Trip Start Apr 09, 2007
24Trip End Jun 14, 2007
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We got on the train at around 9 PM on the 15th, after a quick stop at the grocery store to stock up for the train ride, about 15 packages of Ramen, and a bottle of vodka.
The first night on the train we did a couple vodka shots to kick things off an just got settled in. There was really nothing authentically Russian or Chinese about being on the train, except everything that was going by us outside, Russian village after village of people living in total poverty. Everyone on board was a traveller, I dont think there was one Russian or Chinese person onboard, except the Chinese carriage attendants. On neighbors to the right were a Brit and Aussie on their way to SE Asia for 2 months, and on the left were 4 Danes on their way to China for 2 months (one of them actually spoke Chinese). We got lucky and had a 4 bed compartment to ourselves.
The second night we decided to drink some vodka with the Danes and the Brit, we 7 bottles between us. Needless to say, some people were drunk. We played drinking games in the dining car until being kicked out by the Russian lady working there. Nick locked himself in the bathroom, whilst being sick, and the carriage attendant had to come get the Chinese speaking Dane to help get him out. We opened the door to find him sitting on the toilet, fully clothed, smiling from ear to ear. When we woke up the next morning, all 7 of the vodka bottles were on our table, empty. We did some good work.
The days mainly consisted of reading, listening to music, playing cards, chewing the fat, and looking out the window. I spent 90 % of my time staring out the window (I became known as that guy thats always in the hallway staring out the window). Every few hours wed stop for 20 minutes, and there would be local women selling everything from beer, to ice cream, to dried fish.
The third night everyone drank beer that was purchased from one of the local gypsy womans. I didnt partake, because I didnt have any money and didnt feel like being a mooch. Hart taught the Danes how to play cribbage, so they pretty much played cribbage and drank all night.
The fourth night I decided I wanted to be a mooch, so I helped Nick and the Danes drink their beer. Nothing too crazy too report.
Day 5 was border crossing day. First we stopped at the russian crossing. We ended up being there about 4 hours wanted for our passports back. One British guy on the train had an expired visa by one day, so they wouldnt let him out of russia, he had to get off the train and somehow catch a train back about 5 hours to renew his visa. We finally got out of there, and when we saw that we had crossed the border, marked by a fence and guard towers, our whole car erupted in cheers. Everyone pretty much had the same views on Russia. Shortly after we stopped at the Mongolian border, which was a pretty painless affair, we were there about 2 hours. By now it was about 12 PM, and I went with the danes to the dining car for some dinner...after 5 straight days of Ramen for breakfast, lunch, dinner, I was ready for something different...The only thing they were serving, noodle soup...I enjoyed my noodle soup, had a couple beers, and decided to hit the rack since we were pulling into Ulan Bataar at 730 AM. (The whole time on the train we were on Moscow time because all long distance train departures/arrivals run on Moscow time. As soon as we crossed into Mongolia we jumped 5 hours ahead). Just as I was about to go to bed, a couple Mongolian girls from our car came down and asked me if they take a picture with me. Apparently one of them wanted to take a picture with me and tell her family I was her boyfriend. So, I obliged. We talked for about an hour, one spoke English, one didnt. They were coming from Turkey where they were in college. They gave me their number and said they would show us around Ulan Bataar when we got here.
The 5 days spent on the train were really enjoyable. I know its cliche, but its not the destination, its the journey. Ive never felt more at ease, more care free. Absolutelty nothing to worry about, no schedules to keep, no things to see except whats going by outside, nothing to concern yourself with except eating when your hungry, and sleeping when your tired. I honestly think I could have spent 2 months on that train, just staring at the world go by out the window, listening to Jack Johnson.
We arrived at UB at 730, greeted by a couple locals involved in a good ole fashioned American style fist fight. There was a big crowd around them...Welcome to Mongolia!! We eventually found the girl who was picking us up to bring us to our hotel. She gave us the lay of the town, suggested some things to do, and told us she would see us 10 on Tuesday morning as she would be our guide for our Mongolian countryside trip.
We took a nap, and were awakened by hotel staf advising "room change". So we moved to a different room after about 4 hours there, no idea. We strolled the city for a bit, not too pretty. Classic Commie construction, pretty dirty, lots of polution, but it has its charm. We arranged a tour for today, then got some dinner at one of the places the girl had suggested, a splendid Mongolian spread of lamb rolls and beef soup. Then went to an English pub for a few frew brews, absolutley nothing mongolian about it.
Today we were picked up by a driver, and he drove us about 65 KM into the mountians to the ruins of a monastery that was built in the 1730's. It used to house 350 monks, until the Russians destroyed it in the thirtys. Theres a museum there which pretty much consisted of a bunch of old pictures of what it used to look like, and a bunch of buddhist statues. I left buddha 500 tulogs (about 50 cents) to ensure us safe travels ahead. We hiked up the mountain right beside the monastary afterwards, and spent the afternoon lounge on the mountain overlooking the Mongolian steppes. We were picked up around 430 by our loyal driver and rove home. The drive consisted of mostly vast open grasslands with herds of sheep, cattle, and horses grazing, and being followed by nomadic Mongols on horseback. They live in felt tents called Gers that they pack up and move to greener pastures when needed. Theyve been doing it, unchanged, for a thousand years, since before Genghis Khan. We just got finished eating at n all-u-can eat Mongolian BBQ, which is actualy an American franchise that began in Michigan, but it was delicious.
Tomorrow we head out for a couple days at a Mongolian Nomadic camp. It should be filled with us falling off horses, herding sheep, and drinking fermented yaks milk until we vomit.