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Horse Stomach with Onion?

Mongolia 22nd October

So I failed the test ok?

It was the thing that I had been trying to avoid and had managed to succeed up until my final leg of the journey out of Mongolia. I had been travelling through Russia and Mongolia where men eat meat and that’s that. It is beyond comprehension that people would not eat meat for whatever reason. I thought I had gotten away with it, and I was leaving Mongolia having only had that brief run in with a little pig meat Granny had gave me. But that was long forgotten.

It was the thing that I was afraid I would do and I did it, I felt terrible.

I was on the local train from Ulaanbaatar to the Mongolian border town of Zamyn-Uud, I was in Kupe class again, and I was on the top bunk, the ride was to be about 12 hours overnight. The carriage attendant brought in 4 cups of hot water with a choice of Mongolian Tea (Milk, Green Tea and Salt) or Coffee. These train journeys are a time to relax and are generally quite sociable, so I came from my perch and sat with the 3 others, who didn’t speak a word of English, and I could only muster the words I had picked up along the way which didn’t really amount to much. The guy opposite me was in his 40’s he was travelling with his wife and her friend. Seeing that I was down from above he took this as a time to proudly open up a package that was covered in newspaper wrappings and unveiled a grand portion of dumplings. He offered them to me, so without having chance to think, I picked one out and doing what I normally do, I ripped it in half and looked at what nasties were inside. I must have pulled a face. It was jam packed full of mutton, but what did I expect, Tofu, Linda McCartney’s pretend sausage, or maybe a bit of couscous? I tried to tell them that I was vegetarian. I dumped it on the table and refused it, I might as well have folded my arms and spat my dummy out. Of course this was done with just about as much tact as a punch in the nose. I mean why didn’t I just eat it? Their suspicions that I was maybe not from around here may have just been aroused around about that point. The Tupperware box came out next and I wasn’t offered any of this. In the box it looked like long cut flat pieces of mushroom, it had that dark colour and texture, it was accompanied by some chopped onions. It was that Mongolian classic dish of boiled horse’s stomach. I probably pulled another judgemental face. They were cocking their heads back so they could get the whole thing down their throat in one go as if they were eating some liquorice lace, slurping and sucking up that beautiful horses tummy.

They loved it.

The husband left the compartment briefly, I took the dumpling and pushed it to the bottom of my empty cup of coffee, I topped it with some rubbish trying to hide my shame. I climbed back to the top bunk and ate my Cheese and Onion Crisps. I didn’t offer anybody anything.

If you have some time to kill and want to see how Mongolian border control works then cross the border into China on a lazy Sunday morning…. Jeeps, throwing rocks at them, kicking the doors in, smashing up innocent cars, woman pissing in the back of the car….

boiling sheeps stomach, similar to a horse, but a sheep instead.....

Article By David Beattie of Rounton Coffee

Posted by beatski 02:49 Archived in Mongolia Tagged train soft mongolia seat mutton kupe Comments (2)

Irkutsk - Paris of Siberia

Irkutsk – October 2011

If there is one city which will welcome you in their own special way and then send you back a nervous wreck then that City has got to be Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia, or according to the guidebooks, “the Paris of Siberia”. Don’t believe the guidebooks, the place is certainly friendlier than our Frog Eating Surrender Monkey European cousins, but that is hardly a compliment, I was still in Russia. Within Russia, the further east you go, the more chance you have of getting a Ruski to crack a smile. The difficulty in Siberia is that their 50 yard stare is normally frozen into their hardened craniums.

My Arrival

I had arrived on the 1st October at the pleasant time of 02:30. My task at this ungodly hour was to trek 4km to my hostel armed with only my Russian phrasebook and an almost primitive street map. I could have walked but Grandma started fretting and was worried I would be attacked and robbed. Typical grandparents ey? So my adopted grandmother jumped off the carriage onto the platform and started heckling people until she eventually got the attention of a soldier who had been travelling on the same carriage with all of his Russian Soldier comrades. These were the same soldiers that I had been trying to avoid on the journey to Irkutsk. And now Grandma had put all her faith into one of them making sure that I got home ok. Thanks Grandma. Now I had an entourage of about 20 Russian soldiers who had a new toy to play with. Was I going to be safer with the soldiers or out there with the Russian Heavy mob? I stuck with what I had, let me see where this takes me. I got pulled by the bag from one place to the next making sure I was kept in check with them and didn’t wander off anywhere I shouldn’t, I was their property now. Outside the train station they were met by more soldiers who had arrived to pick them up. My new soldier buddy was knocking on doors to legitimate taxis to try and get them to take me to my hostel, gypsy cab drivers were swooning around like vultures to try and get in on some tourist action. I was in a predicament. None of the taxis would take me, they had been booked already, or at least that’s what I interpreted from the ensuing action. The soldiers, now wondering what to do with me grabbed my bag and threw it in their army truck, like the one that you see in the films. Shit, now I was in for it, I jumped in to grab my bag and then the van pulled off. I was surrounded by 20 Russian soldiers who now had me to themselves, and this is when the interrogation started, in broken English.

“Where are you from?”

“Are you a spy?”

“Are you James Bond?”

Yeah, these punks were having a right old laugh at my expense….
There was one particular soldier that I was quite wary of and it was when he said I was going to be taken back to the army barracks with them, it was at this point that I stood up and told them to stop the truck. “Drop me here” I said nervously. I figured I would be better off on the dark Siberian streets than in this mixed up, potentially politically sensitive scene. The truck stopped and I grabbed my bag and bailed out onto this disgusting damp street. I had no idea where I was. The soldiers used this stop as an impromptu fag break, so I was again surrounded by 20 soldiers. This time, they were trying to flag down a Taxi. Now, if you were a taxi driver and saw 20 soldiers, an Army truck, and some strange looking tourist at 3 in the morning, would you stop? The answer is no, of course you wouldn’t stop, and plenty just drove on by. You would want no part of this potential scene from Platoon. It was only when the group blocked the road entirely that one taxi had to stop. I jumped in it straight away. My adrenaline at this point was going through the roof….. I took off in the taxi, my guardian soldier had even negotiated the price for me….. I’d have paid anything to get out of there in one piece.

I didn’t sleep that night, I was pacing up and down the hostel until breakfast time.


My Departure

The train leaving Irkutsk was at 22:15, I had made the journey from Listvyanka early afternoon to buy the ticket for the night, last minute as always but it has worked so far. I had to wait around Irkutsk for the day which wasn’t so bad, I found a café that was modern by Siberian standards and I parked myself there for the day.

When I got to the train station I had bumped into some English guys I had travelled about with briefly so we grouped up and hung around for the train. I have mentioned before that there is a lot of job creation in Russia, and Irkutsk of course was no different. On this night they had 4 policemen who were stood behind a giant desk as you entered the main entrance. By another entrance there was another 3 or 4 security who were keeping check on people for whatever reason. We had sat down in an area where some Russian TV was blasting out some pathetic Russian Soap Opera and we had some time to kill. Looking back now it did seem to me that we were getting a bit more attention from the security than we needed to.

I took my laptop out of my bag. As luck would have it, where I was sat there was an electric socket. Excellent, I took my power lead and plugged it in. At that I was jumped on by this boy who had clearly wanted some excuse to pounce on us and capitalise somehow. He looked like Albert Steptoe with a big padded black jacket, black baseball cap and a big badge that said something that gave him some kind of authority. He grabbed me and tried to pull me away, shouting something in Russian. I sat on my chair, there was no way that I was going to go with this scruffy jobsworth. My Crime was to plug my laptop into a socket? It was hardly grounds for any real punishment, perhaps a harsh word would do. Albert was intent on taking me some place away from the area, presumably to fleece me from my money or some possessions.

This became a bit of a scene. I was rooted to my chair, he was trying to coerce me into following him. All I could say was “Nyet, Nyet”. He towered above me in my chair, he kept on going on in his Vile Russian. He knew I was not going to go with him without a struggle, he walked off and spoke to a mob of what I can only assume to have been plain clothed security. They were skinheads, had the obligatory fat jacket on and had enough presence to scare the shit out of innocent civilians.

It was not safe to be where we were, we moved to the populated area where there were more passengers and more tourists. Of course they followed me and stood behind me, our group went totally silent. I had agreed that if they had tried to grab me or if they make some kind of move then the guys would take all of my bags onto the train with them, somehow I would make contact with them and relocate my stuff. I didn’t want my stuff in the possession of Albert the sruffy scrap merchant. We waited for what seemed like an eternity for the platform number to be announced on the board. I had heard that a common trick that the pesky Russians use is to detain you until the train is almost ready to depart when you are at your most eager to get on it, at which point you will pay almost anything to be able to board it. As soon as the platform number was displayed I made a dart for the train, leaving my bags for the others to carry. I got caught up in melee for the train. I didn’t look back to see if they followed me, I got on the train and sat in my carriage until the train rolled out of the station.

Goodbye Irkutsk, the Paris of Siberia, I will miss you I thought as I struggled to open a 1 litre can of beer…



The Great Escape

Article By David Beattie of Rounton Coffee

Posted by beatski 22:53 Archived in Russia Tagged russia class irkutsk trans ulaan siberian kupe baator Comments (2)


overcast 27 °C
View Overland debacle on beatski's travel map.


This is a post i should have published about a week ago but have only just finished it......

I'm 4663 kilometres into the Trans-Siberian, 4649km is the half way point between Moscow and Vladivostok the far eastern port town of Russia. In total once I have reached Irkutsk I think I will have ben on a train for about 80 hours or so, it is difficult to tell because the train runs on Moscow time, even though we pass through 5 or 6 different time zones, so you need two clocks to try and keep track. The problem with going east for so long is that the days become shorter and shorter, every 1000km or so I have to fast forward my watch by an hour.

I am travelling in Kupe Class which is second class, there are 4 bunks in the room and generally it is quite comfortable, I have been able to lay on my bed looking through the window at all the scenery that Siberia has to offer.

The Scenery….

Travelling at Russian train speed across the country you have time to take in the scenery at a very leisurely pace, this is not the Japanese Bullet Train by any means. I would say that it is a steady 60mph all the way with the constant banging and clattering that any 50 year old train would have developed over the years.

I have seen endless amounts of Silver Birch, perhaps thousands of kilometers of the trees, but what surprises me is that when there is a clearing in the wood you can see small villages that sit completely isolated from anything and any real apparent civilisation and you wonder how they manage at all. As you pass in the night you can see that these tiny wooden ruins are dimly lit from inside and if you look closer you can see people inside pottering around doing their domestic chores. It is inconceivable to imagine that these places are habited especially during the harsh Siberian winter when the temperature often drops down to -40degC for three months of the year. Surely they leave the village and go on holiday to Salou only to return once the land has thawed.

We make regular pit stops where I assume the driver takes one of those Technical Breaks that the Russians clearly enjoy. When we stop the train is swarmed by local tradesmen and women selling anything from smoked fish, fruit, beer to children’s books and fur hats.

Hang on, I think Grandpa Anatoni has just relaxed his bowels as I write this, I think maybe with his age he has little or no control over his movements, its understandable i guess when im his age ill have earned the right to fart anywhere in public also. Maybe i should fel sorry for Gramps, but the room is 27 degrees and there is no ventilation!!

Sorry, I digressed.....

Being on the train and being the only foreigner is slightly intimidating, if only for the group of guys that are travelling in the same compartment walking around with their tops off, probably going to the same destination as me with the intention to take possession of my worldly goods….. but maybe a bit of paranoia has set in which is understandable under the circumstances. I am alone in Siberia on a train with lots of Russians, what do I expect!! I think though that Grandma and Grandpa would protect me anyhow, she has a big handbag and I'm sure would teach those boys a lesson with it….. have no fear!!!

That of course is no reason not to enjoy the train experience, I am in a privileged position and am enjoying the lot of it!!

temperature of cabin
Platform Salesmen
Silver Birch
Journey to Irkutsk
Small Siberian Village

Article By David Beattie of Rounton Coffee

Posted by beatski 03:10 Archived in Russia Tagged russia class irkutsk trans yekaterinburg siberian kupe Comments (0)

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