We woke up at 9am which turned out to be 8am. We’re not only travelling through the wilds of Siberia, we also seem to be travelling through time. Many times zones will be passed over the next few days.
“Time for a spot of breakfast! I´ll slice the bread” I bellowed from my plinth of confidence. What could be easier than slicing bread? Well, dearest reader, it turns out that absolutely anything in the known world is easier. Where to start? First of all, we had no knife so had to make do with the corner of a piece of plastic which was as blunt as a drunken Irishman. The bread as well seemed to resist the temptation to be sliced and much preferred crumbling into an inedible and unbelievable mess. The cheese and salami which we bought fared no better. It was a culinary massacre and I was the perp.
This evening we will be getting on a train and not leaving it for three days. What a stupid thing to do. I mean, you could fly the same distance in 6 hours or so. Skip the hassle, watch a film on the in-flight entertainment and enjoy those suction toilets that make my ears go pop. Instead of that we will spend the rest of the week in incredibly close proximity to strangers, eating from tins and trying not to lose our minds watching endless Serbian pines whizz pass the window. Can’t wait!
But before that, we have to see the sights of Irkutsk.
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.”
We got to sleep quite soon after hitting the road again and I woke to see the sunrise over the Gobi Desert. It was a beautiful, once in a lifetime sight and I realised that if I had a better seat I may not have had the best view to see the sunrise. I stared for some time, watching the sky turn from a dark, somewhat drowsy blue to a cool pink, then on to an electric orange. I got a couple more hours sleep then woke for the last hour of our trip. Somewhere close to the boarder there started popping up myriad dinosaur statues. Scores of metal brontosauruses dotted across the landscape. I guess things get boring in the desert.
We finally entered the border city of Erlian at around 7am. A huge, forgotten city, many times bigger than what I had expected. It was an altogether strange area that looked like it could have been something of a nice place to live, but then just stopped caring about itself and sunk into oblivion.
We were once again told to watch our pockets in this town as the people around here were ‘inner Mongolian’ and not to be trusted.
Getting across the border isn’t as easy as it sounds, or as it should be in this part of the world. For one you can’t just walk across, you need to be driven. But there is only one or two official buses every day so the general way is to get a local to take you in a truck. My wife-who likes to steer on the safe side of the road-didn’t like the sound of this but there were other things to consider. We had read that crossing the border could take hours and we wanted to get the train to Ulaanbaatar that day. We certainly didn’t want to get stuck in this town for any longer than what was completely necessary.