The Long Trip to Mongolia

Note: This is another catch-up post from several weeks ago.

We left the hotel for the San Francisco airport at like 5:00am, even though our flight wasn’t until about 11:00am. Apparently trying to herd over 90 people through the airport takes some time. The first leg of our flight was from San Francisco to Seoul, South Korea. I wish I could say the 11-hour flight was bearable, but we were stuck on an old United Airlines plane that didn’t have those cool little personal screens in front of each person so that you can ease the boredom with tons of movies of your choosing. They did have 4 movies over the course of the flight on a few larger screens throughout the cabin, but of course 2 of them were movies that I had just watched on my flight from Atlanta to San Francisco. So instead I tried to sleep as much as possible (I always have trouble sleeping on planes), read a little, and did some word puzzles.

We finally arrived in Seoul for our 4-hour layover. I have to say that the Seoul-Incheon airport may be the nicest I’ve ever been to. They actually have free shower rooms where you can freshen up during your seemingly endless travels, so many of us took advantage of that since we knew showers (at least warm ones) were soon to be scarce in Mongolia.

The flight from Seoul to Ulaanbaatar (the capital of Mongolia) was the exact opposite of our previous flight. We flew Korean Air, and it was amazing! The plane looked brand new, it had the personal screens so I could watch a movie, and even though our flight was only about 3 hours, they served us a full meal, a snack, and freakin’ wine! Which left us all kinda wondering why we couldn’t have taken Korean Air on both flights (or at least the longer one).

We arrived in Mongolia at around 11pm on I don’t even remember what day they’ve all kind of run together. We are 12 hours ahead of the East Coast, and so we lost half a day in all our travels and are therefore seriously jet-lagged. We got onto buses that took us to a ger camp right outside of Ulaanbaatar where we stayed for the first 2 days in country.

Staging in San Francisco

Note: This is the first of my catch-up posts for the month that I haven’t been updating the blog with my experiences. I wrote most of these a while ago but am just now able to post them and the accompanying photos.

I headed off to San Francisco the day before Staging so that I could see some of the sites. A group of 4 of us early arrivals shared a hotel room at Hotel Bijou. We got some lunch near the hotel then walked over to the pier where the ferry would take us to Alcatraz. This sounded like a great idea at first, but I guess I never realized just how hilly San Francisco is! I don’t even know how the cars can get up some of those hills!

SF Hill

Anyway, the Alcatraz tour was a lot of fun and very interesting. We even ran into some other Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) while waiting to get on the ferry. And although I didn’t have time to go to the Golden Gate Bridge, we were able to see it from the ferry.

Totally counts, right?

Totally counts, right?

And after Alcatraz, we went to Pier 39 to see the sea lions! Yay!

IMG_0150

And finally, we had dinner at Bubba Gump. Overall, a very nice day!

The next day was Staging. But first, a couple of us tried to navigate the public transportation system to get to a coffee shop that was highly recommended. We finally got on the correct MUNI train (which is different from a BART train as we found out) and got our yummy breakfast. Staging was at the swanky Parc 55 hotel, which is conveniently right across the street from Hotel Bijou, so we didn’t have to drag all of our luggage too far. Staging was basically a 5-hour orientation on general Peace Corps stuff. Nothing too exciting. And with 91 of us Mongolia PCTs, it was (and still is) impossible to learn everyone’s names.

This Is Really Happening!

When the Peace Corps says you won’t get your staging information until one month before staging, they literally mean one month. Our group’s staging is May 29th, but we weren’t given any information about where staging would be until–sure enough–yesterday, April 29th. That email just made this whole thing seem really real!

We got information about our long flight to Mongolia (with a layover in Seoul!), which leaves in the wee hours of the morning on May 30th. And we found out our staging city: San Francisco! Yay! We’d already been told by some of the volunteers currently in country that staging for Mongolia trainees is usually in either San Francisco or Washington, D.C., and I was really hoping we would get SF! I’ve never been to either city, and I’m sure D.C. has some stuff that would be nice to see, but honestly, if I could only visit one of those two cities at some point in my life, I’d much rather it be SF.

Insert obligatory Golden Gate Bridge photo

Insert obligatory Golden Gate Bridge photo

Obviously all of us M25s are scattered around the U.S., and luckily the Peace Corps pays for our flights from wherever we live to the staging city. We just call up the Peace Corps’ travel agency and they book us on a flight for whatever date and time we want. But because I don’t feel like getting to the Atlanta airport at 3am to fly across the whole country to make it to SF in time for 12pm registration for staging (but mostly because I want time to explore the city!), I decided to fly in the day before staging. The only bad thing is, we have to pay for our hotel stay for any extra nights, but they do give us a nice discount!

Anyway, a bunch of us are getting to SF a day early to do as much touristy stuff as we can cram into our short time there. Some of us have already booked tickets for a tour of Alcatraz! And although I’m super excited about visiting California for the first time, all of this also means that I’m into my final month here before I’m off to Mongolia!