8 hours of drinking in between Naushki, Russia and Sükhbaatar, Mongolia
29.10.2005 - 31.10.2005 15 °C
Back on the train from Irkutsk to Ulaan Baator, Mongolia. If Irkutsk is a frontier town, the scenery to the border with Mongolia and through Mongolia is definitely wild west ranch country. It's like passing through 1890s western USA, just with less buffalo to shoot. I see lots of grassy plains, rocky deserts, herds of wild horses, cows and sheep.
Loading up at Irkutsk, I find I am sharing a 4 bunk cabin with one other person, a man around my age who speaks no English. Next to us is an incredibly drunk young Mongolian guy, who is bouncing off the walls he is so drunk. The train attendant is not amused with his disruptive behavior, so she locks him in his cabin for the night.
I also meet Alexei from Mondolva (a former Russian territory near Romania). He speaks some English, so we spent a few hours talking.
On our way to the border crossing at Naushki, Russia, my cabin mate and the drunk Mongolian from the night before enter the cabin and shut and lock the door. From under their shirts, they pull out 3 half-liter cans of beer, and offer one to me. Apparently they have locked the door because they are afraid of getting caught by the train attendant, who already has a dim view of the Mongolian fellow. I pop open the top of the beer.
Through a little English that the Mongolian speaks and the little Russian I know, plus a lot of hand signals and drawing of pictures, I find out the following information about the two. The Mongolian is called Soonay (not sure on the spelling) and is studying in Irkutsk. He is studying to be a police officer. The Russian (who I am sharing the cabin with) is called Alex. He operates a gold digging machine in Mongolia, and is from a town in South-west Russia.
We arrive at Naushki, where we have to wait for the train to arrive from Mongolia, which will hook up our car and take us to Ulaan Baator. We are allowed off the train in this small town. Cows roam the streets. There isn't much to do, so Russian Alex and Soonay grab more beers. As we are sitting in the sun, drinking and waiting, Alex pulls up his pant leg to reveal a wicked scar on his knee. "Chechnya," he explains, and mimes that he also got shot in the shoulder. He was in the hospital for 13 weeks before he was discharged, and that's when he went to school and learnt geography and became a gold digging machine operator.
Russia is such a big country, it's easy to forget as you pass through it that things are pretty unstable down in the Balkans. Just before I arrived in Russia, there was a large battle fought in one of the Balkan states.
We wait in the sun, and drink a few more rounds. Finally the train arrives, and we get back on and clear Russian customs. I am unsure how to fill out the form, especially the "Printed Materials or Other Purveyors of Information." I have a few books, does this count? I decide to put no. It's also weird having to put down how much money you have. It feels a little like you are just telling them how much the bribe should be.
We then move 21 km south, entering Mongolia and arriving at Sukhbaator, where we clear Mongolian customs. After another hour, we finally start moving, 8 hours after arriving at the border, and we've managed to move 21 kms. It's late, I'm tired and I know we arrive in Ulaan Baator at 6 am. I'm ready for bed. Just then, Alex and Soonay enter the cabin and pull three cups and a 2 L bottle of beer from under their shirts. It's going to be a long night...