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Notes from a Wandering Daydreamer Life as it should be...

life on the Kmart express pt1.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Wednesday, 12 September 2007 | Views [831]

Well I am now in moscow and still finding it hard to believe that I am now in europe. the place that seemed to be so far away for so long has suddenly creeped up on me - even though it took me 5 days on a train to get here.
Just a few hours ago i was standing in red square with the kremlin and st basils around me.

A lot has happened since my last blog. Our stay at the ger camp in mongolia was certainly something to remember. it was about one hour out of UB and set in some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen. jagged green hills covered in rocks and trees and a big blue sky that went on forever. the whole area was dotted with little white gers. that afternoon we went horse riding for a few hours which was a fun experience. we had to keep saying "chu" to get our horses to go, and eventually i got mine to gallop, with me sitting on the back sounding like a steam train, chu chu chuing the whole time.
we went to round up some yaks grazing in the distance, so a few of us sped off from the group but soon found ourselves in a great big bog, which our horses refused to go through, despite our constant chu's. instaed we went and visited a nomad family in their ger, who gave us some fermented mare's milk to drink which tasted a lot like milky vinegar.
when we got back to the ger camp, we found that a bus load of koreans had arrived, who turned out to be from the hyundai ship building yard. what ship builders were doing in a landlocked country with no major rivers i never worked out. anyway, that night at dinner one of them came over and gave us some korean whisky in tetra packs and taught us how to say cheers in korean, along with the rest of the group. we invidted him back to our ger for some mongolian whisky after dinner, and he thought that we were trying to poison him as it was so strong.
that night there was a special bonfire party for the koreans, so armed big many more tetra packs of whisky we heading out into the darkness to a big bonfire that they lit. the koreans all started singing a heap of songs, so we decided that we should contribute soemthing to the group. we managed to get out the first verse and chorus of waltzing matilda without too many mistakes. Our friend, who we now knew as "mr moon" likded my dancing, so he made me dance as they all sung another song. many more shots of whisky were had, accompanied with peanuts and fried goldfish, then there was some big holding-hands circle dance around the fire, singing their company song. then at one point he wanted me to dance again, and proceeded to pull a burning stick out of the fire and chased me around the fire as i danced like a crazy person in front of all these koreans. strangely enough it turned out that he was the safety inspector....
We arranged to get up at 5am the next morning to get up and climb the big hill behind the camp to watch the sunrise.

after we left the bonfire, we were drinking in a little gazebo when a great big black dog turned up, who we named ghengis. he followed us back to our ger, after we decided we needed to try and light the wooden stove in our ger after seeing the smoke rising from others.
Now it was already rather comfortable in the ger and there was no need to light it, but we were drunk and determined and did not let the lack of kindling or paper stop us. after about 15 minutes of trying, the fire was soon raging. we piled all the wood we had on it and proceeded to run around stealing more wood from other gers. it wasnt until now that we realised just how hot it had become. the metal stove was glowing red and the ger was filled with smoke. it became too hot inside, so we had to stand on our front steps, the blast of hot air from inside balancing the cool night air. we looked around at the other gers to see small plumes of smoke rising from their chimneys, then turned around to see a great big black cloud of smoke belching out of our chimney, complete with a lot of sparks flying out. it looked like we were running a steel foundry inside!
Eventually it cooled down enough for us to return inside and go to bed. our faithfull friend ghengis was still there. even the next morning he was waiting outside for us. I did get up at 5am, but there was no mr moon. we climbed the hill half way, waited a bit and soon got over it and returned to bed.

That afternoon we caught the train to Moscow. it was to be our home for the next 4 nights. it didnt start out too well as the window in our carriage would not open. even after a visit from our attendant with a screwdriver, it would not open, even if the windowframe was now falling apart.

Eventually after a lot of pulling and pushing we forced it open as we watched the last bits of mongolia roll by. there were not too many other foreigners on the train which was good. in the rooms next to us were 13 mongolian ladies who were heading to hungary to work in a sewing factory [sweatshop i guess] for 2 years. They were the nicest people and well educated. some of them were lawyers and engineers and others were leaving babies behind and would not see them for 2 years. they are unable to find any work in mongolia so they are forced to go overseas. they said they hoped to go from hungary to austria to study, so their qualifications will be recognised. I gave them the map of hungary out of my lonley planet, and they sat there studying it for ages.

As we approached the russian border, there was a flurry of activity on the train. people were back and forth up the aisles carrying loads of jeans and other goods, and every mongolian on the train seemed to be carrying a brand new blanket. We got to the mongolian border at 8pm and it passed easily, arriving at the russian by 11pm. The mood was suddenly very tense. everybody had to stay in their own cabin, the attendant ran along closing all the blinds and told us to pull ours down and pull our bags out and put them on the top bunks. through the lace curtain we could see the barbed wire fence that marked the border and on the other side were scores of soldiers and officials and big big dogs.

We had our passports collected quickly and very officially, before leaving we had to get out of our cabin as a very surly looking soldier gave a cabin a thorough inspection.
Then we sat and waited what seemed to be an eternity. We had to fill our very confusing customs forms, which proved a big difficulty for the mongolians next door - only one of them could speak a little english to read the forms.
We could hear the customs man getting closer and closer by the sound of his stamping. he would stamp the forms so hard the carriage would shake. it took him a long time to process the forms of the mongolians as they had all made many minor mistakes, which he insisted on them correcting before they got the magic stamp. when he came to stamp ours he dropped his stamp. we feared for a moment that it would break and we would be forced to wait here while a replacement was shipped from moscow, but it was all ok and he stamped our forms quickly and went back to hassling the mongolians.
We got our passports back around 1:30am with the magic stamp and we were able to breath again. we assumed that there was nothing else to do and that we couldnt get off the train as the station was dead empty ba a few russian soldiers. We got in bed, only to have a request by a mongolian to take a box of vodka from him, as he was over his customs limit. we insisted that we already had a lot of vodka and made him leave.
We found out the next morning that at some point the russians left and people were allowed off the train. at this time, swarms of mongolians emerged out of the trees and bushes carrying massive bags that were loaded on each carriage of the train. The train left by 3am, so it was a very quick border crossing!

We woke the next morning to find our train was now a mobile K mart. We were staying in the mensware and blanket department.
There were 4 massive bags of jeans being stored in the end of the carriage, and the trap door in the middle of the hallway was opened up and more bags and a large plastic jerrycan of what we were told was mongolian beer was lowered into it. As we went for a walk along the train, each carriage had something new. some were so heavily loaded in the end sections that you could barely open the doors - they had jeans stack to the roof. There was also shoes, jackets [100% pleather], handbags, womens shirts and much more that im sure we missed.

We spent the morning watching lake bikal and the forrests roll past. it was amazing how quickly the scenery changed from mongolia. We passed many small towns and villages filled with little wooden houses, each with its won veggie patch growing cabbages and potatoes. The roads were filled with big old trucks and old clapped out ladas. It could have been straight from soviet russia.

That afternoon we had our first big stop. It became clear that the crowds of surly looking russians on the platform were waiting to do their shopping from our train.Even as we were pulling into the station, we could see many of the mongolians from our train were already on the platform selling their wares. we realised that all the people heading past our door were headed to the first carriage, and as the slowly pulled into the station they were jumping out onto the platform to have every possible second of selling time. when we were leaving, they would wait until the very last carriages would come past before jumping back on.
the platform was a sea of humanity all buying and selling. we quickly noticed that smiling was no longer the thing to do.
while most other carriage attendants were standing by their doors telling people when to get back on, ours was off selling blankets, at it was hard to get on as her friend was in the doorway holding a massive pile of blankets.

A russian carriage had been attached to the train at the border and it was now full of sweaty russians. when we walked through there on the way to the dining car, you could not breath as the smell was so bad.during the day it was of sweat, and and night of potatoes.....

We settled into a routine of sleeping, eating, drinking, reading, writing, listening and talking which was our life for 4 days. I have to go now as there is only one computer in this hostel and others want it, so i'll finish this later...

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