Slow train to Siberia

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of Russian Federation  , Siberia,
Thursday, June 12, 2008

Part two of our Trans Siberian train journey from Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk in Siberia typically takes two days and two nights with a potentially lengthy border crossing on the second day when we enter Russia. Once again our transport and guide arrived on time to take us to the station. Our guide even stayed with us all the way until the train departed which was very sweet of her.
The journey however started off with a slight little hiccup when we were put onto the wrong car by the train's cabin attendant. Since we'd arrive early we had time to unpack our bulky bags so we could stow away our luggage before the train set-off. Just as we were getting comfortable a big burley Mongolian man and his wife arrived at our door and told us to get out as we were in the wrong carriage. We were a little confused but nevertheless started packing up as fast as we could. Very soon chaos erupted as we were trying to repack our bags they had become impatient and were trying to force their luggage into the compartment. They could not understand that for them to get in the compartment we had to get out first and this was not made any easier as people boarding the train were backing up at the entrance and pushing to get past in the narrow passage. Very soon there was a lot of shouting and pushing and I think swearing. Inge-Marie was lucky she escaped with the first bag but I was left trapped trying to pull her bag from the overhead compartment while the Mongolians were piling themselves and their bags into the compartment. I kept as calm as I could knowing their violent and bloody history and felt relieved when I finally escaped, alive. Phew
Once we'd re-settled into our actual cabin which we were sharing with the same friends we'd met at the Ger Camp, Daniel and Annie we were finally able to get comfortable and calm the nerves with a drink or two. By the time the train actually got going it was already 9pm and everyone started settling down to try and get some sleep before the early boarder crossing the next morning.
The Russian border crossing is considered the toughest and longest as there is a lot of paper work that needs to be filled out and the train is searched from top to bottom. The Russian border guards are also considered to have zero sense of humour and I read somewhere that during a psychological assessment conducted on a group of Russian boarder guards after a shootout, it was found that 70% of the guards were not stable enough to do the jobs and were classified as dangerous. So we wanted to be prepared as there was a possibility that we might have problems as our tickets were issued using our old passports and our visa were in our new passports, something that our travel agent had strongly advised us to rectify as they predicted there might be problems. This little bit of advice reached us a little too late into our travels and we had no choice but to risk the two passport option.
We arrived at the Mongolian boarder at 5:40 am and sat around till 11am till the locomotive finally arrived. It was the strangest feeling when we walked out to find that only two cars remained on the track, the locomotive had disappeared and the entire back of the train was also gone. Very soon the Russian border formalities started and dogs were brought through the train to sniff every nook and cranny, we all sat motionless trying to look as innocent as possible and watched the procession.
Our passports were taken away and then later retuned by a Russian boarder guard that resembled a villain from a Hollywood movie. He was tall, well built, had snow white hair and ice blue eyes. As he handed the passports back we were holding our breath that there would not be any problems with our passports that we could not explain. Fortunately all turned out to be in order and he guard left the compartment and said in a deep strong Russian accent "I wish you luck!" and then disappeared down the corridor. All that worrying for nothing!
The celebrations soon got underway. By early evening our little Aussie sister and our new neighbours Tessa and Simon had joined the party in our cabin. A friendly Swedish chap from down the car kindly let us use his portable speakers and the iPod party started. At one stage we had 10 people in our little cabin and the festivities only quieted down when the cabin attendant came in to remind us it was after 12.
A large part of the Trans-Siberian is meeting people and making friends and we were lucky that our carriage was filled with like minded and fun travellers. We had a wonderful time making new friends, chatting and hearing other peoples travel stories. Hopefully we'll be able to keep contact and meet up some time again in the future.
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