The coldest leg of my trip
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
99Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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On my carriage were two random French guys, a guy from Luxembourg, two German girls both called Katrina, two Welsh girls, a giant Dutch guy called Kasper, a NZ and Cambodian couple and a Dutch couple (again, very tall). The carriage was full. The ladies walking up and down the carriage were very mean. At 7pm they would clasp their finger to their lips and say the word 'sleep'. Not that early lady.
Before we hit the Mongolian border, we had 8 hours to kill at a Russian stop. I hung out with the NZ/Cambodian couple, Michelle and Chris. We found a place for a cup of coffee and I bought some fried fish trying to lose the last of my Russian cash. There were plenty of hours to kill but kill them we did. Most of the time was taken up with border control leaving Russia (making sure you had registered your stay) and customs check. Then, we were off to the border, leaving Russia and entering Mongolia.
The next part of the trip was a typical 'Tony' moment, though it might have ruined the whole trip, it was terribly exciting! Once the Mongolian border formalities were complete, we were told we had an hour to look around the train station, exchange money, eat etc. For some reason, I read the schedule as our train leaving at 2135 instead of 2105! At 2005 we leave the train and wander off for find some food. I'm hanging with Michelle, Chris and Kasper. We grabbed a beer, some fries in a funky Mongolian cafe. There were cakes looking at me.....I just had to ignore them! The picture you see of the four of us, was taken ten minutes before our train departed! We stoll back to the staton, thinking we have all the time in the world. We get back to where our train was last located and it wasn't there. It had been replaced by a train to Moscow. Oh well, I'm sure it's somewhere else? A larger train next to the main platform started blowing its whistle! Hmmm could this be our train? We start running, we could not find our carriage number 8, we run some more before Chris legs it off down the platform. I forgot to mention Michelle was five months pregnant, so we all couldn't leg it down the platform. We have no choice but to enter this train and walk through to find our carriage. Some train guards push us on and as I stick my head out the window, I see Chris is on board and pointed to a carriage indicating it was our train.
The three of us make our way to the back of the train, we are tutted by every lady working on the train. We must have walked through 6 or 7 carriages and still no sign of our carriage or Chris. Michelle was getting a little hysterical asking where her husband was, but I saw him point to a carriage so he must have got on. We were laughing while quietly counting our blessing that we made the train. Eventually, we opened a door and were greeted by sighs of relief and then, grief! For some reason, even though no-one knew it was my miscalculation of the schedule, I was getting grief from one of the German girls like I had just hurt someone? I squeezed my way to our carraige crew and apologised to them. 'Apparently' she tried to stop the train, 'apparently' everyone was screaming our names? I heard none of this and didn't quite believe the stories. I kept saying to Kasper, 'We still made the train, what is everyone's issue?'. Still, my heart was thumping through my chest and there was a big smile on my face.
The rest of the night involved making the carriage lady a sorry gift of treats and saying thanks on a postcard for being a right 'b***h!', then we hit the vodka, beers and chatted till late in the night. We all crammed into the German girls cabin and it was almost as if almost missing the train bonded the group much tighter! I smile now thinking of what would have been if we did miss the train? Chase it down with a horse? A motorcycle? It isn't worth considering, though it must have happened a few times. Still, a fun story to tell, well, not as fun as falling in a lake.
We arrived into Ulan Bator in the early hours and were picked up by our hostel. There were some goodbyes to say but I was sharing a hostel with the Welsh girls and Kasper.
We arrive into Ulan Bator (UB) and it is nothing like I imagined (how many times do I write that?). A soviet style built up city, busy roads, traffic and freezing cold! The heavens opened that morning as Kasper and I ignored a call for sleep and went to a Monastary.
The smaller temples were stunning. Inside, monks were praying while stupid tourists (including me) watched them with squeeky shoes. Local people were turning the drums, not one or two, but every single one they saw. We headed to the larger largest temple that houses a giant golden Buddha. No pictures but I witness yet more wedding pictures. Kasper and I turn a few drums before we call it a day. It was fascinating to see the temples, but I always feel uneasy and slightly hypocritical witnessing these people believing in religion where I do not.
UB is not the safest place to walk around. Cars have the right of way, roads are impossible to cross and dodgy people hang around on streets checking out your belongings. From all the places I have been this year, I felt most uneasy here. Constantly feeling up my trousers and pockets. The city centre is also pretty run down, dirty and offers very little of beauty or anything to attract you to stay more that 2 or 3 days.
Majority of travellers, enter Mongolia to leave UB and explore the National Parks and the Gobi desert. All hostels off a variety of tours. Some lasting a day, a day and a night and all the way up to 11 nights. My time here was tight, my focus is on spending as much time in China plus spending $400 on a tour that will probably involve a great deal of driving, is not money well spent for MY trip. I would say though, from people I have met and spoken to, a 5-7 night trip to the Gobi desert is worth every penny, so include enough time for a week on the road. UB only needs a couple of days.
I did enjoy the food in UB and their tea. I've seen many examples on TV of the milky looking tea. The first opportunity I got, I ordered one, it was ok, not great, but not bad considering some of the stories I heard.
I did go on one trip. It was a day and night in the Terilj national park. About an hours drive north east of UB. Sadly, it was just gingerman on the tour which mean the tour is more pricey, sorry, the trip, there was nothing that resembled a tour. But I'm not complaining. I got to sleep in my own Ger. When I arrived I was told times for lunch, horse riding and dinner and then waved away to go walk. I would have gone for a walk to explore the area anyway but I seemed more of a pain than someone trying to experience life in Mongolia. If UB was freezing, the park was frozen! I threw on both my hats, a scarf, gloves and even my bandana to cover my face. It was so so cold!
The area around my Ger was covered in large rock structures surrounded by a leaf less forest with the odd cow munching on some grass. This was perfect! Away from the city, away from the trains, away from random travellers. I wandered around for a while thinking of the Oasis tracks 'Whatever' and 'Its Good (To be free)'. It's fascinating wildlife like this that makes the travel justifiable! The mountains were snow covered so I figured I'd head as high up as I could go. Don't worry, no crazy story on this blog, no gingerman falling from a tree or being chased by a cow.
The view from the top left me lost for words. I clung to the warmth of my breath on my bandana, stood as tall as I could reach and felt a wave of satisfaction encase my body as I stretched out my arms. It's times like these that I chuckle to myself and feel grateful for the safe road I have travelled so far. I continued wandering around for another hour or so, exploring the forests and enjoying keeping warm through quickly strolling down the steep mountain.
I open the door to my Ger and have to close it. It's like an oven. I strip outside to my tshirt and trousers and re-enter. The fire in the middle is blazing, and within seconds, sweat is dripping off my arms and face. Lunch wasn't great but it was cute. I was happy with any food really as I brought no treats but I did bring a book. It snowed in the afternoon, apparently that meant no horse riding so I stayed in my Ger and enjoyed the roaring heat. Gingerman lying down after lunch means only one thing.........nap time. I slept so much the fire went out. The family who owned the Gers had a 15 year old boy, so he popped in, asked a few questions and re lit the fire. I then spent the next hour keeping it alive. I burned a few bus tickets, and looked at my passport.......how desperate would you need to be to burn that? I had the fire going really good, but reading my book in bed meant each page got wet from the sweat dripping off my arms......so I read by the door. The young lad returned and saw my itouch and started playing with it. I showed him the talking dog application and he loved it! So, Pete, by showing me that silly application, you entertained a 15 year old boy for 15 minutes.
During the night, it got very cold. The fire went out but I had a sleeping bag to keep myself warm. At midnight, I snuck my head out the door and looked up to the sky and saw a million stars twinkling at me. I love those moments. Breakfast was poor, just bread and apple tea. Four others arrived late in the night, so my 10am pick up was delayed by four hours so the other four could be taken back first. So, I attempted some horse riding, but they really were not interested in me, as they trotted off, they simply stopped after a few seconds to talk to a horse buddy. So, instead, I played Pro Evolution Soccer on the PS2 with the 15 year old boy. He alway played as Man Utd and I played as England. The poor lad, I beat him each time, although the last game went to penalties. Each time I scored, he look at me and slide his finger across his neck. A random and unusual experience while in the countryside of Mongolia.
On the way home to UB, I notice many housing developments. Similar in style to what my brother is building in Canada. The driver told me, each national of Mongolia is given a plot of land to which they can build a house on. I like that policy, although that policy has nothing to do with the fancy housing that was under construction.
When I return to my hostel, I find Carly is in my dorm. A great surprise. We spend the next couple of days hanging out, enjoying food, going to the crazy black market (where someone felt up my empty ass pocket and got a slap from me) and we watched Wales v France in the rugby with the Welsh girls. Disappointing for the Welsh, they outplayed France all game.
So, I had some great company on my last couple of days in UB and left on a Sunday morning, very early, to catch my last train to Beijing. I met a couple from Chile while waiting for my train, and they found it funny when I said I liked 'As' and 'Coffee with Legs' (Santiago blog).
Next stop, the end of the line in Beijing! I was dead excited!!