Where is the toilet paper?

Trip Start Jun 29, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Mongolia  ,
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Why is there no toilet paper when you REALLY need it? Like when you eat something sold from the side of a train and suddenly your entire bowel system needs replacing. No, it's nothing that dramatic, but toilet paper would be good.

I'm currently in Ulan Bator after 5 nights and 4 days of straight train travel. Trans Siberian, actually I lie, it was Trans Mongolian ... where do I begin?

I think everyone has the idea of the Trans Siberia being 'romantic' and 'exotic' and it is, but not in the romantic and exotic way. But anyway, this is the way the story goes.

Had a lovely last day in Moscow and succumbed to buying one of those doll-in-a-doll-in-a-doll-in-a-doll things - Im so cultured! The train was leaving at 9.35pm and I was starting to get really exited. I got to the train station, saw the train and my heart dropped a little. All the windows are really dirty and covered in dark curtains, there are four bunks in each room (thankfully I was on a bottom one).

I sat down nervously and started unpacking when a Russia man (my age but looked 30 years older) slid in with a smile full of rotting teeth. He could of course not speak English and I still hadn't picked up any Russian. We smiled, his name was Marxim and then roomy number two came in another young Russian man with a big tattoo came in his name was Andre. They both started speaking to each other in Russian and I just sat their thinking 'crap crap crap!'

It was a very stupid thing to assume, but I thought the Trans Siberia being the romantic and exotic means of passage would be crawling in like-wise travellers. No! It is full of Russians. Thankfully, there was one more person to come and she strode through the door like a saving light - her name was Magalie and she was french.

We all started trying to communicate and being friendly. The Russians insisted on breaking out the beer. Another burly Russia who could speak a few words of English added to a company and he was able to tell me that Andre thought I was 'super woman'. I promptly got out my photo of Tim and said this is my boyfriend.

That really has no meaning here.

When ever he got a chance Andre would try and kiss me or hug me despite a persistent No! In the middle of the night he fell out of bed (from the top bunk) which was funny the first time.

The next day the men woke up and drank their first beer at 7am, followed by a second and pretty much got completely wasted for the whole day. Magalie and I decided to give them the cold shoulder the next day because they were getting annoying. Andre fell out of bed again and started yelling at us in Russian and we just sat there thinking 'this is horrible!'

Luckily, it all changed after that. We met up with two other travellers on the train who had a guitar and we spent a few nights making up songs about travelling on a train. We tried to improvise and sing a string of words a random tune. It was difficult to thing anything else but 'we are on the train, have a long way to go and don't really know where we're going'. But they were awesome.

There really isn't much food on the train so my diet relied upon the locals who sold food at the station. There really is a variety of gross stuff you can eat in Russia. My favourite is the dried fish - a whole fish - with the eyes and everything left to dry. Marxim and Andrew would eat this all the time and it was disgusting. Lots of goey things, bread was always goey with some kind of fatty potato inside it. There was a lot of 2 minutes noodles consumed and the occasional Mars Bar.

The people who work on the Trans Siberia are the rudest people I've ever come across. They were really amazing. Like stone soldiers. You would smile at them and they wouldn't budge. You would say hi to them and they wouldn't acknowledge you. And god forbid you did something wrong (look lose a tea towel) they would howl at you. Why to Russian have to yell?

On the last night the train was suddenly full of travellers and no Prussians. We suddenly had a new roomy. A lovely lady who tried to teach us Mongolian but at the Mongolian border she swiftly run of the train gathering all this dubious looking stuff she had hidden inside one of the pillows. So yeah, crossed the Russia border with a Mongolian smuggler, very exciting. By the by, I will never complain about customs in Australia or anywhere! It took me literally 6 hours to pass through two border patrols - PAINful.

The scenery on the train really doesn't vary which I just can't comprehend. I mean i think of New Zealand and how much the scenery changes within 30 minutes and here I was travelling thousands of kilometres and there were just a line of trees in front of a green landscape. IT was of course really pretty but I was really amazed.

ARRIVING IN MONGOLIA
I didn't really thing about this place that I was going to. It seems crazy to say! Last night, I was looking into the vast black emptiness, not truly appreciating how vast and empty it really was. I watched overhead as the entire night sky was swept past my eyes and I was lost in it with no thought as to where I was.

This morning my painfully bleary eyes opened to form my first concept of Mongolia. It is so beautiful. Soft green strokes of an artist swept across untouched land, the morning sun was rising and the land seemed to blush in all its nakedness. That is what it is here, complete purity. Suddenly I saw my first collection of gers (the felt tents that the nomads live in), the gentle touch of mankind barely leaving a mark. Their horses roam freely in the paddocks, great herds of them.

To date (August 4 when I am finishing this) I am still in Ulan Bator. The city is not so nice and full of pick pockets and homeless children and it is very difficult to be faced with them every day. I originally had a grandiose plan with Magalie to travel north into the Khosvgol region to visit Shaman by horse but as things go when travelling plans change so quickly. She has been whisked away by a Shaman to learn about their traditions (she is a photographer of ethnical group) and I suddenly desperate to get out and have time to think and be alone in the wilderness may end up on a 17 day journey across the whole of Mongolia by jeep with a pair of Germans and a driver. If it all goes ahead, we will start in the Gobi and then to the west and the north - I think? I don't really know but i have just given myself up to whatever happens. I just need to be free in this beautiful landscape a while and see all there is too see.

So, having said that I won't be in touch for a little while but will be sure to fill you all in when I come back.

Hope everyone is well. Take care.

xo Lou
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