Finding Nemo

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mongol Merchant Train

All aboard the Communist Express!
I was flying. Below me, a rumbling volcano spewed flame. The cloud of ash and fire rushed towards me. I flapped my arms, trying to get away, but the cloud was too fast. It engulfed me, and I began to tumble.

I opened my eyes, and realized I was getting shaken awake. Above me stood a tall man in a dark green uniform. A military man.


I rubbed eyes and sat up. Two other Mongolian women shared my sleeper car, and looked on in disgust as I flopped around in my underwear trying to find my pants. Eventually I managed to find my passport.

The man added it to a tall stack and left. My phone said 2am. I realized we must be at the Russian border. My trans-Siberian journey was about to begin!

And with that, I immediately fell back to sleep. I was flying again, or trying, when suddenly I started falling. The ground rushed up at me.... and I woke.

I was being shaken awake again. This time by a tall man in a dark suit and tie. He was white, which was strange. I hadn't seen a Western official in months. His face was rough like an old boxer. He stepped back, then pointed at me. "You. Come."

The Mongolian women looked at me and shrunk away. And I decided it's never, ever, a good thing to be woken on a train in the middle of the night by a tough man in a dark suit who tells you to come with him.

The cold night air hit me in the face as I stepped on the platform. It was too quiet. The massive dark-green train sat waiting as I followed the man to an office. Inside it was almost a cartoon. A balding overweight Russian bureaucrat looked at me, then shoved a fat finger at my passport.

Shit. Was my Russian Visa no good?

"Mongolia visa not good." He pointed at the Mongolian stamps. US Citizens had 30 days in Mongolia. I realized I had stayed 31.

1 extra day = 100 extra US clams
"Fine is $100 American dollars." He pointed outside the office to a waiting row of ATMs. Holy hell, what a great system. I tried to get out some cash, which of course did not work. Luckily I had an emergency stash of $100 bills stashed in one of my bags. I explained I would have to get some money from my stuff.

The bureaucrat checked his watch and looked up in alarm. "Fast! Train leaving!" The conductor motioned me to run. I jumped down to the platform and promptly rolled my ankle, rolling on the floor. But if I didn't get the money, in a few moments everything I owned in the world would soon be speeding off to Siberia without me. So, I hopped and skipped in agony back up the train, down to my compartment, ripped open my bags, tore apart my secret envelope with about $800 in Franklins in front of everyone, hopped back off the train, up the platform, and spilled into the office once again.

The bureaucrat changed the money, and began stamping and signing and stamping again. He honestly was trying to hurry, and hilariously began to sweat from the effort. He probably spent most of his day watching Russian sitcoms. I looked out the window. The conductor was waving frantically. And then, without warning, the train suddenly began to lurch forward.

You know that feeling when you are sitting in a roller coaster just as it begins to freefall down the first big hill? That's what I felt.

Then my passport was being shoved into my hand, and I ran/hopped as fast as I could. I caught up to the door and the conductor grabbed my arm and pulled me aboard, as we both fell inside. He looked mortified. I started laughing. And then he started laughing, shook his head, and said what I'm pretty sure was "govezla dermo."
Lucky shit.

No comments:

Post a Comment