Daryl and his rambles from the rails!

Daryl has had quite a trip and many new experiences. This area was new for Daryl and his enthusiastic reports from the filed are entertaining reading. He did his own thing in Beijing and joined our arrangements when he departed by train. You can see by the additional stops that his programme differed from the standard programmes shown on the web. As stated we do this all the time and are totally flexible in what we can arrange for you.

read an enjoy.....

Mail Number 1:
Subject: Hello from Mongolia - ie the Big Horse Paddock

Hi there to everyone

I am sure you know the drill, when you are traveling, you send bulk emails, so here goes.

Life has been fascinating since leaving Melbourne.  What a culture shock.  I landed in Beijing late at night, and was pounced on by dodgy guys wanting me to get in their car.  I quickly learned the Chinese word for no, and took a hotel car.  The hotel was filthy, and I had to quickly lower my living standards.  But, after the initial shock, it was ok.  I had a great 4 days in Beijing.  The city will host an amazing Olympics, I am sure of that.  I just think it’s a pity that most of the world will not see the incredible poverty that exists.  People don’t have running water, or toilets, and it really is amazing.  There are streets that resemble fifth avenue, and then one block over, there are people living in the most terrible conditions I have seen.  The highlights for me were, the great wall.  I took a day trip way out into the country side, and there were only 6 of us on the bus, and we had the part of the wall to ourselves, to walk along, or clamber, as the need may be.  This part of the wall has not been restored like all the tourist parts, and was brilliant to see.  We climbed for ages, and spent the entire day there.  Also went to the forbidden city, where all the emperors ruled over china up until theearly 1900’s.  Went to the summer palace, and TianenMen Square.  I was amazed at just how big that square is.  We are all used to seeing the images on TV of the parades of soldiers etc, well, it really is something to behold.

Speaking of the square, there are hundreds of people there trying to sell stuff to you.  I quickly put into action my Russian lessons and learned that if I spoke in Russian to them, they were frightened of me, and went away.  It was hilarious after a while.  I had hooked with an English guy to tour around with from the hostel, and every time he was hassled, he yelled to me “do your Russian !”   I also went out and had the famous “Peking Duck”.  It

was very nice, and so was the Chinese beer that we were drinking, suffice to say, we had headaches the next day.  Well, the beer is after all, only 20c a bottle.  We were able to live like Kings whilst here, that’s the worst part, they are so poor, that everything is so cheap for us.  We never walked far, instead taking a cab, I mean, why not, it was only about $1 each time.

Oh, one of the best things, was going and seeing Chairman Mao in the tomb. 

He is just lying there, kind of frozen.  It was amazing to see, the Chinese still queue for hours to see him, and lay flowers at his feet etc.

I was really apprehensive at first, but settled into travel mode, China was quite a shock for me.

I then started my train journey, with a long 35 hour train ride from Beijing to Mongolia.  The border crossing was the most interesting part of the whole trip.  It took 6 hours to get across the border.  They are so inefficient. The guards from China are so stern, that the entire train went quiet when they got on, and it was really eiry.  Of course, they started the process at 9:00 pm, when we hit the china border town, and it wasn’t until 2:45 am that we finally left the Mongolian border town.  It was horrendous.  For two hours, we sat in the cold on the platform whilst they took the train away and changed the wheel sizes !  We were all exhausted by the end of it.

I shared my compartment with a guy from Canberra and two Mongolian women, I am certain were smuggling something dodgy.  They had to declare the cash they were carrying, and they had over $2000US on them, that’s like the annual salary or something.  Anyway, they were friendly enough to me, and offered me some of their food, but it looked weird, and I politely declined. I did get to use my Russian with them though, as most Mongols speak Russian also.  At the border, they came on the train with boxes and boxes of stuff.  God knows what was in side.

So, I arrived in Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia, and thought I had hit another planet.  It was amazing.  I was met by my guide, who spoke really good English.  Her name is velsa, and the driver of the car is Bimba. They are both really very funny, and speak English, so we had fun together.  The first night, I went to a Mongolian show, and crashed in the hotel.

We then started the adventure.  I went out into the mountains, and it was FREEZING !!  I had every piece of my thermal clothing on, and was still cold.  We were staying in the trypical Mongol houses, called GER’s.  They are circular tents, with beds on the outside, and a fire in the middle. They are really very comfortable, but it was so bloody cold (outside).

One of the highlights of Mongolia has to be horse riding in the Terelj National park.  My guides name was Majic, and him and I set off across the mountains for the day.  I loved it, and we communicated by playing a variation of charades.  Would have been funny to watch.  Anyway, I am not the best horse rider, but I can ride.  So, at one point, in one of the valleys, I took off at a gallop, just for the thrill of it, so Magic catches on, and he starts screaming, and we go belting through the valley.  It was hilarious.  He was amazed that I stayed on the horse.  But Mongolian horses are really not that big, infact, I would call them ponys.  They are bloody strong though, and live a hard life.

I knew how cold it was when we had to cross a river, and parts of it were frozen !  When I got back to camp, I couldn’t talk, as my mouth had almost frozen solid, I had to sit near the fire to thaw out.  Later that night, Velsa and I went to visit a local Nomad family.  I wanted to see how they live.  Anyway, I walk in , and the woman goes “you are the tourist that can ride horses like a Mongol ?”  Apparently I had gained a reputation, and it had spread through the valley.  It was pretty funny.  According to them, I am “The Man from Mongolia”  Velsa was very impressed too, as the owner of the camp commented to her that “her tourist is a good horseman “  The lady at the GER, offered me some Horse milk yoghurt.  I had to be polite and ate it.  It wasn’t too bad actually, we put sugar in it, but still, that was a first.

Also, later that night, I realized I had totally ripped the ass out of my pants on the horse.  So, being ever prepared, I pulled out my little sewing kit, and decided to stitch up the hole (mum, you would be impressed).  There I was, sitting in my jocks, by the fire in my GER, when one of the girl keepers, knocks on the door.  I yell “hang on” but she knows know English and marches in.  She was so embarrassed, to see me in my jocks.  She apologized quickly, and backed out of the ger.  I am yet to hear if that added or detracted from my reputation among the locals ……………

We then headed south, to the area where Ghengis Khan ruled from. The roads are horrendous, and it took 7 hours to drive 400 kms.  We blew one tyre, and I was terrified we would blow another, and be stuck in the middle of what looks like a war zone.  That’s how I would describe it, it looks like those images I have of Afghanistan.  So baron, and so many rundown buildings, and cars/trucks on side of the road.  But, the other side of it, is that the country side is absolutely incredible.  We went to the town that Ghengis called his capital in 1200.  How incredible. To picture his army thundering down the valley in 1200. His grandson continued his rage, and had the biggest empire the world has known, from Korea to Hungary.  He almost took Europe too.

We drove across many rivers, and one day had lunch on an island in the middle.  I was sure the car would get stuck several times, as the water was up the doors.  Oh, the car we are in is a Land Cruiser.  Its great.  Band new, and very nice and comfortable.  It needs to be, you spend most of the drive hanging on, and I wore my fleece hat to protect my head from hitting the roof.  WE went to this famous waterfall, but it was bone dry !  I had to see the funny side of it.  We had driven four hours to see it.  But still that happens.

Next stop was the Bayon Gobi desert.  Essentially, the bottom half of Mogolia is the desert, its just a question of which part you see.  I went to a part that was just sand dunes.  Oh yeah, very thrilling. Silly me booked in a horse ride, and let me tell you, once you have gone over one sand dune, the next one looks exactly the same !    I was pleased when we crossed out into a valley, and found a lake to water the horses at.  My guides name there was “odd” which says it all really.  He made some weird hand gestures to me, and I am still wondering what the hell he was trying to say…….Anyway,  the sand dunes here went for 2000kms, so I only saw a small part of it.

I have seen many monasteries, there are many monks here now, since the 1990’s, when communism ended.  The country is essentially stuffed financially though, the living standard is so low.  When I was a bit homesick one night, I had to remind myself that I indeed do get to go home.  In the GER we visited, there were seven people living there, no water, no toilet etc, and the GER was only about as big as a medium lounge room.

The food has been interesting.  My guide said, “we don’t like vegetables” and they don’t.  I have been eating a lot of meat.  She says its beef, but, something a little disconcerting hit me today, the lack of ANY COWS !!!  All I see is horse, goats and sheep.  So, one can assume that whatever I am eating, is one of those three…..I’d rather think its beef.

I did watch them make a traditional Mongolian lamb stew.  In a big steamer, they throw in the raw meat, and these red hot rocks from a fire, some onions, and about half a bucket of water. Oh yeah,  Gabrielle Gate would love it.  Anyway, it tasted quite nice, and was sort of steamed.  One night, Bimba the driver, got me on the vodka.  Big mistake.  He can drink the stuff like its water, meanwhile, I was ready to call an ambulance.  However, he slept in the next day,  I had a “refreshing” shower, Mongol style, ie under a tap in the bathroom.

So, now I m back in the capital, and I head to Russia – Siberia tomorrow. 

It takes about 40 hours or something on the train, and I have another thrilling border crossing to look forward to.  Apparently the Russians are worse than the Chinese.  I am actually looking forward to Russia.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the Mongolian experience, but traveling here is very hard.  Russia may in fact be worse, who knows.

The adventure continues.

I hope all is well with everyone.  Please send me a message, my hotel has the ABC as a channel.  I watched the news, and they show other Aussie programs too. I watched home and away even !  (its no better when you are away, and craving a bit of Aussie accent!)

I will send another message from Russia at some point.

Take care all

Daryl

Mail Number 2:
Subject: Dobre Vecher (good evening) from Siberia !

Hi there

Another update, on my crazy travels thus far.  I think I left you all in Mongolia.  Well, the fun and games started as soon as I tried to cross the border into Russia. It was an experience that involved many more smugglers, and many smuggled goods being thrown from the train.  At one point, I thought I was going to be one of them.  You see, I did something a little silly at the border (so did an American guy) and the guards came running on the train, we both got screamed at, and we thought for sure we were being taken off the train.  Any Russian I know was forgotten, with panic setting in, and us visibly shaking, however, we lived to tell the tale, and I am glad the border is now a few thousand kms away. The crossing took 9 hours though. Can you imagine? it was crazy.  We woke up at one point, and the engine had gone, and all the other carriages had gone, and it was just the tourist car sitting at this empty station, it was like something out of a movie.

I headed north into Siberia, which despite its reputation, is absolutely beautiful. The trees, the scenery, the houses etc, really nice.  It’s total chance if I find a Russian that is friendly, they certainly don’t give anything away in their demeanor.  I can approach one, and get told to get lost, yet approach another, and they can't do enough for you.   I spent some

time at the worlds biggest lake, its 640 kms long, and was once 9 kms deep.  Had a fun time with two girls from Switzerland, that were staying at the same place.  One of them even went swimming in the lake, and its only 5 degrees !  I put my feet in, and ended up with a bloody cold, so I imagine she is worse by now. We went out at night, to a bar, and drank a few beers. 

The bars are so entertaining, just watching what the Russians do.  They are so funny in their behaviour. We ate smoked fish, fresh from the lake, and it was really nice.

Then we decided we wanted to take a boat ride.  So, we walked down to the pier, and there was a bunch of German tourists getting on a boat, and we asked if we would join them, and they said no.  Then, the tour guide came back, and said "if you give the captain $10, he will take you to the other side, and then back"  It turns out, the Germans were being collected on the other side, to do a tour or something.  So, we jump on the boat, and head across the water, it was freezing cold.  We dropped all the tourists off, and then we headed back out into the lake, but in the opposite direction !  We wondered what the heck was happening, then, this family starts coming up on deck from below, and to cut a long story short, we spent the entire day with this Russian family on the boat, and on the shore, at this little village.  Apparently, every Sunday, this family goes out on the boat, and cos its a tourist boat, they hitch along for free.

It was a lot of fun, they gave us lunch, and we laughed, and they learnt some English, and we learnt some more Russian.  Then, we thought we would leave, but, the Chinese President had come into town, and the harbour was closed by police boats, so we sat out there till 5:00 in the afternoon.

It was one of those days you just stumble across, and it becomes a highlight of your trip.  The Russian mother was very young, 35 ,a nd she had 16 year old daughter.  She didn't have a husband, but, she was the coolest woman.  So much fun, and very affectionate. Always, hugging, and touching, and laughing.

I am now in Krasnoyarsk, which is very seldom visited by westerners it would seem.  I took a boat up the river this morning, (you can go all the way to the arctic circle if you desire) but there were a lot of school children there, and they were more interested in me than the massive dam and power station they were supposed to be looking at.  Also, the home stay I am in, the people have NEVER spoken to a westerner before.  It’s hilarious.  But, on the down side, the local government (bless them) decided they would turn the WATER OFF !  Oh yeah, love that.  Everyone stinks.  The cold was back on this morning, and I just had to do it, and had a wash in the shower, getting wet for very short periods.

I have taken a few photos of the Russian women, they are very fashionable indeed.  Its a pity they are stuck in 1985 though !!!!!!  The mini skirts and fish net stockings seem to be the latest thing.  If you saw them in Melbourne, you would think they charge by the hour (and its safe to assume they are not lawyers or accountants either !)

I went to one of the museums here, and ended up watching a classical piano performance for 1 1/2 hours,  it was really good to see.

I leave for Yekaterinberg tonight, the trip is about 36 hours i think.  I have been lucky thus far with the people I have had in my compartments, they have all been really nice.  My Russian has had to improve very quickly, but I have been able to rely on being able to read it, which is good.

I think that’s about all for now, every turn provides a new experience.  I have found it strange here though, not to see ANY tourists.  Even at the big touristy type things.  Its just not a place people come too I guess.  I have enjoyed it though.

Ok, till the next installment,

Hope all is well with everyone

Daryl

Mail number 3:
Subject: Civilisation at last !

Dear all

Thank goodness for Moscow.  What a relief.  To be in civilisation, and feel part of the world again.

In my last message, i was in Krasnoyarsk - Siberia.

Since then, I have taken another absolutely hilarious train ride to Yekaterinburg.  On the train, I thought I was going to have a quiet trip, as two Russian businessmen joined me in my compartment.  Well, the quite lasted about 2 hours, when they insisted that I join them in the dining car for lunch.  That was ok, given they didn't speak more than "hello" in English, we managed to have a good lunch.  (despite the presence of about 15 extremely drunk Russians in the dining car - they obviously skipped the meal, and went straight to the vodka) Then, back in the compartment the guys pull out of their bags, all this beer, and before I knew it, I was drinking way too much Russian beer with them.  After a few hours, they were convinced that I was in Russia to find a wife and they were marrying me off to the providnista (conductor) Svetlana !  She was an interesting woman, and didn't look like the sort that one said no too.  Thankfully, it never came to that......  Then, they tried to convince me that their cars ran on Vodka !!  I almost believed them.  it was incredibly funny, and the Siberian landscape passed me by (although as I was warned, the Siberian birch is endless, and after a while, not that interesting).  I slept like a log, and arrived at my next homestay at 5:45 am.

I was met as per usual at the station, but by a very stern Russian, who never said one word to me in the 25 mins I was in his car.  The only words he spoke were "good bye" when he left me at the apartment.  He really could do with re taking the "welcome the tourist course 101".....

The family were really nice, and the mother spoke broken English.  But the father not a bit.  Despite this, him and I actually had a really nice evening, he had lots of atlases, and books on the world, even Australia, so we were able to entertain ourselves. (I swear, should they ever introduce a segment on who wants to be a millionaire involving charades, I will enter !)

I spent a lovely three days there, the city was where the Romanov's bit the dust.  I went to the scene, which had been destroyed by one Boris Yeltsin when he was governor of the city. Nonetheless, they have built a massive cathedral near by, and there were plenty of amazing sights and things to do in the city.  I took a tour one day out to the Europe / Asia border.  I managed to stand on both sides for the compulsory tourist photo.  The countryside was really nice, and I stopped in a couple of little villages.

The only other notable item from that time was how bloody hot it was !!!  One afternoon I went and sat by the city pond, and just relaxed and watched what appeared to be everyone in the city get drunker by the minute.  They have extremely relaxed laws on drinking beer here, and everyone sits in the park and gets drunk.   It was 30 degrees for two days.  Thank god for zip off pants.

Then, another train trip, this time to Moscow.  A very uneventful train trip, but had my first English speaking companion.  She just happened to be the professor of English at the university !  It was nice to relax, and talk and have someone understand me.  She even got me to correct the reports she had written.

Now, Moscow is an absolute Gem !!  I have loved every minute here.  Its totally different from all other Russian places I have been thus far.  I had a great tour guide, but was hard not to laugh when I looked at her, she was a dead ringer for Dolly Parton !  I kid you not.  Big hair and big XXX !!!

Anyway, I have been to the red square (most disappointed to find that its not red !!!  another story.....) also the Kremlin (spent a day in there) and the cathedrals etc.  Everything is amazing, and I hope my photos have worked out.  I went and saw Lenin in the freezer.  I think they are having issues with him, poor thing, I think some of his bits are deteriorating, and he looks a bit "odd".  Some of the wax models at Madam Taussads are much better.  But still, I have seen another communist dictator on ice !!

I have a lovely host, and her apartment is something else.  It’s been a welcome relief to have a modern apartment with everything in it from home.  Also, a great shower, which I stood under for 30 mins on the first day, and just loved it.  I swear, it’s the little things that can make a difference.

She picked up on me having a cold yesterday, and made me some god awful concoction to drink.  It looked and smelt like "filtered camel crap" and it took several cups of tea to get rid of the taste.  She made up for it with apple pancakes though !  what a woman,  she also did all my laundry.  I feel like I have a Russian mother.  She is the happiest, friendliest woman.  She bounces around her apartment with a huge grin, everything is funny.

This morning, I was determined not to cough whilst having breakfast, for fear of "the syrup" but then, got something stuck in my throat, and started to cough and then, oh no, she started mixing more of it and I had to take another dose !!!

I managed to get a ticket to the Bolshoi theatre.  It was absolutely awesome, I was really lucky.  They were paying tribute to a composer, and did portions of opera and ballet.  It was a highlight of my trip actually.  They did portions of things in full costume, and full scenery.  At one point, there were 200 people on stage.  It was brilliant. I snuck back into the auditorium after the performance to take a couple of photos, as it is six levels high, and all red velvet, with a huge chandelier in the centre.  incredibly opulent of course.  There are candles on every level (although now electric) but I could really imagine going to the opera there 200 years ago. Anyway, I got two photos taken, (whilst hiding) before a very stern and stout Russian woman yelled something none too friendly at me.  I took the hint, and scampered out of there.  I think I am doing my best to rub up the authorities the wrong way on this trip.  Oh well.

Now, tonight, I am on the overnight to St Petersberg, and that’s it.  Part of me is really tired, and if I see another bloody Russian cathedral, I will scream.  Also, the Russian artwork, whilst lovely at first, but I mean, 500 paintings later, and it kind of gets old. I am sure there will be great things to see in St Petersberg too.

That’s about the latest, up to the minute stuff.  Hope I haven't prattled on too long.

Thanks everyone for the emails, its great to get them.

I watched the French open tennis last night, saw Leyton get creamed.  I had the volume on low, as the Russian commentary is painful.

anyway,  will head off.

hope you are all well.

Daryl