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The Train to Ulaanbaatur

MONGOLIA | Wednesday, 19 December 2007 | Views [418] | Comments [2]

Well the last two days have been another sensorial overload! I woke early to catch the 7.45am train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatur, and if it wasn't for my transfer driver 'Gary' (what is it with these Chinese names?), I would have been lost in the train station mayhem. I found my berth and was so wrapped to hear a 'G'day mate' from my cabin companions I forgot I hadn't spoken more than a few words in days. I settled in with a few Aussies, a Canadian, a Bosnian Dane sounding American, a couple of poms and a mad drunk Irishman still slurring his words from the night before. Once we got going it was straight to the dining carriage for a quick breakfast. Beer o'clock came early (like 9am) and we proceeded to down Heinekens for the next 8 hours, only interrupted by shots of Chinese rice wine, which is a sad euphemism for rocket fuel! These guys and girls were part of an organised group doing the vodka train so we had a blast sharing stories and spending the last of our Chinese yuan.

The arid terrain past slowly in the window and the mountains held signs of recent frost and ice. After a while, small villages located around coal deposits cropped up in a dirty facade of industrial progress. A couple of us passed out for a catchup snooze, but Owen the Irishman kept up his national reputation for the drink, and must have spoken to everyone on the train. There was another older group from Australia (the world is getting smaller or Aussies are slowly taking over) and they had the patience to bear the slurring accents from my new found friend.

We knew once we reached the China-Mongolia border, the train had to change the bogies to suit the different grade tracks used in Mongolia and Russia. This took about an hour and when the train pulled up in Erlian, I hopped out for some air and look around this little outpost. I had to walk 250m down to the big shed where scores of workers slowly lifted each carriage on big hydraulic jacks and changed the wheel bogies. They wouldn't let me back on til it was done, so I froze my butt outside while they worked, and my new mates were laughing from inside their cosy cabins. It was FREEZING! My cheapo calendar/clock has temperatue reading which said -11C. However, i got my first look at the northern sky at night and was stoked to see Orion standing upright (instead of upside down) and the Big Dipper pointing to the North Star. Fantastic!

After we got rolling again, it wasn't long before the iron-fisted border guards came on board to check everyone's passports and visas. That took another hour and a half, so we hung around passing the time strumming tunes (Paul the Canadian had a beat up classical with 5 strings which i fixed up with his spare string), talking crap with each other, and listening to some iTunes music on one blokes laptop. Our mate 'Irish' had conveniently passed out during the whole process, so it was with some finesse that Josh, a responsible navy guy, got him through the passport check by forging his signature on the customs entry/exit forms! We could laugh about it later but it wan't so funny at the time, hehe. After such a long day of going hard, everyone finally hit the sack about 2am, and I went to la la land to the click-clack of the train making its way to Ulannbaartur.

Tags: Friends



lol....sounds like ur having a wild time matt....glad you met up with some fellow english speaking travellers...it makes it more fun when you can communicate....don't forget to put on ur long johns if u decide to go walk abouts at the next train stop...lol....take care matt..we're all thinking of you.

  Chris Dec 20, 2007 1:25 AM


Matt, can't get enough of your fantastic stories.I'm glad you're coping with the hectic 'social ' life!!I'd have alcoholic poisening LOL ,and the cold would definitely kill me off! Have a memorable Christmas somewhere in the snow. Thinking of you whilst we swelter with 38C forecast for xmas day here!!
love A/ Barb xx

  barb grant Dec 22, 2007 4:43 PM

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