Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Grand Tour updated

Before World War 1, affluent young men and women celebrated their entree to civilized life by taking "The Grand Tour," a leisurely cruise to exotic ports around the world.

Winthrop and Penelope, buzz off. Meet Turk and Spence, the "two idiots with $600" and a desire to see the world.

When we were touring the Mongolian National Museum in Ulaanbaatar, I heard an accent from one of my favorite places in the world. "North England?" I asked as I passed a somewhat scruffy young man asking his friend where the **** they were supposed to be going next.

"Yeah, Manchester. You from America?" And indeed I was. There is an instant and amazing kinship among people who hear something close to their native tongue in a sea of unintelligible voices. And when I told him I was a journalism professor, his smile broadened, he nudged his friend and said, "Have we got a story for you!"

I wish I had met Paul Turko and John Spencer about 40 years ago. I take it back. I probably wouldn't be writing if I had.

Turk and Spence just graduated from Leeds University but wanted to have an adventure before going on to grad school. So they scraped up 300 pounds ($600) each, stuck out their thumbs and hitched rides to Ukraine.

And there they met Natasha Fedorova, whose gentle smile and gazelle-like grace would stop traffic on any continent. Natasha gave her boss an excuse, grabbed her bag and joined the adventure.

They took a train across Russia to Irkusk, delighted in the deep waters of Lake Baikal and headed down to Ulaanbaatar. Only to find me. Bummer.

The saving races is that they ran into Degi first. With true Mongol style, he offered them a place to sleep, access to his favorite watering holes and expert translation/guide service.

When I left the four, Turk and Spence were loudly debating their next move and wondering whether the Pacific Ocean was really a barrier to hitch hiking. Natasha looked bemused. Degi just patiently waited for the two Brits to stop talking and get moving.

And I'm sure they did. Keep an eye out for them. Or at least watch their YouTube movie for a bit of fun (but remember Manchester United fans seldom spare the course language).

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