Ulaanbataar

The Ger Camp

Moleskine Entry: April 19th, 2011

Writing this today sat in a traditional Mongolian Ger tent, there’s a fire stove burning and the group next to me are learning how to play a game involving the ankle bones from a goat.

Perfect.

We arrived into Mongolia’s capital early yesterday morning and boy was a it ever a long day – in the best of ways.

First, after the SIX HOURS it took to cross the border, we arrived in Ulaanbataar (UB) with relative ease. We switched over to local time (which is probably still messing with our heads) and disembarked.

Our Honcho, a mad, mad woman called Odka – “Like Vodka! But no V!” she exclaimed – greeted us and drove us into town.

Things of note

  • 24hr banking in UB is a work of genius. The only caveat being that you have to knock on the door of the bank until the teller wakes up! Also, once inside, be ready to manoeuvre [quietly] around snoring cashiers.
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  • Mongolian people are awesome. Friendly, smiley and very, very hospitable. We kind of came to expect this given the warm reception we had from our fellow travellers en route but, here in their home-country, the kindness of the locals really shines.
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  • California Bar for breakfast? Our first non-Siberian/non-ready-made meal for over a week? Oh go on then. Classy, I know.
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  • General traffic-based mayhem (I may have video of this knocking around somewhere).
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  • Occasional bullet holes.

Overall, this city is cool. The mad, mad, mad culture clash of eastern tradition and western aspiration has created a truly remarkable vibe.

Between then and now much has happened but dinner is nearly ready and I have to go. There’s still so much to catch up on but I’ll have to save all that for later.

Tonight, we sleep under the stars.

Lighting the stove
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2011-08-29-1636

Toga! Toga! Toga!

Moleskine Entry: April 17th, 2011

Today is Sunday. Last night we threw a fancy dress part and everyone got involved (well, everyone we knew anyway).

— Indian Ben | Toga James —

This was, as you can imagine, quite amusing for the Mongolian smugglers traders on board.

Around midnight Moscow time [4am Mongolian time] we were joined by a couple who had tickets stay in in the Tsar’s Retreat. That’s right, I now no longer have my room to myself. Boo.

The good news is, the couple seem quite cool. One Brit and his American wife. One night of sharing the cabin left ahead and then we reach Mongolia. Well, that’s not strictly true.

We’ll be arriving at Ulanbataar at some point tomorrow. We actually cross the border into Mongolia in a couple of hours. [Hilarious] Russian ticket inspectors are aboard now: two women, late 40s, wearing knee high leather boots, full make-up, bright pink liptstick and a light blue, figure-hugging uniform reminiscent of the flight attendants from the 70s. Possibly the best thing I’ve seen on the whole trip to date.

You wouldn’t believe it. I’d snap a photo if I could but I daren’t. I fear I would be taken outside and shot or worse, taken back and used as a Russian sex slave forced to do their every deed at the crack of a singular, jet-black whip.

I’m clearly still quite drunk.

And still, we’re on a train.

And still the train keeps going

Winding through the Siberian forests

Moleskine entry: April 16th, 2011

Growing up on the relatively small land mass known as the British Isles, I guess the longest single train ride you could take would be London to Edinburgh [8hrs, in December snow]. As such, you can’t really get your head around being on a train for four or five days.

It still blows my mind.

Wooden shacks and settlements pass slowly by as our track meanders around the northern border of Kazakhstan. Having been led through tree-soaked hills and over ancient oxbow lakes, the landscape is now quite barren – we are approaching Mongolia.

I slept for about ten hours last night, maybe twelve. We’re easily way ahead of Moscow time now and drinking ’til dawn is a pleasant experience. It’s 13:30 at the time of writing. The gentle clack-clack clack clack of the tracks below make an oddly comfortable sleeping companion and rest has come easy.

We’re living in two time zones.

Outside it’s 13:37.
Inside it’s 17:37.

It still blows my mind.

Christmas in Siberia

Moleskine entry: April 15th, 2011

My watch says it’s April 15th but honestly, it could be any time. Officially we’re into our second full day of train travel and, at 12:25pm Moscow time, we’re all very hungover.
Also, we’ve established a constitution:

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Which so far have fared us well. Plus, to help pass the time (between the vodka and the beer) we’ve organised different things to look forward to throughout the week.

Last night was ‘dress fancy’ night. Seven of us in total ventured down to the restaurant car for an evening dinner and, for a time, we were the only ones there.

Much merriment was had…

Oly & Me

Oly & Me. Good lad.

Later, a fairly inebriated Mongolian woman came to join us at our table and, much to our shared amusement, we soon discovered that the only the only English that she knew was in the form of Christmas carols.

On a train, somewhere in deepest Siberia, in the middle of April, singing Christmas carols… with a drunk Mongolian.

Brilliant. I don’t even have a box for that but I’m ticking it anyway.

THAT WAS ONLY DAY ONE!

Time Travel

Moleskine Entry 14/411

Moleskine entry: April 14th, 2011

Within the train, we’re on Moscow time. The timetables, dining schedule and bar opening hours are all on Moscow time.

When we get off the train however (at various stations and stops along the way), we’re suddenly on local time, which could be anything upwards of +2/3/4hrs more.

Time travel.