check me, my passport and the plane while it is being refuelled. After 7 hours, we reach Hong Kong and it was close to midnight.

Secon General Hospital

This is where I was admitted, Secon General Hospital Ulaanbaatar.

My tour guide and his wife were really wonderful in looking after me. The wife stayed with me and brought me food and in all honesty kept me sane. She was the only one who could speak English. None of the hospital staff could speak English. The doctor knew a little bit of English but was able to understand me.

Over the night, Vera communicated with the insurance company and together with their SOS company they decided to relocate me to another country for treatment as this was not looking good. Being in a region where you need visas to get anywhere was the biggest barrier. Mongolia was surrounded by countries that needed visas either for me to get to or the rescue crew to get here. Despite the weekend, the SOS company managed to arrange an ambulance to air lift me. The closest country I could go to was Hong Kong where I did not need a visa. The SOS company frantically arranged visas for the crew and air clearance for the flight.

To me it was a very long time but Vera tells me that she got an update from them every few hours and despite the weekend, managed to get everything sorted within a day and a half.

Finally I was told that an air ambulance has been despatched from Beijing in China and will be in Mongolia to transport me to Hong Kong. I was to leave the next day!

Mongolia

Sorry about the long silence. I thought, rather than just leaving the blog hanging with no ending, I’d update this despite what has happened to me.

Today, we woke up to a “candle light” breakfast. Which was strange, given that candle light was usually something associated with dinners. Anyway, the hotel we were staying for the night in Ulaanbataar put up a really nice breakfast setting for the 12 of us.

After breakfast, we then took off on a 2 hour mini bus journey to the Trelj National Park. The distance was not that far, only about 60km, but due to the condition of the road, it took us that much longer.

At the entrance to the park there is a collection of rocks, which is known as “Oovoo”, where each visitor goes around it once or three times and throws another rock to the pile. This was meant to bring good luck and a sign of respect to the spirits. We all did our bit before we got back on to the minivan for the rest of the journey to the Ger camp.

After a rather shot distance, we reach the Ger camp. It was a nice experience to stay in a nomadic Gar. Had a good lunch hosted by the camp owners. Food mainly consisted of meat, meat and more meat – in all shapes and forms. Fruits and vegetables were hard to find in these parts of the world. We then went on a short hike up the hills behind the camp. The view was magnificent. I have not posted the photos here but take a look at them on the side panel to the right.

It was a great photo opportunity and everyone was clicking away and so was I. Unfortunately for me, I slipped on some loose gravel and fell. Due to the rocky conditions and no trees, I lost my balance and fell on the rocks below. I was later told that it would have been a meter below and due to the lay of the land which was not flat, I was dragged further down. When I finally came to a stop, I could not feel anything below my waist and was in excruciating pain. I seriously thought that was the end and I have never felt such pain in my life.

The people I travelled with were extremely helpful. As my spine was injured I needed to be laid flat on the ground. There was no phone coverage there and it was impossible to call for help. The tour guide who was a doctor in a previous life was really great. Somehow, he got hold of a bus. Tore one of its seats off the bus and brought it to me. A few of them carried me onto the seat in a flat position despite me screaming in pain. Next was to get me onto the bus so that they can transport me to the hospital in Ulaanbaatar.

I don’t know how but they manage to get me onto the bus and then it was a torturous drive to Ulaanbaatar. The driver was really good. He took extreme care to avoid the millions of potholes. Despite that, the slightest bump on the road was transmitted to my back and I would scream.

Once we got to within mobile phone coverage, the tour leader started calling for an ambulance. Mongolia does not have the kind of search and rescue we have in New Zealand. All they had was an ambulance. No helicopters. An ambulance was finally despatched but they had jurisdiction apparently and could not go beyond a certain distance from the city. So we drove to the end of the jurisdiction hoping that we will meet them halfway.

I really don’t know how long it took, but it felt like an eternity! My tour guide gave me pain killers which did not really help. Finally we caught up with the ambulance. They decided it would be too painful for me to be transferred so they decided to use the bus to transport me to the hospital but the ambulance crew gave me an injection which helped reduce the pain a little.

We finally reached the trauma hospital. I was glad but that was short lived. The condition inside the hospital was no different compared to the roads outside. The floor tiles were broken and uneven. The ride on the stretcher inside the hospital was no better than the ride on the bus. This is third world country!

The tour guide wanted to get x-rays done but the queue was so long, we had to bribe our way. Despite my condition, no one at the hospital really cared to give me priority. So it was either “money” or wait your turn. Due to the fact that my tour guide worked there before, he knew who to see and ask and got things done a lot quicker.

The hospital said there were no broken bones, just a fracture of the spine. After all that commotion, they said there was no free beds available and that I had to go back to the hotel and come back the next day. That was no good! My tour guide sprang into action again. After some frantic phone calls and money passing hands, he managed to secure a place in an apparently prestigious hospital usually reserved for government officials and expatriates.

When we reached that hospital, the inside was no different. Again broken tiles. But the hospital was quieter and more importantly, they had a bed and the staff there were a lot better.

They had no immediate cure or treatment for my back and all I had was morphine shots every few hours, until I have decided what to do. I then called home and the insurance company to see what can be done next.

Ulaanbaatar Mongolia

This morning we woke up to some sand storm which we can see clearly from the window. The landscape now is desert. Sand dunes and patches of arid dry land goes on for hours. There is nothing but endless dry grass and hardly any animals or people can be seen. This is the Gobi Desert. Closer to the capital we start to see Gers, yaks, horses and sheep appearing.


I headed to the dining car for breakfast and what a surprise, the dining car itself is photographic treat as it had lots of wood carving.

It is now 1.30pm and we pull into Ulaanbaatar. As we get down onto the station, we notice nothing but chaos everywhere. The guide meets us and arranges to take our bags to the hotel where we will be spending tonight. Traffic in Ulaanbaatar makes traffic in China look orderly. While everyone drives on the right, cars don’t necessarily have steering wheels on the left. Some have them on the right and some on the left. Learning to drive here must bring its own challenges.

After checking in, we head to a local restaurant for lunch. I just have to try something exotic so ordered a “Power Soup” made up on organs of beef, sheep and horse. It was rather tasty but rich. My main was the “Baked Sheep Head”. Wasn’t as good as I expected but that could be because I had already filled myself with the soup earlier. As in China, the prices here were also relatively cheap. My sheep head cost me 12,900 Tugriks which works out to be under NZ$11.

Tonight we head out to see a local Mongolian traditional performance. On the way there we pass the Mongolian parliament house and stumble upon the big man himself, Genggis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan.

The star of the performance is the contortionist. She appears not to have any backbone as she does things with her body that totally defies logic. We also heard the Mongolian throat singing, which was rather eerie.

On the way back to the hotel I came across some interesting street vendors. Someone with a weighing scale and you pay her to weigh yourself. Then there is the Mongolian public phone – which is made up on a table with a normal phone connected to a wireless device. People actually stand in the middle of the walkway to make calls.

The sun now sets close to 9pm and we head back to hotel to get ourselves ready for the next day. Tomorrow we are heading to a Ger camp to see what its like to live in a Ger with Nomad Mongolians.

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