127. Trans Mongolian Railway

The Trans-Mongolian Railway: When we arrived in Beijing, we had to immediately decide where to go next. This is a mentally tiresome element of continuous, semi-planned travel. When we arrive in one place, the logistics of perpetual motion require that we immediately begin thinking about when, where and how we’ll move on, lest we end up standing in the crowded aisle of an overfull train for ten hours. To complicate things in Beijing, I was in the worst throes of another upper respiratory infection that had me really fantasizing about going home for the first time in months. The idea of moving from the bed to bathroom was misery enough, never mind our pressing need to somehow leave and then re-enter China to satisfy our visa terms, thereby allowing us to stay for another month. Then, as these things happen, Amy meets two Spanish people who’ve just come back from Mongolia. Even there in the coal-fired, chest-clutching haze of Beijing, she could see the reflection of big sky in their eyes and fresh, sunny plains in their wind-burned cheeks. It took little more to convince her. I was incapable of making my own decisions. The next day we took a cab to the Mongolian embassy to arrange the visas.

Except it turned out that we didn’t need visas. This we learned only after a hilarious exchange between Amy and the visa officer, who would simply slide the paperwork back across the counter and say only, “no visa” after each attempt to hand him the forms. After Amy ran through the usual incredulities (What? Why? What do you mean? I don’t understand. I really don’t understand. I’m sorry, I just don’t understand.), a German kid in the corner who’s been watching all of this finally speaks up. “There’s a sign over here that says you don’t need a visa to visit Mongolia if you’re from America or Kazakhstan.” Take that, European Union.

So we bought tickets on the Trans-Mongolian railway and bid Beijing, our dear Kirk and my chest cold goodbye, faster than you can say, “This Chinese cough medicine tastes like mint sleepy.” We boarded the train at Beijing’s main station on Tuesday morning and immediately got into trouble with our car’s attendant. Upon discovering that my pillow was the exact shape and weight of a medicine ball, I held it over my head, shouted something like, “let’s get rehabilitated!” and heaved it at Amy, knocking the wind out of her unprepared, trusting mid-section. She rightfully launched it back at me, and the force of it drove me out of the cabin and into the hallway where the smack of my head against the window promptly alerted our attendant to inappropriate horseplay. This was just the first in a series of stern finger waggings that we would receive over the next thirty hours on this train, earning us the fair reputation of unkempt rabble and earning our attendant the nickname “Dr. No.” You’d better get your body back inside the window, I can hear Dr. No coming.

It was still a fantastic ride, with the fantastical opulence of the Mongolian dining car inside (inset) and the rolling green valleys of Northern China slowly relenting to the vast and desolate reaches of the dusty Gobi desert outside – a great amount of which ended up in our cabin and all over Amy’s face when we went to sleep with our window partially open. Nevermind, we made it to the wild frontier capitol of Ulaanbaatar and immediately signed on for twelve days of horseback riding, yak milking, yurt sleeping and living with nomadic families in the surreally beautiful badlands of Central Mongolia. Which is to say, this site will have nothing new to say for a while, barring the discovery of an internet café at the ruins of Karakorum called “Genghis Broadbaahnd.” Not unreasonable for 2007, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.


  1. We just had Kirk over for dessert last night. I cried from laughing so hard at some of the stories. Others left me simply speechless.

    We miss you guys and can’t wait to hear more of the stories ourselves.

  2. molly says:

    i think if i believed in heaven i would believe that it looked like that picture. can’t wait to hear about the horses!

  3. The Chez says:

    Why is it you two always have to break the rules?
    Can’t you just live a decent life?

  4. kirk says:

    refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh. I need my RTW fix.

    Can’t you plug your laptop into some gopher hole in mongolia and post a new entry?