Craziest 4 days ever!Yes, it
Craziest 4 days ever!
Yes, it was crazy. Technically, 6 days, but 4 full days, 5 nights. Day 1 We boarded the train at 10pm-ish - no problems, the tickets were fine. Our compartment was modistly sized, 4 beds (two bunks). The three of us entered our room and saw a women Mongolian in her late 30s to early 40s. Originially, we had hoped to have only the three of us in the room, but no such luck. After a while, a man, who we assumed to be her Husband, entered the room with a young boy - their child. The women eventually left. You know how I (dis)like children – he looked quite young. I was mainly worried that he would pee on my bed or something - I was lucky enough to get one of the bottom bunks, them the other - oh, the child, who’s name we eventually found out to be Yidik, slept in the same bed as his father. His father was a Mongolian Merchant. Besides us and the 4 Dutch guys next door, everyone else in the carrage (8 rooms) were Monglian merchants. What is a Mongolian Merchant? Someone who goes between Ulaan Baatar and Moscow on the train and sells goods. It seemed after a while that all the merchants were in cahoots with each other. We soon found out the carrage attendant was involved in the activites - quite funny at times. Some of the things they were bringing (smuggling) to Mongolia from Moscow were Cigarettes (TONS of them!!), Russian Vodka, boots, shoes, blankets, potatos, onions, and a few other things. They hid things in every possible place - quite ammusing. It took them a few hours to get their things situated. By the end, the Train had already been moving for a few hours. The merchant in our room spoke both Mongol and Russian (standard, I believe) and his son spoke only Russian - we presume they actually live in Russia and he attends school. He is 4 years old, by the way. We used my Russian phrase book extensively. Day 2 Wasn’t too exciting. Woke up pretty early due to the movement of the train, the sun light, and the noise from the child. A very lazy day - involved eating in the dining car, reading my book, taking a couple of stretch breaks at various stops, talking with some people on the train, etc… Day 3 See day 2 Day 4 Ok, this is where the fun began to start. You remember how I said that most of the train comprised of Mongolian Merchants? Well, the train was deep in to Siberia by the 4th day. We made 3 long stops - between 15 and 30 minutes. At each one, there was a mad dash out of the train by the merchants out onto the platform to sell some of their goods to the local Russians from the nearby towns and cities. 20 minutes of chaos, excitement, whatever you want to call it, I have pictures. Day 5 At some of the earlier stops of the day, it was a similar sight as with the previous day. In the evening, we were to cross the border from Russia to Mongolia. The Russian Border town is called Naushki, which is actually about 5 kilometers from the boarder. We stopped there, we were there between 3 and a half to 4 hours. We were scheduled to say there for 200 minutes. Shortly after we stopped, an immigration official entered the train and collected our passports. We were allowed to leave the train for what seemed like ~45 minutes, although it felt unnerving to leave the train without our passports. We bought some food at a nearby seller, as the resturant car was disconnected here. We eventually were instructed to get back into the train and stay in our rooms. First, custom officials came through the train and did a rather haphazard check. They briefly looked under our beds and in the cargo hold in the ceiling. Note: Our friend (the Mongolian Merchant in our room, who’s name was Bold - honestly) asked us beforehand to stash some of his goods. I believe this to be smuggling, as he was trying to dodge paying duty taxes. Also note, there was great movement by the merchants before arriving at the Russian boarder post. Our carrage attendant also joined in the fun and stored some things in her compartment - she was Mongolian, so we believed she was involved - financially - with the other merchants. Following this, a couple of guards came into our room and asked Bold to come with them. Note, he didn;t actually have a real passport, at least, we didn’t think he did, so this was quite shady. An immigration official came through the train to return our passports to us. It seemed we were clear to leave the Russian Federation. Eventually, Bold returned. We thought all was fine as we had heard the Mongolian boarder post was much easier to go through. Boy, were we wrong. We eventually left the Russian boarder post. We slowly made our way to the actual boarder - it must have taken over a half hour. By now, it was dark and we could barely see the electrified fense that separated the two countries. The attendent instructed us to close our windows and blinds. The train continued to go slowly. Eventually, we made our way to the Mongolian border post. It seems the Mongolians are much more interested on who enters their country and with what. We had to fill out health declarations. Several Mongolian military officials walked down the train passageways before an immigration official came to us. The official took our passports. We were a bit worried as we did not have a visa becauase the Mongolian Embassy in the US told us that American citizens are not required to have visas for tourist purposes. She flipped through the pages several times, apparently looking for a visa. Eventually, she stamped our passport. Shortly after this, a masked individual walked down the train halls and sprayed the floor with what we presumed was some sort of anti-bacterial - we assumed this was for SARS. Apparently, she did not know we were comming from the north, and not the South. Bold was taken away, yet again. We thought this was going to be a similar situation as with the Russian border. It wasn’t. He came back to the train several times to get more documents. Finally, it seemed he was not going to be allowed to enter Mongolia. He came back to the room one final time, retrieved his overcoat and some more documents, talked with some of the other merchants (we thought they talked about his boy and his goods), and was taken away by the immigration officials. There was a frantic redistribution of goods - his goods were taken out of our bags and put under his bed. The train eventually pulled away from the border post. For about 2 hours, the merchants gathered their goods that they hid about the train over the past few days. Yidik (the child) eventually caught on the fact that his dad wasn’t going to come back. Let’s just say we didn’t get much sleep. And now, we are in Ulaan Baatar. Yee.