A Travellerspoint blog

April 2007

Women in Uniform

UB to Irkutsk. . .two nights on a train

sunny 4 °C
View Overland to Europe on adamandmeg's travel map.

Sdrasvuyte Comrades (bloody hell this language is tough!),

Again, it feels like so many things have happened since we emailed last. Our last couple of days in Mongolia were great. We returned from our Gobi trip so excited and on a big high with another seven days to kill. We finally managed to go to Dave's Place which is a popular watering hole for expats, locals and travellers. We caught up with Tim (Stephen's cousin) and had a disgracefully huge night. Dave played host a bit too well and there were plenty of free beers and people to chat to. If you find yourself in the capital, get down to Dave's Place - it is easy to find, introduce yourself to Dave and have a great night in. Thanks Dave, thanks Tim. We met a lot of English teachers which reignited our job hunt a little. . are we too lazy to find jobs? Maybe. . . .

Anyway, we finished at Dave's at about 2am (hostel curfew was 12. . oops). I was not wearing a watch so could not be held responsible under any circumstances. To get back we had to climb a fence and then wake up some poor guy to let us in. Very shameful . . but not as bad as the hangovers!! We were meant to head to Terelj National Park that day but we had to postpone. Anyway, when we finally did get to Terelj it was worth the effort. It is pretty touristy because of its proximity to Ulaan Baatar but very beautiful. We camped (yep, bloody freezing, complete madness, got snowed on, loved it) and went horseriding on very angry Mongolian horses. Great fun and beautiful scenery. Tips for young players - don't camp on frozen ground. It is bad for tent pegs and it is quite chilly.

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Terelj Campsite

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Visitors at Terelj

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Horse Riding

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Cold morning

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Megs at Terelj

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Our feet

We returned to UB spent one more night mentally preparing ourselves for two nights on the train and a ridiculously long border crossing. It all turned out well - the train was not full and we had a cabin to ourselves. Of course this turned into the foreigners party cabin but that was ok. We did get told to stop drinking vodka by one of the scary officials, luckily by that stage we had already polished off the bottle so it was of no consequence.

The border crossing was an epic though. We arrived at the border at about 4 in the morning. Nothing happened. . .at all. . .for six hours. . .we just stayed in bed. At about 10am we did 3 minutes of standard paperwork and left. Then we chugged along for 40 minutes . . .and then stopped for another 5 hours. This is where thousands of women in uniform (scary women in uniform!!) searched all of the train for smuggled goods. Difficult to find though, because those smuggling just redistribute their stores so they don't pay any duty or taxes. Just before the check they were madly rushing around stashing vodka, sandals, fresh produce and everything else you can imagine in other cabins, in the rubbish bin, in the toilets, everywhere. It was hilarious. Adam smuggled some sandals, the evil international man of smuggling mystery. After the search we could get off the train (which was mysteriously only two carriages - we still don't know where the other carriages went!). Our train was joined to two carriages of a prison train - cool. . .we were thinking it might pan out like ConAir or the more popular title "Con Train". Nothing happened.

We arrived in Irkutsk two days later very excited to be in Russia - it was so very different to Mongolia the minute we crossed the border which was great. We felt like we were in Mission Impossible or a James Bond movie . . this is why:

We met our host, Jack, at the train station. He said 'I am Jack, velcome to Siberia. Ve catch the tram'. Then he ignored us on the tram and we thought cool, we are under cover. When we arrived at the poorly signposted pink door of the hostel he said 'You must find Olga. She is at the Angara Hotel. You must see her in the morning. I don't know vat she does. You must pay 200 roubles. Good luck.'

We found Olga, paid her 200 roubles. . .and got our visas registered. Then our message self destructed.

Ok, there are some editorial embellishments in there but that is pretty much how it went. How cool is Russia??

We spent one night in Irkutsk and then headed out to Lake Baikal for two days. It is a beautiful part of the world and it was very exciting to see all of that ice!! As Australians we spent most of our time just looking at the ice, then looking a bit more. After a couple of false starts with the local tourist information agency, we found a winner. We stayed in a really cool little cabin owned by Vasili, who was a cool old Russian bloke who spoke no English. We did some walking and relaxing and took heaps of photos of you guessed it . . .the ice!

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Vasili's Place

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Lake Baikal

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Approaching Storm at Listvyanka - Lake Baikal

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Sunshine - same day

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Crow on frozen Lake Baikal

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Sunset Lake Baikal

We returned to Irkutsk a little tired and maybe a bit hungover (only a little bit) and were thinking that a good sleep would be ideal. But we got talking to a fabulous Aussie fella called Ben who suggested we head out for something to eat. . . .and drink. Next thing we know we are drinking with a couple of locals Vadim and Sergei (Sergei was the dark silent mafia type) and had polished off three quick beers before we knew it. Cured the hangovers that's for sure. Strange place these markets. . .the first time we went there a drunk old bloke stood next to me and after a few suggestive glances and a pat or two on the arm, emptied out his pockets of some serious (but not enough!!) cash hoping to rent or purchase. We moved on pretty quickly.

So ends our Irkutsk adventure. We are heading to Krasnoyarsk, home of Russia's satellite fleet (Adam is a nerd), and a place that Ben informed us is the arse end of the world. Excellent, the time should fly!!!

Posted by adamandmeg 21:07 Archived in Russia Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

It's a Wide Open Road, It's a Wide Open Road...

Gobi One Kenobi

semi-overcast 0 °C
View Overland to Europe on adamandmeg's travel map.

Sain Bainuu Friends,

It feels like so much has happened in the last ten days and we feel worlds away. We are only two hours behind Australia (same day Annie!!) . . . .

Happy Birthday Mum Evans!!

We pick up the wacky Adam and Meg adventure on our last day in Beijing. We checked out of the hostel very early and headed to the railway station to begin our Trans Siberian / Trans Mongolian adventure. Apart from our flights to Bangkok back in January this was the only part of our journey that was already booked. We were so excited . . .partly because it is one of the world's most famous rail journeys and partly because we had found our way to Beijing, in one piece with our marriage intact. . .haha . . .AND in time for the train!!!

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Train #23 - Beijing to Ulaan Baatar

We were ushered into a very flash waiting room fully equipped with chandeliers and comfy chairs and heating. Life was good. We boarded the train and met our room buddies - a British guy and a girl from Hong Kong. Both lovely people, it was fantastic.

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Train Buddies - Frans and Craig

The trip went relatively quickly except for the border crossing. Due to the different rail gauge in Mongolia we had to change the bogeys which involved jacking the train carriages up one at a time, sliding out the Chinese ones and replacing them with Mongolian / Russian ones. All on trusty "Made - in - China heavy engineering equipment" It was a very strange experience. Of course this, plus customs and immigration happened at about 2am - very convenient. Adam had a small scare when the Female Customs officer (or dominatrix, we were not sure about the uniform), ordered him to "Look at me" (In a real Russian / Mongolian accent). Close call - thanks to the new improved long hair and beard.

We arrived in Ulaan Baatar with a guesthouse room already booked and they were there to meet us at the station. It was so cold and there was a little bit of snow falling. UB (as we like to call it) is a strange city that feels a little unfinished - perhaps leftover from the old Soviet days. It is not unusual to see a very modern well dressed person next to someone else in traditional garb. Anything goes and everyone is welcome. However organised crime and small time pickpockets are a real threat. . .more on that later . . .

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Sukkbataar Square - Ulaan Baatar

The guesthouse is great, warm and cosy and perhaps a little small given the amount of travelling traffic - it is very popular.

We decided to take a seven day trip to the Gobi Desert that was organised through the guesthouse. We were so glad because IT WAS THE GREATEST THING EVER!!!!!! We went with two other couples from Holland and Finland in an old Russian four wheel drive van with a local driver.

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You can buy these vans for about AUS $5000 brand new!!

Nearly every night we stayed with families in their gers which are traditional round tenty teepee kinda things with a stove in the middle. A stove that is fuelled with neat little dried bundles of poo (all kinds... we find Camel works the best).

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On the first day Adam and I were ready early (we are nerds when it comes to punctuality), the Dutch couple, Marianne and Louwrens, were on time . . .but Finland were late . . .this was to be a common theme throughout the trip. Jonah (appropriately pronounced "Yawner" from Finland) was worried about how his guitar would travel in the back of the van which held up proceedings somewhat. Meaghan's hot tip for young players - if you are that worried, don't take it. We were thinking at this early stage, "Cool, he must be really good on guitar". Team, we were so wrong. Even Megs could play better than him . . .say no more. It did not stop him from entertaining us every night even when we were listening to other music. But when the world revolves around you, that's cool . . .Marianne and Louwrens on the other hand were fantastic company. We had so much fun and plenty of laughs.

On the first night, we stayed with a family who were still in their winter camp amongst some beautiful rock formations. All of the families are nomadic so occasionally the driver, Mischka, had to drive around looking for them. This particular family owned about 125 goats, some sheep and a few cows. It was baby animal heaven for Meaghan!! So much better that the Animal Nursery at the Melbourne Show because we didn't have to share them with any little kids. In the morning, they let the goats out to graze but the little ones have to go back into the pen. Minde (our lovely host) told me to catch them. That is quite a difficult job, all on video of course. Megs caught three or four but we are sure the grandmother bagged more that we all did. . .so who is counting anyway?

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The next night was in a very small town and we stayed in the Police Station. The sunset was amazing and the little kids were gorgeous.

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Now is probably a good time to mention the local cuisine . . .We ate with the families almost every night which was an experience. The Mongolian diet mainly consists of meat and other animal products. On our trip we consumed camel's milk, goat's milk, sheep's milk, goat, cow, camel and a sheep's head (a local delicacy, not really our thing but very cool, probably won't order it in a restaurant). The food was good . . . . and terrible, but great fun.

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The third night (by now pretty sick of mutton... and guitar) was spent in a relatively large town called Dalanzagad (we called it D-Town, much easier to spell) which you should be able to find on a map of Mongolia. We managed to restock our vodka supplies and we had a shower at the public shower block. Jonah wanted to smell like the desert (???) so he declined, and didn't resupply on vodka but drank ours instead. . . .great idea if you are travelling on a budget. . . . brilliant . . . .

The next day was truly amazing. We travelled to a place called Ice Valley which pretty much explains it. It was a really narrow valley with thick ice all the way up as well as a frozen waterfall.

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By the way, Australians cannot walk on ice - we can ice skate, snowboard and ski but we cannot walk on ice. We were slippin' and slidin' all over the place and I was honestly surprised that we didn't hurt ourselves. That night we stayed with a family right next to huge sand dunes which was really beautiful. We ate crunchy cow (it gets sand in it when they dry it!) cooked in goat fat with rice . . yummy. Annie, for the record, not all Mogolian food comes out on a sizzling platter! It was baby animal heaven yet again with very friendly goats and dogs all of which tried to get into the ger at one stage or another. If it was up to Megs, she would have let them all in!

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The next morning, we woke up early to go for a walk on the sand dunes. One of the dogs came with us which was so lovely.

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The dunes were amazing, we couldn't stop taking photos and more photos, bless digital cameras . . .

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When we were all packed and ready to leave, we realised that Jonah was off in the dunes playing guitar to the desert (We hope the desert enjoyed it more than us) so we were late . . . again.

That night we stayed with another family and we rode camels. It was very tame (Godverdama (spelling?) - this means godammit in Dutch!) but fun all the same. The next day we did some goat herding for the family and had to catch all of the babies again. One baby sheep was particularly tough but Adam did a flying footy tackle and grabbed it! So Aussie, Megs was very proud . . .

The last night was with another family who had beautiful baby goats, I have to get me one of those!!! The scenery was spectacular and the sky was really amazing. More photos of course. . . . .

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Anyway, the next day we returned to Ulaan Baatar very dirty, a little wiser and hungry for something that didn't taste like goat! We went out for pizza with Marianne and Louwrens and talked about the tough old days back in the Gobi - goat herding, path finding, four wheel driving and big sky country.

It was an amazing experience and a great time to go - it is not yet tourist season and we saw no other tourists for the whole week. There was still a bit of snow here and there but the weather was amazing every single day. If you ever come to Mongolia, you HAVE to do this trip.

So here we are, back in UB. We are heading out to Terelj National Park tomorrow for some camping and maybe horse riding. The city is pretty cool but we had a guy go for Adam's wallet today in broad daylight on the main street - travellers beware! We grabbed him before he got anything (it was a tough pocket) and gave him a scare but there is plenty more where that came from. All that aside, we still love Mongolia and will come back one day.

We head to Irkutsk, Russia, on the 16th of April. Of course we are on the local train so it takes 36 hours. That is two nights in a confined space - we are going to go insane! We will be on the train for Peta's birthday.

Posted by adamandmeg 00:33 Archived in Mongolia Comments (6)

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