Oct 122014

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

Today’s amazing guest post is written and shared by my friend, Colleen, from Colleen Brynn Travels…please enjoy!

Some of the potholes were as large as a rhinoceros. As our Soviet van dipped and tipped its way along the pocked road, I thought we would reach that critical point just past our vehicle’s centre of gravity, and it would fall over. More than once, my heart leapt up into my throat and I grabbed at air, scrambled to trust the driver.

He was a kind-eyed man, with a constant smile playing on the lines beside his eyes. He didn’t speak a word of English, but that didn’t matter. Our guide was a Mongolian-born man about my age who had spent many years in the United States, his dad having been a diplomat there for much of his adolescence. He was able to translate for us, and together, these two men provided us with a colourful experience in their unique country.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia
Driving anywhere in Mongolia is an exercise in patience. Driving outside of the capital is an exercise in not only ones will to drive 7 hours to get to a distance that shouldn’t take more than 1 hour but also an exercise in managing ones tendency toward carsickness. Outside Ulaanbaatar, the capital, there isn’t much to drive on but long, stretching roads that appear to be more like paths than roads, paths that cut through fields, that bisect rivers and potholes and whatever else might be in their way.

When, during one of our long stretches of driving, we came upon a woman standing at the side of the road, I was perplexed, wondered what she could possibly be doing standing out here all by herself. There was nothing, and I mean nothing around. Just grass, hills and more grass.

I remember her hair most of all, a cute, perfectly shaped black bob. I noticed her shoes next, tidy, clean, colourful. She waved at us, and we slowed to sidle up beside her on the road, no one in front of us, no one behind. No one.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

She communicated to our guide and driver that she was a tour guide, that the van she and her guests had been in was stuck in a river not far away. She kindly asked us if we would follow her and help pull them out. For the desolation and distance of their situation, she was amazingly calm, and even though her calm didn’t properly communicate her desperation, we didn’t need any convincing to offer our assistance.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

Incredible, I marveled when we came to the river, and I saw where the old, Soviet van sat, half-sunk, drowning in the clear, cool waters of a nameless(?) Mongolian stream. We got out of our van, and our driver proceeded to plow his way across the river, slowly and surely. The plan was to attach a cord from our van to theirs and hit the gas.

This is what the drivers did. Then, after a lot of underwater tire-spinning, it became evident that additional muscle was required. A family nearby, enjoying a picnic and a bit of camping, donated their burliest men to the cause.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

Pushing and shoving ensued. At first it was scattered and uncoordinated. They flailed and slipped on the rocks in the river as the engine revved and rumbled. I shouted out across the water and told the men to all push at the same time. They then began a repetitive count-and-push dance.

At one point, a man on a tractor trundled by. He looked at the situation and turned around. It seemed he might be going to fetch help. Another man came by on a horse. He waded into the river, sat there and watched, the horse rigid with obedience and indifference.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

Many, many failed attempts later, the magical combination of man power (7 guys) and perfectly timed acceleration came together and the submerged van popped out of the water with a grunt, a scraping of river rocks.

We all clapped and cheered, a collective triumph of patience and persistence, and then we laughed when we saw our guide slip. When he emerged he muttered, “I lost my shoe.” Sure enough, it slipped off his foot and floated away in a single breath. Even though he had a back up pair of shoes, he would later do a short hike to a waterfall in his socks.

At that point, we all thought great, we can get on with our original plan now. So our driver turned around and began to make his way back across the river. Whenever I think back on this moment, I wonder if had I shouted, things might have turned out differently. I saw everything happen clearly and slowly, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to shout out a warning. My vocal cords were paralyzed, frozen by inevitability. Our driver made it halfway across the river, and then the van slipped into the same hole from which the other van had just emerged. Now our van was stuck.

With disappointment, our guide took pity on us and asked if there was anything we wanted rescued from the van for the moment. I requested my scarf so I could cover my skin to avoid sunburn, and he was also thoughtful and brought us waters.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

I felt bad for our driver; he couldn’t communicate with us to express an apology, but I could see it in his eyes. I wished I could tell him not to worry, that none of us were upset, that we were all fine and everything would work out, but he just put his head down and busied himself righting the situation.

Lately I’ve been trying to remember that “every time you see the humour in a situation, you win.” This was one of those times. I wish I could have shared a laugh with our driver about our van.

We sat there for a while, and nothing happened. It was hot, and I did my best to shield my white skin with my white scarf. I wrote in my journal to pass the time. The Japanese girl in our group expertly shaded herself from the UV rays with a tracksuit that covered her arms to her wrists and her legs to her ankles, and she hid under an umbrella. I envied her. Meanwhile, the other van was on the other side of the river and was in the process of emptying itself of water. Its engine was dead by then and was no good to us.

I looked off in the distance. Rain was coming. For the sake of an impending sunburn, I was grateful, but for the sake of our lack of shelter, I wondered what that meant for us.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

The man on the tractor reappeared, but I do not remember what he did, if anything. I had given up documenting with my camera what was happening and instead just watched. After a lot of waiting around and wondering, THIS appeared:

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

I don’t know where it came from or why or how they knew to head down to the river. I was just happy to see their large, imposing army-grade vehicle… which also just so happened to be filled with adorable Mongolian kids.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

They appeared to be on some sort of family holiday, and they were about to rescue a bunch of foreigners on their Mongolian escapade. Once they’d arrived, it was like the best surgeon in town had finally arrived to perform a complicated and specialized surgery; only he could do it… only this vehicle was capable of extricating us from the pocket in the river.

Ropes were attached, the area was cleared, and before I knew it, the tires of this beastly vehicle bit down hard on the rocky riverbed. They spun and argued, but insisted the Soviet van stop sulking and join the rest of the family. As if waking from a nap, our van shuffled out of the water obediently. Once again, we all clapped and cheered.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia   Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

That’s when I saw the rush of water spilling out of our vehicle. Two things crossed my mind: damage to our engine and damage to our things. We crept around to the back of the vehicle to see our belongings. I expected to find soggy backpacks and dripping suitcases, but instead, I saw nothing. The bags were no longer in the back. Our driver had carefully maneuvered them out of the water and onto the seats. I did my best to express my deep gratitude to him but I think this was lost in translation. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect him to save my/our belongings, so the fact that this had been his primary concern warmed my heart.

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

And that’s how my Soviet van got stuck in a river in Mongolia and how it was later rescued.

Our engine was kaput. We had to wade across the river (which was actually pretty dangerous considering the current and the fact that we carried our bags on our backs), and there, we all piled into the other van. It had been repaired while we waited. Our two groups almost didn’t fit in together, and I thought it was both comical and rude that the other group snubbed us for taking up their precious room. If it hadn’t been for them, we wouldn’t have lost our own van to the river as they had.

We carried on, and even though we lost quite a bit of time to that van-eating river crater, we managed to see everything we had wanted to… including a bonus – playing with puppies in a field shortly after our rescue mission!

Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia   Colleen Brynn Travels, Mongolia

Colleen recounts her favourite travel tales at her blog Colleen Brynn Travels…and studies optometry while she isn’t writing. She is wildly fanatic about all things spicy – the spicier the better! – and loves playing hockey and swimming in cold lakes. She has traveled to over 40 countries and has been on the road off and on for the last ten years, much of which she accomplished solo. Drop her a line, she’d love to be friends. You can find her on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram!

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Mike Vogler

I have been told (many times) that I really need to write a book about my life. The past 50+ years have been an exciting ride, and these days I find myself with a great many passions. However, I feel that this website is a much more personal way with which to share my musings, stories and commentary.

  86 Responses to “Our Soviet Van, Stuck in a Mongolian River!”

  1. Colleen, what an amazing “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” moment. It sounds like you had the proper attitude—to recognize the absurdity of the situation and that whatever the inconvenience, it would definitely provide excellent fodder for an entertaining blog post. Write on!

    • Often when I am traveling, I think about the story any given situation will tell, and that helps keep my worry/annoyance/fear at bay. I relish in these travel moments!

  2. Incredible yet exciting!! What an interesting rescue…absolutely filmy! When I read about such adventures, my fantasy transports me to be a part of the experience, savoring it from a distance…like that man on the horse. I can feel that the narrator too was in two minds – to enjoy the adventure or to worry about the sunburn and the rain! I am amazed at the number of pictures she could click in those moments of uncertainty. Well recounted!! Thanks for sharing, Collen.

    • This is exactly why I love hearing from readers. Each perspective is so unique. I enjoy the fact that you could relate to the man on the horse. Thank you for your comment!

  3. What a story! I’m sure at the time it was quite frustrating, but stories like that make our travels an adventure!

  4. What an amazing story! I have to wonder if my anxiety would kick in and I would have freaked out.. I tend to think not. My anxiety wouldn’t come out for this one. I would have been amused/amazed/slightly concerned.
    And most of all – it makes a great story and tells a wonderful tale of these people.

    • I think we surprise ourselves when we travel. Things are more about survival, rather than comfort. I bet you would have done wonderfully in this situation. Plus, the Mongolians took very good care of us!

  5. What an amazing story! Great adventure I must say! And some stunning pictures too!

  6. Wow! Now that’s an adventure. Driving in other countries was scary to me ( a local was driving). Feeling like I was going to crash any minute and fall down cliff kept my heart pounding but we made it.

  7. Terrific story and a great adventure – heroics, set-backs, unexpected fortune! Classic! Glad all turned out well.

    that first photo is Spectacular!
    Thank you for sharing here on Mike’s blog! xx

  9. That’s quite the experience, Colleen! I would have been pretty freaked but it sounds like you took it all in stride, a sign or a world traveler. Great photos!!

    • Thank you!!
      Yes… I was surprisingly calm throughout the whole ordeal. I somehow knew deep down that all would turn out fine so I was able to sit back and let events unfold.

  10. Oh WOW! Now if this isn’t the most perfect travel story to tell at ALL your future dinner parties, I don’t know what is!:-) Love the great photos you captured, too!

    • Haha thank you – that’s quite the label to give this story! Actually, I haven’t told too many people this story… I think this has been its biggest audience!

  11. Oh my, what an ordeal rendered in such great detail. The pictures are priceless too.

  12. Wow! What an amazing story! And, what a great attitude you have Colleen! I love your pictures too!

    • Thank you Rita… I always try to stay positive when I travel. I’m often challenged in this respect, but things usually work out fine in the end, so we just have to remind ourselves that!

  13. Great story – love these kinds of travel moments!

  14. Oh my goodness, what a story. It’s certainly a tale that you’ll remember for a long time. I was amazed that the first van’s engine worked at all seeing how deep it was. I thought stuck meant “tires are kind of submerged.” I wasn’t expecting that much of the front end to be down. How fortunate you were that that truck came by.

    • You sound like you know a lot more than I do about cars!
      Yes… amazing how far into the river that thing went… and more amazing how they both ended up in the same hole!

  15. What a lovely post! When things like this happen it can be rather frustrating, but it does always make for great memories and a great story! I’m glad you managed to get the van out in the end though, and how sweet that the driver had made sure your belongings were all safe 🙂

    • I always think of the story I can tell when things just don’t seem to be going right. Usually it is worth it for the tale!
      And yes, that driver was just the sweetest. He even bought us vodka to share with our little group over a campfire on our last night together.

  16. What an amazing gripping adventure story. Thanks to Colleen and Mike. I’ve wanted to visit Mongolia forever. If we do go I shall be holding my breath when we cross over rivers. :/

    • Thank you! I do hope you make it to Mongolia – I know you would love it. I hope to go back one day… hehe I will be thinking of you holding your breath!

  17. You had me hooked!! What an adventure…
    Thanks for sharing.

    Happy travels 🙂

  18. Now this is a good story but I can’t imagine you thinking that at the time. I have always wondered what it would be like driving in Mongolia…and now I know. You sound like an awesome traveling companion Colleen.

    • Oddly, I remember feeling calm during this situation. Maybe my memory doesn’t serve me well, but maybe it really does if the memory is a happy one.
      Thank you for your kind comment!

  19. The first thing I did was scroll through all of your photos to see if the story would unfold. And then I went back and read through your post – your photos told the story well! What a moment you experienced.

  20. I think I would have freaked out so much more but I loved this story so so much! They put your belongings into the seats? How awesome and what a great story to tell people who talk about the stupid urban legends who say such bad things in situations like this one!!!

  21. what an amazing adventure you have had. Thanks for taking us along. Mongolia is on my list – I am not sure I will make it now – but you never know where they next road will take you.

    • That’s exactly how I feel about travel – I have done WAY more things than I ever would have planned if I’d had a ‘list’… I let the road take me where it will.

  22. What an adventure. I’m sure at times you had to try hard to retain a sense of humour at all costs, but it makes for a heartwarming and sometimes amusing tale. I love your writing. Your voice. Your descriptions. Not too much, just a light feather stroke that totally sets the scene. Enjoyed big time ! Thanks Mike for introducing us to Colleen 🙂

  23. Oh that was too funny!! Funny now, wouldn’t have been too good at the time. Glad your guide was so very kind to rescue your bags onto the seat.
    Loved your photos, and your story one day will be great to share with your grandkids!!

  24. I’ve been following Colleen’s adventures for a long time and her Mongolian travels are so fascinating! This girl is amazing and so adventurous! Mongolia’s on my bucket list!!

  25. You did not need any pictures whatsoever (although super awesome) because this is brilliantly written and I felt like I was there experiencing it with you.
    What an adventure that was. Definitely a tale to keep on telling 🙂

  26. What an amazing adventure. I guess if I was going to be stuck anywhere I would choose to be stuck in a Mongolian river with a few burly men to rescue us.I love the pics.

  27. wow!
    what a story!

  28. I loved reading this adventure! I always tell you what a storyteller you are, and every time I read something else I feel compelled to tell you again. Stuff optometry, you were born to be a writer!

    I adored all your photos, they added to the amusement of the story. And as you said, “Every time you see the humour in a situation, you win” is so true.

    “When he emerged he muttered, “I lost my shoe.” Sure enough, it slipped off his food and floated away in a single breath” – Colleen, were you hungry when you wrote this by any chance? Hehehe.

  29. I wanted to thank you for this incredible guest post of your’s, Colleen. I was so honored to have you share it here. A buddy of mine read it and his jaw dropped because he had been to Mongolia and giggled in a worried manner for the predicament you had been in that day. He restated what you so perfectly painted in your story as to the isolation of that kind of travel in that part of the country. Your experiences around the globe and the beauty in your writing of telling your stories are continually some of the best out there, my friend 🙂

    • Thank you Mike. I am so honoured and happy to have been a part of your wonderful blog. It is my pleasure to share one of my favourite travel stories with your readers – kind, thoughtful, beautiful individuals! I’m blown away by the comments and have loved reading every one of them!

  30. What an experience. Can’t help smiling at the idea of driving into a river to rescue a stuck vehicle without checking the passage first. It’s the sort of thing I would have done:)

  31. Hey Colleen, that was a great story. I loved the way you used your photos to punctuate your story. Sounds like you had a great time, not withstanding all the drama.

    Sure hope you didn’t get any sunburn,

  32. Good work getting the van out of the water! Was there any damage to the engine? It’s pretty easy to wreck an engine if water gets sucked in!

  33. Thank you Coleen for sharing this wonderful adventure. Your story uses words so beautifully to illustrate the colourful escapade. The fantastic photos are a great accompaniment. Bravo!

  34. What an adventure! Thanks for sharing this with us Colleen 🙂

  35. What an adventure! 🙂

  36. Hey Mike, Just dropping in to check up on you.

  37. What an adventure! How great that you were able to capture it in pictures and words~

  38. Colleen, I loved Mongolia! I loved running on tracks and non-tracks in our old Soviet van! I am glad, however, we did not get stuck, even though it makes for a great story!
    Mike, Hope you are doing well! Take care.

  39. What an adventure, I love how you stayed so calm and made the best of the situation. These kind of travel stories are the ones you will always remember. It’s also great to see that everybody is trying to help. Loved this story.

  40. Wow, “potholes were as large as a rhinoceros”. Now that’s something I wouldn’t want to encounter!

  41. Wow what an adventure and fabulous photos! 🙂

    • Isn’t it incredible, Becky? Colleen finds herself in the most beautiful places and interesting situations at times 🙂

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