Finding Nemo

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Revenge of the Sleeper Bus

As I picked the long black hairs out of my tiny sleeper berth onboard the filthy bus, I eyed the yellow-stained sheets and blotchy gray blanket.  I realized with despair that my introduction to Mongolia had come a bit earlier than expected.  And yet again, I found myself ruing my decision not to take the train.  Forehead slaps could not salvage this nightmare.

I had been looking forward greatly to the train ride from Beijing to Mongolia… it was the true start of my Trans-Siberian journey!  Finally a proper long train journey, and across international borders to boot!  I had heard of how the carriages had to be switched across the different track gauges and it was done in the middle of the night, how the passengers were an interesting mix of Chinese, Mongol, Westerners, and Russian traders.  How the food onboard was outstanding, until you switched to the Mongol train and suddenly only meat and milk was for sale.

But the reality was this: the train only ran on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and I found myself in Beijing on a Monday morning.  If I waited a week to take the train, I would be cutting into my precious month of horse trekking in Mongolia, the highlight of my year away.  I decided, against all better judgment and common sense, to take a bastardized chop-shop of buses, taxis, and trains that left on a Friday.  It would grant me 2 more precious days in Mongolia.

Why o why do I still take buses???
At this moment, the realization that I have made grave mistake is slapping me in the face like a wet fish.  Its 4pm on this Friday, I have just settled into my bedbug-infested, hair-filled, and what appears to be urine-stained bed.  Ahead of me lies 12 hours of tantalizing biting and skin-disease possibilities.  This will be followed by a 3am arrival in the border town of Erlian, where I will be (I frantically pray to the gods) met by a Mongol host who will shepherd me to my next bus.  After deliriously waiting from 3am to 9am in a parking lot, where I presume I will be gawked at and photographed like the escaped white hairy monkey that I am, I will board this 2nd border bus to head to the Mongol outpost of Zhamyn Uud.  At that point, Buddha willing, I will meet another Mongol host who will instruct me on the whereabouts of a slow train to Ulaanbaator.  If I survive this far, I will then ride for another 12 hours on the dreaded mail train, making stops every 15 minutes or so to pick up sheep and drop off milk, and likely surrounded in animal droppings.

Luckily I just picked up a head cold, so I’m sure I will quickly impress as I sneeze and cough all over my new Mongol friends.   I assume I will arrive refreshed and invigorated at the capital city on Sunday morning, smelling like rose petals and ready for new adventure.

All to save 2 days of travel in a year away.

Then again, my level of stupidity has already been proven: I did drink snake blood and jump off a perfectly good skyscraper last week.

PS: I just realized I didn’t bring any food or water.  And of course there is no toilet on a 12-hour sleeper bus!!  And I already have to pee.  Only 35 more hours to go!!!  Woo-hoo!!!

The Chinese mark the exit to Mongolia with the Rainbow of Relief

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