Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

Sunday 20th October – DAY FIVE – After Ulan Bator

Dahkan
We stopped in Darkhan at 1:41 for 13 minutes

Anton disembarked into a night-zone array of squat rectangular buildings, lit with a braid of coloured light rows around the flat roof lines. I noticed a wing insignia painted on the front of one of the buildings. Perhaps Darkhan was a military or airforce centre? Or an educational centre?

Darkhan Station in the middle of the night
Darkhan Station in the middle of the night. Difficult to make out the intricate logo in neon

Anton was contracted for a year in Mongolia and, although he was working for the same parent company, the entire workforce would probably be Mongolian and he did not know the language. He knew he was to be picked up at the station but did not know where the place he was to reside was after that. He gathered all his goods together. We shook hands and wished each other well in our new lives. What was he going to be making?

Mongolian hills take on the shape of sand dunes
Mongolian hills take on the shape of sand dunes

I slept once more and woke to find a new landscape.

Chris from Inverness and Rinze from Rotterdam in Compartment 5
Chris from Inverness and Rinze from Rotterdam in Compartment 5 – like Sil, they were around the same age as my own son back in Melbourne!

New housemates! As our train stopped at Ulan Bator 6:50, Sil had kept his promise and gone quietly. Now present in the compartment, Chris from Inverness taking Anton’s place and Rinze from Rotterdam above me. He was part of a gang of Dutch youngsters who had met on their previous train and shared adventures in the yurts of the nomadic Mongolian people.

Looking out our carriage back window - its Mongolia!
Looking out our carriage back window – Mongolia!

Rearranged cars on the train meant we were now the back end and Mark finally got his ornate Mongolian restaurant car.

Mongolian restaurant car
Mongolian restaurant car
Mongolian bow and arrows, hat and shield; restaurant decoration
Mongolian bow and arrows, hat and shield; restaurant decoration
Mongolian restaurant car took the time seriously
Mongolian restaurant car took the time seriously
Mongolian carriage had female captains and a soft, homey vibe
Two Mongolian carriages had female captains and a soft, homey vibe

Chris was a research engineer, working in Bristol testing various plastics for use in airlines. Rinze was a recent graduate, looking for a gap year adventure before beginning his working life. He was not exactly sure about his future; marketing or economics. We talked about sustainable travel. We talked about many things.

The sand dune shapes might indicate proximity to the Gobi desert?
The sand dune shapes might indicate proximity to the Gobi desert?
Did you see the camel? Gone now. Two humps!

Haven’t talked so much in years. Next door I met Kim from Singapore who was travelling with her Aussie-based sister Lian and her hubby Andrew from Maitland NSW. Kim had two boys of her own, 24 and 22 – engineer and student – and she was in banking technology. Francine from Belgium, on a semi-organised tour, hung out by the windows with her huge camera ready for every last camel or sand dune. Mom and daughter Mary and Brett from America seeking adventure together. We all trotted off into the sunshine at Sayn Shanda. I did see a young man doing pushups on the platform (remember Compartment 6? It’s poetic and a little bit ominous.)

Senior Captain Shaan at the back end of our carriage Dornogovi stop
Senior Captain Shaan at the back end of our carriage – do not go far
Mongolian locomotive Dorngovi stop
Mongolian locomotive
Mongolian train logo
Mongolian train logo. When I photographed the driver he shouted at me.
But had a pleasant conversation after that. I deleted the shot.

Ever since I started this trip, people asked me, ‘Why aren’t you flying?’ When I explained I wanted to avoid harming the atmosphere (that said as we breathed in coal dust!) I don’t think anyone judged me, more amazed I could afford the time. That’s one thing I was strong in. Time. Extraordinarily lucky.

Mongolian shop at Dorngovi station
Mongolian shoplette at station

In the end all those discussions seemed to come back to economic viability. The perception that ‘new’ renewable energy tech was not commercially feasible.

Special delivery on the platform of Dornogovi station
Special delivery on the platform of Dornogovi station

Until costs came down and it was cheaper to buy clean energy people would not change. Not until it was absolutely necessary.

Chinese carriages along the Dornogovi platform
Chinese carriages along the Dornogovi platform

Ten years. Maybe. We have ten years to completely change our way of lives. Or not. Why not change just in case, then?

Hanging out the gloves in the Mongolian sunshine
Hanging out the gloves in the Mongolian sunshine

Until accounting includes damage to the environment, we are doing the wrong sums. Damage to social structure, damage to well-being of humans, damage to health, damage to individuals, damage to species, damage to eco-systems; the rights of rivers to exist, the rights of humans to clean drinking water, the rights of humans to clean air to breath; those are the sums that must be run through Excel sheets.

We must urgently change our bookkeeping. The economy, as bandied about by economists, does live as a subset of the environment. The planet Earth is a closed system.

Change occuring in Mongolia, near Dornogovi
Change occurring in Mongolia, near Dornogovi

It matters not one jot if you have a fat share portfolio, not one skerrick if shells are used to pay for your sweet potatoes or you barter services for goods. If humans cannot breathe what economic system would you vote for?

Industrial Mongolia
Industrial Mongolia

If you like humans, fight to stop climate change as hard as you can.

Toilet door Chinese carriage
Toilet door Chinese carriage – when you throw waste away, where is away?

Change is inevitable, normal in small doses. One day you have a green tea instead of a café latte. Walk rather than take the bus. Start looking for a different job. Or plan a holiday to Mongolia.

I got brave enough to look down the dunny to see the tracks below
We’ve got to be brave enough to look – down the dunny to see the tracks below – ‘away’

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”

Alvin Toffler

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/8800-the-illiterate-of-the-21st-century-will-not-be-those

We must be prepared to unlearn. And learn anew.

The shadow of our train crests the Mongolian hill
The shadow of our train crests the Mongolian hill

Change. Clean air. Clean water. Make it happen.

Mongolian sky over Dornogovi
Mongolian sky over Dornogovi

We looked out the window.

Farewell to Dornogovi - Mongolia
Farewell to Dornogovi – Mongolia

Seventeenth day Tao said: ‘Without fundamental trust, there is no trust at all.’

Dusk over Dornogovi - Mongolia
Dusk over Dornogovi – Mongolia

Oh, it was a harsh landscape, with tussock grass, dunes and then the flatlands. We were passing the edges of the Gobi desert. And the distance. Chris said, ‘I never appreciated distance before.’

Sunset over Dornogovi - Mongolia
Sunset over Dornogovi – Mongolia

We turned back to the window. (And then to our detective novels!)

Last look at Mongolia - Dornogovi
Last look at Mongolia – Dornogovi

18:50 – Dzamyn-ude – Passport check for Mongolian border. Officer in forest kahki arrived at our door and saluted us. She took and examined each passport carefully, comparing us with our photos, then handed them on to our captain. Her fingernails, a perfect pink polish.

Hurry up and wait

Erlian Station, entry point to China and a five hour wait
Erlian Station, entry point to China.
The Chinese national anthem played as we entered the building
to commence our five hour wait while the wheels were changed

21:00 – Erlian – Chinese entry point.

We packed up all our luggage and went into the building. We went through the security x-rays and into a waiting room filled with plastic glue fumes from some kind of renovation happening above us. We waited.

Chinese instruments of detention in Customs waiting hall
Chinese instruments of detention in Customs waiting hall – people catchers?

Went to the shop and bought fruit and nibbles. Rumours abounded. No official told us what to expect. Luckily Kim and Lian boldly went and found out and we passed the information along. Use the toilet while you can. Encountered my first squatty potty. Very comfortable.

Chinese customs waiting room toilet
Chinese customs waiting room toilet. As with many older generation plumbing facilities in Europe, the toilet paper is not flushed

We could walk in the brisk wintery air in a holding pen by the building. Walked up and down with Holly from Switzerland, a fellow long-term solo traveller, who agreed planning decisions were easier made alone.

Official Chinese vehicle seen through bars of holding pen
Official Chinese vehicle seen through bars of holding pen

We were allowed back onto the train at midnight although the toilets remained closed while we were at the station. It would leave at 2pm. We were all weary, weary, weary.

Chinese border waiting area
Chinese border waiting area

15 responses to “Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

  1. That was EPIC!!!! Now for the sea voyage. Can’t wait to read about that. Bon voyage, V! Xoxo

  2. MARYANNE MACPHERSON-CALDEIRA

    I knew Anton would be good company….all Anton’s are! 😉

    • I send best wishes and good luck to all Antons, from Mongolia to Melbourne, may they be happy, healthy and looking forward to eating apples from their own trees.

  3. MARYANNE MACPHERSON-CALDEIRA

    OMG! Feels like I wrote that first comment days ago…. (it was after page 1 not realising there were 6 days of blog…YOU MADE IT!!!!
    Bloody hell, I was right there with you. Good job girl…show it how it’s done.

    • Thank you, MA! I am so grateful you managed to get through it all. I am trying to walk the talk but hadn’t realised how much fun it was going to be. Now I’m in hot, humid Taiwan it’s quite peculiar thinking I was looking at snow just a couple of weeks ago!

  4. I have finally got through it.. wow, that was epic
    Page 6 best for me, i needed a sign of the step by step baby steps stepping stones
    You rock our intrepid reporter
    See you real soon in brissie

    • Thank you, Louiselle! Glad you managed to get through it. (Hope you were able to have a shower along the way.) Looking forward to landing in Port Brissie!

  5. I do like you blog, Victoria. And your trip. It’s really fantastic! My English is not rich enough to express what I think about it. I feel like travelling myself!

    • Dear Begoña, I am very grateful you enjoy reading about my travels when you are such an experienced adventurer yourself! I’m very happy you feel inspired. I know you will have a great time where-ever you go – with your language skills and interest in other people – the world is yours!

  6. Wonderful write-up Victoria, I feel like I’ve experienced it with you! I think it’s a great way to use your time, experiencing the reality of the non-flight long distance travel options and ‘seeing the details’ – whether the loo goes straight to the tracks, how cabins are heated and managed etc – you’re doing great. Also really interesting to get a glimpse of how some of those landscapes that people don’t usually see are managed and the variety of lifestyles of your fellow travellers. Good luck with every connection, accomodation and language challenge – we’re there with you!

  7. I read excitedly and i’m waiting for more!
    I’ll translate it to Ella:-)
    Best wishes from Moscow:-)

    • Spasibo, Tatiana! How wonderful you came along for the ride! Great to think of you in Moscow with your lucky students. I bet you are feeling cooler right now than I am here in humid Taiwan!

  8. Jeffrey Bartolomei

    Remarkable! Epic! well done you’ve made it.

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