I arrived in Zamiin Uud around 7.30am and waited for everyone else to frantically leave the train before I grabbed my bag from the luggage hold and followed them as I was advised to do. It was actually very good advice as the people led me straight to a compound full of Jeeps that were hopefully taking everyone across the border. I got to a black Jeep and settled on 60 Yuan for the journey across the border. There are also buses that take you across the border but I was advised by Christian that he had a bad experience doing this and that I should spend a little extra and get the Jeep. My bag was taken off my shoulders and slung into the boot and I was escorted round to the left hand passenger's door, the driver opened it and I was stupidly shocked to see three people in there already. I wasn't sure how I could fit in there with them as they weren't small people and I'm not the smallest person either but the driver insisted that I got in, which I did. The driver then forced the door shut, slamming it several times against my hip sending a sharp pain through me. I just hoped that it was going to be a quick journey but I remembered that the border didn't open until 9am so we had around an hour to sit in the back, squeezed together like sardines.
|My fellow sardines|
The vehicle moved off and the driver had the heat on full which made the four of us sardines sweat but luckily had relief from the windows that were, to my surprise, working. The driver seemed to be a wild card and didn't seem to follow the rest of the Jeeps heading to the checkpoint. He pulled up besides the guards hut at the checkpoint and got out for a smoke with the officials leaving us imprisoned in the back of his car. I wanted to get out but the door release handle had been broken off inside the car and the window wasn't lowered far enough for me to reach out and open it from the outside.
The driver suddenly bolted back into the car and fired up the engine only to hear a big bang and plumes of white smoke erupting from beneath the bonnet. The clouds of smoke filled the car through the vents and I was sure that I was going to die as there was no escape but the driver opened the doors and we all baled out gasping for fresh air. I couldn't believe my luck. There were hundreds of Jeeps to choose and I had to choose the only one that had to breakdown. The white smog soon dispersed and we all squeezed our way back into the car as someone arrived with more water to replenish the coolant. We began to move off once again but were stopped by an official who stood in front of the car, my driver did not like this and began to shout at him which did absolutely nothing so he decided to just drive into him. With the guard sitting on the bonnet, we moved our way back into the queue of vehicles heading across the border.
I gave up. I had been sitting in the back of this Jeep for well over an hour and the pain became too much for me so I raised my voice and told the driver to let me out and explained that I wanted to relocate to the boot. He understood perfectly and released me from the back and opened the boot but told me that I could wait outside and walk along beside the slow moving cars which I chose to do. After spending a night on the luggage rack and over an hour squeezed into the back of the car, I was relieved to have fresh air and freedom for a while. The sun was still only resurrecting itself over the Mongolian wilderness at this point and bounced off the long queue of vehicles that cut through the exit road.
The traffic started moving faster and it was obvious that the checkpoints had just opened up for the day. The driver instructed me to get into the boot and began to drive off. This was such a relief and we soon arrived at the Mongolian side to repeat the third land border crossing off my trip. The other people in the car decided to take it upon themselves to look out for me and escorted me through passport control, pushing me to the front of the queue and making sure I got back to the car. We then got to the Chinese side and had to repeat the whole thing again. My fellow sardines were still helping me through but I got separated from them as the Chinese customs official pulled me aside and asked me where I was going and what was in my bag. I told him clothes, electrical stuff , toiletries and a bottle of vodka. He wanted me to open my bag but when I reacted hesitantly you could tell he wasn't too bothered and just sent me on my way to the others. The car started up and drove out of the border area.
I finally arrived in China.
As the car passed through the last checkpoint we had picked up a couple more people who sat on the passengers in the back seat. I was so relieved to be in the boot. It may have been a little dirty but at least I had space to myself. The town of Erenhot was thankfully clinging onto the border which meant I did not have a long drive. The driver asked me through an interpretor where I would like to go and I replied that I needed to get a bus to Beijing. As we drove through the maze the wide streets of Erenhot dodging the mass of cycles he stopped to let people out. When the last person had left the back seat I tried to get out of the boot and into the car but he wouldn't have it and told me to stay. I felt like a dog in the back clinging on as the driver made crazy high speed turns. We pulled up in a bus station car park and he released me from the boot, put my bag on my shoulders and said goodbye before he zoomed back to the border to carry out the whole process again. I have no idea how many times he crosses the border in one day.
As I walked into the bus station I got my first experience of the Chinese touts who buy up all the tickets and sell them on for profit. There was a see of them forcing themselves upon me and thrusting tickets in my face. I entered the empty ticket hall of the station and went to order my first Chines ticket. A sleeper bus to Beijing costing around £12 leaving at 6pm which meant I had a lot of hours to kill so I went for a walk to get my first taste of China.
Travelling over land means that you are constantly being immersed in a cultural transformations, some of which are so small they go by unrecognised. In Russia, the social customs mainly stayed consistent throughout the country but you could notice the people change. The further East you travel the more Asian the people become but the Russian customs and ideal remain in tact. Mongolia is very much like Russia but more Western friendly. China however was a slap in the face. There were masses of people everywhere, ridiculous drivers aiming at me and stopping to shout at me asking if I wanted a taxi. I can cope with those things but the one thing I was hit by and don't think I could ever get used to was the constant spitting. I saw a elderly woman with one finger on her nose closing her left nostril whilst excreting a huge long flow of slimy green snot from her right nostril. I felt my gut wrench and overwhelming nauseousness pass through me, I turned away and tried to ignore it but it repeated through my head and everywhere I looked people were hocking up. Even if you close your eyes, the sound of spitting is still there. I'm sitting in Starbucks writing this blog and the coffee machine is making a similar noise.
I turned around and headed back towards the bus station whilst dodging the bodily fluids on the paths hoping to find a nice restaurant to get some food in and rest for a couple of hours reading the lonely planet and plot my journey through China. I found one across the street from the station and settled into a seat. I was presented with a picture menu, the type of menu I had been looking forward to for a long time as you can just point to what you want. I ordered but was appalled by the waited immediately turning around entered the kitchen and expelling a huge ball of spit along the way.
I finished my meal and had a few more cups of tea to elongate my stay in the restaurant until I had enough and had to leave. I wanted to find a internet café as that is always a good way to stay occupied for a while so I asked where the nearest one was. The manager over heard this and invited me to use his computer which I gratefully accepted. I went into a room which had a suite of computers in and a couple of young men listening to music and discussing various tracks. There was microphone stands leaning up against the wall and cameras sitting on the desk. I came to the conclusion that they were movie and music enthusiasts and it was great to just be sharing the room with them whilst they were editing their tracks.
I had exhausted the internet after 2 hours and had my first experience of the Great Firewall of China which blocks websites like Blogger and Facebook. I crossed the road and returned to wait for the remaining hour in the bus station. The hour soon passed and it was time to get on the bus. I had never been on a sleeper bus before and was pleasantly surprised and excited to have a bed for the next 10 hours. The bus is split into three rows of bunk-beds and I was lucky enough to be on the right hand side on a lower bed with a view from the window. The bus moved out of the station and headed out of the city and into Inner Mongolia but I didn't see much as my sleep deprived body immediately shut down.
|Inside a typical sleeper bus|
The journey was long and the bus had mechanical issues and was forced to pull over a few times for the driver to tinker with the engine a little. The man above me was eating boiled sweets extremely loudly and the lady next to me intermittently shouted down her mobile phone. I took refuge with my MP3 player and slept for the majority of the trip apart from the quick stop for snacks and the driver's thirty minute snooze. I was shocked to find the ladies who I shared my Mongolian train adventure with were also on my bus and was invited to sit with them whilst they sucked down some noodles.
The bus arrived in Beijing at 4am in the pitch black. The bus station didn't resemble anything of the sort and was just a piece of wasteland in the suburbs. As soon as I left the bus I was confronted by touts yet again, this time I gave in and negotiated for a taxi to the hostel. It was 60 Yuan, I know I got ripped off but at that time I didn't have the energy to care as long as I got to the hostel.