Day 6: Erlian to Ulan Bator

The first day ended at the border between China and Mongolia, and not Ulan Bator. It’s still another eight hours from now (6am local time) to the Mongolian capital. The customs and border patrol took only a short expected amount of time with passport inspections, but a disruptive night from 10pm to 1am was caused by the need for each train car to be retrofitted with wider gauge wheels to fit the Mongolian track system! During the stop, each car was disengaged, Chinese wheels removed, and Mongolian wheels installed. While this might sound unbelievable and hideous, it happened. The car attendant explained to Gee Kin that the tracks are 2 inches wider in Mongolia.The three hour stop allowed just enough time for 30 workers to descend on each car systematically, pound the hell out of each connection between wheel and car, move each car to the Mongolian track, and reconnect everything (about 15 cars) again!

The landscape has changed to a wide plain with beautiful, seductive lighting at this time of the early morning. As I was about to take a few shots, I saw a herd of camels! It reminded me of the Silk Road trip last year. I wondered whether these noble animals originated here or were transported from some central Asian steppe or further beyond. A good Wiki question if only I had internet.

Now about the “I” word. If you ever get this post before Moscow, it will be another miracle. (the first one was the train reconfiguration). We had heard rumors that there was internet on the train…but that was the Russian train. We are on a Chinese train. Not that there should be that big a difference, but to be honest, we chose the Chinese-run train Beijing-Moscow for chauvinistic reasons and for nominally better (or possibly worse) food. So much for that thought.

But before I talk food, let’s get to the heart of the matter. What were we thinking??? A Sunday ride through Silicon Siberia? I had forgotten how I had the shakes checking into my guest house in Dresden last year. It took a rocket scientist (oh, OK, a lab scientist) to set me up with a modem connection that he figured out was cheaper to buy at the local Fry’s for 25E than to pay 100E deposit for one through the housing agent. After that momentary fear of being off the grid, my mind lapsed. No internet, no bloggie.

So if I emerge from this trip after five days of going dark, I will be a new woman. Damn the torpedos and the internet. We are one.

The free first night’s dinner (whoo-whoo!) consisted of one bowl of rice, cauliflower, and 2 huge Chicken meatballs. The best part was sitting with 2 other travelers, German brothers from Hamburg and Frankfurt. The physicist had just been to San Francisco and the other was a marketing director for big-name brands, so we had plenty to talk about. They had interesting views of the Greek crisis and how Germany was going to deal with it.

Looking back at yesterday’s posting, I felt saddened by my draining optimism. Everything on first blush always looks good, right? A few slight technicalities… the toilets are closed during station stops, so you have to plan your peeing strategy. I knew this from the first time we traveled cross-country Beijing to Hong Kong with the kids a generation ago. Still the same. The outlet is just outside our compartment over a fold-out bench, so it would be very handy to babysit the devices as they are being charged. Oops, the outlet doesn’t work. But let’s not get cynical. We had a decent meal gratis, and there’s still hope abound for getting upgraded. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 30, 2015, 6:40am

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