Time to say Good Night, sweet China
Erlian Travel Blog› entry 112 of 136 › view all entries
May 27th, 2009 – by: Kramerdude
After lunch it was time to chill. The playing cards probably made their first appearence. Drinks were had. Jack pulled out his portable speakers which became a huge hit and it was always a fight to be able to play some of "your" music live for the group from your mp3 player. I must say that for the most part everyone had good taste in music. Occasionally stepped out in the "hall" to watch the scenery. Stopped over to the berth that Efrat, Carlie, and Heidi were sharing with "Sausage" guy. Since we were 11 all together, we always had one extra spot to fill in the "kupe" (2nd class) four person berths. This time the ladies were stuck with a Mongolian returning home. When he settled into the berth he pulled out a huge hunk of sausage and a knife and set it on the table and this was his food for the trip.
From Datong the tracks shifted back to the north for the journey towards the Gobi Desert and Mongolia. The landscape became increasingly flatter and drier. It was also evident how far China still has to go in these rural areas of the country. China's cities are truly first world, but in some areas there is definitely still a second or third world feel.
Just before 8:00 PM we approached the border town of Erlian (or Erenhot) and we had a choice to make. The rail gauge in Mongolia (and Russia) is different than that of China so there is a need to change the bogies (wheels) that the carriages ride on to adjust for the different rail gauges. There are two options that one can take while this is taking place: (1) exit the carriage and wait in the station or (2) stay in the carriage and watch the operation in the shed.
The train is directed into a shed and all the carriages are decoupled. A few at a time are then released from the bogies and raised on hydraulic lifts. Then the first set of bogies are wheeled away and the new set are wheeled in and the carriage is lowered and reattached. Then the carriages are pulled out of the shed and the train is reconstituted to continue the journey. It may sound like a simple task but overall it was about a 2 hour process.
After the train was pulled back out onto the tracks we had a brief period of time to exit to the platform and use the facilities. After nearly a month these were my final steps on Chinese soil for this trip.
On the Mongolian side of the border we went through the process again. Turn in the passports fill out the customs form and have customs come through the train and check all the cabins. And here is where "Sausage" man comes into play again. Turns out our man is not only returning home, he's returning home with a case full of Chinese t-shirts obviously meant for sale. But it was nothing that a small bribe couldn't fix so he could continue on to Ulaan Bataar (UB).
Finally done with all the formalities around 1:00 AM it was time to get on the way again, this time in Mongolia. Heading for UB, but for now its time to finally get some sleep.
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