Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Beautiful Sand dunes of the Gobi desert!

The day began by Jay giving us a descriptive detail of his illness the night before. Apparently, he wasn't feeling well and had to leave the ger numerous times to use the restroom. He did not eat breakfast, shortbread filled with chocolate, nor did he drink anything. Migaa attempted to help Jay feel better by boiling water for him. However, he did not drink it, because he was too afraid that he might have to use the restroom. This was very thoughtful of Migaa. Even though Jay wasn't feeling that well when it was time to leave, he gave us the "thumbs up" to begin the journey for the day. Ironic that yesterday's conversations was solely centered around constipation!
We began our bumpy journey to the sand dunes. This day was going to be a short day in the van, hallelujah!
As we are riding along, Jay spots an advertisement for beer. Can you believe this was in the middle of the Gobi Desert? Maybe it was promoting the turtle bar. I was amazed at this marketing tactic! After about an hour on the bumpy dirt road, Caroline spots a herd of horses chasing one another in circles. She immediately asks Mishka to stop and he slams on his breaks! Migaa explains to us that the male horses are in competition for the mare. One horse frantically chased after the mare of the other group. However, the 4 other male horses surrounded her to protect her from the male horse. They appeared to be communicating with one another by rubbing their heads against one another, maybe a sign of affection. We watched this occur for over 10 minutes and continued with our journey. Nick spotted a sand storm winding up in the form of a tornado. This was a cool sight to see, because you hear about these phenomenas, but rarely a person gets to witness such a sight. The conversation then lead to the concept of mirages in the desert. There are so many times we were asking one another, "Is that a lake over there?" Migaa asked Mishka to stop at an "o-wa" that was convered with massive goat heads with horns. These were offerings that other people left to the Gods. The journey continues and we begin to see mountainous hills of sand. The ridge line in the distance looks as if the mountain began, but some one forgot to finish them. Some one must have lost the blue prints!. The mountains appeared to be colors of black and pink with little grassland. The road gets more bumpy and harsh as we approach the sand dunes. As we are riding, massive sand dunes appear to arrive from now where. The pure white sand appeared to be "glowing.". The dunes stretched across the desert in between the rocky mountain ridge line of the Ice Valley, over 200 km in distance! This massive dune is 180 km in length, 13-15 km in width, and 13-15 km in height, but can get up to 100 km when windy. We arrived to our ger and were immediately greeted by the lady of the household. We practiced our Mongolian that Migaa had taught us days before, "Sanbinno"-which means hi and how are you? Everyone appeared to be tired and a little cranky. Nick and I cooked rice for lunch, but the others did not eat. Jay was still deathly afraid of food and Caroline claimed that she was not hungry. Nick and I cleaned up in the sink outside and baked in the blazing hot sun. After clean up, everyone did their own separate thing. Nick took off to scope out the desert and the sand dunes while Caroline read about politics, Jay slept and recuperated, and I read my geisha book. I dozed off a couple of times while reading. Caroline appeared worried about Nick after 30 minutes of his departure. She was suppose to be able to see him across the desert at the bottom of the sand dune. Caroline peered out the ger in search of him. There was no sight of him! Caroline re-assured her self numerous times that he would be ok. He wanders often to places when traveling. Nick returned about two hours later and Caroline expressed her concern for not being able to see him. For dinner we had rice with cabbage, potatoes, and red sauce. This was very tasty and Jay was glad that there was not any mutton. After dinner, we went camel riding across the desert to the sand dune. My Camel looked as if was a rock star with long shaggy hair. Caroline's camel had a protruding lip, like that of Bubba from Forest Gump. Shrimp anyone! The camels appeared to have difficulties walking up part of the sand dune, but the view was amazing with the sunset of colors of pink and blue. We left the camels at the bottom of the dune and struggled to climbed up the sand dune. Once we made it to the top, the view was absolutely breath-taking. Jay and I sat at the top and admired the beautiful view of the desert. We raced down the sand dune as we had to get our camels back before dark. The camels followed each other in a nearly perfect straight line. However, it was like a traffic jam once they realized that they were going home. They appeared to he racing home, but in a leisurely way. This was an absolutely amazing experience. I love riding camels! Maybe Jay will buy me one for Christmas!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

South Gobi-Ice Valley & Dinosaur Eggs!

On this day, I slept much better than the three previous nights. I was awoken by the family bringing in breakfast and boiled water. Breakfast consisted of a sushi-like roll with rice, cucumbers, and cabbage salad. This did not appear to be traditional Mongolian food. Migaa later informed us that it was Korean. Jay informed me that last night he had a conversation with Caroline and Nick regarding suspenders. In England, pants mean underwear and suspenders mean garder belts. Not knowing the exact terminology, I said "my gran wears suspenders!" Caroline and Nick began busting out laughing and explained the two concepts to me. Now, I will never view suspenders the same way again. Sorry Gran!
The main focus of today's conversation was constipation. It appeared that everyone was having problems in this area. This could be due adaptation to the countryside. The journey for the day was traveling to the Ice Valley and a canyon where dinosaur bones and eggs have been found. The road to the Ice Valley was sandy and rocky with lots of bumps! However, the view was phenomenal. We walked down the grass valleys where we saw gerbel like creatures with mickey mouse ears everywhere. There were many holes that these creatures popped in and out of as they skirted across the grassy valley. Also, there were many cows and horses grazing the grassland. Jay and Nick found a cow carcass near a stream. This was extremely sad, we attempted to figure out how his death occurred. As we approached the ice valley, you could see layers of thin sheets of ice. This was extremely beautiful, but you couldn't concentrate too much on the had to watch your step! At one point of this ice valley adventure, the ice had melted into two different sheets of ice. Nick decided to jump across one side to the next, while the rest of us rock climbed on the mountain to the other side. Today, was the first lunch made for the six of us. We had rice with tuna, green peas, and corn. Of course, additional Maggi and chili sauce were added. Jay and Nick decided that they would like to reverse the roles. Therefore, the law was made...boys cook and girls clean up. After lunch, we travelled for about two hours and winded up at a deep red Canyon where dinosaur eggs and bones were found. In the 1940s, Roy Andrews, an American archaeologist, found these remains. Migga also introduced us to the Sauxl shrub (much like coal), used for making a fire. These shrubs appeared to be extremely dry lying in the sand. Continued with the journey, and made our way to our ger. We made a sudden detour when Migaa informed us that there was a bar in the Gobi. As we approached the bar, we realized that it was in the shape of a turtle. We had to stop! Arriving to the ger, we were introduced to the family. The 5 of us, Caroline, Jay, Migaa, Nick, and me walked through the shrub forest. We stopped to admire the baby camel drinking milk from his mother. It was beautiful to see the communication between a baby camel and his mother. The family dog followed us through the forest and would randomly disappear. Jay called him over and he rubbed his camel pooped snout all over Jay's pants! Nick was obsessed with snakes as we ventured through the forest. Dinner consisted off pasta with tofu (very expensive for a family). That evening we watched the sunset and the sky fill with colors of pink, blue, and orange. Jay did not sleep well this night as he was in and out of the ger all night visiting the restroom.

Middle Gobi to South Gobi!

On this morning, for breakfast we had biscuits, much like crackers, with two pieces of goat cheese smashed together with goat butter. Also, we were able to experience goat milk, goat yogurt, and camel curd. This was a true culinary experience, but rather appalling. Jay and I began the day's journey with nausea. On first part of this day's journey, we saw herds of camels. Jay and Nick took many photos of these fuzzy, two-hump, beautiful creatures. Luckily, they didn't get spat on, but they surely were "Up Close and Personal!"
The road seemed to be more bumpier than the previous two days. I attempted to fall asleep, but I was afraid that I might miss the gorgeous scenery or a fascinating animal. However, Jay did not have a problem in this area! There were a couple times that Caroline, Nick, and I thought he might topple over. Four hours into our journey, we arrived in Dalanzdgad, the capital of South Gobi. There appeared to be many gers surrounded by fences and a couple of westernized buildings. In this town, we were able to go to the market, get a shower, and use the Internet. The market appeared to be in the shape of a square with an array of shops selling many specialized items. Migaa helped us purchase all items we needed. We loaded up on sweets... Nick's idea! The public shower was extremely reinvigorating. This was our first shower in three days! Gosh, were we SMELLY! The Internet was really slow, which was to be expected we were in the middle of the Gobi. For dinner we had vegetable soup with mutton. This was tasteful and unexpectedly good. Jay and I remained in the Ger that night while Caroline and Nick socialized with the people from the night before. I was extremely tired, and I had diffculties sleeping this night as well.

Central Province to Middle Gobi!

Today, consisted of traveling from Central Province to the Middle Gobi. The day started off with a flat biscuit sprinkled with sugar, much like a doughnut, and coffee for breakfast. Our journey began by first visiting the ruins of a monastery in the Central Province. This monastery was surrounded by herds of sheep, goats, cows, and horses roaming on rich grassland. Not far from the monastery was a natural underground spring. This was surrounded by a blue fence to act as a marker for all townspeople. Brief history about the monastery: the monastery was burned/destroyed during the Revolution/Liberation from China in 1921. This monastery was a gift for the local Lima's daughter. Approaching the monastery, there was a mountain of stones varying in shape and size with an array of colorful scarves, such as blue, red, yellow, green, and white. Migaa explained that this is an "o-wa," a stone temple made by a particular family from the Central Province. The scarves represents a different aspect of the Mongolian people. Blue represents the sky, red represents evil, yellow represents religion, green represents nature, and white represents the mare's milk. The religious tradition surrounding the "o-wa" is that a person selects three rocks, blows on them for good luck, and walks counter clockwise three times while throwing a rock each passing time. When throwing the rock, the person makes a wish and hopes that it comes true.
Continuation with our journey and Migaa gave us a general lesson about animals(cows, sheep, goats, horses, and camels) in Mongolia. All animals are used as a means of food on a daily basis. There is a 13:1 ratio of animals to Mongolians! Shortly after the overview about nature, we stopped for a picnic lunch. There was much sand and some mountain area with beautiful lizards and insects that were bright blue and green. We jumped in the van and continued with the journey. Before arriving to our ger for the night, we made a detour to a White Natural Stupor. Mishka drove in and whipped around to the edge of the stupor. It felt as if we all could fall out of the van...terrifying! The stupor consisted of various colors-red, purple, blue, and orange. it appeared to be massive from looking above. But, once we climbed below through the valleys of the mountains, it was quite an illusion. I was amazed at how the earth could develop such beautiful natural colors. This was something that I had never seen before....absolutely beautiful! I observed Mishka and Migaa participating in the sacred tradition of throwing the three rocks and making three wishes to the "o-wa."
We arrived to the ger and it immediately felt like a tourist establishment rather than staying with a real nomadic family. However, the family was still very welcoming and provided wonderful hospitality. Dinner consisted off dumpling filled with rice and dried camel. This was actullay quite tasty and I was completely surprised with how much I liked it. Also, I was introduced to Maggi(basically MSG) and now completely addicted to it. Thanks to Caroline! This is her favorite additional flavor to mostly all food. We spent the evening conversing with new friends from Germany, France, Holland, and Canada. Also, we had the luxury of trying Mongolian wine, which I will never recommend to others. The only way to describe this experience is to explain the ingredients of this fruitful wine: grape compound, sugar, and some chemical for fermentation. Sounds YUMMY, uh? And of course, I didn't sleep well!

Heading to the countryside!

Mongolian man smoking his pipe.

The beginning of our 12-day journey began on June 14th. I woke early to have an extremely cold shower, packed our belongings, and dragged Jay out of bed. Once we made it down stairs to our 4-wheel drive Russian van, we were greeted with eager and smiling faces from Mishka(driver) and Miga (translator). Mishka was from the North Province of Mongolia and has been driving with UB Guesthouse for over 11 years. He knew the roads the best(this is true, he proved himself)! Migaa is a professor at Ulaanbaatar University and teaches Mongolian and Russian language.
As we pulled out of UB Guesthouse, we were immediately stopped by the police. He appeared to be checking Mishka's passport and the safety of the van. Migaa informed us that this is normal and happens when departing the city to the countryside. As we headed out of the city, heavy traffic filled the streets and we witnessed two car accidents in less than two minutes apart. The ride started off bumpy and it only got worse once we hit dirt roads.
Migaa appeared eager to begin the journey with us and immediately began discussing the types of homes that nomadic people reside in. In the city, people live in apartments, houses, and Gers pronounced "gears." A ger consists of a circular wooden frame carrying a felt cover. The felt is made from the wool of sheep. The frame consists of one or more lattice wall-sections, a door-frame, roof poles and a crown. The felt is additionally covered with canvas or sun-covers. The canvas can be that of different colors varying in accordance with how wealthy a family is. The typical color of a ger is white. This symbolizes purity and the milk of the mare. The frame is held together with one or more ropes made from animal hair. The wooden frame is typically painted blue, representing the sky, and orange, representing religion. When entering a ger, you must walk from left to right, never walk in the middle. The left side of the ger is for guests, the center for the father, and the right side for the wife and children. In between the guests and the father, is a shrine dedicated to their religion, Buddhism.
About twenty minutes into our journey, four white-tailed gazelle sped past the van. Mishka sped up beside them and they were running at the rate of 70-80 km/hour! They ran in front of the van and Mishka honked is horn profusely. We were amazed at the rate these creatures could travel! Throughout the remainder of the day, we saw herds of cows, sheep, goats, and horses.
We saw the perfect photo opportunity of two goats that were standing in the middle of the road. Mishka stopped and as we approached the adult and baby goat. The adult goat went under the van for protection from the sun and wind. Mishka attempted to pull him by his horns for approximately 10 minutes. The goat appeared to linger around the van and Mishka threw cow dung at him!
We arrived at the family's ger at 5 pm and met the family by having traditional "salty tea" and biscuits. Migaa explained that the man of the house is usually shy, but very humble. This was very apparent as we had tea with him. After tea, we walked to the massive rock formations. We climbed to the top of one of the formations and looked over at the different shades of brown. For dinner we had delicious noodle soup with mutton. That night I had difficulties sleeping in my new habitat. My bed, as well as the others, had wooden planks underneath the thin mattress. Mongolians believe that you must sleep on a hard bed for a strong spine. This was the beginning of restless nights!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Get Ready...Here we come!

Caroline with her $4 dinner!

The past couple of days have consisted getting our excursion to the country side in order. Luckily, we have been paired up with our wonderful English friends, Caroline and Nick.
Last night, the four of us went to a Mongolian concert where traditional song and dance were performed. This was a real treat! But, the excitement begins tomorrow as we are headed for our 12 day tour of the southern and central part of Mongolia.
We will be out of communication during this duration, so please don't worry. We plan on arriving back to Ulaanbaatar on the 26th and heading to Beijing on the 28th. We will be in touch as soon as possible.

Monday, June 11, 2007

$5 apartment!

Well, the Mongolain border crossing was a breeze compared to that of Russia. The train only stopped for an approximately one hour. Jay and I did not get hassled by the Mongolian officials. However, the Mongolian wrestler appeared to get drilled by the visa inspector. We arrived to Ulaanbaatar at 7:30 am to find UB Guesthouse waiting for our arrival. They greeted us with wonderful hospitality and provided knowledgeable information regarding the tours to the countryside. At this lovely guesthouse, we get free breakfast, unlimited coffee and tea, free internet use, laundry services, free booking for train tickets and tours to the country side. Our room was not ready, so the recepionist said that it would be a good idea for us to head to the Chinese embassy to fill out our application for our visa. We agreed and this process was such a breeze, nothing compared to Talliinn. Our visas should be ready next week, which works out great because we plan on going on an excursion to the Gobi desert or the central part of Mongolia. When we arrive back to the guesthouse, our room is ready. We are staying in a dorm room with Nick and Caroline, the two English people we met on the way to Lake Baikal. The rooms has four beds, an extremely nice bathroom, and a stocked kitchen. SWEET! Did I mention it's only $5 per day per person!
Right now, we are heading to grab a bite of food and explore the city. We love and miss everybody!
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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Border Crossing

Well, we are into the 5th hour of the border crossing process. The Russian officials are now destroying the train in search for contraband or maybe missed place warheads. It's amazing that it is so much harder to leave this country than to enter. After all this time, we are still not in Mongolia yet. Who knows what their border will be like!
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Lovely smell of Mutton

In Zaudinsky, the scenery was characterised by herds of cattle grazing across low rolling hills with the Selegna River flowing near by. Also, there was villages of wooden houses with bright painted window shutters. Then, the train passed a town called Zagustay. This appeared to be a tiny village with wooden houses and bright green grass. It was much like that of Zaudinsky. The train then followed the shores of Gusinoye Ozero (Goose Lake), which is surrounded by birch and pine trees. According to our book, this is usually prevalent further north, but can be seen here. The train crossed the Selegna River again before we arrived in Naushki. This was a small, uneventful town that is the Russian border post.
Right now, we are waiting to get our passports back and cross the border. When the Russian Visa Inspector came to get our passports, he had a staring contest with all of the people in our carriage. Well, more with Jay and I than the Mongolain wrestler. We wanted to bust out laughing during this competition, but we tried our best not to. I cracked a smile :). We got off the train to get a fresh breath of air and strech our legs. We walked to the store and attempted to buy some snacks, but the line was terribly to long. Guess who was sitting in my seat when we returned. I'll give you one chance...the Mongolian guy, who was sleeping in my bed. And our room stunk, because they were eating mutton dumplings. Only 12 more hours to go and I will be happy to get off this smelly train!
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Mongolian Wrestler!

Mongolian bound now! We get to our carriage and find a Mongolian man sleeping in my bed! The Provodnitsa kicks him out! We settle in and meet our neighbor, he happens to be a Mongolian wrestler that participates in the Naadam Festival. This festival takes place during July and has many games like, archery, ankle bone shooting, and horse racing. Too bad we won't be able to make this! We attempt to have a conversation with him, but he knows little English.
Finally, we fall asleep to the sound of the chuging train. However, I am woken up by the large wrestler sitting on my bed. What was he thinking invading my space? He eventually moves back to his side and I fall back asleep. Next, thing you know I am awoken by the Mongolain man, who was sleeping in my bed earlier, sitting on my bed. What was he thinking? He did not ask politely to sit on my bed. He moves and I wake Jay up for lunch. At this time, we notice the train stops at the cental station in Ulan-Ude at 5640 km. As we are eating lunch, we notice a massive amount of movement take place on our train car. The Mongolian people are moving their goods around. The aisles are full of random stuff and many people. Next thing you know the Provodnitsa is bringing goods to store in our room. Did I mention that the Mongolain wrestler has all of his goods spread about our carriage. Suprisingly, there is enough room for us! So after about 30 minutes, we attempt to head to the bathroom to brush our teeth, but the aisles are still full. We eventually make it to the bathroom and on our way back we notice a raw chicken sitting on a table of one of the carriages. How is she gonna cook this without a stove or oven? Once we get back to our carriage, the other Mongolian man (the one sleeping in my bed earlier) is sitting on my bed. I politely say excuse me and sit down. He leaves...hope I didn't offend him. I wish we had smell-a-vision to share with you all the different smells that we are experiencing...I simply can't put it into words.
Right now, we are in the town of Zaudinsky. Here you see, run down wooden country homes with rolling hills and mountains in the background. The sight is re-freshing as we attempt to pretend we are taking in the smell of the fresh air outside rather than the smell on the train.
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Olkhon Island

Later that evening, we had dinner with Caroline, Nic, and Kris. Did I mention that Nikita's Guesthouse provides us with 3 meals a day. Then, we all went down to the beach to watch the sunset and have some uber chilled drinks (we put our beer in the lake). The 4 day train ride and 7 hour bus ride was well worth this breath taking view. Here, you see the Shaman rocks. Our Lonely planet books says that they are nothing spectacular, but I thought they were amazing. Oh, thinking about it makes me want to go back right now. The next morning we ate breakfast and set off for a mountain bike ride with Caroline, Nic, and Kris to the other side of the island. We were ready for a swim! We begin our path thinking that it was going to be an easy ride with amazing scenery. However, we were completely wrong! Somehow we must have made a wrong turn, because we were cycling up massaive inclines, logs, swamps, and ice. We are sweating bullets and actually see snow. AMAZING! Needless to say, we never made it to the other side of the island. We all were completely exhausted and wanted to go back. During this trek, Jay thought that he was going to die. We didn't bring an adequate amount of water supply for the 5 of us. I think we all thought we were going to die. This trail is meant for the Kevin Barefields and Brandi Campbells of the world. I do beileve everyone slept quite well that night.
The next day we ate breakfast and lounged around on the shore of Lake Baikal.
The following day we set off on a five hour excursion to the North-the Cape in a mini-van. The three English guys, Nic, Rob, and Dave, that we met in Moscow. The excursion consisted of beautiful views of the Lake from different parts of the island on the way to the North. Also, there were massive rocks, which are called the 3 brothers, that Dave decided to climb. This was nerve wrecking watching him come down! The Buryat people of this village believe in many spirits and gods. A depiction of these spirits are in the form of dolls that are posted around the village. We were unable to get a true understanding of this, because all the information was in Russian. However, we participated in the ritual of making an offering to each spirit that we passed. Villagers offer money, cigarette butts, lighters, and empty bottles of vodka and beer. We offered small amounts of change. After dinner, all of us (Caroline, the two Nics, Dave, Rob, two guys we met through Nic and Caroline (Phil and John), Jay, and I) drank beers around a bonfire. We discussed current and past travels.
On the 9th, we said good-bye to all of the friends that we met and hoped that we would see them in the near future. We headed back to Irkutsk by mini bus (Did I mention Russian Techno music?) in hopes of getting a train ticket to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Guess what? We did and now we are heading on the train there! It's about 6 am in the morning and we are heading to sleep. We didn't sleep at all last night as we were waiting in the train station.
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Saturday, June 9, 2007

Beautiful Lake Baikal!

The 7 hour bus ride to the Olkhon Island was completely miserable! Before I explain the degree of the horror entailed, a brief description of the bus is needed. The bus was a vintage from the year 0f 1970. It had bright orange Arabian curtains with navy blue seats with sky blue plastic coverings. There was no AC, but three vents that could be used to ventilate cold air from the outside. Little did we know, this does not actually help when the exhaust vent is next to your leg!

The bus ride appeared to starting off to a normal start...everyone stood in line and presented their ticket to the bus driver. We were unable to figure out if we had assigned seats. Therefore, we sat at the nearest seats available. To Jay's luck, he happened to pick the seat where the exhaust ventilated. He had the HOT SEAT! For three hours, Jay complained about this seat. He was in constant battle with a woman that sat in behind the second vent and with a man that sat behind the third vent. Jay would open the vent and one of them would close it. Finally, Jay asked the man if he was cold. He said yes and they agreed to change seats. Jay was happy, because he was sitting in the back of the bus where it was nice and cool. However, he had no leg room and claimed this as the 2nd worst seat on the bus. Oh yeah, the bus appeared not to have any shocks. Therefore, the entire bus ride was bumpy and it got worse as we entered the countryside, because there were only DIRT roads. Despite these small details, we meet three very nice people, Caroline, Nic, and Kris. Kris was from Canada and was heading from Mongolia. So, he provided us with tons of information about accommodations and excursions in Ulaanbaatar. Caroline and Nic are from the UK and are traveling on the same route as us.

About 6 hours into our bus ride, we FINALLY captured a view of the Lake. Picture...snow capped mountains with the sun glistening off the crystal clear blue water. Did you know that this is the world's deep lake at 415 meters and hold a 5th of the world's fresh water...awesome stat...I know! We eventually cross a small portion of the Lake by ferry to get to Olkhon Island. After about an hour, we arrive at the village of Khuzhir. The village was lined with wooden shacks and cows roamed the area. Here we stayed at Nikita's Guesthouse, which was pumping with tourist.

Sorry! But, I will post later about the rest of our adventure at Olkhon Island. The computer technician just informed that he is closing!

Monday, June 4, 2007

If you didn't fly, then is it train lag?

5 time zones later...It's 4:00 am, Tuesday morning...yes, we can predict the future! Jay is bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to start the day. Where I am just plain sleepy. I wake up so, he doesn't have to sit here alone until its time to get up.
Yesterday, we roamed the city to find a place to eat dinner. We asked the hostess if she had an English menu. She replied no, but insisted that we stayed. Our waitress new English and helped us with the best entrees on the menu. We both ordered Borsch, which is a type of beet root soup with different kinds of meats and we split a pasta dish that had ham, egg, and parmesan cheese. It was all quite tasty!
Then, we made our way to a cellphone store to purchase a new SIM card. The saleperson tried to be very helpful by attempting to speak English to us.
Thus far, the hospitality of this city has been wonderful. But, you have to wonder why the streets are extremely dirty and why most of the houses and buildings look run-down. This is considered one of the busiest stops for travellers to get to Lake Baikal. Surely, there are tourist dollars put into this city.
Today, at 8am we will be taking a 7 hour bus ride to Lake Baikal. If Jays sleepy and I'm awake, then he will be staying up with me!
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Almost there-so close!

At 4377 km, the train stopped in the small city of Ilanskaya. Here there were street venders selling everything from chocolate to dry smoked fish. The next stop was Tayshet at 4515 km. Jay sprinted across the tracks to get us some soda. I was so worried that he was going to get left, because our book says this stop only merits 5 minutes. Luckily, Jay had a little bit more time. At 5185 km, we reach the Irkutsk river and 3 km later we arrive at Irkutsk station. The 77 hour, 5180 km train ride was such a breeze!
Irkutsk use to be nicknamed the "Paris of Siberia."(That's a far stretch). As soon as we stepped off the station, we realized that this town was not going to be like a charming, beautiful city. The city was filled with smog and cars hustling and bustling down the streets. The pollution smelt so horrible that it burned the inside of your nose hairs. We walked down the streets attempting to find the bus station. After about an hour, we arrive to the station and to our luck there are no buses leaving today to Olkhon Island. We don't want to stay in this dirty town.
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Sunday, June 3, 2007


2428 km- Jay hurried off the train at Ishim to get a bag of potato chips. He failed at this task, because the provonista waived him back. He would have been left behind and I would have been very sad. About 5 minutes go by, a lady walks by selling something. For some reason, I thought she was selling purses, but actually it was food.. Jay purchased this potato looking ball. It was filled with onions and maybe pork. It was pretty tasty, but extremely greasy.
About every 15 mintues, an annoying lady walks by trying to sell you fur purses, scarves, and mittens. We constantly tell her "nyet," which means no! Hopefully, she will stop botherig us. She hasn't returned in over hours. Thanks goodness!
The train hasn't made any recent stops. We are just surrounded by beautiful greenery, farm land, and dachas (wooden country homes). And ofcourse, many horses and cows.
At approximately at 3035, Jay accomplishes his mission. He gets potato chips! We are at the town of Barabinsk. This is where many Polish Jews were exiled. Sad, but true! Our heart goes out to all that were exiled.
As we are leaving the station, we are surrounded by trains with coal from Kuzbas Basin. I just talked to my mom and Mr. Jimmy...I love and miss you guys very much! Hope Waffle House is YUMMY sleeping beauties!
Now, we are surrounded by stunning greenery that seem to be swaying back and forth dancing with the wind. Or is it just the vodka?
We go to the Resturant Car and met a Russian guy and girl and a lad from Holland. We also met our neighbors that are one cabin down from us, Sylvia and Rico from Garmany. Come to find out they are going to Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal as well. They are staying at Nikita's Guesthouse, just like us. While conversing with our new friends, shots of vodka are ordered one after another. Needless to say, we don't remember anything about that night, but not feeling good. We do know that we must have went to bed early, because we woke up thinking it was the same day as when we went to sleep. It was bright outside!
Today, we have been staring out the window at the beautiful country side of Siberia swearing to never drink vodka again.
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Saturday, June 2, 2007


At 1553 km, we looked to our right and the train began to follow the Sylva River. We attempted to look out the window at 1777 km to see the white monument that represents Asia-Russia, but we see nothing because it is too dark. We fell asleep to the chugging of the train. When we awoke, we attempted to figure out where we were. In our sleep, we pasted the city of Yekaterinburg. This is the cultural and economic capital of the Urals. Also, it's famous as the birthplace of Boris Yelstin and the death place of Tsar Nicholas II. The train supposively stops here for 20-30 mintues. But, we were sleeping so we didn't get off the train. We also went through the city of Tyumen, which is Siberia's oldest Russian settlement and a dynamic oil rich city. Siberia offically begins at 2102 km. Right now, we are at 2373 km. So, its offical we are in Siberia!
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Friday, June 1, 2007


After 20 hours of riding on the train, we finally figured out where we are by discovering kilometer markings. They tell how far we are from Moscow. We just past the modern, industrial city of Perm. According to our book, most travellers pass this stop, because there is not much to see and do. As we pull out of the station, we realized that we are in Siberia country side and see many dacha (wooden houses) that look dilapedated. Behind the dachas you could see huge Soviet era buildings that all looked exactly the same. Somehow, this sight is extremely beautiful and re-freshing at the same time. We see the grass swaying back and forth as it is doing some sort of dance for us. Maybe it's trying to impress us and add to our jouirney.
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After coming to the conclusion that we need help with booking the Trans-Siberian tickets, we decided to ask the hostel for help. Boy, this was a mission! First, we asked the receptionist to help us. She seemed to be pretty organized and knowledgeable about the trains. We were to come back in a few hours and she would have all information ready for us. The decision was made that we would attempt to find a skin doctor, because my face broke out over 3 weeks ago and I was having issues. The first place we went to was the American hospital and they wanted over 4,000 rubles, which is over $200 US. We made an appointment and headed to the grocery store. On our way, we saw the American Clinic and decided to stop. They wanted over 5,000 rubles. How crazy? We attempted to negoiate the price, but no luck. They told us to go to the 3rd floor and they might be able to help. Well, it turns out that upstairs no one speaks Enish, but offers good prices. We decided to give it a whirl! Luckily, we met a nice guy named, Michael, who was able to translate the entire process to us. However, Michael left before the prescriptions were given to us. What a language barrier! Trying to ask questions and the doctor only responding in Russian. We eventually figured it out with the help of another doctor, who spoke English. Guess what? The presciptions works! It's like a miracle! After this diffcuilt day, we return to the hostel and to find out that the receptionist has not done anything. What a bummer and freak out! We decided to take matters into our own hands and go to two travel agencies that our book lists. Come to find out, one does not book Trans-Siberian tickets and the other charges a huge fee. Therefore, we had to rely on the receptionist to come through. So, the next day Jay sat with her for over two hours figuring out the entire ordeal. We were able to book two tickets for two parts of the trip. She was not able to book Ulan-ude to Ulanbaator for international reasons. So, this ordeal took up almost two days worth of our time. However, we did manage to see some sights and meet some cool new people. The Kremlin was absolutely stunning in size. It most have taken up one or two blocks. The Kremlin is the apex of the Russian political power. Here is where autocratic tsars, communist dictators, and democratic presidents have done their best and worst for Russia. The reason why we went to the Kremlin was to view the Armoury. This was a breath-takeing exhibit of treasures, such as silver, gold, thrones, crowns, armour for the knights, and carraiges for the kings and queens that have been collected over centuries. We walked around the Kremlin taking in it's beauty and fascination by the wall that surrounded it from the rest of Moscow. As we were walking outside around the Kremin, we approached St. Basil's Cathedral. We were amazed at the crazy confusion of colors and shapes. This cathedral replaced the existing church that celebrated Ivan the Terrible's taking of Tsar stronghold of the Kazan. Its design is a Russian design that had deen developed for building wooden churches. Jay claims this is one of the reasons he wanted to come to Moscow. And I can see why! It was compleltely unbeliveable with the amount of different colors that were displayed. Those are only the really two big sights that we were able to see. On the third night, we had to switch beds to an 8 bed dorm. There we meet three british lads from the UK. Come to find out they are on the same route as us on the Trans-Siberia. Hopefully, we run into them at Lake Baikal.
The 4 day journey to Iruktusk began last night at 11:25 pm.
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