26 Dec 2005
|10248km from Hong Kong.
I returned to a cabin full of sleeping people and realised that there was no way that they had a confirmed seat in that compartment as there were 3 of them (it was hard to tell throughout the day with all the comings and goings) and there had been only two beds free when they got on. They must have done a deal with the cabin attendant. I had a big urge to turn the lights on and off as they had during the previous night but I restrained myself. I shouldn't have bothered as at about 3 or 4am they were all up again frantically shuffling goods, one guy was sorting socks out of a very noisy plastic bag inches from my head. I knew that they didn't speak any English but nevertheless had to give them a full tirade of abuse and a serious lesson in English swearing, I think they got the point as it went quiet(er) and they then started their sorting out in the corridor. Needless to say we were soon at a station (Omsk) and they were off on another selling jamboree. The sales trip ended with the usual money counting and redistribution of goods.
This time when I got up at 8:30 (my time) I didn't give any concession to them and was in and out of the cabin making coffee and noodles, unfortunately my bread had gone mouldy by then.
A couple of times I'd heard a young girl further down the carriage trying to teach her little sister (they were 9 and 4) to speak English and think she was trying to get her courage up to try it on me. She walked past to the toilets and quickly said "good morning", when she came back I had a little chat with her, her name has Lindy and she was learning English at Grammar school in Ulaan Bataar. Later on I had a smiling competition with the younger one and they became my only friends in the carriage.
Basically all of the Mongolians were a pain to me and an inconvenience to my holiday and I was an inconvenience to their business. Earlier on Lee and Rochelle had invited me to come and move to their compartment but a combination of stubbornness, not wanting to be intimidated out of my own cabin which I had probably paid more for than the other 3 combined, and not wanting to inconvenience Lee and Rochelle stopped me taking the offer up. After spending most of the day down in their compartment, every time I went back to my own I felt that it had been taken over that little bit more until at one market stop I swallowed my pride, gave up and moved all of my stuff out of there and down to the only sanctuary I had on the train.
The Yeketeringburg stop was possibly the craziest of all the stops. As the train pulled into the station there were police cordons keeping potential buyers off the platform and away from the sellers. Even before the train had stopped the sellers were jumping off the train, around the cordon and to the buyers from the other direction. There was lots of pushing and shoving going on and I really hoped that my lot wouldn't be able to get back on the train but, alas, as the train was pulling off they all managed to scramble back on.
A few hours before Y'burg we had officially passed out of Siberia and soon afterwards we passed the obolisk that denotes the border between Asia and Europe, why there I have no idea as there is no ridge or any other geographical feature of note. To be honest Siberia is visually interesting for about half an hour, probably more so in winter when it is just an expanse of snow all the way from Lake Baikal. I took very few photographs and one or two movie clips. I'm not sure how cold it got, the lowest we saw on a station thermometer was minus 23 but that was evening so it must have got colder. I was restricted to smoking in the end of the carriage which only had single glazed windows and no heating. This opened into the connection between carriages which was usually blowing a gale, full of snow and extremely cold. During one night the temperature on my thermometer was -15 when I was having a cigarette. I often made the mistake of going to the toilet in my carriage and then back to L&Rs carriage (as the toilet was closer) but having washed my hands and not dried them at least once I got my hand stuck briefly to the metal door handle.
Having now finally rid myself of the Mongolian traders the final night passed peacefully and with my first good sleep of the trip. The next day was basically just waiting to arrive in Moscow and counting down the kilometre markers. The nearer we got the hotter the compartment became, I think they must have a coal allowance for the samovar and hadn't used it all up, it got up to 35C which is uncomfortable especially when you have to start putting thermals and big coats on ready to get off.
Overall the Trans Mongolian was an adventure for me if not the most enjoyable or comfortable journey of my life at least I have many war stories from it. I have to give a huge thanks to Lee and Rochelle for providing me with a sanctuary from the chaos and making the trip bearable.