Hello Mongolia!

This is going to be a short entry, although don’t worry, I have plenty to talk about in the future. I’m just kind of having an “off” night and only have another 12 minutes on this computer.

We made it to Mongolia safe and sound with very little… and I mean VERY little excitement. We’re talking 9 hours sitting at the border. At least it was daytime and sunny out, but not too hot. Overall, I can’t complain.

Tomorrow we head out into the countryside for 4 nights in ger camps before coming back to Ulaan Baatur for one night before hitting the train to Beijing. I think our time here is going to feel much too short!

I promise a better post next time. I’m safe, relatively happy, and miss you.

Fun with border crossings, part one

On May 19, we boarded train 264 from Ulan Ude in Russia to Ulaan Baatar.

Train 264

We had read that the border crossing would be an intolerable 10 hour process, typically performed in the middle of the night. To my surprise and delight (if one can be delighted at sitting on a rail car for 10 hours without moving), we cleared Naushki in only 6 hours and made it to Sukhbaatar with a decent amount of daylight.

The station house at Sukhbaatar

As Geoff already posted, sitting in the car could be painful at times… for him. I was perfectly cool, comfortable, and able to knit. So I did. I knit about half of a shawl. And it kept me pretty darn happy. In retrospect, I’m grateful for the mild weather and the train windows that actually opened! You think I’m joking, but we’ve had some fairly uncomfortable train journeys that could have been vastly improved with a bit of a breeze.

The last Russian stop

We’re in Ulan Ude now, having arrived a bit later last night than scheduled. (Mind you, it took a half hour to walk from the train to the hotel.)

It’s a nice little city of about a half million … and no birch trees!!! Finally.

We’ll be here until early tomorrow morning, when we leave for Mongolia. I’m not particularly looking forward to such an early morning, I’ll tell you.

Slept mostly on the train, which was about the only way to pass through the pain. It’s a six and a half hour trip from Irkutsk to Ulan Ude, a distance of no more than 300 km (straight-line, that is). The train needs to take a few bendy twists going through the mountains, pass through a couple of tunnels, and then plods along at an agonizingly slow 50 km/h (estimated). I think we topped out at a few places around 80.

The eastern shore of Lake Baikal was frozen — ice as far as you could see. The exact opposite of what we’d seen in Listvyanka two days ago. It looks like it’s thawing quickly, though, so it shouldn’t be long before the clear waters show through.

Two of our housemates in Irkutsk (a pair of Aussies) told us two things: 1) that we’d love Mongolia (something we’d both strongly suspected), and 2) China would wear us down fast. It’s chaotic, the toilets are disaster areas (that actually scares us), the “queues” aren’t, and pretty much everything we’d wanted to see is buried under scaffolding. It seems everyone is upgrading this year.

We’re just waiting for our tour to start today — we actually got a guide for here — and will be back later with more. Stay tuned…

Two visas down, one to go

Lucky Amy only has to deal with two visas, both of which she now has. (One advantage of being an American, she doesn’t need a Mongolian visa. Canadians still do.)

Due to a typo at the Chinese consulate here in Calgary, I had to take my visa back in for correction. They did it on-the-spot, and they were super-helpful, but I was delayed a day sending my application to the Russian embassy in Toronto. According to Canada Post, it’s on its way back, but haven’t seen it yet.

The Mongolian Embassy in Ottawa states there is a 5-10 day turnaround for visas. That’s business days, by the way. We have 12 business days left. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for wiggling.

I haven’t quite yet begun to panic, though, as Amy found out that the Mongolian Embassy in Washington, D.C. will process Canadian applications, and turn them around in a day for only $30 more than here. I’ll probably do that for expediency.