Sunday, June 17, 2012
We rolled by a building with blue non-cyrillic letters saying “Mongolian Customs” – it was 5:30 AM. Our train was segmented leaving just two train cars and the rest returned in the direction of Ulaanbaatar. For five hours we sat there. We used the station toilet for 150 tugrik, took photos, filled out Mongolian customs and immigration forms, and waited. Finally we were hitched to an engine and spent a bit under an hour rolling toward Russia.
We spent another four hours at the Russian border entry point. It was made a little easier with a variety of beer that we had never heard of before. Then the train set off for our overnight ride to Irkutsk. The route cut through steppe-like areas, taiga forest, and small villages of quaint wooden buildings. Often the only color the buildings had were brightly painted window trim. Many seemed to have greenhouses and gardens. The grasslands and forests were very green, save the birch trunks and splashes of wildflowers.
Twice I ventured down to the dining car. Both times were an experience just for the walk through the other cars. Soft sleepers with hot travelers sprawled on vinyl cabin beds, an air conditioned cabin that we walked through slower to cool down, the seemingly shirt-optional-for-men carriage which smelled of unwashed bodies…
We ate noodles from our stash, read, and looked out the windows plenty. As night settled a thunderstorm was apparent in the distance, the air began to cool and it rained. I slept off and on.