Right before departing from Moscow, we found out the the trains are numbered a certain way. The lower the train number, the better the train. Our first train was #2.
It looked like this:
As I mentioned, it was delightful. It was warm and comfortable and we even had an outlet in our compartment.
After a few day’s by Lake Baikal it was time to head out for train number two. Right before our trip we checked the train number.
It was 362.
Let’s just say it was …. different.
Gone was the outlet. Gone was the comfortable beds. Gone was the heating.
The first sign that something was amiss was when we arrived at our compartment. We had no time to take in the accommodations because our “room” was absolutely stuffed with stuff. A huge bag of dirty laundry dominated the floor. About 15 carpets were stuffed under the benches. A large box blocked the door and several suitcases and a baby seat were jammed in the storage area above the door.
In the middle of all of this stood a very confused looking twenty-year old German kid clutching his backpack.
There was absolutely nowhere for us to go. We couldn’t even enter the compartment. It was like an episode of Hoarding: The Trans-Siberian Edition.
We stood in the hallway with all our stuff, blocking everyone else from boarding and wondering what to do. Who’s stuff was this?
Finally we decided to just put it into the hallway and hope someone else dealt with it.
As soon as we started dumping the many carpets into the aisle, one of the Mongolian cabin ladies came running over, clucking at us and trying to put the carpets back into our compartment.
However, it soon became clear that us, our things and the multitude of junk was not going to fit into this tiny apartment.
Eventually she gave up and removed most of the items. She refused to take the baby seat or some of the luggage but the boxes, dirty laundry and carpets were taken away. I later saw them sitting in the area between the train cars.
It was all very strange. The cabin crew has a rather large compartment at the head of the car for their things. Why were they storing things in our compartment?
Several hours later, our cabin lady reappeared with another suitcase which she tried to store in our compartment. At this point we knew we were approaching the customs inspection and didn’t want any random bags in our room so we refused. She was upset but left with the luggage.
The train was freezing at all times. The other cars seemed to have heat bur ours remained frigid throughout. It was impossible to sleep with our one thin blanket. Also, the bathrooms on the train would inexplicably be locked for long stretches of time. Hours would go by without access to the bathroom. At one point I all but begged the attendant to open the bathroom. During this debasing situation I noticed that the attendant’s compartment was jammed packed – with fruit.
The table was pilled hight with bananas and oranges. There was crates stacked against the wall. Tens of watermelons rolled around on the floor.
It was, to say the least, extremely baffling. At least we now knew why they had no room for other things in their compartment.
The next morning, we woke up early after suffering through another freezing night. We had sat at the border for 8 hours the day before and were exhausted. It was still half dark outside and we watched half asleep out the window as we made our way through Mongolia.
Then we stopped. In the middle of no where. We waited and watched to see why we had stopped. Then our cabin attendants began unloading the fruit and handing it off to men who were sitting in trucks near the train tracks.
What was going on? Of course we took some sketchy surveillance style photography of the encounter.
Innocent cargo transportation or international fruit smugglers?
We may never know. Within the next two hours we arrived in Ulan Bator to begin our Mongolian adventure.