Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Sanitorium - Part I

So normally Lonely Planet is pretty good with their information. Sure - stores close, food may be better or worse than they describe, maybe they make a hostel sound better than it is, but I have never experienced a less accurate description than what was given for the shargaljuut hotsprings. Bree and I really wanted to go to hot springs. There were two nearby where we were traveling, and after hearing not-so-good reviews of one we decided to go to the hot springs that all of the local Mongolians go to, so at the least it wouldn't be too touristy. We met a couple of girls who had been and told us there were different pools for healing different body parts. How cool! So we had hired a driver for about a week and that was to be the third and fourth nights of our journey. According to lonely planet "international travelers" could stay at the shargaljuut resort - yay!!  A little splurging and pampering...
We had a brutal day of driving en route - maybe an hour of pavement and 8 hours of bumpy dirt roads. An important note here is that our driver did not speak English except for okay, stop and daily greetings. So we arrive around 6 and see a really rundown Soviet cinderblock style monstrosity, replete with peeling pale pink paint and no obvious Ger camp. Where is the resort? Is this the sanitorium with a resort inside? We called the phone number in the book but no one answered so we sent BimBa in to the decrepit building armed with the name shargaljuut resort. Out he comes at least 30 minutes later with a confused look on his face and seems to be saying with charades that he could not find the place. Crap. So i decide to try the number again and someone answers! I hand the phone to BimBa and he's on for longer than really makes sense and he did not seem to end the call with any resolution. So we stand around starting to get worried since we were a good three hours from anywhere. Then he gets a phone call back from whomever he spoke with the first time and signals that yes, this is the place and he goes back inside to talk to someone. Mind you until then I had been holding out hope that there had been some other building or set of gers that we just weren't seeing. Nope. The building looked like a cross between a prison and a short term residence hotel for seniors if such a thing exists. We wait another 30 minutes or so and finally he comes out and tells us to come in.
The inside was something to behold. Small mirror Mosaic tiles covering columns and a reception desk. Black marble perhaps. Really shabby chic furniture. It was something alright. So they tell us it's 50 dollars per person per night. What??!  That is super expensive for Mongolia especially for the condition of that place. But, the manager explains in partial English there's food and TV (um, yay Mongolian TV?) and the hot springs included and he decides to throw in a massage as well so we acquiesce because now it's even later and what else would we do? There may or may not be one ger camp there but if there is it's full. Mind you, this manager is 25, has a spiky short Mohawk situation, wears tacky sunglasses inside at night and a matchy matchy Tracksuit with some logo repeated all over it. So we pay the money for two days and then go to get dinner after too lengthy a tour from him only to find it's closed. He procures a bowl of meat soup for Bree but nothing for me unless I want slices of white bread, which I don't. So I ask because if seemed strange dinner wasn't included for that night and he explains the fee is per day so it starts with sleep and runs through the entire next day.  Ah! So I explain to him we are only there for one day. Two nights sleep but only one day and he understands so he writes down on our paper we would get 50% off the second day since a "spa package" makes no sense if we leave at 6am. I'm to return the next day to get the refund.
The place reminds me of a Catskills resort from the 40's or 50's which has never, ever been repaired or updated. Literally chunks of wall and ceiling are falling off and lying in small heaps - it's pretty clear they won't be cleaning them up.
Our room. For some reason I was still holding out hope that it may be decent. Why? Because sometimes I am delusional. It was one of the worst rooms we have had and we have been staying in guest houses and hostels, for sure nothing fancy but the beds had only filthy blankets, no sheets, and repulsive pillows. But hey, at least there was a 10" TV with four Mongolian channels.
So during this time it is slowly becoming apparent that this is not really a hot spring as the book described, it's really only a sanitorium, meaning people are there to heal specific health issues. The people in our long hall all seem to have children with physical as well as developmental disabilities who scream a lot. Very. Loudly. The average age of the cliental in the other building is likely mid-70's. We have been asked to report to the hospital at 9am the next day for what reason we are not sure but we suspect it has to do with our massage. No, none of the other staff speaks any English.
The next morning we go to the hospital amongst screaming children and the elderly and have no idea where to go. We have a slip of paper we were told by the manager is the the golden ticket so after seeing if we could decipher where to go (we couldn't),  I go into a room upstairs that looks administrative and show her the paper. She ushers us downstairs into what seems a triage room with two health professionals in it and we stand there. We are totally unable to communicate even with my Mongolian book and the first woman who started to help us walked away and never returned. I can't even count the number of times that's happened during our travels. During this time it was impossible not to notice that the other clients had these official looking books with pages of writing and dates and stamps... finally one of our saviors, Savior #1, speaks English to us and explains that you need the doctor to give you a plan. She was there with her son. We wound up with the nicest staff person who went with us everywhere, certainly above and beyond the call of duty. She didn't speaking English but we sort of understood her. She wrote us a little plan on the back of our golden ticket in Cyrillic and took us up to the hot springs. Then we realized you can't go and soak for however long you want nor can you just go in any of the 10 or so gers with the soaking tubs. You needed to be assigned and then you had 10 minutes. 10 minutes! All of that for 10 minutes. I was prepared to love those 10 minutes more than any other. She also showed us around the side of the hill where trickles of hot water were erupting from numerous,  numerous sites and rolling down the hill. Many of them were marked with a word and the temperature of the water in Celsius. Each word was a different body part or ailment like ear, eye, nose, head, stomach, leg, lungs, asthma, etc. The general idea was that you either drink a little of or do something external with the water from each. It was really cool but of course we didn't quite know what to do so we fudged it a bit. We also found out from Savior #1 that people stay for 10 days of treatment when they go, hence the treatment booklets, and that no one should go without a translator. Would have been good to know!
Thanks lonely planet. So instead of hot springs anyone can soak in with a resort for international travelers we are at a medical facility that does 10 day planned treatment programs for people with medical issues.
Continued in The Sanitorium - Part II.

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