Train 362, a long wait
Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
158Trip End Mar 11, 2011
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Where I stayed
After breakfast we did some internet things in the same cafe as yesterday evening. We first ran into the older Australian couple who just arrived at Irkutsk today and staying at the same hotel as us. Then later, we ran into the younger Australian couple who were staying at a hotel around the bus station. They came to the hotel to buy stamps, as this hotel also has a post office.
Just like the day before we were smoked out of our strategic position by Russians lighting up every five minutes, so we headed out into town to get some dinner and groceries
After the market we stopped by a place that Lena recommended the day before, to have some local food. The menu was of course all in Russian, so we could not make out a single thing. But the waitresses spoke some English and where very helpful, so we managed to order a nice meal before we have to live on cup noodles and cookies on the train.
Back at the hotel we had a nice long shower and freshened up for our two day train ride to Mongolia. Our transport was right on time and brought us as far as the carriage. This train, number 362 does not have any first class carriages nor a dining cart. So we were booked in a second class carriage holding all four berths. The train was kind of modern compared to the number 2. The beds were certainly more comfortable. There was some sort of LCD TV on the wall, not that it worked, but anyways. The storage compartments were cleverly tucked away in every little corner.
We settled in, chatted a bit with our neighbor, a Belgium backpacker, and prepared for bed
We had a relatively good night of sleep on the train. The beds were better than the ones on number 2, a bit wider and a bit longer. But this one makes a lot of stops as it is some kind of a local train. We have about 8 stops listed in the handbook that monkey shrine gave to us, but under that there is the notice 'about 50 stops of 2 minutes or less are not listed'. So around 60 stops to bring us from Irkutsk to Unlaanbataar.
The carriage is filled with backpacking kids doing their high fashion must do travels, to be hip and cool. They might consider going back to school as they clearly need some more education. It takes them most of the day to decipher the train schedule and figure out how to fill in Russian customs declarations.
Around one o'clock local time we reach the Russian border town. This would be a long long stop as for some reason Russian immigrations take a long time to process the train. We are asked to leave the train as the conductors need to 'rest' so we are stranded on the station for two and a half hours. The book mentioned a market on the south side of the station, so we checked that out
On our way back to the platform we saw a little cafe where we secured some cold beers. In Irkutsk we bought some nice sausage snacks to go with those. We found a bench on the platform on which we camped out for the coming two hours. One of the backpacking geniuses asked us where we found cold beers, so we explained to them that there was a cafe at the station. When she came back, she was only holding a bottle of water though, she probably did not get it that she would have to ask the lady behind the counter for some cold brewsky.
On the platform there were some people traveling with push bikes that were having a break. In the mean time our train had reduced to just our carriage. The rest of it was disconnected and moved away. Even the engine was gone, just one lonely carriage on the Russian border. After two and a half hours on the platform, staring at our lonely single carriage train, and enjoying our beers with snacks, we could finally get back in to out carriage. Only to wait for another two hours or more for the officials to finalize the checks. We were accompanied by an older Siberian couple in our compartment. The conductress asked if she could have them in ours as there was no space left on the train
Finally we moved on, and the train crawled onwards across the Russian-Mongolian border. We passed the signs of communist Russia, the barb wire fences, guard towers, and no mans land. The train stopped at the Mongolian border site and was formally saluted by the border guards. Again the train was inspected and our passports were inspected with great precision. And after another four hours we were finally on our way to Ulaanbataar. The whole crossing took more than ten hours. Think about this when you are in the 30 minute line at the airport, it could be worse.