Dear little laptop diary,
I didn’t think I’d need to write to you on this train. It was supposed to be barely 9 hours, just a get on-go-to-sleep-get off-in-Mongolia one, as we left Ulan-Ude. But Real Russia, the company that booked most of our Russian train tickets (we didn’t want to risk missing our preferred dates and routes if we did it ourselves) made a mistake with our agenda, and told us our train was at 8:47pm tonight, when it was really at 3:47pm today. (Someone I bet added five hours to get Moscow time (which all trains in the country run on) instead of subtracting. Idiots.) So instead of getting another day to explore Ulan-Ude as we wanted, we rushed around to check out, see a final museum, and walk in the heat to the train station. It was a soul-crushing walk for me, as I have more weight in my pack than ever (stupid good vegan nonperishable food finds I keep finding and buying and then needing to pack!). Well that part was just spine and neck crushing. The soul-crushing part is how nervous I am about the Mongolia border crossing. It can take well over 4 hours, with the train stopped and bathrooms locked. I can’t go for more than 2, and I can’t do anything about it especially in a room with two strangers, so I’m just dehydrated and super g-d nervous. I told myself that as soon as we got on the train, it would be okay, I would sit, and use the bathroom, and make my bed, and relax and read as I learned from our previous trains.
Tiny laptop, this is a Chinese-run train. They alternate who does this route, the Russian trains or the Chinese trains. Remember my previous posts about how rough the Russian trains were? Like I said about the minibus on Olkhon, I think the universe is messing with me, because those were luxury compared to this Chinese one. It’s been an hour and a half and I’ve cried three times. The attendants are men, whereas the Russian ones were all women. The Russian women were nice, whereas the Chinese men are surly, smoking IN THE carriages and hallways, and don’t speak a word of English or Russian, just Chinese. The toilets are similar, except worse - no toilet paper, no paper towels, no soap. Thank god we packed an emergency roll of toilet paper; we just never thought we would need it on the sleeper train. The attendants keep locking the bathroom closest to them, which is closest to us, I think just for their own personal use - it’s not an official locking time or anything because they keep telling me just to use the one at the other end. There are two bathrooms per carriage for approximately 40-50 people. You cannot keep one for your own usage. I could cut a bitch for that. On the Russian trains, the bed sheets came in plastic wrap with a small hand towel included. Here, the sheets were just handed to us loose, dirty and grimy, and there’s no towel. No toilet paper, no soap, no towel, no bathroom access, and it’s five hours longer than I was prepared for. This really sucks. The Russian ones, I was in the moment when I wrote those diatribes, kind of going overboard considering they were all in all pretty nice (well, the rooms, not the toilets). But this is all disgusting. And we are going to be traveling by train in China for 5 weeks after Mongolia, so there is a lot of this to come. I am so upset that we didn’t have one more nice Russian train! I can't believe I'm saying that!
Shoutout to my friend Sarah for gifting me a packet of toilet seat covers. Thank the Kiwi god for you.
The two men - yup, it’s two men again - in our cabin are a mixed bag. One is a Chilean man about our age, and when we arrived he was laying on my bed. Oh no no no, dear. He had a lot of stuff on his, I guess. But he ended up being very friendly, and he speaks English well and is nice. The other man is German, and he said he was a vegetarian so I was really excited. However, he is one of those. The weird ones. He seems to really be only a raw foodist. He has a hand-cranked food processor on the table full of nuts, a lemon and bananas on his little wire shelf, and his entire suitcase is full of various supplies, all food-related. He just said he was preparing his breakfast, for which he hand-cranked wheat into a flour (I think, he said it was wheat) (this is a different hand-cranked machine than the nut processor) and added some seeds and probably goji berries, I was trying not to stare. I mean it all sounds great to me, right, but then I asked if he makes a porridge of it with the samovar water and he said ‘no I don’t cook it, that would make it unhealthy.” boy bye.
He smells bad too, as total hippies usually do.
I can’t get over how the train attendant men are so mean and just smoking in the carriage. It’s so smoky. I can’t really convey to you just how smoky it is. I wish I could say my eyes were tearing from it but it’s the opposite; they are so dry they hurt in my head. Like I can feel them being super dry in my head. It’s weird and awful. And my lungsss mannnnn. I’m just breathing in cigarette smoke with mean Chinese men and feeling like crap. I think this is just a breaking point after weeks of travel, longer than I ever have traveled. Am I going to be completely miserable all through China? I’m so nervous now. I was so excited about China and now I’m just sad. This really sucks. It sucks not being able to communicate with the attendants. I didn’t think of learning Chinese phrases yet - we’re not even in China! We’re going from Russia to Mongolia! How on EARTH could these attendants have gone all through Russia “caring” for passengers (this train began in MOSCOW) without speaking something besides Mandarin! I think they are lying about not understanding any Russian. They have to! Ughhhh. All the signage is in Chinese characters too. It’s so frustrating. And my belly hurts. I had a pear and some crackers for dinner, which was not smart because now I’m super thirsty and I can’t drink water because the border crossing is coming up soon and who knows how long I’ll have to hold my pee. Z is in the restaurant car which actually has a few decent looking dishes (vegetable soup with no sour cream?? what a find!) but I can’t eat it because again, I can’t pee for 4 hours at least. I can hear some of you saying “just don’t drink so much water” but I have barely had water today and I barely had any on the minibuses from hell but I still had to pee AND I have debilitating headaches if I don’t drink a lot of water. (And before you say um that’s not normal, I know, and I’ve been exhaustively studied by endocrinologists, and it’s just how my body is, no disease or anything. I just have to deal with it, which is hard on this Chinese crap machine.
Please tell me I’ll at least be able to find vegan dumplings in China. If I’m spending five weeks traveling in disgusting paperless toilets and I can’t even have vegan dumplings I will cry. Again.
So tiny laptop friend, my only friend on this godforsaken cigarette factory. We just made it through the Russian exit border and the Mongolian entry border. It took about 3 hours, I think. I’m trying not to look at the clock because then my body will be like hey girl why haven’t I peed five times in that amount of time? The Mongolian border agent looked through my passport twice as long as she did the others in our cabin, which was worrisome, but maybe she was just trying to show her female dominance to me in front of three males of the species. Before the Russian border agents got to our cabin, I RAN off the train and RAN to the station and peed super fast and then RAN back outside to make sure the train was still there, I was so scared of missing it that I was hyperventilating. As soon as I got outside and saw tons of fellow passengers standing on the platform I breathed a sigh of relief and also regret that I didn’t pee more. [ed. note 10 days later: I know this is a lot of oversharing about my bodily functions but guess what, you ain’t seen nothing yet. #diarrheainthemongoliancountryside]
Anyway, I made it, hungry and thirsty but we’re now officially in Mongolia. We finished at the border at about 12:30am and we land in Ulaan Baatar (even though there are so many a’s, I’m tempted to add more) at 6:30am. So it would be okay to get five hours of sleep or so before a big day of sightseeing but it’s so freezing cold, all of a sudden after it was boiling hot most of the evening, that I am actually using the disgusting wool blankets the train provides and I’m sure have not been washed in a good 4 years. Can’t wait to get to the hostel and wash this gross train experience off. But we’re at that point in our travel where even DURING a good shower I still feel dirty, and as soon as I get out of the shower I’m officially gross again. Fun times!
As crazy as all of this is, the craziest part is that the scenery on this route was the most beautiful yet. We didn't expect that at all! It definitely helped to have something so nice to look at when I was standing by the open hallway windows trying to get fresh air. I hope China is nothing like this train, but we still have all of Mongolia to go through before we find out!