Thomas and I have a arrived in Magnificent MongoliA!!!!
We left beautiful Baikal on a local bus which was an unanticipated adventure well worth having to experience a side of Russia which was very similar to my beloved Africa. The joy of squashing as many people possible into a bus. There were no animals so in that regard the Siberians failed on the exotic elements of public transport. But on a bus designed for 30 people there were another 20 people squished into the narrow walk way between the seats. There were babushkas, matrushkas, munchkins and bunchkins. The bus driver was a real Russian MAN in my eyes. Tall, broad, blond, rough around the edges and very serious looking. Would have been an ideal character in a Russian Mafia movie...and of course he was as gentle as teddy bear. He had his son on the bus with him who was mini-him and the love and affection he openly displayed to this young fellah was touching! On the 70km drive to Irkutsk we took about 2 hours, struggled up the hills and picked up and dropped off a number of characters large and small. There was a babushka who thought my hair was very interesting and she pointed at it and made comments then pointed again smiled, smirked, spoke more then left the bus. I'm not sure if I made a positive impression or not:)
At the train station we had a 2 hour wait for Train 362(I think) and I spent the first part blown away by the multitude of characters surrounding me. There were so many faces around me, each face telling a different story, each on their own journey. Old faces etched with wrinkles, young faces with curious eyes, men in suits, boys in in uniforms, women in scarves and little girls in pink. There were two snow white dogs pulling at their leashes wanting to break free and play. SO majestic was their fur and generous their gazes. I smiled at those who curiously tried to figure me out and received smiles abundant in return. I accidentally blocked the main entrance and received disapproving looks for my lack of understanding of the train-station traffic. We then found a cafe, indulged in home made cranberry juice and continued our backgammon championship, which I am happy to report I am now dominating by a long shot!!!!
The train ride was 38 hours long and we shared our cabin with a dutch lass and a Russian Senorita! Very nice and friendly people on their journey from Moscow to China too. We had a troupe of Fussy French traveling in our carriage and their passion for order became the inside joke. About half and hour before and after each stop the carriage attendant locks the toilets and this was not popular because there were a few stops and lots of busting elderly french ladies. They were highly optimistic and would return to see if the toilet had been unlocked every 5 minutes then ramble on about how annoying it was that the toilet was locked. This phenomena became more and more common during the journey and we were able to giggle and laugh regularly at their expense. We also had some interesting American Characters next door who were in Russia visiting the Republic of Tuva developing and learning new technics of throat singing. The Tuvaens, I was told by our Russian roomie, are all thugs and alcoholics, And then I was told by the American, that the opinion the Russians hold of the tuvaens is similar to the that, that the average American holds of the Native Americans, The average Ozzie of the Aboriginal people, the average Norwegian of the Sami etc...Interesting that world wide we have such commonalities!
The train journey was super and the second last I will share with Thomas. The one frustration I have had and has become more and more an issue as the trip goes on is that of toilet paper. The toilets have been fine, I have managed to go to the loo once a day since the beginning of the trip and for that I am eternally grateful. Since entering Russia however there has been a decline in the quality of Toilet paper. Now this is not good because for those of you that do not know this, toilet paper is one of my great soft spots! I like to be able to clean my bits with paper that does not resemble in anyway sandpaper...I am of course humble enough to not carry my own soft, thick, bleached white toilet paper where ever i go (which you should know the Queen of England does!!!) No I am generally accepting of toilet paper in places that have it but this is becoming less and less the case here in Mongolia, following from Russia! The toilet paper is just not acceptable! It doesn't absorb the liquid. It doesn't perform its duty, it doesn't function as it should, it doesn't remove liquid from my bits and for this I am falling apart. SOOOOO...from today I on I'm on a hunt for toilet paper that absorbs and i will no longer be humble or modest and will take on an arrogant stance that if non absorbent toilet paper is not available I will carry my own!!! Earlier today on the hunt for a toilet though my theory was disturbed a little because i used the toilet and discovered there wasn't any toilet paper at all...so now have decided that although non-absorbent-toilet paper is not ideal and by no means comfortable and functional, it is better than no toilet paper at all!
Mongolia!!!! Last night at about 10pm we crossed the boarder to Mongolia. The process started around 1pm when we arrived at Naushki. There were 3 hours spent changing the locomotive to Mongolian style. Then 2 hours spent with customs and immigration officials. then we went to the Mongolian side and had an hour or two waiting for customs and immigration officials then a couple of hours wandering the Mongolian train station (where Thomas and I ate Dumplings) And I got a bad deal when changing money...lost 3 euro...which was not too much of a dilemma really.... but the dumplings were great!!!!! We also had our first intro the the beautiful Mongolian people. They are in my opinion very aesthetically beautiful! The journey from the Mongolian train station to Ulaan Baatar was my first introduction to the open plains and rolling hills, herds of horses, and random girts scattered about the place. There was a full moon last night and at about 1am when everyone was a sleep and no one about, not even a mouse. I crept to the back of the carriage (we were at the end) and absorbed the country side by moonlight. There was a blanket of fog on the plains and the colours were magical! I thought of many people back there and sent you all love and good vibrations. I was also tempted to howl at the moon but did not think the carriage attendants would appreciate been woken up by a mad Mohican wearing a blanket at the end of the carriage.
The morning brought us to UB and both of us are a bit buggered today. The heat is present and being good tourists hasn't entered our program yet. Thomas has just headed back to the room to have a siesta and I think I shall join him shortly.
Before that however I must share that I have recently started listening to the Love poems of Rumi and am in love with Rumi. I seem to be falling in love left right and centre on this trip and now Rumi has stolen my heart. I have an album on my ipod which came up on random and it's content are poems read by different celebrities and Deepak Chopra. I spent a couple of hours transcribing some of them yesterday and want to share.
I am and I am not.
I'm drenched in the flood
that is yet to come,
I'm tied up in the prison
that is yet to exist,
Not having played the game of chess,
I'm already the checked mate.
Not having tasted a single cup of your wine,
I'm already drunk.
Not having entered the battlefield,
I'm already wounded and flayed.
I no longer know the difference
between image and reality.
Like the shadow,
I am and I am not.
I have to pee now so cannot share more....there was one line from another poem that was lovely: Close the door on language and open the window of love!
Anyways...until next time! Keep spreading the love!