“Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours”
‘I'm Tony your next-door neighbour – fancy a beer?'
Do you know what the best thing is about travelling alone? it's the people you meet along the way. After being by myself for four long days, I was beginning to grow tired of dining by myself, doing the toursity things by myself and to be honest – I craved some company.
Travelling solo is great from the prospect of doing what you want, when and how you want but sometimes it gets tiring being in charge and just want someone else to make the decisions for you.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't low, in fact I had kept myself busy planning each day (which is the trick when loneliness threatens to rear it's ugly head). You plan the next day and have a purpose for getting up: knowing that you need to make the most of every minute.
So, when I queued for the Trans Mongolian train to take me from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, little did I know that I was about to have the best day of my whole trip and I was about to meet the most wonderful people – people just like me with whom to exchange travel stories and dreams of other faraway places that we had yet to explore.
Little did I know that I would be sharing beers and life stories with people whom I may never meet again and if I had have known, I would have not have wanted my 36 hour journey to end.
Welcome To Mongolia
My eyes were bleary. All I wanted to do was go to sleep and this man standing in my carriage was the only obstacle coming between me and my bed.
‘How many bags you have?'
‘Three,' I answered
‘What is in your bag?'
I told him.
‘How long you stay?‘ said the round guard who resembled a Mongolian version of the fat controller (is it still PC to call him that?) His tailored suit sitting snugly around his round face. I smiled back through blood shot eyes. This was an interrogation that I did not need at 1.30am in the morning.
We had been dealing with officials since 9pm when the train had arrived outside the official Chinese exit west of Beijing, greeted by an instrumental version of a Carpenters classic, we were locked in and made to wait whilst they checked our details.
‘Where's the train going?' I panicked, as I watched the train pull away from our glass waiting room with all my stuff still on there.
‘Changing the wheels for the Mongolian tracks,' replied my other neighbour.
True to his words, it returned 2 hours later and we moved 10 minutes down the track to the Mongolian border to face yet more officials.
I really didn't need the third degree. My hangover had kicked in already from drinking all day and I just needed my bed. But I still had one more line of questioning before I could go to sleep.
He was still firing questions at me.
‘Do you smoke?' he asked.
‘No,‘ I replied, my sense of humour not failing me in the early hours. ‘It's a dirty habit, do you?'
‘Yes' he replied scowling, his little eyes boring into mine. ‘I do.'
Welcome to Mongolia… (“San Banu”)
‘Uggh,’ he said loudly, spitting the hot liquid back into the cup. ‘They’ve put bloody salt in it instead of sugar!’ He called the waitress over in the dining cart of the Trans Mongolian train.
‘Salt,’ he said, pointing to his cup of tea.
‘Yes,’ she replied in her bright red lipstick and tightly pulled back hair.
‘Salt‘ he repeated as if she hadn’t understood his complaint. ‘Not sugar, salt.'
‘Yes sir,’ she said. ‘It’s Mongolian tea.’
Three hours later, sat in my Mongolian host family’s house for the first time, I was presented with the same Mongolian milky, salty tea. I gulped it politely, praying my face wouldn’t distort at its sourness. ‘This is nice,’ I said.
‘Good,’ my big round host mother replied. ‘I make you my special meal. Milky tea rice.’
Sometimes I think it doesn’t pay to be polite.