Monday 9th July Train to Mongolia

Irkutsk Travel Blog

 › entry 11 of 15 › view all entries
After an almost sleepless night, in which David got attacked but the man eating toilet, snapping shut at a most inappropriate time, the he couldn’t get the top sheet to unfold so in disgust threw it across the room. It then unravelled to reveal a huge hole in it centre, like a giant pocket. Hysteria made us both weep and it was just another thing or quirk about hotels in Russia. Got the wake up call a few short hours later. Stumbled down to the lobby at 4am where a bright a chirpy Sergiè was waiting to put my bags on the bus. A new person told us to hurry to the restaurant for some sort of breakfast, I was so groggy I never questioned his identity. We had time to throw down an omelette before being herded onto the bus. No Coffee for me 
David and I get Sergiè a city rail beanie for his excellent road skills and he ran up to me later whilst I was waiting for the train to get a platform, and gave me a fur lined leather taxi hat. Very swish. I was just delighted, but sad that he gave me something that he could not afford to give. I would love to have had the language to tell him why I wanted to refuse, but I took it and wore it for the next few hours. I will wear it to work on the cold and windy days in Sydney. As we moved down the marble stairs to the platforms Jim, took a tumbled down those stars with all his luggage. He was bruised but no seriously hurt, thank goodness.
Ross and David are sick now and both have chosen a bad time to be sick. We have a 7 to 11 hours border crossing ahead.

David found an opening window and he spent the afternoon fending off others to take unsullied pictures of Lake Baikal. The Window is old and after a few times it stayed down. The conductress became very agitated and tried many times herself to get the stubborn thing up. She even called the maintenance man who totally failed to fix it. We now have a permanent source of air YAY!

Arrived at the border, where a lot of hard faced but very cute customs officials (Both sexes) collected out passports. In Russia, when you enter, you get a two part entry/exit paper. You have fill out both parts upon entry and as you pass through passport control, they return the exit part which you MUST keep at all times with your passport and produce at every hotel you stay at. Heaven forbid that you lose this as the number at the top has to match the entry one on file. All this of course is not explained to you when you enter the country. I have learnt that Russians will NOT offer extra info. If you want to know something, you have to ask. Like “Can I store my luggage?” “Yes you can”. “Where do I go to store my luggage?” “Third door on the right” You return after 2 days and get your luggage. “There is a fee to pay” “You never mentioned fees!” “There is a fee you must pay” and so on.
The Customs official took the passports away and we were free to roam the station and local town near the station. The train carriages were sitting in the afternoon sun, and the air-con only functions when the train is moving. The Russian side of the border was to take around 5 hours and they kept our passports for around 4 of those hours. The customs officials ordered us onto the train to give us our passports and we were now stuck on the hot train. There was a thermometer installed in the train but some evil bastard and the inside near the doors was 30oC, there were no toilets available during this time. The train was searched inside and out, a man even walking along the roof to look into the hot water heater pipes.
Customs looked over my declared items and shook their head. I explained that to get into Australia, you had to declare Rabbit hats and anything made of animal or food products. He crossed them out and stamped my form.
It was another hour before the train moved; it lurched into no-man’s land and in 5 minutes stopped. By this time, the inside temperature was now above 32oC. Everyone was griping and complaining as it was so very sweaty. It is now after midnight. We arrived at 6pm.
The Customs from we got from the Mongolian Authorities was in Russian with NO English at all. David and I worked out the first three questions, but had no idea what the rest was about. There was a Russian national who spoke fluent English and we begged him to translate the form. We were all standing in the corridor; hanging on this guy’s every word. Those of us who were close enough to hear him had to walk through the carriage and make sure the others understood what they were signing. Like a market really with yelling up and down. I hunted this man down later and gave him a beanie. He didn’t have to help but he did. The next station was the border town and the arrival cards were handed out. These thank goodness were in Mongolian and English. Continued tomorrow...

The Mongol customs were nicer and more efficient than the Russians. They got us going after only two hours. We were NOT allowed off the train though and this was upsetting as the temperature hadn’t dropped by much. (28oC) The conductress took pity on us and as long as we were quiet she would have the outside door open. She is not allowed to do this as we could escape. The train is supposed to be shut tight. This system worked well with a few of us gathered in the vestibule UNTIL a loud mouthed man came and wouldn’t shut up. The conductress saw this as a breach of conditions and shut the door and went to sit down. I could have killed this man. I stripped off as much a possible in a communal environment and tried to sleep.
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photo by: cimtech