Train 286 to Sainshand
Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
158Trip End Mar 11, 2011
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Where I stayed
This train stops at every stop, so for more than 25 times. The whole journey takes a little more than 10 hours. There is no restaurant carriage, and no 1st class compartments. We have a private cabin with 4 berths, and our guide, Neke, is booked next door where he shares his compartment with a 65 year old doctor on his way back to Sainshand. Neke occasionally drops in to report on his adventure on the train. He has done little travel of his own, he went to China (the border) once or twice, and he went to Russia one or twice. So coming along on the train is not his usual day job, he is like a kid on a school trip. Luckily he finds some friends in another compartment with whom he can catch up. Since then we did not see that much of him anymore.
There were two bigger stops on the route through the dry Mongolian landscape. This time of year the steps and desert are brown and yellow, there is little green to be found on the hills. The sunset along the way was amazing, and the stretching fields of nothing make you think you are heading to the edge of the world. At one of the stops we get outside and buy some Russian ice creams. Of course the kids on the platform that are selling the goods from a styrofoam box tried to rip us off. At first we the ice cream was 1000 tugrik, then one kid said to the other, ask 3000, The other one probably thought this was a bit too much, but suddenly the price went to 1300 tugrik. Ah well, the little hustlers try to make a living.
It is getting warmer outside and the air is dry, you can feel that we have entered the desert. The trip gave us an opportunity to read a bit and catch up on writing. And we expected a quiet day of travels. It all seemed that way, until we reached the station of Sainshand at 8pm in the evening.
We were picked up by a driver in a 4x4 minivan, and we first set off to a grocery store to get some supplies for the ger camp. When we came out Neke had a 'suprise' for us. He told us that he was going to drive the minivan himself to get some more driving experience. We both were a bit surprised and quickly noticed that he needed a lot more driving experience as he was not comfortable at all driving the 4x4 minivan. We slowly went on our way in to town where we first had to pick up a lady that would do the cooking at the ger camp. Continuing our way, one of the roads was closed off and Neke had to find another way to more known territories, It was truly a bit frighting as the roads were no more than dirt tracks with big hills, gaps and stones the size of trash cans. There was no other light outside than the beam of the headlights. We almost crashed into a wall while Neke reversed to make yet another U turn, and the engine stalled every other minute because he forgot to change gears.
After a long and bumpy ride we finally reached our camp site. We had no appetite for dinner as it was already ten o'clock and we both were exhausted and slightly aggregated from the travel and the driving experience. We were a bit upset with Neke taking chances and driving himself with the little experience that he had, but later he confessed that the driver ran off to some kind of emergency with his wife and he was left no option but to drive us himself. So in a way Neke saved the day.
Our ger is even more basic than the one in Ulaanbataar, and I think we have reached the bottom of our comfort level. We are the only visitors in the camp, and we occupy one of the only two gers at the far east side of the service building / dining hall. Tomorrow we will where we have landed, as it is pitch black outside. For some reason we are glad we only stay for 2 nights, and not the initial 3 that were planned. The ger has two beds, a water basin, a heater, a small side table and two plastic crutches. The fire is fueled by indigenous Gobi tree, and Gobi shit. Yes camel droppings or others of some sorts. There is no power, so our light comes from two battery powered led lights provided by the camp and a little led light that my mother gave to Linda. Thanks Mom!.
The ger owner, named Bemba, lighted the fire and in no time the ger was as hot as a Turkish sauna again. This time the chimney was glowing red. So we knew what to do, open the door and wait. Luckily this desert fuel burns quickly, so within thirty minutes the ger was livable again. To escape the heat we went outside, here we saw the amazing night sky, millions of stars and the complete milky-way belt. Breathtaking and so making it worth the journey to this middle of nowhere.
Tired and far away from civilization we turn to bed, which of course is a tad too short for me.