08.09.2015 - 09.09.2015
First train ride,
The crew were eagerly awaiting this ride. In effect it was a major point of being on the trip, so curiosity and optimism was at a peak. Naively so, some would argue. That discussion will be open until we complete our 4 night stint on the train. For the moment, we were looking forward to see what lies beyond the Great wall.
Our Chinese Honcho, Sendy, she of the fast pace, escorted us to the station in her usual blistering pace. This was one of those situations where the phrase 'hurry up and wait' was apt. Ducklings assembled, Sendy gave our last minute instructions regarding train carriages and what not. With a few obligatory photos and time for some last minute fags, the train lumbered away and Beijing receded into the distance like a middle age hair line.
Our carriage, staffed by two Chinese, one a clear apprentice to his gruff master were quite the odd couple. More on that later. We explored our train and having located the meal carriage settled in for an early afternoon of drinking. A few rounds of beers, turned into a few bottles of red. Which thankfully didn't turn into a few cases of Vodka. To whittle away the time, during our conversation of story swapping, I set my mind to peeling of a wine bottle label. All in the name of a cheap keepsake. Cheapskate, it would appear I am. This label was stuck faster than a Russian dog with a bottle of Apu water in his mouth. It took literally 4 and a half hours. After stumbling down the train to give Hayley the label, the stumbling being a result of natural train sway and unnatural impurities coursing through my veins, I returned to find the rest of the table had removed another label during that time. Bastards.
The train was similar to the Indian trains I rode back in the day, except they had the luxury of not been created out of a single sheet of tinfoil. Carpet was found in the corridor, an actual functioning toilet, as opposed to the squat numbers was also a step up, so to was the relatively spacious four bed berth. The team was split across three berths, I opted to go solo in the third expecting to be sharing with a few random individuals. This was not to be. No one had the pleasure of listening to me snore. I think even Thor would have been impressed by the rumble I have been generating these last few days. Don't be concerned reader, this was an experience that most of the crew have now enjoyed. Probably a highlight of their trips no doubt.
Mr Grumpy, the old man train warden, was at various stages completely unimpressed by our mere presence on his well maintained carriage. He kindly gave us Russian and Chinese customs cards in the language of their respective countries. We were forced to assemble an impromptu Enigma code breaking team to decipher the hieroglyphics. I was tasked with the Chinese form. After a number of hours cross referencing our Visas against the forms, breaking point had been reached. Dan and Kapil both did a recon of the rest of the train and located our version of a Skeleton Key. A single form written in English. Sweet merciful salvation had been achieved. Old man was not happy about this turn of events, Dan was given a blasting not seen since childhood once he discovered our treachery. We made the border crossing with documents all in order.
The changing of the train from Chinese gauge to Mongolian gauge was a long and laborious process. We were in lockdown for about 4 hours, or even longer as each carriage was decoupled, raised of the tracks, old wheels removed, new ones slid under, train lowered onto wider or lower (couldn't quite work it out) tracks, then reassembled into the original segmented, mechanical beast it was.
I'm currently typing this a week later. Adventures have been abounding. Diary is about 4 days behind and these posts are hastily written with a lot omitted, so apologies to anyone who may be tearing their hair out in anticipation. Have made two short videos so far, very hard to upload them due to size and connection problems.
Thanks for your comments as well everyone, I appreciate it!
Mum, my phone is out of credit so no way of contacting me except via e-mail. Even then, as you can imagine connections to the inter-web, nodes and net has been.......................disjointed. Suffice to say I am alive, safe, well, no injuries, loving every minute!
So, a few more photos. I am tired so I wont describe them.
Till next time, keep on trucking.
Actually just one photo, this connection is very slow. Will add phots maybe when we hit Moscow. Tomorrow afternoon we head there, have been in Irkutsk for 2 nights staying in a guest house on the shores of Lake Baikal. Check it out on a map. Prior to that we had 2 nights on the train again! That was a good test for our 4 night train journey to Moscow. We have learnt a few tips to make it go smoothly, fingers crossed!