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Saturday
Aug272005

Trans-Mongolian railway

We just rolled up to a stop for thirty minutes and a ten year old boy ran up to our carriage and showed us an empty water bottle and gestured to us to throw down our empty bottles. After a day and a half on the train we had a few, then he lifted up his shirt and rubbed his belly. No child should ever have to be hungry. We threw him all our food left, which consisted of a bunch of chocolate and chips and an apple and an orange. He stuffed them all in straight away, blew kisses and gave us thumbs up, then danced around a bit.

So... what has happened in the last two days? Leaving Itkursk for the trans-Mongolian is a rough trip, with all the bends and bridges and tunnels. Descending from the rift there is a lot of downhill rail, which we took at breakneck speed during the night. I kept on having falling dreams (such as a lift cable snapping) due to the sensation, but by and large it was pleasant.

The train stations we passed through had the usual Russian announcements given loudspeaker military style, but for some reason they also kept on playing a tune like an ice-cream van, vaguely similar to "we wish you a merry Christmas". Combined with the obscure clicks, whistles and grinding of addition and subtraction of carriages, it made for a sleepless night.

No problem, because today was the most boring of the trip. We didn't even travel much, because we had a five hour wait at the Russian customs, followed by a 20 minute ride past an electric fence, two tanks and a machine gun tower, then a three hour wait at Mongolian customs. This was made tough by the rule of no toilets being open while the train is stopped.

Karen was left behind on the platform for ten minutes, but managed to get back, which was very funny. She told us about the history of Mongolia, starting with Chingis, then to the breakdown of the Mongolian empire, Chinese rule, Soviet rule, and the current democratically elected Communist government.

I spent almost the entire day in bed. Just thinking, and reading Pushkin's Talkes of Belkin and other prose writing.

As we rolled through Mongolia we came to green verdant pastures, filled with horses and gers (40% of Mongolians are still nomadic) until a storm rolled in and I watched lightning and listened to the thunder roll over the Mongolian steppe. Sunset was magnificent.

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