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The start: Four dictators, two horses, and a sinking boat.

The start: Four dictators, two horses, and a sinking boat.

Destination: Mongolia!

One week into unemployment and the night terrors have started to subside, although still I wake at 2am panic-stricken that I’ve forgotten to do something at work. I’ve spent the last five days not packing, which is probably not smart just a few days before a six week trip across Asia and a year in New Zealand. Perhaps if I close my eyes and wish upon a star the packing fairies will do it for me.

Nope, didn’t work.

So what’s going on? Backtrack 2008, when I made my list of top forty goals and shared it with everyone (to force me to actually do some of them, rather than suffer the humiliation of being all talk, no action). I made progress on a few (‘volunteer in Sierra Leone’, ‘drive across the Sahara’) and failed utterly at others (‘learn to meditate’, ‘find inner peace’ – what was I thinking??).

Also on the failed-miserably list is ‘Visit the birthplaces of the world’s ten worst dictators’.

Oh the shame of this hanging over my head for eight years. Not one dictator, even a minor one. Pathetic!

So time to make progress, plus add a few goals (‘get a dog’), delete a few (sadly, ‘travel to outer space’ may not be happening), and revitalize some others (‘be unemployed for a year’ … although this could get to be an expensive habit).

My second go at unemployment started August 13th and with the goal of checking off 3 of the 10 dictators we set sail (on a crappy airline with no seat TVs) next Thursday. Dictator number one: Ghengis Khan, Mongolia.

In case you are wondering what defines ‘worst’ and ‘dictator’, the list is not mine. I got it from a book called ‘The Most Evil Dictators in History’. This post isn’t intended to be a political commentary or treatise on the existence of evil. Rather, I used the list to create a travel itinerary, which I’m pretty sure is what the authors intended it to be used for. Other birthplaces on the list include Brasnau and Gori, and the more obscure Negev, Melmoth, and Port-au-Prince. Have fun playing match the tyrant!

Ghengis Khan is said to be responsible for the deaths of 40 million people, although he is revered as a great hero in present day Mongolia. His birthplace is so remote we have had to get permits and hire a guide to help us find it – a mountain some two days from Mongolia’s capital, Ulaan Baatar, up toward the border of Siberia. At least we are hoping this is his birthplace. As he was born ~1155AD it’s hard to be sure. If not, it’s an awfully long trip for nothing. Getting there involves a combination of gers, a Russian 4×4, horses, and more gers (yurts).

Some fun facts about Mongolia:

– least densely populated country in the world
– the national drink is fermented mare’s milk
– other popular dishes include badger and horse, often cooked in a cast iron pot on a small stove using dry animal dung as fuel
– social taboos include walking on a doorway, stretching out ones arms to touch both sides of a doorway, leaning back against a yurt’s posts, and walking anti-clockwise
– some Mongolians have names like “Don’t know,” “Not this,” and “Vicious Dog” to confuse evil or jealous spirits
– Ghengis Khan was quite the ladies man, and is said to have 16 million living descendants

After Mongolia we visit Shaoshan in China (Mao) and Prek Sbauv in Cambodia (Polpot). We also discovered a bonus dictator! Laos, which we will travel through to get from China to Cambodia, has been ruled since 1975 by the Communist Lao People‚Äôs Democratic Party, described by Huffington Post as “a stultifyingly dull collective dictatorship”. The latest number-one elder in Laos is Bounnhang Vorachith. He was fairly recently appointed and has inconsiderately messed up our plans. Previous leader, Sayasone, was born in Attapeu and we had planned to go there. However, the closest I can find to a birthplace for this new guy is “born in Laos”. Admittedly I haven’t spent much time researching this, but if anyone can help me out that would be great.

Why the sinking boat? Another (self imposed) condition of this trip is ‘use as many modes of transport as possible’ (hence the horses). So, we will be taking part of our journey down the Nam Ou and Mekong rivers in Laos. I don’t know for sure that the boat will sink, but given that we haven’t had a road trip so far without some catastrophic engine failure I’d say it’s a safe bet.

All caught up? Next post will probably be a lot shorter and involve me complaining about:

– the plane flight
– missing baggage
– jet lag
– food
– Rick


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  1. Lutz says:

    Can’t wait to read more of your wonderful and hilarious travel writing. As my mother always says: everything is either a good time or a good story. Here’s to both!

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