Trans-Mongolian Railway, Pt. 2

Ulaanbaator, Mongolia to Irkutsk, Russia

I left Mongolia with frozen toes and dreams of a cabin to myself.  Boarding the train for what would be a 2 night ride I found I would be sharing the cabin with two Japanese ladies on their way to Russia for business. What was cool, they spoke English and were really nice so it was fun to chat.  I thought it was going to be pretty uneventful – just eat a lot of peanuts, snicker a day and cup o noodles for lunch while reading and listening to Hootie and the Blowfish or any other music I have loaded from high school.

Little did I know the first morning, the foreigners carriage would be invaded by Mongols.  Not joking.  A bunch of Mongolian “traders” we will call them took over every empty berth and began to unload all kinds of junk.  (Shit shop type of stuff.) The three of us in our cabin were kind of sitting in shock having just woken up, trying to figure out what was going on…it all clicked when the mongolian woman unwrapped a bunch of camel wool socks and began hiding them in the curtains of our cabin window.

Smugglers.

They hid so much stuff all over the carriage, in every compartment with a foreigner they couldn’t even find it all after they made it through Russian customs. We were pointing to spots where there was a boot or fur shawl stuffed and hiding.  Boots, socks, sweaters, booze, cigarettes, hats, gloves, coats – everything you can think of they were unboxing, ripping tags off of and hiding anywhere they could.

The famous black market, which we visited, in Ulaanbaator unloaded on my train for a weekend trip to Russia.

Being ignorant of Russian and Mongolian languages, this is one of those times I played a role I play exceptionally well – I minded my own business.

That tactic worked well.  I made it into Russia and they smuggled all of their stuff without getting in trouble.  As soon as the Russian immigration control left our train and returned all of passports, the horde repacked all of the goods they smuggled, consolidated into one room and when we were joined with our train an hour later – they moved to where they had actually purchased seats.  There was a general sense of relife in the carriage at that point from the passengers and conductors.   The conductors did get a little extra cash for letting those folks dominate the car.  I might have been minding my own business but I’m still sneaky.  I witnessed the Mongolians giving the cabin ladies some cash and a carton of smokes for their trouble.

Destination – Irkutsk

 

I went to see Lake Bikal.  The largest fresh water lake in the world – because it is so deep.  I also knew this would be around Thanksgiving in the states and thought a few nights in a nice hotel and seeing a beautiful lake would be a nice way to spend a solo Thanksgiving.  It was.  Irktusk was a good town, nothing special really but comfortable. As for the lake, it was kind of like, well, you’ve seen one big lake you’ve seen them all kind of place.  Pretty, but it was a big lake.  I’m sure it is awesome in the summer or spring though when you can hike and get some nice views.  I was there at the awkward time of year when there is too much snow to hike but not enough to go on a dog sled trek or snowmobile ride.

In general though, good leg, nice scenery and Irktusk was a nice introduction to Russia and prep for part three of this epic journey.

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One Response to “Trans-Mongolian Railway, Pt. 2”

  1. Mom
    December 7, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Wow GC I would have been a bit scared with that invasion! Good job on minding your own business !

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