We were up early as the train got in at 7am. Besides the Jolly Ukrainian farting and an odd sound of screaming through the night we slept quite well. These trains were not built for the sensitive traveller but they are actually comfortable enough, once you’re settled. We had a quick wash using some soap paper we took with us and went ashore. Irkutsk train station is not the prettiest, It has a KGB safe house feeling to it, but it was a considerable improvement to Ulaanbaatar. No sheep running around this one. We had some information about a hostel but somehow we managed to lose the info in our train carriage. Pretty impressive considering it was the size of a toilet. But as luck would have it, there was a woman with a hostel sign inside the station. She was waiting for a couple of guests and we latched on to her.
“Can we stay in your hostel?”
“Are you Charles and Max from Singapore?”
“Well I’m not Max, and she’s definitely not Charles. We don’t have a reservation, do you have any beds free?”
We had to get up early to catch the bus. It was a struggle but I pulled the old girl out of paradise, we quickly did our business then called a taxi. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a guy staying in the hostel who Jamie told me about the night before. He’s a young Canadian making a documentary with an American guy. The premise of the film is to travel to every country in the world. Though the only reason I wanted to meet him was to assess how much of an idiot he looked. Apparently this guy is a real piece of work. I was told that on the night we were enjoying ourselves in the wilds of Mongolia, the people in the hostel all went out with the owner to a club. All was going well until this guy picked up two locals. The hostel owner, being Mongolian was quick to figure out the situation.
“No, they’re not.”
“No, we’re not.”
“Yes, they are. Yes, you are.”
The yes/no conundrum I was told went on for longer than necessary until the Canadian abruptly left with the girls in tow, dragging them back to the hostel.
“Did they get in?” I asked Jamie.
“Did they fuck.”
Woke up with borderline hypothermia. Since the ger had no light whatsoever, I had to crawl into my sleeping bag liner/extra liner/sleepbag in the dark. This was fine when I went to sleep as the fire was still on and burning bright, but through the night as my vitals fell, I realised I mustn’t have utilised the layers as well as I should. I woke at 6am with just a thin liner and half the sleeping bag covering me. I was so cold I couldn’t zip the sleeping bag back up as my hands were numb. On top of that-if you’ll pardon the phrasing-my arse was still pounding from the horse.
We got ourselves to the main ger a fill ourselves with Kazakh bread a tea. The tea they drink here is very milky and since there isn’t much caffeine you can drink it all day. We both got a real taste for it. For the rest of the morning we either lazed around or hiked the farm. The lambs were up so we played with them, saw a few yaks strolling around. The dogs made an effort of trying to chase them but thought better once they got close. Big buggers, yaks.
Toury time. We fumbled and rumbled around our things, remembering things to forget and forgetting things to remember. Had a quick breakfast in the hostel: tea and bread and the like, we then asked the hostel to pick up our bus tickets to the Mongolia/Russia border, as we won’t get time.
“We will go to the bus station for you and get your tickets then bring them back. Though we will charge a fee because it’s far.”
“3000 tugrik (80 pence)”.
With that sorted we ventured to our van, met the driver and shortly later met our guide. Her name was Soko. She gave us details of the day ahead then we were off.
We started at Zaisan Memorial, a Russian/Mongolian monument nestle high on a hill. The momument commemorates the years of friendship and corporation between the two nations. Russia has had a very big part in Mongolian history and still continues to fund a large part of its economy. The monument wasn’t much to my taste but the real reason to go is to see the complete view of Ullaanbaatar to the north and the Bogd Khan Mountain Range to the south. It’s a good spot for a capital, and they should know. Apparently the capital has changed location no less than 29 times.
Slept fine for someone vicariously positioned on a top bunk of a rickety old train. Fortunately there was a sort of harness attached to the side of the bed and I strapped my leg to it. It could very well have saved me a broken arm. Baggi let me know that the Gobi had ended and the shacks and gers dotted over in the distance were the far reaches-the suburbs-of Ulaanbaatar. The houses seemed a little ramshackle but wholly liveable, and who wouldn’t want their own ger in the garden?
“Normally a family member, maybe an aunt, will live in the ger.” Baggi told me.
“How many rooms in a ger?”
“Just one room.”
“For the whole family?”
“How about if…the parents want a bigger family?”
“They will all stay there.”
“Yes, yes, but how do they…make a bigger family?”
“Thank you, Baggi. I’m wondering how the act of copulation occurs with the little’uns scamping around.”
“The family helps.”