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'Woa there dobin!'
Mongolia
'Mmmm, more mutton'
Monday 17th September 2001 Steppes

Finally got through the Mongolian Border by 7 am. We were delayed because smugglers in our carriage had been discovered when the custom officials lifted up the floor panels outside of our compartment to find boxes of clothes.

Managed to have a quick doze in the freezing cold but woke again a few hours later to find blue sky and a complete change in scenery - it was stunning. The train arrived in Ulan Bataar (the Mongolian Capital) at about 5:30pm (9 hours late). As we got onto the platform we realised there were at least 25 other Brits that had been on the train for at least a day that we had not meet. They were all doing the same as us on their visit to Mongolia, so at last we had found some friends. We All went back to a hotel briefly for a much needed shower and then boarded a bus to a Ger camp were we will be spending the next two nights. They Ger camp was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by hills and mountains. It was quite amusing to see that in all this space the Mongolians had bothered to mark out a coach pack and erected a blue parking sign!!! As we drove to the camp the sun was just setting behind the hills soon sending the temperature to 0 - looks like another cold night ahead of us.

Well we lifted the blinds on the window to the most beautiful scenery, flat plains with tufted grass and wonderful rivers which were steaming in the early morning dawn, with a back drop of mountains that were just starting to catch the sun on the peaks so they were a wonderful pink. We packed our backpacks ready for the off ( it was only 6 or 7 in the morning) and we didn't arrive in Ulan Bataar till 5.30 that evening now that was a long wait. As we got off the train all the rest of the group who had been at the other end of the train got off, and that was the first time we all met. We got taken to a coach and then off to a hotel for a quick shower, the hotel was the top dogs and the rooms were huge. We had an hour to have a shower and get changed and that shower was heavenly, can't believe how I had taken things like hot water and clean towels for granted - never again. After that we went and had some very late lunch and I had pizza and chips with loads of cheese, that was better than sex (sorry Tobes but it was) had a quick look around to get our bearings and then got back on the coach again and driven to the Ger camp where we were to stay for the next few days. Unfortunately we couldn't see anything as it was dark.

Tuesday 18th September 2001 Steppes

Woke to a cloudless but chilly Mongolian day. The Ger tent was surprisingly warm though and breakfast was great. Then it was time to go for a ride through the steps on a typical Mongolian Horse. Around 10 of us went out together with our guide, 'Gans', I was lucky and managed to get a frisky one that did everything I wanted. Sarena's was a bit dopey though (as where many others of the horses) and was quite happy just to plod along the steppes. Ben from New Zealand soon gave up with his horse and decided to just walk with it and still managed to keep up with the group. Gans (means 'Steel Axe') told us that no one owns the land in Mongolia so anyone can just set up a tent practically wherever they like. He also said they you can by a horse for around $100 (US Dollars), which you can then sell back- Sounds like a perfect riding holiday for Joy (the rest of us will use motorbikes). After the riding and lunch some of us visited a local nomads Ger tent. We where welcomed in and offered salty tea (nice) and dried yoghurt type biscuits (disgusting). Its my belief that they only make these biscuits just so they can watch the stupid tourists with their cameras eating them and pretending they are nice. The Tent was very homely and occupied by a young mother with her 9 month old baby. We were advised to bring gifts to the tent (bread or cigarettes). A Mongolian herdsman entered the tent so after misinterpreting Gans comment to offer him a cigarette, I give him the a whole packet. This seemed to initiated other members of our group to give him packets of cigarettes. The Confused but happy herdsman accepted them. Gans then explained that he was just a neighbour and we should of saved the packets for the real master of the Tent - doh! That evening local musician visited the camp and played some traditional songs. These included the amazing art of Throat Singing which has to be seen to be believed. One guy also had a cool two string violin type guitar thing (the strings were made out of horses hair) and could play some wicked likes and sound affects - I think I may have discovered the next Jimi Hendrix - Mongolian stylee!

After the show it was disco time - Latino music, a few party games and toooo much Vodka. I got drunk very quickly, and got a bit loud, I think! - sorry Matt and Lorna if I was.

After the disco we spent a while looking at the stars - amazing 360 degrees of clear night sky with more stars then I could imagine (but no moon).

Got woken in the night in our tent by a bashing sound then the light turned on to reveal a tall drunk Dutch man (they are all tall in Holland) standing in the middle of our Ger shouting God Dammit (in Dutch). We forgave Richard as it was his Birthday and he did give us some of his cake.

The inside of the tent was amazing and consisted of 4 brightly coloured beds and a wooden painted wardrobe and dressing table and chairs with a stove in the middle. We were sharing our Ger with Matt and Lorna and had a good laugh with them, they luckily had the same sense of humour as us. We awoke the next morning to a lovely sunny day and the most wonderful scenery of mountains and green fields and absolute quiet - heaven. We had a huge breakfast and went horse riding for a couple of hours, Toby had a really fast horse and I had the most laid back horse ever to have possible walk this planet! so I didn't get any faster than a half hearted trot which came in fits and starts. The thing I didn't like though was the grass hoppers, massive things that lived on the plains and as we trotted through them they flew everywhere ( whoppers!) The beasts had no flying or landing ability and I seemed to be the only one bothered by them, so I was sat at the back of all the riders on my comatose'd horse trying to cover every orifice from the winged monsters. After that adventure I decided to do some hand washing and write my diary whilst Toby went off to see locals doing local things.. Lorna and Matt came back first telling me about what they had seen and said it was quite interesting but the worst thing was the biscuits they were given to try, Lorna couldn't find the right words to describe just how bad they were and apparently were made from natural yoghurt stuff?? or something. She also said that they had given the token gifts which we had been advised to buy like fags and bread, to the neighbours instead of the correct host..... I wasn't disappointed that I hadn't gone and was feeling pleased with myself for cleaning my fleece which was beginning to grow legs and start grazing at odd moments, but then in came Toby with a smug look on his face telling me he had saved me a piece of biscuit for me to try!!! so I did, and it was soooo foul ! but it was nice of him to think about me , git. We then had a treat in store for us that evening as they had invited some Mongolian Throat singers to perform for us. I thought it was great but the woman singer actually made my ear drums hurt because she was so loud, my god she could shatter glass that woman and frightened poor Toby to death. There were quite a few performers and all did different things dressed in traditional clothes and had the old instruments, but the most impressive was a man who sang but sounded like a digital instrument and could change his voice by using his throat some how?? it didn't even sound like it was coming from him, freaky stuff but very entertaining. Later that evening we were entertained by Mongolian opera singers, seemed very strange watching these very small men dressed in tuxedo's in the middle of nowhere singing Italian Opera... but all good fun. We then had bit of a disco and Toby and I got a bit drunk on very large shots of Vodka, staggered back to the tent and then staggered out again to look at the stars which were the most beautiful site to behold and was quite a special moment until Toby staggered out with a blanket over his head saying he was a Russian old woman and started getting quite loud.

Wednesday 19th September 2001 Ulan Bataar

Best nights sleep I've had so far (despite the crazy Dutchman) Although I feel a bit of a cold coming on and very hungover. We left the camp in the morning and headed back to Ulan Bataar to spend a day in the capital and one night in a hotel (yipeee). Its not a pretty town, what would you expect from Nomads, but the people are so friendly that the state of the buildings do not seem to matter. We visited their only main Buddist Monastery. If I am right I think all the others were destroyed by the Russians. Then just got some supplies for our train trip to Beijing and went back to the hotel (via a post office and Internet Cafe)

Well on the train again tomorrow, this time though we will be with the people we have met in Mongolia so it should be a lot more fun, plus its only for 30 or so hours this time.

I loved Mongolia and hope to return. Thanks to Gans, he was an excellent guide

We packed our bags after another huge breakfast and said good-bye to the lovely staff who waved off for hours and were just little dots in the distance as we coached our way back to Ulan Bataar for the day and the luxury hotel again for the night. We went off to the Internet cafe and once again Toby had received 29 emails and spent the next hour and a half answering them and I got bored, but when I finally looked on mine I only had 4 messages!! something is not right..... We then had a mooch around the shops and sent some postcards and I started feeling a bit crap with the cold I had picked up from the rest of the group. I sat down and waited for Toby to go and change some money and found myself surrounded by very dirty scabby little children who were actually very sad souls and I think a few of them just wanted to get close just to get some affection. Toby came back and we gave them some money and the rest of our Sprite which they thought was great. Someone told me later that these children lived in the sewer at night to keep warm....that's something to think about. We went back to the hotel and found that our room was absolutely huge, with a king size bed and 2 balconies and spare room! fantastic. Thanks Gans!!

Thursday 20th September 2001 Gobi Desert

Back on the train! A shorter trip this time though - just 31 hours, plus the weathers warmer, plus we are travelling with the friends we met during the past two days in Mongolia. The train is much nicer (its Chinese) with carpets, two toilets and constant hot water. The attendant too is friendly, although he speaks very little English he is very polite and tries his best to help us. We are sharing a compartment this time, with two American Brothers - Loren from Alaska and Harlan from Wyoming, they entertained us throughout the journey with tales of adventures and their perspectives on life. It was very interesting. I was expecting a bit of a piss-up on this journey but everybody seemed pretty tired. Still it was a good opportunity to find out more about everyone. There was some spectacular views from the train as we crossed the Gobi desert and the sun set. We got to the Chinese border at about 9:30pm. It was a lengthy process (as usual) as all the bogies on the train had to be changed to a different gauge to fit the Chinese rail tracks. It wasn't until about midnight that we finally set off again.

We caught the train early that morning and was pleasantly surprised at how much better the train was to the last one we had been subjected to. Carpets and lace nets at the window plus blue valour covering our beds and clean toilets!!! bonus. We shared our cabin with American brothers, Harlan and Lauren who were fantastic company and invited us to visit them when in America, thanks guys you might regret it when we come knocking at your door..! In the evening Gobi desert was lovely watching the sun disappear over the vast landscape, but the scenery was quite monotonous during the day time. We also had all the rest of the group in the carriage which was nice, so we could just wonder in and out of peoples cabins to have a chat, but everyone was tired as the evening grew closer and I was starting to get a very bad stomach ache ........ugh oh start of something very bad.

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ENGLAND - RUSSIA - MONGOLIA - CHINA - NEPAL/TIBET - INDIA - SINGAPORE - AUSTRALIA - NEW ZEALAND - FIJI - FRENCH POLYNESIA - EASTER ISLAND - CHILE - ARGENTINA - URUGUAY - BRAZIL - PERU - ECUADOR - U.S.A - SPAIN - ENGLAND
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