Border Crossing, Gobi Desert, Kidnapping and arriving in UB
Chinese-Mongolian border crossing was amazing! 5 hours for both sets of officials to do their stuff - not a smile from the lot of them! Last Mongolian official did say 'gwudbi' but I think it may have been in a sort of sinister 'James Bond' villain type of way!
Anywho the feat of changing bogeys (train wheels) was incredible - all carriages raised off the ground by hydraulic lifts and then old bogeys shunted out and new ones shunted in - all passengers still on board. The track gauge is 7/8cm wider in Mongolia than China - apparently a Soviet security measure to stop the Chinese invading too easily!
Woke up to a landscape of grass plains which are basically the Gobi Desert. Absolutely huge area. Seen plenty of Gers (traditional dwellings), horses and some camels! Still can't come to terms with how big and flat/undulating it is with little pockets of houses/Gers every now and then - think the monotony of landscape might explain Genghis Khan's motivation to get out and about, he just wanted something a little different! He wasn't a blood thirsty, conquering despot - just bored!
At 10.30 we headed off to the 'new' Mongolian restaurant car only to find that the bloke in charge had clearly been on the turps since the early hours! He was in a very good mood shaking everybody's hand, blasting out his favourite traditional tunes and smoking like a trooper (despite the no smoking signs which he probably put up) - then when everybody thought he was just a harmless, fun, pissed bloke he ripped us off! $50 for 2 omelettes, 2 pieces of bread and 2 small bottles of water! Not a good first Mongolian impression. It gets better though - joke!
At UB we were practically the last on the platform and no one had picked us up. A bloke comes up with no name sign and tells us he's there to pick us up and could we wait while he found another passenger. All a bit odd! After 2/3 mins he receives a call, again tells us to wait and runs off. While he's gone a young woman comes up to us with a "Bowen' sign and tells us she's there to pick us up - this wasn't easy because she was a German speaking Mongolian, no English and my Mongolian's a bit rusty! Anyway after seemingly having avoided being kidnapped we got dropped off at the hotel - which is spot on and passes the breakfast, bar, gym and spa tests but not the pool test as there isn't one!
Mongolia's national festival (Nadam) kicks off tomorrow: wrestling, arche.ry and horse riding are the official sports with pick pocketing tourists apprently being the popular unofficial pastime - we've been warned very seriously about this so I've taken to wearing my money belt inside my pants! It'll take a brave pickpocket to take that one on!
The preparation for the border crossing was a boy's delight! Train being shunted forward and back, banging and crashing, whole carriage lifted into the air and wheels changed for the different gauge in Mongolia, all while we were in it! Huw ran around with the camera shooting madly enjoying every minute of it . All of this happening from 8.30 pm to 1 am, before heading off for the border crossing where passports were taken again, and a wait of another hour and half. At 2.30 am we were permitted to go to sleep!
We awoke to flatness, gers , camels and sheep , cows and goats. The air was fresh and crisp.