Friday, 13 September 2013

Cross Country Capers

I didn't need an alarm call.  I was wide awake and raring to go.  Some of the hotel staff were not so alert.  They were sleeping on the lobby sofas, snuggled under duvets when we went to check out.  Spot on time, our driver (also called Everlasting Happiness ) arrived.  Avoiding the potholes that led to the hotel, he not only took us to the station, he showed us  right to our compartment.  Earned a double bonus for that!!

We thought we had lower bunks again but the numbering on the Chinese train was different.  We had two upper berths. Luck was on our side though.  We found ourselves sharing with a young German couple.  They offered to swap.   We accepted one lower bunk which delighted them as the young fräulein had already handed over a lower bunk to an old lady on a previous stage of the journey.

From that point on, we got on famous with them.  Food and drinks were exchanged throughout the journey.  Toby gave helpful tips on using the iPod to save time and effort.  Now I know why it sometimes takes pictures without my help.  He has just finished his Masters in transport and was mine of information about the trains.  Yvonne is in her final year of Cultural Studies and had spent a year at Bangor University. 

Y wandered down to the restaurant car.  She suggested I went as it was so beautiful.  Off I toddled in my flip flops.  She was correct.  A carved wooden ceiling, stags' heads and traditional instruments adorned the carriage.  I spotted some familiar faces.  The group from Listvyanka.  At least some of them.  A few were not too well after a night in the Mongolian restaurant we had visited.  

Flip flopping back, I had a bit of stumble between carriages.  My flip flop flew off and dangled precariously on the edge.  The metal floors wobbled.  I wobbled.  The flip flop wobbled.  I lurched forward and flipped it up with my foot, just before it fell to the rails below!!

The Gobi Desert wasn't quite as sandy as we'd expected.  Sparse grass covered the sandy ground.  No large dunes or pyramids though.  Hubby became quite adept at shouting 'Camels'  to alert the other travellers.  They would rush to the windows, cameras at the ready.  He missed the fox though. 

The train pulled into a station.  We noticed J from Preston looking decidedly green.  She thought it was either the liver or the fish she had eaten.  Not the liver.  I had eaten that.  Her tablets were lost at the bottom of her bag.  You can't see someone suffer (at both ends!) so we sent her on her way with some Imodium. Great stuff.

The border crossing at Mongolia was pretty straightforward.  We had wised up to the toilet locking times, so no legs crossing today.

A fanfare announced our arrival in China. A smart uniformed official stood to attention, exactly opposite each carriage door.  His toes just touching the line.  Passports handed over and forms filled in, we waited.  The train engine roared and we started moving - back towards Mongolia!!  Had we all been rejected??  No, we were just heading to the work station.  Each carriage has to have its bogies (as in the wheel bits, not nose bits) removed as the gauge size is different.  We were hoisted by hydraulics as they were changed.  Fascinating.  I would have thought it would have been easier if everyone got off the train but no one was allowed.

Passports back and we were on our way.  Hello China.  It was dark so we settled down to sleep.  The occasional night noise broken by a snore from hubby, a shhh from PJ and a giggle fr the Germans.

Up at six,  I didn't want to waste a second.  I fought back the urge to shout 'Camels' as everyone was still asleep.  All by myself I wondered at the green rolling hills, small communities with single storey houses in neat rows, a man ploughing with oxen and groups of donkeys wandering around.

Sometimes the landscape was spoiled with the ugly scars of mines and quarries.
Then you would see the fruits of hard labour with fields of sweet corn and other crops.  One industrious farmer had employed numerous bright scarecrows to keep the birds at bay.

By now, people were up and about.  Hubby had been up and about earlier in the night.  He had excited the male attendant by greeting him in Mandarin.  The man had been delighted and shook his hand warmly.

Not wishing to sound sexist, but the female attendants paid better attention to the carriages, especially the toilet areas.  Our bedding on this leg of the journey was scrumpled, leading to suspicions that it was being recycled.  Not so good.

Guess who was the first to spot The Great Wall?  PJ.  Not often I beat hubby. He was busy videoing on the other side at the time.  

As we pulled into the next station, two jet planes gave a fly past and there were new army vehicles on parade on the train next door.  What a welcome!  Little J from Preston was on the platform feeling much better and tummy troubles over.

Soaring mountains, large rivers and tunnels was the final leg of our journey.  Every time I set up the camera,  I would be plunged into darkness. I just clicked and hoped.

Time to tidy up and hoist the haversack.  The train pulled into Beijing.  The Big Trip was over but the trip through China was about to begin. 

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