Today was another early start as we had to meet Charlie at 645am to take us to the Beijing railway station. After a mercy call back home to my lovely husband my PIN was confirmed and I was able to quickly hike over to the ATM to withdraw some yuans. We scoffed down some breaky and then it was off to the train station. Charlie was very strong as he carried both our packs all the way to the train. Impressive feat. The next thing you know we're on the train. It had a really strange smell at first, almost nauseating, fortunately Ive either gotten used to it or its dissipated. We were a bit early so we basically sat their looking at each other wondering if we were going to get any company. At 740 I was fairly confident that we would be by ourselves, at least for the first leg. At 744 we were off and chugging, the start of our railway adventure.
We made our way through Beijing and out the otherside of the wall, many changing landscapes from the urban jungle of Beijing to the craggy formidable mountains out near the great wall to the flat expansive plateaus. Yet again I am overwhelmed by the amount of infrastructure out in the middle of nowhere. There will be nothing for as far as you can see but then you turn the next corner and a huge powerplant or some other industrial building sweeps into view.
The main challenge for the day (other than updating travel blogs) is to time the bathroom visits just right as from half an hour before a stop the bathrooms are closed. The facilities are much nicer and cleaner than i expected which is a total bonus. The other challenge is identifying how much time you have at a stop. It is timetabled but with delays along the way you're never quite sure.
I was having a war or rather standoff with the providnista all day regarding the blind in the hallway. There would be sun spewing in and I'd be looking out it occasionally then she'd come and shut the blind, 5 mins later I'd open it again. This was a continual battle over the day. I must add this morning that the blind remains open.
We travelled through the Gobi desert which is a place as barren as all hell. You could be in mars. You can taste the dust and even inside, it must be horrible out there. Everything is so dry. My skin is really parched. Feel sorry for the poor critters out there, but I guess they're used to it. It must really be cold out there as alot of waterways are all frozen over. There must be so many respiratory problems within the population up here. Speaking of respiratory problems we have a non smoking cabin but the bloke next door keeps lighting up and he must be smoking something terribly strong because the stench just lingers long after. Very annoying. It's fairly regular too, must have lots of maps then has one when he wakes up. Here's an idea, have some tea instead!
We have met a few other westerners along the way; a couple from new Zealand (Matt and Jen), a couple from Mexico (essy and issac) and a couple of older blokes from Canada (Brent and Peter). It was good to have some comrades at the Chinese Mongolian border as we were stuck there for about 3 or more hours. A great game of presidents and a******s helped fill in the time.
We met the kiwis and had dinner with them in the dinning car. After that we retired to their cabin to have a chat, play cards and try some Chinese whisky. We also had some Chinese white spirit to share. We were getting so involved that we cut the bathroom cutoff a little fine, jen went first but she had to go to our carriage because their bathroom was already locked. Jen reported back that the providnista was about to lock up so I hightailed it down there and she looked at me sternly and gruffly said "2 minutes". After I got back Michelle and Matt made an appearance at the bathroom and get a very severe talking to. Many miming actions. They still hot to pee though. Once they returned we pretty much pulled into the station at erlian at 2040. No wonder she was cranky. We were now stuck in Matt and jens cabin as passport control came around and confiscated our passports. We tried to get back to our cabins, but we were not allowed. The next thing you know we're told to get off the train. Fortunately I was able to go back to my cabin to get my jacket. We were then herded into the station, no passports to be seen. Nothing for it but a little retail therapy. We brought some refreshments but then we weren't allowed back on the train. Without our passports we couldn't leave. Pity because a few of us wanted to see the changing of the bogies. The next thing you know the train has disappeared with all our worldly possessions and we're stuck in the station without our passports. A very uneasy feeling being on limbo or no mans land. Almost classed as an alien!
We were eventually allowed back on the train around midnight. It was still a wait after that for the passports to return, I was so happy that they did.
I now had a lie down for about 15 mins until we hit the Mongolian mob. The customs officers came and collected our passports yet again. At least this time we didn't have to get off the train. I again tried for a snooze but then the providnista came and made me sit up. Im not quite sure what difference 90 degrees was going to make as I still slept sitting up anyway. The Mongolians were much more prompt than the Chinese and we would have had our passports back in around an hour. Shortly thereafter it was time to bunker down for the night with the soothing rocking of the train and the hypnotic clickity-clack of the train to listen to.